For an indie game this title is expensive at ten bucks, is the price right or are you just burning your cash? Find out after the jump. (more…)
Back when the original ‘New’ genus of the Mario Bros. canon was released unto the world in 2006 it was heralded as a backwards-engineered marvel, a retro revolution. ‘Finally,’ the masses cried, ‘Mario’s back. No more open worlds, no more contrived companions. Mario’s back in the two dimensions he’s only ever belonged in.’
4 games later and the whole ‘New’ maxim has become something of a joke. ‘New? Don’t you mean Old Super Mario Bros.’ Arsey McFart would guffaw into a bag of chewy homebrew. And rightfully so.
The original 2D Mario platformers back in heady NES/SNES days were consistent harbingers of innovation, the veritable crafters of pretty much everything we today consider platformers to be. If it wasn’t for that little thing called ‘copyright,’ we should by right be playing ‘Marioers.’
These days…not so much. New suits, more coins, more players: Nintendo took the grandmotherly approach to food with their omnipotent portly plumber: more is better.
Fortunately, New Super Mario Bros. U – despite its Megazord of a title - is a tentative return to form, though it doesn’t exactly ‘innovate’ so much as renovate.
It’s a prototypically idyllic summer’s day and Peach is dining with her favourite whipping boy, his brother and two obviously aristocratic Toads (seriously, how come Messrs.’ Yellow and Blue get to dine at the big table while the rest wallow in the fields and live in houses made of Mushrooms which, you have to assume, they are in some way related to? Hypocrisy I tell you.) Then, presumably because he wasn’t invited again and suffers from crippling emotional/social behavioural problems, Bowser kicks off. Using a brand new airship – with a fleet of militaristic children in tow – and its remarkably dexterous giant hand appendage, he disposes of the mustachioed plumbers and proceeds to vomit lava everywhere in a misunderstood attempt at making friends. It’s then up to Mario and his subordinates to once again save the day and murder everything in their way.
All of your classic Mario staples are here and accounted for: themed worlds; plenty-o-platforms, power-ups and pitfalls; goombas, koopas and dry-bones; frustration, swearing and platonic violence. Just like the good ol’ days. And all the days since then.
In this sense New Super Mario Bros. U is your archetypal Mario experience. Either you know what that means – and how you feel about it – or you’ve been living under a rock for the past 30 years. Trying to convert a staunch opposer to Mario goodness with this game would be tantamount to trying to convert someone to vegetarianism by saying ‘hey, I know you don’t like carrots, but what about this surrealy similar grey carrot instead?’ Parsnip’s ain’t fooling nobody.
The most important question then is: what’s new? A refreshing amount actually.
While the world’s themselves are the standard fair – desert, lava, snowy, snore – individual levels contain a wealth of creative flair. A notable highlight is the level (yes, singular level, what the hell Nintendo!) entirely stylized as a living breathing watercolour painting. Reminiscent of the utterly gorgeous and generally brilliant Valkyria Chronicles, the background, platforms and perils all look like a Van Goughian wet-dream. In what is a universally very pretty game – and by far the visual pinnacle of the Mario series – this one level stands as the clear aesthetic highlight.
Elsewhere, textures are crisper and the series’ staple hyper-colourful preoccupations look glorious in HD. Stylistically the game is dissapointingly similar to the previous Wii iteration (there are innumerable comparison videos on youtube made by those with less pertinent things at hand) but looking at the proverbial big picture, in this case the TV screen rather than the Gamepad, and the overarching technical superiority is clear to see.
Gameplay wise the game is as good as unchanged. You run, jump, ground-pound, spin, wall-jump and murder your way from left-to-right, from level-to-level. The dedicated run button (1 on the WiiMote) is always welcome and the odd level (note: the ghost houses) mix things up a bit. Overall however, on the face of it, little has changed in the last 30 years.
Power-ups on the other hand are one-part carbon copies – the fire and ice flowers – one-part effective re-workings such as the raccoon suit and mini-mushroom.
We’ve seen the raccoon suit several times before and it ostensibly hasn’t changed too much. You use it to float, temporary sort-of fly a bit with a shake of the remote, cling to walls for a period of time and bounce callously across hordes of enemies like some lightweight ball of flubber death. The raccoon suit is very much what you make of it. Simply want help surviving pitfalls/skipping tricky sections? Go for it. Want to rack up the high scores on the game’s new Challenge mode? You can do that too. In single player it truly shines when collecting star coins and reaching hidden areas, deft use of the game’s robust wall-jump and float mechanics making it possible to reach seemingly impossible areas. It’s a suit of nuance and surprising skill, a subtle indication of gameplay evolution from the days of the one-two run-and-jump.
The mini-mushroom however – while functionally brilliant: run up walls, across water, through little pipes; bounces on enemies to safety; jump like an impish Spiderman – is something of a heterocosm for the game’s collective failings: it’s only available on two levels.
Much like with the watercolour level and many of the other pan-gameplay highlights – bouncy candyfloss clouds = ridiculous fun/genocidal death – the mini-mushroom is needlessly constricted to point of spitefulness. New Super Mario Bros. U is, when played with friends, possibly the most hectic balls-to-the-wall piece of local multiplayer fun and mayhem you could ask for. Single player however, while still undeniably entertaining, can start to feel empty regardless of the huge collection of levels and gameplay ideas therein. You will still have a good time, but the lack of cohesion throughout worlds and the flippant attitude regarding creative quirks haven’t got the whacky multi-player veil to hide behind.
Talking of multi-player, it’s suggested that you play with one of two groups of people: 1) complete strangers so you won’t care about causing them physical harm and 2) either loved ones or good friends who you could never murder because you like/love them or some silly crap like that.
Multi-player is fun. It is also the single greatest cause of domestic violence in the industrialised world.
Players can decide between working together or – as is almost always the case because every human is inherently evil to their rotten, spiteful, gangrenous core – against each other. Expect to die – a lot – Mr. Douchey McDouche, your ex-friend, moves that platform again. And you die. Again. It won’t be long – a matter of minutes maybe – before levels descend into one almighty free-for-all of petty one-upmanship. And it’s bloody brilliant.
Outside of the story levels (and it’s post-game content should you send Bowser back to his lonely hovel) New Super Mario Bros. U offers 2 bonus modes: Challenge and Boost. Challenge mode challenges (fwahaha see what they did there?) players to complete specific tasks such as clearing levels within a time limit or killing a group of enemies without touching the floor. Boost mode finds players traversing an automatically scrolling level, collecting coins to up the speed in an effort to finish in as quick a time as possible. In what is already a frenetic game, Boost mode ups the ante to ridiculous – but ceaselessly enjoyable – levels. Challenge mode however is where the true bonus enjoyment lies; many of the levels task players with mastering a specific element of the game – be it the raccoon suit or double/triple jumping – which, for the completionists among us, acts as an organic way of pulling out the game’s technical minutiae.
New Super Mario Bros. U is – on top of an admirable return to form for the chubby ‘hero’ – the triple distillated essence of multiplayer madness. As a technical game it is a peerless experience, the dictionary defined ‘platformer.’ Though it’ll never reach the nostalgic heights of the series’ youth and it’s doubtlessly guilty of laziness in certain parts it is, as a multiplayer experience at least (for solo you’re still better off with Rayman) completely untouchable. It also introduces the Baby Yoshi who are so ceaselessly adorable (they sing AND dance) you’ll have no choice but to gouge out your eyes save a lifetime of endless gushing at their relentless pudgy cuteness.
Story – 8
Gameplay – 10
Graphics – 9
FINAL SCORE: B+ (27/30)
Nintendoland is a tech demo, make no mistake. Its primary purpose is to show you exactly what your shiny new box can do and how to do it. It’s also a truckload of fun. So that’s good.
Set pointlessly in a ‘theme-park’ come Matrix-esque robotic oblivion, Nintendoland is a collection of mini-games that utilise the various gadgets and gizmos of the Wii-U. Ranging from 1-5 players because 4 players aren’t cool anymore and simplistic gyroscopic movements to full-blown gamepad wizardry, Nintendoland has that timeless Bronseal quality: it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Before we get into the actual games however lets make one thing clear: the true value of this game comes from it being an addition to your Wii-U. With the premium package Nintendoland comes along for the ride and is therefore a fantastic little package. At full retail price however…well, it kinda depends on how deep your love for Nintendo blooms. I can’t reiterate enough that Nintendoland IS A TECH-DEMO MINI-GAME COMPILATION. If that’s your deal, go nuts. If not, then any complaints you make will be e-mailed straight to the big bad down under for future reference.
Games range from 1 player experiences, 2-5 competitive multiplayer and 1-5 cooperative multiplayer. All in all there are 12 games and going through them all properly would turn this review into a scripture so we’ll focus on the best 3. As a gesture to the other fellas though, we’ll give them a sentence:
So there you have it, a quick summary of 9 of Nintendoland’s shockingly violent yet still relentlessly adorable offerings.
Of the 12 however, two of the best also happen to be two of the simplest, demonstrating how a simple concept done well can entertain and intrigue just as well as any cacophony of buttons, waggles and touch-screen pointlessness a developer may throw together
Mario Chase (2-5P)
The Gamepad user is Mario and they must evade the pursuit of up to four Wii-Mote controlled Toads. The Toads’ use a splitscreen television and have only a distance counter and each other (or two Yoshi bots should a single toad be going mano-a-mano with Mario) to help pin him down. Mario, meanwhile, only has his wits and a map showing the position of the various Toads to warn him about oncoming danger.
‘Mario Chase’ is a game that requires a maximum of two buttons – to move and to tackle – and yet with a few friends (or family, even my mother could work this game and she legitimately refers to all videogames as ‘the nintendos’) it’s a riot. ‘Green, he’s in the Green zone!’ Herp will shout while Derp confidently swaggers away from the looming wave of Toady vengeance, grinning smugly to himself as the timer hits ‘0’ and those glorious words ‘Mario Wins’ wash across the screen.
That is effectively the entire 1-meter depth of ‘Mario Chase’ but, as a way of introducing the functionality of the Gamepad, it more than serves its purpose. A brilliant touch is the use of the Gamepad’s inbuilt camera. Somewhere on the TV a box will show the big shiny mug of the pad user, brow furrowed in concentration, for all of the pursuers to guffaw heartily at. More than that however, it allows the Toads to ensure than Mr. Mario isn’t taking cheeky looks at the TV instead of his Gamepad. Trust Nintendo to put a fun-filled spin on anti-cheat methods. Ultimately, it’s little touches like these that help to make Nintendoland as a whole, not just ‘Mario Chase,’ feel like a quality product.
‘Mario Chase’ is also an able ambassador for the Wii-U’s graphical capabilities. Each of the three levels is drenched in colour and look absolutely gorgeous in HD, testifying to HDs true vibrant destiny in contrast to the grim waves of grey and dystopian brown. Along with ‘Pikmin (naturally beautiful and verdant) and ‘Zelda Battle Quest’’s picturesque LittlebigPlanet ragdoll aesthetic of self-assembly, ‘Mario Chase’ ranks as one of the prime visual cuts of Nintendoland’s juicy rump.
Donkey Kong’s Crash Course (1P)
Possibly even simpler this one. Using the Gamepad you tilt a tricycle/egg hybrid of your own face left and right through an obstacle course Screwball Scramble style, managing jumps and platforms mapped to the prompted shoulder buttons or mic. That’s it. You have a certain number of lives and have to master speed and skill to make it to make to the bottom (or top) and rescue the 70s style retro princess.
Once again ‘Crash Course’ proves that addictive and challenging gameplay does not require complexity of design only parity of vision and execution. It’s near impossible to begin with and yet, with quick restarts and checkpoints, it’ll get under your skin quickly and stay there like some fungal infection. Its graphically charming and narratively bereft (this is an adaptation of the classic DK arcade system after all) but hits all of the exciting gameplay buttons. If nothing else, it’s a message to developers that just because the Wii-U has touch controls, a gyroscope, a camera, a mic and a toaster, they don’t have to force them all into one contrived package.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion (2-5P)
A competitive multiplayer this one and my personal favourite. The Gamepad controls the ghost who must hunt down the Wii-Mote controlled chasers in various maze environments within the eponymous mansion. Using flashlights, the chasers must weaken the ghost until it’s health runs out, the only problem being that they can’t see it and only have controller vibrations to indicate how near the specter is to them. Using the Gamepad screen the ghost can see everything and must try to sneak up on its paranoid victims. Lightning flashes and ghostly dashes/battery draining attacks will also make the wraith temporarily visible.
‘Luigi’s Ghost Mansion’ is probably the most multiplayer fun I’ve had since Mario Kart 64. The multi-screen gameplay across the TV and Gamepad works brilliantly in the creation of tension/friendship warfare as the chasers attempt to work together against the ghost’s vibrating flirtations. With a choice of five levels and exemplary lighting effects it legitimately creates a fair bit of fear (there have been a few scared yelps in my playtime) and the stripped back but effective gameplays creates that all-important ‘just once more’ dynamic.
Conclusively, the attractions of Nintendoland are far more hit than miss. While the actual theme park aesthetic may be utterly soulless and the obligatory assistant (this time a robot with the personality of a lobotomised police warden) be the most irritating game character since Cream the Rabbit, it’s still a fantastic – mostly multiplayer – experience. Narratively the game is as lively as a comatose funeral but that’s to be expected in a mini (or more like ‘medi’) game collection. Having said that however, the few games that do have a sort-of narrative mission-based structure – Zelda, Pikmin, Metroid – do a good job of feeling temporally coherent without losing that vital drop-in drop-out aesthetic.
As a single-player experience Nintendoland rarely hits the mark and your potential enjoyment of it is directly correlative to the amount of friends you have playing with you. Having that said that however, if you’re looking for a good laugh that demonstrates everything your new piece of tech can do you can’t go wrong with Nintendoland. Even the poorer games implement tight and responsive controls and the package in general is a master class in small-scale gameplay. If you’re looking for a robust and moving narrative experience however…pop to the psychiatrists first.
Final Score: B-
Graphics – 8
Story – 7
Gameplay – 10
With the Wii-U Nintendo have set out to achieve the impossible, question is: how close did they come?
Back in 2006, Nintendo’s (still) bizarrely named Wii console hit the gaming community like a jolly, Technicolor behemoth. Made of fuzz and squidgy loveliness. With a moustache.
With one look at the game-controller come TV-remote come sex-toy the console and it’s doctrine of motion controlled fun for the family was quickly denounced by the gaming press and public as king of the gimmicks, doomed to a Gamecube-esque fiscal failure before a swift collapse upon the rotting pile of consoles that time forgot. Over 100 million units later and the world ate its collective words, feet and faces.
In the final quarter of last year (and therefore long enough ago for this review to be less than pointless) Nintendo released its follow-up, the Wii-U. Even before its first sale the console faced a near-impossible task: following an incredibly fruitful device, the success of which was capitulated by its sheer surprise factor. Everything thing it did or didn’t do would be seen through the turd-coloured glasses of the Wii’s success, in much the same way the 3DS has never escaped from the looming, volumous shadow of the DS.
But this is all very silly. Like with the 3DS, the Wii-U deserves the chance to be judged off its own success and capabilities. Not to mention that judging anything according to the anomalous Majin Buu-esque success of the Wii is tantamount to fighting a bear with a celery stick.
This is that judgement.
As an actual physical box the Wii-U can be described as unattractive at best. Or maybe not so much unattractive as uninteresting. It’s rectangular, fairly thin, with slightly curled edges making for a sort of chunky, shiny hamburger shape. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s fine, the physical matte-finished embodiment of ‘meh.’ I can’t talk for the basic white package, but the shiny matte texture of the premium package certainly helps to pretty the whole thing up, albeit at a sacrifice to portability; the surface acts as an impractical finger-print detector, any effort towards moving the thing becomes an exercise in criminal print-based evasion.
The buttons, disk drive and two of four USB drives are located flatly across the front with the various power, input and accessory ports slapped across the backside like a salacious cow. No Gamecube controller ports this time around I’m afraid, unless they’re hidden beneath some secret panel I’ve yet to come across. Considering how there’s no Gamecube backwards ability however it seems unlikely. Fiddly little scratchy talon things act like a makeshift stand for the console too. It’s a neat idea but they unfortunately tear the matte casing to pieces when moved, like with religious holy marriage you must pick a spot and not move them goshdarnit.
The general mundanity of the console does nothing to what lies beneath however. Like the fabulous Butterfree from the lumpy Metapod, the Wii-U is a superficially misleading device.
I’ll make this argument until I’m blue in the face and dead in the brain: of all the consoles previous generation the one that would have best benefited from HD graphics was the Wii. The abundance and variety of colour, the diversity and creative implementation of artistic styles and nuances, you don’t need to look any further than Viva Pinata on the Xbox, LittleBigPlanet on the PS3, to see that the true beauty of HD lies in colour and flamboyance, not grim browns and grimmer men trudging through cut and paste muddy landscapes of post-apocalyptia.
With the Wii-U we finally get a custom-made device for this experience.
I haven’t played every release game and so I can’t comment on the ported games like Arkham City and Mass Effect 3, but the likes of Nintendoland and Super Mario Bros. U, experiences made by Nintendo themselves, look absolutely gorgeous and wonderfully demonstrate the prowess of the Wii-U. Textures, colours and animations shine lustrously.
The dashboard menus however, while looking clean and accessible, are a tad too clinical, too refined, to aptly convey the characteristic warmth of Nintendo’s enterprises. They also look a little washed out and ultimately boring, especially when not online. When connected to the rest of the world however, as politely but consistently demanded by the console from the get-go, your personal shiny homeland gets flooded with messages from the wonderful new online platform ‘Miiverse.’
It works. Works well in fact. And not just in contrast to the mewling mess that the Wii coughed up all over the carpet. It’s good in comparison to the best, the big-boys, the X-Box lives of this world. Except this one is free. And adorable.
Speed and download times are of course dependent on your personal circumstance, but seeing as I live on what can only be described as a glorified farm in the middle of nowhere in South Wales (which I doubt many people could even hope to point to on a map!) and even I had a fair speed on the go, I’d say things are looking rosy. That dreaded and well-documented initial update to even get online took about an hour which, so far as I was concerned, didn’t matter too much. I made a sandwich.
The primary draw in terms of online offerings is the Miiverse. Effectively a Ninendo-ised Twitter, Miiverse is split according to different games and apps each of which has it’s own community. You can go into any of these communities and post pictures, questions, statements, penises (although probably not because of administrators) to a limit of a fair-sized box or a hundred characters. It’s neat, addictive and moreish. Just broke a record on Nintendoland? One tap on the gamepad and you’re into the Miiverse community with next to no delay. From there you can post whatever you like and jump back into your game again, happy in the knowledge that you’ve improved someone’s day like some benevolent Bat-Man or Jesus.
The Miiverse is big and getting bigger, the best way of learning what it’s like is to get stuck in yourself. So what are you waiting for?
Finally, the various interfaces are clean, tidy (as mentioned before) and easy to manage which makes for a welcome difference to the Wii’s piss-up of an attempt previously. However, a lot of the convenience of interacting with the Wii-U’s browser and various apps (all the regulars here: youtube, facebook, twitter, lovefilm, Netflix) stems from the sheer joy of the Gamepad.
The Gamepad was the ‘thing’ this time around, like the Wiimote or the double-screens or the 3D. Thankfully, it’s a thing that works like a charm.
I’ve spoken to a fair few people who own Wii-U’s and have read impressions from various spooky corners of the Internet and there is a definite prevailing first reaction: ‘Oh golly, that there Gamepad is sure smaller than I expected.’
It may look titanic in the adverts and promos but it’s actually just under a foot long and weighs about the same (or maybe even less) than a standard X-Box pad. Button’s are nicely placed to be within reach of all but the most irregular of hand-spans and the joysticks have a refreshing stiffness to them, reminiscent of the Vita’s offerings.
The main draw is, of course the touch screen. Measuring about the length of a standard Wii-mote the clarity of the screen’s HD image is remarkable.
While colours lack the vibrancy of their HDTV counterparts the Gamepad’s graphical capabilities are nothing to sniff at. Nintendoland, as it was indeed created to do, best demonstrates the relationship between the on-screen footage and that on the TV. While it can be a bit jarring to move from screen-to-screen it only takes a little getting used to and quickly becomes second nature.
Another neat feature is the Gamepad’s personal audio output. On the Wii-U’s own screens it outputs a small percussion beat to compliment the music from the TV. It’s a small feature but a brilliant one, showing a loving attention to detail and offering developers a fantastic tool for future projects. The Baby Yoshi’s on Mario Bros. U, for example, sing along to the main theme through the Gamepad. It’s heartbreakingly adorable.
Add to that a gyroscope, touch controls, headphone jack, mic and TV remote functionality and you’re left with the sonic screwdriver of video games.
The Wii-U is an impressive piece of kit. While unremarkable on the outside it is a smooth and striking beast within. Powerful enough to be graphically relevant (at least for now, things will very likely change over the next year or so) and full of fresh/ revised ideas, it has a strong foundation for a fruitful lifespan. It’s success and legacy depends, as with everything else in this industry, on its support. Nintendo will doubtlessly fill the device with its own charming creations but the main issue is predicated on third party support: will it go the way of lazy ports (ME3, Ninja Gaiden 3), or unique and interesting experiences à la Zombi-U? Time will tell and we can only hope. As it stands, the Wii-U has had a decent launch, the honeymoon period of which is approaching its end.
Question is: what’s next?