Nintendo / Dabe Alan
First impressions of New Super Mario Bros. U played with the Wii U Game Pad
Nintendo’s Wii U hardware fits into your home in some very odd ways. I’ve been testing the hardware and the first slate of games in my own home for the past few days, and it’s been fascinating to see how well the console has slid into my home theater. You don’t have to find your television remote anymore, as you can program the Game Pad to be used as a remote for your display. Or you can skip the television altogether: New Super Mario Bros. U is one of the games that allows you to play using only the Game Pad, no external display necessary. This is where Nintendo’s innovations begin to show up. I can pick up the Game Pad while the kids are watching cartoons on the television, power on the system, and begin to play without the use of a television. If I want to hear better I can use the headphone port on the top of the Game Pad. As long as you’re within range of the Wii U console, and that range seems to be around a single room away, you can play Mario U as if it were a portable title. I noticed some instances of dropped frames and freezing during my play, but I moved some things around and tried to keep line of sight with the console and that seems to have solved the problem. During one marathon session the five-hour battery on the Game Pad died and I was worried about losing my progress. Then I remembered the console itself was still powered on and I could continue the game with another controller on the television. You can switch between control methods and displays quickly and easily using the in-game menus. The Wii U offers a very strange combination of console and portable gaming with games like New Super Mario Bros. U. Let's dive in.
New Super Mario Bros. U
It’s going to be hard to judge Nintendo’s latest Mario game before the social features of the Wii U are activated. The campaign is fun, filled with the high quality level design and hidden secrets that we expect from Mario games, and the squirrel suit feels different from the raccoon tail and cape that allowed Nintendo to add a vertical structure to the levels in past games. Just as you get tired of the same style of levels and enemies, the game will show you something that changes the game’s rhythm or forces you to deal with the environment in a new way. The overworld map feels much like it did in Super Mario World, giving the game a sense of scale and place that was missing in the discrete worlds of New Super Mario Bros. 1 and 2. Each section of the game is connected to the rest via a single map, complete with branching paths and secrets.There are layers of fun things to find and do. Every so often a character called “Nabbit” will steal a bunch of items from Toad and make a run for it. You need to travel to the level he dove into, catch up with him, and grab him. Do all that, and you’ll be rewarded with an item that allows you to fly through the entirety of a level. I also found a section of the map made up of a bunch of connected nodes, with a power-up and enemies that all changed positions when I moved. It was fun trying to get to the next section of the map while avoiding the bad guys and collecting the items. Nintendo has been trying to bring life and action to the overworld maps of Mario titles in the past few games, and New Super Mario Bros. U is the company’s most successful attempt. Nintendo continues to find ways to add a wrinkle or two to a well-worn but much-loved formula, and playing with the baby Yoshis and their different abilities is a good time. The graphics are now in high-definition, which is a first for the Mario series, and the improved power of the Wii U allows for some beautiful scenes. Watching a Koopa ship fly by an open window with every detail sharp and clear is an enjoyable moment, as are the levels that take place under the northern lights. The graphics don't feature much that’s ground breaking, but the art is definitely improved by the increased resolution.
The extra modes
We’ll have more thoughts on the game’s campaign and multiplayer as we get closer to launch, but there is some real meat to be found in the game’s secondary modes. You’ll find speed runs, coin collecting challenges, levels where you’re not allowed to touch the ground between hitting enemies, and levels that use the baby Yoshis to great effect. There are a series of competitive maps under Coin Battle where players try to grab the most coins, and Boost Rush is a form of time attack where you can increase the speed of the scrolling level by picking up coins. Many of the modes can be played with friends, but there is plenty for the solo player to do as well. There is a wealth of content to be found between these three extra modes, and once the system’s online features are enabled you’ll be able to compete against your friends to beat their high scores and best times. You can record your best runs and share the videos. This may be the first Mario game where a community of players builds up around the online play; I’ll be able to share more details on how effective those plans turned out to be once the online system is working and I can begin to see the scores of other reviewers and press.
Should I buy a system for this?
I know people want a thumbs up or down verdict after playing with the system and one of its flagship games, but it’s way too early for that. Plus, if this veers into review territory Nintendo is likely to get mad. I’ve only finished a portion of the campaign, have barely tested the game with other players in the same room, and have yet to be able to see the social features in action. There are too many unknowns for anything close to a verdict. The ability to play the entirety of the game with the Game Pad is very cool though, especially in a house with a wife and three kids who all want to watch or play something different. I hope more single-player games support this feature, although it’s unclear how much of a selling point it will be for a wider audience. I’m also looking forward to a third-party battery or a larger battery pack; I’m ashamed to say that I ran through the five-hour battery life of the Game Pad in a single sitting. Hey, I’m working! New Super Mario Bros. U is a play for Nintendo’s base; those who will always buy more hardware to see what the plumber has learned since his last game. There are enough new things to grab even seasoned players, and the challenges offer much to even hardcore players. So far New Super Mario Bros. U is a competent use of the technology, and moves the series forward in some interesting ways. I can’t wait to continue playing with everything turned on and functional.