We had the opportunity to play New Super Mario Bros. U (NSMBU) with three separate control schemes at E3: controlling Mario via the GamePad, controlling Mario via a Wii Remote Plus and helping Mario using the touch screen on the Wii U GamePad. When using the GamePad as the primary controller, our PR dude Matt pointed out that we almost didn’t look at the TV at all, instead focusing on the mirror image on the GamePad’s screen. I see this as a good vote of confidence for the Wii U’s TV-less capabilities, as even when there was a big expensive HDTV showing the same thing in front of us, we preferred the immediacy of the GamePad’s screen regardless of its relative resolution. This may have been a side-effect of the novelty of having a screen in our controller, but even considering that factor, the GamePad’s screen certainly seemed to be doing its secondary display job well. Controlling Mario via a Wii Remote worked exactly as it does on New Super Mario Bros Wii — there didn’t seem to be any discrepancy between the mechanical performance of the two games. To help Mario out using the touch screen on the GamePad you tap in various areas to spawn up to four blocks at a time. If you double-tap a block it becomes slightly smaller, but will dole out coins when Mario jumps on it.
When the original NSMB came out on the DS, it was a nice refreshing throw-back to the Mario days of old. When NSMBW came out, it added Yoshis and 4-player multiplayer throughout not only improving upon the formula in meaningful ways, but also paving the way for other 4-player platformers like Rayman Origins and its currently Wii U exclusive sequel. Now with the double-whammy of NSMB coming out both on the 3DS and the Wii U, I (even with my previous history of Nintendo fanboyism) can’t help but feel that Nintendo’s just trying to print money with the series instead of attempting to make fun and novel games. If NSMBU comes out at the launch of the Wii U, it will serve as Nintendo’s standard classic Mario launch game, but I don’t see it becoming a perennial favourite that people will look back on as a high-point in Mario’s history like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario World. Even though it takes more time and effort I would much rather see Nintendo trying a unique idea for the Mario series like Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Sunshine then the rather paltry and assuredly short romp that will come in the NSMBU package. Don’t get me wrong, graphically the game is extremely crisp and there is nothing inherently wrong with the classic Mario platforming style, but even with the minor improvements/additions like the Flying Squirrel suit and the GamePad helper functionality it still feels far too much the same to warrant yet another $60 purchase.
Nintendo still has time to flesh out the game before its presumed launch this fall/winter and let’s hope they take it to really make the game have it’s own unique style and world. Anything shy of the depth, level-complexity, and memorability of 1990 game Super Mario World will be a bitter disappointment and a slap in the face for Nintendo gamers hoping that Nintendo has matured past its light casual gaming days and is starting to remember when it made real games. NSMBU so far looks like it may be worth it to people looking for some light fun on the Wii U, but full-priced retail games these days need to have certain amounts of content to be worthwhile and I truly hope that this game evolves into something worth the admission fee before its too late.
You can see a video of us playing NSMBU in our E3 2012 Wii U Video Roundup.