Good Old Mario'Good Old Super Mario Bros. U' might be a more apt name for Nintendo's first Wii U Mario game, if our early impressions are anything to go by. Don't get us wrong, the title looks set to feature all the charm and delightful platform gameplay Nintendo and its chubby mascot have become synonymous with over the last few decades, but much of the gameplay just doesn't feel very new - not at this stage anyway.
The few levels shown off to date offer more of the tried and tested 2D side-scrolling gameplay we've become accustomed to in recent years through the New Super Mario Bros titles for Wii and DS. As ever, Mario's platforming physics are perfectly tuned, with the plump plumber's easily controllable weight and momentum making it a joy to bounce through green and rocky Mushroom Kingdom environments, and to manoeuvre across rotating stars acting as platforms against the stunning backdrop of a starry night sky - perhaps the most immediate difference to past games in the series is the crisp high definition visuals offered by Nintendo's new console, which is a welcome first for the long-running franchise.
Up to five people can now play the game simultaneously, with four leaping around the level using sideways-turned Wii Remotes and another tapping the Wii U GamePad's touch screen to kill enemies or place blocks in the game world to make platforms. There's a limit to the number of blocks you can create and they disappear after a set time, but you can still have a substantial impact on proceedings. You can assist friends by blocking off deadly chasms or building a pathway into the sky to reach hidden objects, or, more mischievously, you can punish cocky players by blocking pathways and covering the entrances to pipes. It's a cool addition, but gameplay-wise, the person with the GamePad appears to be getting the short straw at the moment, which doesn't seem like an ideal way to introduce a new controller.
Power-UpsNew Super Mario Bros. U will introduce a number of new power-ups to assist players throughout the adventure. While most of them are being kept under wraps for now, the Squirrel Suit gives Mario a single shot of altitude before he glides back to Earth, providing alternative ways to scale structures, approach enemies and attain hard to reach collectibles.
Various baby Yoshis lying around levels have special powers too. Grab a blue one and he'll spit out enemy-trapping bubbles, while yellow ones help illuminate dark stages. Purple Yoshis enable you to launch Mario into the sky, much like the Squirrel suit, but the difference here is that you can keep tapping jump to get more boosts of height before your little dinosaur friend runs out of puff and deflates.
Overall, New Super Mario Bros. U feels like a fairly safe Wii U launch game for Nintendo, at least from the experiences we've had with an early version of the title consisting of three levels. Nevertheless, we're sure the company has plenty of exciting surprises lined up to be revealed in the run-up to release, and even if that wasn't the case, the game being just a slight improvement on the excellent New Super Mario Bros Wii would be a major treat.