First Impressions: New Super Mario Bros. U

Mushroom magic?

It's OK to say you were disappointed that New Super Mario Bros. U is Wii U's first Super Mario game. You may have wanted something groundbreaking like Super Mario 64, and Nintendo revealed a shinier, sharper version of a Wii game from 2009. You're entitled to be disappointed.

Your excitement for Mario's next home adventure all depends on how much you enjoyed New Super Mario Bros. Wii. If you loved its chaotic multiplayer and new power-ups, this HD sequel will already be near the top of your want list; if the whole thing left you colder than an Ice Flower, though, there probably isn't a lot in U to change your mind.

The addition of the GamePad means five players can now tussle at once, four using Wii Remotes and one using the GamePad to place platforms and stun enemies with a tap. Imagine the co-star mode in Super Mario Galaxy 2 with added platform-building and you're about there. Of course, GamePad play is optional; four players can play with Wii Remotes just as they can on Wii, and it's as big a riot now as it was in 2009. Symmetric gameplay is still big.

NSMBU is one of the few titles you can play entirely on the GamePad, and we found this very comfortable and precise; the screen is clear and bright enough to do Mario's world justice, with no 'ghosting' or streaking when things get fast. In fact, despite being stood in front of a 32" HDTV, we were happier just using the controller's 6.2" screen. It's really not about size after all.

Only three levels were available in this preview and each felt familiar yet just different enough, with the spinning stars of course 3 being the nearest we got to encountering truly new ideas. Of course these are three early stages, and if our previews of past Mario games have been anything to go by the final designs will be different.

The two new power-ups, the flying squirrel suit and inflatable Yoshi, both felt like slightly adapted versions of the propeller suit. Flying squirrel Mario (the three best words ever?) can glide and catch a gust of air under his wings by shaking the controller, giving him a little boost upwards for a touch more height. The red Yoshi inflates like a balloon, with multiple inflations possible for extra lift, but the advantage to both forms of getting high seemed to be a power-up and a nudge back on track. Don't expect stacks of verticality; it's all about the left-to-right dash.

Three levels isn't anywhere near enough to assess NSMBU, but we didn't see anything that suggests this will be anything other than another enjoyable Mario game. It might not be the incredible leap we've come to expect from the famous mascot, but we thought the same thing about Super Mario 3D Land before that arrived and turned out well, from most perspectives.

Some of you may be disappointed now, but look at the bigger picture. Wii U will have a Mario game at launch, and not just any Mario game: a follow-up to two of his biggest-selling adventures. New Super Mario Bros. U might be a move motivated by sales instead of pure creative inspiration, but as long as it's enjoyable along the way, everybody wins.