A console without the plummer leading the charge has to fail, they say. Then the Wii came, launching without Mario and became Nintendo's most successful home console.
It was a brave step and bought Nintendo the time to work on Super Mario Galaxy, one of the best platformers ever made. With the Wii U Nintendo is playing the safe card, launching it together with New Super Mario Bros. U. Have the Japanese lost their courage?
It's the same old story, but with a slightly different approach. The Princess is kidnapped, Mario has to save her. But Bowser hasn't just kidnapped our beloved, but seized control of the whole castle as well, tossing Mario, Luigi and the Toads to the other end of the Kingdom, forcing the foursome to run and leap their way back. The basics remain the same however, as we charge through 2D worlds and head towards the finish flag.
In summer 2006 New Super Mario Bros. was released for the Nintendo DS. The game was a revelation, combining the compelling concept of the classic series with modern elements.
Nintendo needed some time to realize what they had created, so it wasn't until the fall of 2009 that New Super Mario Bros. Wii followed with its funky multiplayer mode. Now it is 2012 and New Super Mario Bros. 2 is available for Nintendo 3DS and New Super Mario Bros. U releases alongside the Wii U. And as much as the handheld versions resembled each other, so does the Wii U version resemble its predecessor.
The New Super Mario Bros. franchise is doing something we aren't used from the other adventures of the little plummer. It's repeating itself. There are few new gameplay elements, and of those there's nothing truly extraordinary.
It's a nagging issue, these repetitive elements. But New Super Mario Bros. U isn't poorly served for offering so little in the way of new mechanics.
Multiplayer delivers a lot of fun. Mario gets a new flying squirrel costume, with which we glide through levels and hold on to walls. The baby Yoshis from Super Mario World reappear, each colour offering new special abilities. Blues blow bubbles, Yellows glow and stun enemies, Pinks expand and float.
The level design is great and superior to other games - the ghost mansions alone offer so many intelligent solutions that it's easier to ignore the fact that everything strikes us as a mite too familiar.
The franchise also benefits from the new controller, in two ways.
Obviously, the added value is in the multiplayer: as the fifth person you can intervene from outside, tapping the controller's touch screen to create platforms, saving players from falling or helping them reach difficult areas. (Of course you could also be mean and place platforms unfavourably). New Super Mario Bros. U will destroy friendships...and we're looking forward to it.
The second advantage of the Wii U is more subtle, because it is just a common byproduct of the console. But to play this game on the Wii U GamePad is so much fun, that you might forget the TV - at least while you're playing alone. It's so easy to just pick up the controller and play a few levels, quickly enjoy a good game - and the new challenges and quick play are perfectly suited to that.
Challenge Mode offers you different takes on the Mario gameplay. In Time Attack you have to race your way through levels. In Coin Gathering your agenda are coins (obviously). In the 1UP-Rally you have to smash as many foes as possible to collect bonus lives. There's a mode that presents you with a variety of different tasks, such as gliding as far as possible (solvable by hopping onto foes and gaining height in the process). Boost mode lets you play together with a friend, with your goal to build platforms with the tablet controller and to collect as many coins as possible.
Quick play is designed for experienced players, and is based on a clever idea. You've to get to the level's end, with the camera gradually pulling to the right. You set the pace by collecting coins, and the more you collect, the quicker the screen moves. Perfect the run and maybe you'll beat the course record. There are seven different levels, consisting of three sections, and those finishing each can check their scores against other players on the Miiverse.
Super Assistant, Mario's helpful player guide for difficult sections, is also included in the game. If you can't crack a section you can let Luigi play whole sections or even levels for you. Super Assistant's only offered after you lost some lives, and it means missing out on the secrets the game has on offer - but the optional addition is a good extra for weaker players.
So New Super Mario Bros U isn't the all-new console launch Mario title you'd hope for. But that criticism aside, the game's based on a fantastic concept, and with players out there who struggle with 3D cameras, this Mario title will bring everyone back together - from beginners to Mario fanatics.
It's as beautiful a game as its predecessors in the franchise, and offering some great level designs. But there does remain that itch - that the game repeats itself too much on past adventures. One easily scratched though, as this will easily eat up the time until the next Mario platformer.
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