A new Mario game always evokes ambivalent feelings. On the one hand we are treated to a lot of recycled material, but on the other hand what is recycled is some of the most brilliant video game entertainment ever created. New Super Mario Bros. U builds on the Wii iteration of the game. So cue colourful and delightful 2D platforming (for up to four players) in our beloved Mushroom Kingdom.
What's new this time around is the fifth player. Nintendo are doing their best to convince us of the benefits of the addition of a touch controlled screen with a feature that reminds of the good old role of game master. The player with the GamePad in his hands can manipulate platforms and enemies to aid his fellow platform jumpers.
Whether it was just a novelty factor or a genuine revelation is hard to say, but the sense of accomplishment and joy of collaboration as we placed platforms in the advantageous positions was there for everyone to be seen. It was almost as much fun as luring the very same player to a sure death moments later. It came across as equal parts Ice Climber and Populous and appealed to the old school gamer in us.
In single player New Super Mario Bros. U offers our first venture into console gaming without a TV screen. You have the option of playing on the GamePad's screen if someone had the poor taste of wanting to see something else on the big screen. And naturally it will defuse some arguments in families that have yet to invest in multiple flat screens. For hardcore gamers it offers the option of not having to pause the action when the bladder calls.
New hardware brings with it new graphical capabilities and let's us experience Mario in glorious high resolution. However, outperforming the graphics of the Wii in this day and age can hardly be seen as a major feat, and what truly shines here is the wonderful design. It's not really something that is sprung out of innovation or brilliant new visual tweaks, but rather timeless visuals that push our nostalgia buttons, and that is slightly worrying.
Having lived a life enriched with wonderful Mario memories, it's difficult to fend off the lure of recycled features and nostalgia, as the Japanese gaming giant has turned retro nostalgia into an artform.
Though it's difficult not to be jump with joy at the sight of a spotted egg. A colourful Yoshi baby comes out, and he is hungry for enemies, but he can also be inflated and transformed into a dino-balloon when Mario needs it. It's a familiar element with an added twist. As to is the flying squirrel suit that allows Mario to reach new heights.
Another feature that will have fans of Super Mario World wiping away a tear or two is the re-introduction of the seemless world map. And perhaps it's a tad bit sad that the thing we are most excited about is that this new game closely resembles a more than 20 year old game in one key area.
But that doesn't stop us from being excited, and there is innovation built into this nostalgic feature as well with integration to the online service Miiverse - allowing us to exchange messages with friends and share tips on specific levels.
All things considered New Super Mario Bros. U looks like a definite purchase come the Wii U launch. The only problem is that it doesn't look like a game that will drop our jaws with innovative new features and elements. Sure we've got the flying squirrel suit, and lots of welcome comebacks, and interesting use of the new GamePad, but Mario needs a few more surprises to keep ahead of a pack led by the likes of Rayman.