New Super Mario Bros. U Hands-On Preview

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that gamers love helping Italian plumbers save the day. That helps to explain why Mario and Luigi have almost become synonymous with the interactive hobby, having enjoyed a three decade-long run of popularity on Nintendo platforms, which doesn’t look like it’ll end anytime soon. Then again, who can resist the pair’s perfectly tuned jumping mechanics and colourful gameplay? I know that I can’t.

With every passing day, the video game industry gets closer to the planned holiday launch of the technologically impressive Nintendo Wii U. Releasing as a brand new console that looks to match muscles with its high-definition peers, the device will hit stores with Mario by its side. As a result, those who can’t get enough of the hopping plumber can get their daily fix by picking up New Super Mario Bros. U, which is a game that I recently got a chance to demo at a preview event in Toronto.

Now, I must be honest. Although I’ve always enjoyed the series and its creative releases, I worried that New Super Mario Bros. U would be too much, too soon. But, thankfully, it won me over and those worries have vanished from my mind. Also, now that I’ve had a chance to play a few of its levels, I’m left thinking that the game could end up being its series’ most entertaining release yet. Yes, my hopes are that lofty for the brothers’ next console-based platforming adventure.

Right from the get-go, one thing was clear: Mario has never looked better. Presented on a large high-definition screen, the game looked absolutely stunning. Its colours popped, and its details shone through, with enhanced effects that added a lot to its timeless side-scrolling formula. Though, what really got me were the stages themselves, all of which featured unique backgrounds that stole my attention away from the action on more than one occasion. Seeing painted images with noticeable brush stroke details on the proverbial back wall of a Super Mario Bros. stage provided quite a wow factor, helping to show off the Wii U’s visual capabilities.

After time spent gawking at each of the three demonstration stages’ backgrounds, it was time to get down to business, which meant helping three peers get from point A to point B. That became a challenging yet incredibly entertaining experience, full of tricky jumps, colourful power-ups and visceral action. Though, with three allied avatars on screen at once, it also became somewhat chaotic at times, with everyone vying for power-ups and 1-ups. As a result, more than a couple of lives were lost to accidental player-on-player contact. Of course, it was all in good fun, so no hard feelings were harboured.

As expected, each stage presented difficult sections and tough to reach secrets, both of which are staples of the series’ renowned design. That’s why it’s been so successful for so many years. While having nice visuals and tight jump mechanics certainly helped, games need to be both accessible and challenging, in order to relate to different audiences. Mario’s outings have always managed to walk that tightrope with perfect balance, offering campaigns that both newcomers and seasoned gamers can enjoy. Thankfully, New Super Mario Bros. U does the same, delivering gameplay that is fun because it mixes challenging stages with easy to grasp mechanics.

The night, ice and Mushroom Kingdom based levels that we played were expertly designed with added artistic flourish. While each one had a main route that was easy to distinguish, they all presented special pathways that more daring folks could take advantage of. One could get up high and balance on rotating stars or stay below where platforms were readily available. Or, for that matter, one could use a baby Yoshi as a hot air balloon, in order to get to hard to reach areas located above the main route. Those opportunities were created in risk and reward fashion, with enticing secrets flanked by dangerous holes. That was until someone picked up the Wii U GamePad.

When Nintendo unveiled New Super Mario Bros. U during its E3 2012 presentation, it promised that the game would offer a brand new way to play. That alteration was made available thanks to the Wii U’s GamePad controller, which one player can use to help others make their way through the game. By pressing down on the controller’s touchscreen, one can create platforms that offer an escape from danger or a way to get to a specific area. It works like a charm and really does add a lot to the experience, though it takes a moment to get used to having to press down for a couple of seconds before the game registers the creation as fact.

Those who end up deciding against helping their friends’ cause by creating platforms can sit back and watch each stage attempt on the GamePad’s built-in screen. Having that option is certainly a treat, especially since it works very well. Though the screen isn’t as vibrant as the world’s best HDTVs, it offers a quality viewing option.

With New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo has seemingly hit yet another home run, giving its venerable plumbers a starring role in what will surely end up being a must-own game. Fans of the franchise will certainly want to keep their eyes on this one. However, they should be warned that, once you start watching this title’s visceral action, it’s tough to pull away from it.