A new Nintendo console means a new playground for some of the most innovative minds in the video game industry to create new experiences. Keeping gamers glued to their TV's at home and staring down at their Game Boys and DSes out in the wild has been a time-honored tradition at Nintendo for the last thirty years or so. While the people behind the games deserve a lot of the credit, there is one other person that has lead much of this success – Mario. The plumber in the overalls that was the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto is one of the most recognizable faces in the world, and he's now being used to launch Nintendo's most recent gaming system, the Wii U. Learning from their slight misstep during the Wii's launch, Nintendo has made sure that there is a new Mario game hitting the shelves the same day as their new console is, in the hopes that consumers will pick up both. New Super Mario Bros. U is as good of a game as any to show off what the Wii U can do. But really, it's better, because it's got Mario.
Longtime fans of the Mario Bros. games will be thrilled to see that there is a bit of a twist to the story of the New Super Mario Bros. U. This time around, instead of kidnapping Peach, Bowser is holding the princess hostage in her own castle. Mario has been banished from her abode, and literally thrown to the other side of the Mushroom Kingdom, making this adventure his return home. Sure it's the same basic concept, but it's still something different right?
New Super Mario Bros. U is the latest entry into the wildly successful New Super Mario Bros. franchise, and is packed with the same 2D gameplay that fans will recognize from the 3DS, DS and Wii iterations of the series. In fact, fans will recognize a lot of this game from its predecessors, going all the way back to Super Mario Bros. on the NES. The gameplay is welcomingly familiar, with Mario (and Luigi, the Toads, and your Mii depending on your mode) running from left to right stomping on anything that gets in his way. There are a couple of new highlights: The Yoshis make a comeback in NSMBU, the first time they've been seen in 2D since Super Mario World, and there is a new Flying Squirrel suit that lets Mario float and cling to walls. Both are pleasant additions, giving the game a bit of a refresher, but it clearly isn't the traditional gameplay or the story that separate this game from its predecessors, in fact, it's everything else entirely.
The developers behind NSMBU have done everything in their power to show off Nintendo's flagship franchise on their new hardware. Right out of the gate, New Super Mario Bros U is easily the best looking Mario game ever released, and the pudgy plumber's first in HD. The characters, backgrounds, and enemies all look gorgeous on the new system, and really pop both onscreen and on the GamePad – where the game is completely playable in single player. This is another one of the impressive new features of NSMBU – off screen play, which means that you can play this console game, without the use of your TV (as long as you are a reasonable distance away). Both of these features are technological advances for the system, but Nintendo didn't forget about upgrading the game itself.
After years of trying, Nintendo has finally nailed multiplayer Super Mario Bros., and it turns out that all it needed to do it was a second screen. Boost Rush mode allows up to five people to play NSMBU at a time, and actually makes it fun. Four players pick up the Wii controllers and play on the TV, while one person uses the GamePad to place temporary platforms on the screen, find hidden objects, and even help with some of the enemies. Whether you're playing with just two people or five, this actually makes multiplayer more fun, because it's the definition of co-op play, allowing players to lean towards their strengths instead of hoping everyone can do the same thing at the same time.
In addition to Boost Mode, NSMBU also includes a series of challenge modes that are accessible from outside of the story. Taking a cue from the recently released New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS, NSMBU includes a Coin Rush mode, as well as a series of four other challenge modes that will test your different Mario Bros. skills like speed runs, and collecting 1-ups. These are a great diversion from the main gameplay, and beef up the amount of content even after you've beaten the game. These are leaps and bounds better than the mini-games that have been shoehorned into various Mario Bros. games in the past.
Mario games were once a rare thing. Sure, every one of Nintendo's consoles has at least one (usually two or three or four), but for a while there were these big gaps between when fans got to get their hands on a new traditional Mario game. We generally had to be satisfied with some kind of sporting or kart game to take the place of our beloved platformers. Something must have changed over at Nintendo in the last couple of years because it seems like there has been a deluge of games staring everyone's favorite plumber trying to save Peach. While the plot line is getting a bit old, the games are not. New Super Mario Bros. U introduces new gameplay ideas, crisp graphics, and Nintendo finally figured out how to make multiplayer Mario fun. They did all this while coming up with unique ways to introduce the Wii U's GamePad at the launch of the console. There's very little that Nintendo gets wrong in this game, and anyone that is thinking about picking up a Wii U should grab at the same time.
Note: The game's touted Miiverse integration had not been launched at the time of the review, and that is why it was not covered.