E3 2012: New Super Mario Bros. U Hands On

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The design of Super Mario Bros. games hasn’t changed noticeably in some time. 3D Mario titles like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy have spread their wing caps and soared to new heights, and even Paper Mario titles have ever-quirkily explored RPG storytelling and gameplay. Oddly, the side-scrolling simplicity of Super Mario Bros. continues to avoid straying very far from its well-known (and very well selling) conventions.

But hey, don’t fix what’s not broken, right?

While similar inferences can be made for Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U launch title New Super Mario Bros. U, it shouldn’t go without mentioning that the game includes some neat features that, from what I’ve played so far, help it stand out from past iterations – both in the realm of cooperative multiplayer and fun, creative design.

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During my time with the game at Nintendo’s area of the E3 show floor, I was given the opportunity to sample a handful of levels, almost all quite familiar in landscape – after all, Mario has covered a variety of themes in his days of running, jumping and coin-collecting from left to right.

The core mechanics you know are still the same – you’ll run through levels stomping on goombas, throwing fireballs and collecting coins, but like titles before it, some quirky new elements have been added to the mix to add a bit of flavor.

Among my favorite new elements is the crazily adorable baby Yoshi who, when found acts as a balloon – squeezed and inflated like the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You can carry his emotion-less little self around the level and inflate as needed, a neat power-up that’s different from your typical mushroom or power flower.

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He, like other characters (and even enemies) in the game, will walk and dance to the classic Mario-themed tunes that play on each level. It’s been done in Mario Bros. games past, but it’s still the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Also of note is the new squirrel suit, which allows you to glide and jump for farther distances than Mario is normally capable of.

So far, and as far as single player goes, the new controller surprisingly doesn’t add much to the experience. Outside of controlling the game with the standard fare of buttons and analog stick, my preview didn’t go far to show me how Nintendo was taking control of its new technology, something I feel they would  inherently be focusing on with first-party games.

However, where the Wii U GamePad functionality does come into play is in cooperative mode, aptly titled “Assist” or “Boost Mode”. In this cooperative multiplayer experience, two players (or possibly more, given the game supports up to 4 or 5 total) play through a level normally. The catch is, one player plays Mario with the Wii remote as he traverses the level. The second player, armed with the Wii U GamePad, focuses on assisting his co-op partner. Using the touchscreen entirely, the assistant is able to see everything that’s on-screen for the active player and is given the tools to help the other player throughout the level. Touching anywhere on the screen will create a block that Mario can jump onto, either to access something not easily reachable or even to save him from a 1Up-costing fall down a pit.

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Apart from placing blocks that can help (and sometimes even hinder) Mario, enemies on-screen can be tapped, which knocks them back and stuns them for a moment, allowing nearby Mario to hopefully pass by unscathed.

Apart from this mode, other modes like four-player co-op through levels is certainly familiar and well-explored territory, but ultimately still good fun on the couch with friends or family.

While the game is still fun at its core, my biggest fear is that Nintendo will do what it often tends to do with its modernized first-party properties: play it safe. With the titles in the “New Super Mario Bros.” sub-genre tending to look and play similarly as the years go by, the question comes to mind:

Does Nintendo have plans to help truly establish New Super Mario Bros. U among its predecessors? Is it unfair to ask that Nintendo’s baby stray slightly from its own conventions in favor of something fresh and new?

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We’ll see first-hand when the game launches alongside the Wii U later this year.

  1. Darn it. Some thoughts:

    I definitely will be getting this game. I love classic-style Mario goodness, and there’s now way this won’t be a really fun game, right? But, as you say, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of innovation involving the GamePad interface. The asymmetrical gameplay elements, in which the GamePad user can aid the other players, is an interesting wrinkle, but not really the kind of revelation in play that Super Mario Galaxy, or even Super Mario 3D Land displayed.

    The fact that this is basically the same game that we’ve been playing for years–albeit a great one–is a really, really bad sign in my view. The only big improvement, it seems, will be HD visuals. Do I really need a new system for this? I don’t. I shouldn’t. This is a drag. I still want a Wii U because I truly do believe that it can do some awesome things that haven’t been done yet. But in terms of the company’s FLAGSHIP character and franchise, this is a hugely missed opportunity.

    • Although it is the same game, its upgraded graphics and all new levels, with new power ups, making it still worth the purchase, Nintendo just kinda sold out on a better launch title, like a full Mario galaxy style game could have offered

      • I hate to be the bubble buster, but there disappointingly aren’t that many “all new levels”. The blocks may be structured differently platforming-wise, but the environments seem to have remained pretty much unchanged.

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