"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Nintendo has lived vicariously by this rule for years when it comes to a number of their franchises, though bits and pieces of evolution have seeped through to make the games feel like they've been improved upon in some respect. This is pretty much the rule of thumb for New Super Mario Bros. U, the latest in the company's long-running side scrolling platforming series. That means you'll once again be running through Mario's world, hitting blocks, pouncing on enemies and finding secrets, with a few friends in tow. However, there are some new perks that will make this worth picking up, some of which even take advantage of the Wii U's specifically built GamePad.
First off, like New Super Mario Bros. Wii before it, Super Mario U has a huge emphasis on multiplayer. Up to four people can join in the fun at one time, working together or competitively to collect coins and get through each stage in one piece. The four default characters — Mario, Luigi, Yellow Toad and Blue Toad — will be instantly recognizable to fans, and for good measure, you can play as your Mii character as well.
Where Super Mario U makes a difference is the involvement of a fifth player. This one actually holds onto the Wii U GamePad, and rather than playing as a character in the game, they'll work as a "silent partner" of sorts in the game's Boost Mode. Here, they can tap on enemies to take them out or draw platforms to help their fellow players get across tough chasms and over dangerous obstacles. We tried this out during a "speed round" tournament at a recent Wii U Experience event, and though it can be a little frenetic if you're all not on the same page, it's a great deal of fun.
In addition to the new Mii character, New Super Mario Bros. U also introduces several new perks into the game. You're able to use the winged raccoon suits previously introduced in Mario's universe, enabling you to glide safely to higher areas or ride wind gusts to stay airborne. You can also use Baby Yoshis when they pop up on occasion, each one specially gifted in some way. Blue Yoshis are able to summon bubbles; magenta ones turn into balloons and help you reach higher ground; and yellow ones glow, in case you need to see your surroundings.
The demo we saw for New Super Mario Bros. U only had three levels in it — two that took place during the daytime and one at night — but they showed the Wii U's high-definition capabilities off without a hitch. The side-scrolling levels look great on the TV, and the Wii U GamePad display is equally impressive, without losing any hint of speed. The action appears to be on the same level as previous New Super Mario games (including the recently released 3DS sequel), but it's cool to see the camera zoom out to keep all of you in perspective over the course of a stage, again without losing any sense of speed. The animations are simplistic, but cute, and there are several secrets that are trickily hidden away behind walls and through pipes. Exploration pays off big time here.
No, New Super Mario Bros. U probably won't shake up the foundation it's based upon. It's still Mario after all, and a lot of people still depend on him to be his good ol' self. That said, this game does present an interesting party opportunity for up to five people, and could be one of the best games for the system's launch when it drops later this year. Be sure to check back for the final review!