New Super Mario Bros U (for Wii U) review
That loveable plumber is back, this time in high definition. New Super Mario Bros. U - to give its title the whole mouth-full-of-cake, full stop an' all dues - is a Nintendo Wii U launch title with a lot resting on it.
Mario has history; he's the symbol of a gaming generation - sorry Sonic, you kinda died in many hearts a while back. So when any new Mario title comes out it's got to appeal to and challenge both new-to-gaming youngsters, teens and us old folk - still pretending to be young - alike. And let's face it, a moustachioed Italian who likes to eat "special" mushrooms and then goes jumping around in the clouds sure sounds about as much Fear And Loathing as it does a "kiddy" computer game. So that's all age bases covered then.
Is Mario better late than never to the HD party or is it too little too late for our cap-donning plumber?
1998 revisited: Side-scrolling simplicity
Nintendo's only gone and launched the most powerful console on the planet - that, of course, being the Wii U - and gives us - drum roll please - a cutesy-looking, side-scrolling platform game. It's like 1998 dragged kicking and screaming into 2012, and in HD. But you know what, why the heck not? We love it. It's almost a tradition.
Side-scrolling 2D games are pretty rare these days. It's roughly split between Mario and Rayman, with a couple of other stylised titles also popping up in the last few years.
Mario Bros U has simple play mechanics, as anyone who's ever played a 2D Mario title will know well. It's essentially a run and jump platform game: jump on enemies' heads, avoid invincible nasties with spiky things for heads, then get to the end goal without falling down any holes. Simple.
Yet it's simplistic brilliance. And here's why: the level designs are great, the themes are visually fun, the graphics still manage to be eye catching - though aren't Little Big Planet kind of pretty - and there's just the right level of difficulty to boot.
Okay, so the first batch of levels won't have gaming aficionados pulling at their hair. Instead, they'll be a breeze. But as you progress through the game there's just the right amount of "just missed that block" or "slipped on that ice" to get at you and force out the occasional swear. Let's not forget the bloomin' octopuses that splash about underwater to that catatonic soundtrack. Oh yes, they're worthy of a smattering of profanity, but are all part of the Mario tapestry.
Nostalgic novelty: So what's new?
Yes all the classics are here. The cumulation of decades of games, their characters and power ups, New Super Mario Bros U sees the return of Yoshi, Toad, Princess and plenty more. But it doesn't really add much that's new. We've got the same soundtrack revamped, the same distinguished design, and the same enemies. Heck, there's even a retro-style Mario map.
On the whole Mario Wii U is a lot like the original Wii game brought up to date and high-definion-ised, as even the Wii U's "revolutionary" Gamepad has fairly limited use, apart from when playing with a friend. Opt to play with a Wiimote (sold separately to the Wii U console) and it feels a touch more like that Eighties' NES experience.
What the Wii U version of Mario cleverly does - just like many recent Mario titles - is wrap up a whole new game and then douse it with all those familiar, nostalgic things. It's sort of 50 per cent recycling, if you will. But recycling bottles and cans should give you that world-saving kind of smugness; the same smugness that playing Mario also brings. It's a lot of fun that'll bring a smile to your face.
Clearly Shigeru Miyamoto - Mario's creator - is stuck in some kind of Neverland where nothing changes or gets any older, but he's obviously still loving it and that carries on through into the gameplay.
A weekend of dipping in and out of New Super Mario Bros U saw us complete the game. Or "soft complete", if you will.
As there's a lot more life to this game. There's a whole new world that opens when you've given Bowser his last, but to open these later levels you'll need to get three giant golden coins in each level. Fill out the full score card in a particular world and that will open up a corresponding new - and difficult - level.
Here's where things get far more complex. Finding those coins isn't as easy as it may seem - it's going to take some risky leaps, precision timing, a whole bunch of pipe exploring and a fair few deaths before every one can be nabbed.
Again, it's not a new concept as we've seen this in Mario games before, but it's a tried and tested method that will keep you coming back for more, even if just to be better than your friends.
At the opposite end of the scale there's a two-player option - where player one will need to use a Wiimote, while player two uses the Gamepad's inbuilt screen - where the second player can add temporary platforms to assist Mario on his way. Sometimes these platforms actually make things tougher, but a bit of careful placement and this collaborative play could be just what those less-able gamers need. And it's fun.
Push things a bit further and it's possible to have up to five players at any one time - one on the Gamepad and up to four on separate Wiimotes. But this chaotic play method is as painful as playing Tails in Sonic 2: you'll all end up off the screen, dying all the time and, fundamentally, it's useless anyway as everything is possible in single player.
It's hard to criticise Mario. As side-scrolling 2D platform games go it's a joy to play and the HD visuals sure are fun. It's hardly pushing the Wii U to its graphical limits, but this is a gameplay title above all else.
A heady mix of nostalgic fun, the game sure does paste on the tried-and-tested themes of Mario, but wraps it up into a new game that's fun at every turn.
It's challenging without being too much to tackle, and the progressive difficulty means there's something here for all ages. Hardened gamers shouldn't turn their noses up either: see how long it takes to get the three gold coins in every level.
If there's anything to moan about it's that little is new and surely this title should come with every Wii U console rather than demanding its £45 price tag?