Having only mildly enjoyed the antics of New Super Mario Bros. on Wii and DS – because clearly I have no soul – the thought of New Super Mario Bros. U was actually rather interesting to me. I had hopes that Nintendo would use the launch of a new piece of hardware to innovate the series and usher in an intuitive way to play with the Wii U GamePad. Unfortunately my hands on time at Eurogamer Expo left me with a sour taste in my mouth for more 2D Mario adventures - one not too dissimilar from what I imagine eating a Yoshi egg would taste like.
Being the ever-investigative critic that I am, I dived right in and had a crack at playing NSMBU with both the Wii U GamePad and the Wiimote controller too. What I found was more of the same, more gameplay I just found painfully dull to play unless surrounded by a room of friends to play with. I wasn’t alone in my side-scrolling escapades though, I had help from 4 others to cause madcap mayhem and incredibly forced laughter so it wasn’t too noticeable just how unimpressed everybody seemed to be.
Using a Wiimote to play is exactly like NSMB, everything is as you’d expect and it all plays out exactly as you think it will. There’s no silly coin-em-up gimmicks here; Nintendo are simply hoping that new levels, pretty HD visuals and some half-arsed GamePad support will sell the game. Talking of the GamePad, using it is – as always – a pleasure, however the lack of any real purpose renders the fifth player rather obsolete. Taking control of this tablet device means you’ll be some intangible character that, at best, interacts passively in a level. You’ll be able to plant blocks that can help or hinder the onscreen action, and you’ll also be able to nudge enemies in or out of the way. That’s right, nudge. You can’t actually defeat foes in levels; you can’t even place blocks that last as they all shrink away over time. Essentially you’re there as a token gesture.
Compared to the involvement found in Ubisoft’s frankly brilliant Rayman Legends, Nintendo have really got a lot to answer for – it is their console after all. If Ubisoft can create a more engaging and enjoyable five player side-scrolling adventure title with a cast of characters that – Rayman aside – is really rather weak, what does that say about what NSMBU has managed to achive?
At least the HD world all looks rather nice, but again it’s hard to really notice a lot of difference between NSMBU and NSMB on the Wii as it was one of the better looking titles on the console. The art style and flat colours make it hard for Nintendo to really make it look much better, especially as things seem to be rather textureless – instead opting for the classic Mario style of soft shapes and – although I hate using the word – ‘cartoony’ visuals. At least this style also looks rather pretty on the GamePad’s screen too.
It’s rare that Nintendo manage to flop so easily with a big title, especially after its successful revival; but it really is shocking just how lackluster Nintendo’s efforts with New Super Mario Bros. U are. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt though, perhaps there are features they still aren’t showing off – and it should be noted the demo definitely had no Nintendo Network features present – maybe the Eurogamer Expo build is an early one, because the Wii U launch is looming closer and the window Nintendo have to fix this game is closing. While I’m sure upon its release you’ll see critics clambering all over themselves in an effort to shout just how great this game is, but for me – after my experience – this just seems like another 2D Mario title that Nintendo are hoping to relive their glory days with.