The past six months haven’t been kind to Mario, it has to be said. One minute fans were complaining about having two New Super Mario Bros. titles in the same year, the next they were wondering whether he and his brother should hang up their side-scrolling caps altogether after a decent, but rather lacklustre, adventure in New Super Mario Bros. 2. And now, in his first home console launch title since Super Mario 64, he’s in danger of being shown up by some limbless upstart from France due his ever-growing reluctance to embrace his own hardware.
Because no matter which way you look at it, New Super Mario Bros. U just isn’t as innovative or exciting as Rayman Legends. Both are excellent platformers in their own right, but considering New Super Mario Bros. U is Nintendo’s primary in-house launch title aside from Nintendo Land, it completely fails to take advantage of the GamePad’s unique selling points compared to its French rival.
The traditional Mario run ‘n’ jump formula is still there in spades, and its new, vibrant and detailed landscapes still play host to the same multiplayer chaos found in previous NSMB titles, but all this is solely reserved for those playing with a Wii Remote. The GamePad player, on the other hand, is resigned to simply using the controller’s touchscreen to place assist-blocks around the level– and while there’s a certain childish glee to be found in using said blocks to hinder your friends’ progress rather than helping them, it’s definitely the short straw of NSMB U‘s two play-styles.
This surely goes against everything a fancy new controller should be about. It should be practically screaming at you to pick it up and play with it, not minding its own business in the back of your cupboard while your collection of Wii Remotes have all the fun. That’s not what should be happening at all– especially not when it’s as new and fancy as a Wii U GamePad!
Of course, for some this may not matter in the slightest. As Nintendo’s latest Nintendo Direct confirmed, New Super Mario Bros. U will be keeping one eye on the Super Mario World days of yore with its large, interconnected overworld map, and one eye on the future with its slew of new power-ups and baby Yoshis spitting out all manner of who-knows-what to keep things fresh. So far we’ve seen them blow bubbles to help catch enemies, light up dark areas, and we’ve even seen them inflate to help carry Mario to new heights in certain levels.
The chance to play as your Mii will also make the trek back to Peach’s castle a slightly more personal affair than before, and its new Time Attack mode (which has so far seen players reaching the goal post as quickly as possible or jumping on several enemies for set periods of time) and Boost Rush mode (where the more coins you collect, the faster the screen scrolls) will no doubt keep players coming back for more once the main quest is over.
The thing is, everything we’ve seen looks far more enticing than what we’ve actually been able to play, which leaves New Super Mario Bros. U in a rather tenuous position. If you take a gander at the gallery below, there’s hope yet that it might still reach the dizzy heights attained by its predecessors. The level in the sunken ship, for instance, where players have only a circular silhouette to guide them through Boo-infested waters looks infinitely more inspiring than the walk-in-the-park acorn forests shown in our hands-on demo, as does the next shot which shows Mario climbing a mountain via tilting platforms while dodging bow-wows and a whole host of piranha plants. And who wants rotating star wheels in the done-to-death snow level, when you’ve got underwater dragons and schools of cheep-cheep to contend with?
Also hanging in the balance is the fate of the GamePad player, as while our hands-on experience was a rather underwhelming affair (especially when your fellow players are all NSMB veterans), the latest trailer shows its immense potential for Mario’s newfound love of speed-running. Place a series of assist-blocks just right and it opens up a whole new world of co-operative gaming that’s, quite literally, leaps and bounds ahead of its usual “save me from falling down a pit” malarkey.
It would seem, then, that a large amount of New Super Mario Bros. U‘s success will hinge directly on the ability of its audience. Speed-running champs and complete newcomers will no doubt get the most of it as they respectively finesse and get to grips with its platforming mayhem, but those left in the middle may find little to tempt them here– especially if they’ve had their fair share of New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS. But even if New Super Mario Bros. U does manage to evolve into something greater than the sum of its demos, it’s likely that all will be for nought when a certain game called Rayman Legends is shaping up to be one of the most innovative platformers you’ll ever experience. Tune in tomorrow to see exactly what I mean…