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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)

A Nintendo console launching with a Mario title can only be a good thing. But just how great is it that it doesn't really take advantage of the Wii U's unique strengths?

The Wii U's claim to fame, of course, is that magic GamePad. So with that in mind, you might be expecting that the first entry in the Mario series for the Wii U would heavily feature the Pad's unique gameplay possibilities.

After all, this is a first party Nintendo title we're talking about. If there was going to be anything that'd be sure to show off the finer points of the GamePad, it would be a title starring our ole plumber pal - right? Wrong. While New Super Mario Bros. U (NSMBU) does make use of the GamePad, it sure isn't for anything genre defining and doesn't offer any new breakout gameplay experiences either. But let's revisit that in a bit, because NSMBU (GamePad support or not) is fun. In fact, it's a lot of fun.

I have to admit I was more than a little bit sceptical about this one since there was just a New Super Mario Bros. game released on the 3DS in August. That's not all that long ago and the Wii U version looked to be much the same experience as the 3DS one, just on a bigger set of screens and in HD. I am very happy to report though, that not only is NSMBU better and more fully fleshed out than the 3DS's New Super Mario Bros. 2, but I actually think it might be the best Mario title in ages and one of the best platformers in recent memory.

Starry night
The first and most obvious thing you'll notice when you start the game up are the High Definition visuals. Mario really has never looked better and the Mushroom Kingdom just pops off the screen. The HDMI cable seriously gives the classic gaming star a kick in the pants as the colours are bright and vibrant, and the effects and level of detail have never been better in a side-scrolling Mario title. It's actually so good looking that a family member who did nothing but deride the Wii and its "sad last gen graphics" actually commented on how terrific NSMBU's visuals are. Trust me, it was a big deal.

With that in mind, it might be a little disappointing to hear that, sound-wise, NSMBU is just much more of the same. In contrast to the HD visuals, NSMBU's music and sound effects are pretty much on par with past episodes of Koopa-hopping. While some people might be able to appreciate the nuances of the soundtrack, to me it basically sounds like every other recent Mario entry. It's good and has a classic 'Mario' vibe, but there's nothing that exceeds expectations here.

Control is another thing that's remained pretty much on the status quo. That's a very good thing though, as the New Super Mario Bros. titles have a pretty darned long history of spot on platforming action, with controls that are all but perfect. Why fix something that ain't broke - right?

A new suit is front and center in the game in the form of the Flying Squirrel Suit. It might not look like much, but the Squirrel Suit actually has some neat gliding and pop-up flight mechanics that make some particular courses exceedingly more fun to play. The Snow Suit returns as well, as does the classic Fire Mario. I would really have liked to have seen some of the more obscure outfits Mario has worn over the years come back around though - even mainstays like the Tanooki or the Raccoon Suites would have been nice to see again (though maybe they'd be a bit too much like the Squirrel Suit).
How does he hold his breath for so long?

While we're on the subject of additions, there are also some new Yoshi Babies floating around the game's world (and map screen) that can be very helpful in lighting up the night and gobbling up everything in sight (bye-bye Goombas). Finding one on the new (first time since SMB3) continuous map screen is particularly cool since you can take the little guy from level to level, provided you don't lose him (or a life) as you play.

Now that the good stuff is out of the way, lets talk the features that are specific to the Wii U.

The GamePad is basically used as a private play screen in the single player mode and as a phantom 'fifth player' (the game supports four player co-op) when in multiplayer. This allows you to interact, or better yet, manipulate the game world, while the Wiimote-bound players actually play through the courses. You can help out and influence levels on the fly, which is kind of neat and something not possible on other consoles.

The Kingdom in all its glory
It's really the single player modes use of the second screen that let me down the most since it doesn't do anything all that interesting. I will say this though (and this goes for a few Wii U titles), it's really nice to have a private screen to play on if you're in a room with someone else who wants to either watch television or play something else on another console. I even found myself once or twice using the GamePad with a pair of good quality headphones instead of playing on the big screen. Fun stuff.

I'm honestly a little shocked to say it, but NSMBU is a really great time. It just seems to me that at the end of the day that there should have been more of an effort by Nintendo to make the GamePad an integral part of the gameplay experience. Instead, you don't even need it to play at all since a Wiimote can be used (or switched to) at any time during play.

New Super Mario Bros U is an excellent platformer and one that you probably shouldn't miss out on. If you have a Wii U, it's dangerously close to being a can't miss title, even with the GamePad's unique features not being fully taken advantage of. If you're just looking to enjoy a New Super Mario Bros. title though, there's no doubt that you'll enjoy your High Definition stay in the Mushroom Kingdom.




- Jason M. 
Find me at Twitter: @Jason_tas

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Review: New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
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