There is also the Super Guide, which appears after failing a level several times in a row (and remains even when you return at a later stage). Head butt a large green block near the start of the level and Luigi will take over to illustrate a sample run. You have the ability to quit out at any point in the level or allow him to complete the whole thing and proceed onwards. It’s hard to begrudge the Super Guide’s presence though, as the high overall quality of level design will make you eager to press on beyond the game’s sticking points.
So far, so New Super Mario Bros. then, and the new additions, while charming, don’t bring radical new directions to the core gameplay perfected down the years. Baby Yoshis put in an appearance: they’re not mountable like their grown up green brethren, but instead grabbed with the Y button and punted around the level, with the ZR trigger on the GamePad (or shaking with the Wii Remote) activating their special powers. Purple Baby Yoshis allow you to inflate them to use as balloons for navigating passages of the level, while the blue variety blow a stream of bubbles that help for jumping to higher vantage points, capturing enemies and collecting coins. The gold Yoshis, meanwhile, give off a burst of light, ideal for keeping the ghosts and rats that infest the haunted house levels at bay.
As always Mario has a wide variety of power ups to call on, from invulnerability stars and fireball blasts to a snow projectile that freezes enemies in an icy block, allowing them to be picked up and launched at others or off the end of platforms. The signature power up in NSMB U and on copious offer throughout is the new Flying Squirrel suit which enables Mario to glide short distances by holding down the jump button, boost up into the air by holding down the ZR trigger to reach hidden bonuses higher in the level and also grip onto the sides of walls, allowing you to potentially rescue yourself from certain death.
The local multiplayer option that debuted in the Wii instalment returns, which allows up to four players (five with Boost Block Mode, which I’ll return to later) to cooperatively tackle the entire Story Mode on the same screen. I say “cooperatively”, but with more than two players present onscreen completing a level in an ordinary manner goes out the window and the game tends to degenerate into an anarchic mix of working together and griefing each other senseless. It’s by equal measures hilarious and frustrating as all the players scramble madly towards the level’s end, punting each other off platforms, body blocking in mid-air and bouncing around on each others heads. It’s best taken with plenty of patience and a pinch of salt, and (if you are of course old enough) a generous amount of alcohol to hand.
Complementing this, New Super Mario Bros. U packs in a wide array of spin-off games with a healthy dose of unlockable levels under the banner of “Play with Mii”. The option to play as your own Miis actually adds little to game apart from the (debatable) joy of seeing yourself in a plumber’s uniform and Mario’s iconic hat. The games themselves consist of Challenges, which support 1-2 players, and feature the likes of Time Attack (speed runs across a mixture of Story Mode and specially designed levels with fairly brutal time limits), Coin Collection, the 1-Up Rallies that involve staying aloft by jumping on as many enemies as possible and a Boost Mode that sees two players collaborate to cross obstacles, one with the Wii Remote while the other places boost blocks with the GamePad.
Best of the bunch are the Special Challenges which see Mario set a variety of tasks, from guiding Monty Mole to safety to staying aloft in the Flying Squirrel Suit across an entire level. The other modes on offer apart from Challenges are Boost Rush (for 1-5 players), where you must attempt to navigate levels from the Story Mode as the rate of scrolling speed dramatically increases the more coins you collect, and Coin Battle that sees up to 4 players face off to collect as many coins as possible within the time limit, though disappointingly there’s no tally of your score during the game itself.
There’s also oddly no online leaderboards for any of these modes, though Miiverse integration means you can post messages at any point in the game – and indeed it will often suggest whether you wish to compose the likes of a short ode to Bowser and share it with the Wii U’s online community.
The Play with Mii games round out what is a sizeable platforming package. New Super Mario Bros. U is a fine debut for Nintendo’s most iconic character on their latest home console, if not bursting with originality or in the very top tier of Mario titles. What it isn’t, though, is a particularly thorough exploration of the new avenues of interaction the Wii U’s GamePad offers.
When playing single-player, the GamePad simply mirrors the TV screen output, though onscreen menus are navigable via the touchscreen as well as the physical controls. Of course, this means that at any point you can turn the television off and wander about your house with what has essentially become a handheld Mario game, which is no bad thing, and as noted in my review of the Wii U console, the range is enough that the game was perfectly playable in other rooms of the house. But there is no sign of some of the innovative uses for the dual-screen set-up that the early Wii U tech demos hinted at, such as moving from TV to GamePad when Mario enters a pipe.
The GamePad is also rather bizarrely not available as a control option if two or more players wish to play the game’s multiplayer modes in standard fashion. Instead, you’ll have to all use Wii Remotes (Pro Controller support is also lacking). If you do wish to involve someone with the GamePad, then they can only interact in Boost Block Mode, conjuring up new blocks onscreen and stunning enemies by tapping on them, rather than controlling a character directly. This does up the supported multiplayer numbers to five people, but overall the GamePad implementation suffers from an apparent lack of ambition and odd design choices.
But that shouldn’t detract from what is an excellent first Wii U outing for Mario. Nintendo remain the kings of ruthlessly honed and challenging 2D platforming, while still packing in bags of charm, quirky humour and loveable character. On that basis alone, New Super Mario Bros. U is an essential purchase for any Wii U owners.
New Super Mario Bros. U, by Nintendo, is available now for Wii U.