The game begins with a rather clichéd attack on Princess Peach's castle by the nefarious Bowser and his cronies. Next, Mario and his allies are scattered all over the land, as Bowser sweeps them away with a mighty whack of his oversized fist.
From here you have to take control of the plucky plumber, as he dusts himself off and attempts to make his way back to reclaim Peach's castle and oust Bowser. Naturally, Mario must do this one hostile territory at a time, with plenty of platform hopping along the way.
New Super Mario Bros. U is a cinch to get the hang of, as the first few levels are very easy to conquer, but the difficulty level ramps up quickly from here. There are bosses to beat too, and while the first few are similarly simple to dispatch, you will find later guardians are mighty tough. Mario does have a number of special abilities he can draw on. Also as you progress the game continues to freely distribute bonuses, treasure levels and other power ups you can store for those “rainy day” moments when you must confront a boss.
The game runs using the traditional side scrolling 2D platform perspective, with the occasional 3D background element giving the levels more visual depth. Levels are viewable on a 3D map that helps you work out where you are in the grand scheme of things. You can quickly see where major enemy castles are, as well as where “bonus” areas, like Toadstool “shacks”, might be located.
The bonus shacks run by Toadstool are a real boon, as you can usually win an extra life or power up token. This you can then "bank" and use when you come up against a tough challenge. For example the squirrel's nuts, and the wing-suit they allow you to access, are invaluable. Once you have the suit on you can simply soar above the dangers that populate a level, with a combination of jumping and gliding. Mario can do other cool things too like hurl fireballs, but the winged suit is definitely the best bonus toy.
New Super Mario Bros. U scores points when it comes to incredibly responsive controls and an intelligent game design, where everything is pixel perfect in placement. Mario is a delight to control. He adeptly jumps, glides and pirouettes all over the place.
In typical Mario fashion, once you have beaten the game, there are always tougher challenges in the form of hidden bonuses and inaccessible areas that you can uncover.
In this sense you are getting a decent incentive to be thorough, but it is often hard to open up hidden areas, especially if Mario isn't in a “powered up” mode. Again the wing suit comes in really handy in these instances.
Thankfully New Super Mario Bros. U does offer a concession to those who are struggling. If you are failing and dying consistently in one area you will be given the option of a successful guided tour through a level courtesy of Luigi. With this option available you are never truly stuck.
On the negative side of the ledger, the way the game has been designed to be playable on both original Wii and Wii U controllers is a bit of a let down. There would have been more scope for different game modes or control layouts that support the Wii U if Nintendo wasn't so eager to support the original Wii handsets. Instead, you can play the game on the portable screen of Wii U's amazing new controller, but this is the only real change of note when playing solo. The decision to accommodate the simpler original Wii controller in the game design means the awesome Wii U deck doesn't get to do much.
That said, Nintendo have added one odd fresh multiplayer function. When playing against friends you can use the Wii U screen to help or hinder players, by tapping away with the stylus and mucking about with the environment.
One criticism of the controllers that has to be aired is the odd button configuration. The game gives you multiple buttons for jumping and throwing things, something which is nice yet unnecessary. However the game designers then frustrate you with an awkward requirement that you press two buttons when you want to pick up items. This is downright annoying and one button for this would have been so much better.
Those of you who have played the regular Wii version of this game will not find much that is new with the "U" incarnation and really apart from a few small tweaks, the key difference is that the game is in high definition. Mario in HD is just brilliant to watch though, and while not all of the levels leap off the screen in HD, there are a couple of areas that will impress. In this regard the submerged stages come to mind, as you try and avoid a giant eel that is trying to eat you. There is plenty of other eyecandy too.