By the hammer of Thor, it's good to see Mario back again. Yes, there have been plenty of Mario games over the past 12 months, but this is what fans have been waiting for, and for a long time.
Despite the cheesy name, New Super Mario Bros. U feels genuinely old-school. There's no clumsy 3D viewpoint, no rubbish Olympics tie-in, and it's not just a goulash of random party games either. This is the Mario we know and love. Except now in glorious, vivid, high-definition and packed full of variety.
Despite the visual overhaul, the appeal of New Super Mario Bros. U lies in its unchanged simplicity. It's back to being a good ole' side-scrolling platformer. You start on one side and attempt to reach a checkpoint flag at the other end - jumping and dodging hazards and enemies along the way. It worked over twenty-five years ago and if it ain't broke, why fix it?
The controls are minimal and even the new Wii U GamePad's touch-screen inputs are intuitive and friendly. Put simply, New Super Mario Bros. U is honest fun. It's the sort of casual, familiar, and highly accessible entertainment that doesn't come around as often as it should these days.
The nostalgia is rampant, from the minute you boot up the game to the time you finally wrench yourself away from the controller. It's even in the small details that fans of the original Super Mario titles will feel something stir in their loins.
For example, the welcome console return of the classic World Map, last seen in the 16-bit days of old, which depicts the journey ahead. Mario and his chums start off in the Acorn Plains, but are soon presented with the daunting expanse of the icy Frosted Glaciers, the delicious Layer-Cake Desert, the creepy Soda Jungle, and the treacherous Rock-Candy Mines.
Each area area contains branching levels and multiple exits that give you a sense of exploration, an impressive feat for a 2D platformer. And to keep you on your toes, nearly every level features hidden secrets where solid looking walls can be walked through, or hard to reach platforms reveal bonuses.
As you would expect in a Super Mario Bros. game, our mustachioed heroes are traversing all of this in an effort to save Princess Peach, who naturally is in perilous danger once again. Although instead of being kidnapped, this time around the Princesses' castle has been invaded and Bowser is holding her captive in her own residence. Being a real girl of action... she sits around and waits for the plumber to show up.
Mario isn't alone in his quest though. Up to four players can all pick up Wii Remote controllers to play as Mario, Luigi, and two chirpy little Toads, to jump and smash their way through the levels. Even a fifth player can enter the madness, taking control of the Wii U GamePad for a completely new experience via the touch-screen.
Here they can tap on the screen (which displays all of the action of the main TV) and place blocks that can either help their teammates reach higher ledges, or hinder enemies. For example, there might be a wide lava pit that would take a skilled player some care to get across. But a friend on the GamePad can place a few extra platforms, making the task a lot easier.
Meanwhile the standard Wii Remotes, held on their side, make for excellent basic controllers. The D-pad is for directional control and then two number buttons are for dash and jump. The only motion control aspect is gently shaking the controller in times where you need something known as spin jump, which can be used to break certain types of block or execute other special abilities.
The main course on the New Super Mario Bros. U menu is definitely the 'Story Mode' - if you could call it that. But as a sort of side salad, the game also includes Challenge Mode which allows you to take your well-honed skills and partake in little quickfire competitions. These include trying to clear a level as quickly as possible, or perhaps attempting to collect as many tokens as you can without touching the ground. Those weirdos who can't get enough of looking at their own Mii's will be pleased to hear that they can be used in Challenge Mode alongside your pal Mario too.
There is so much Nintendo love here that fans will be left grinning from ear to ear like an insane Wiggler. The adorable raccoon suit makes a welcome return, as do cute-as-hell baby Yoshis, giant mushrooms, and dancing Koopas. They have even added a flying-squirrel suit to the mix, which allows players to glide around. Few could resist cracking a smile when they see an inflatable yoshi floating around like a disgruntled helium flesh balloon too.
New Super Mario Bros. U feels lovingly crafted and is a welcome change from earlier rushed or unpolished games in the franchise. The platforming aspect is perfectly balanced, offering a decent challenge but never straying into the realms of frustrating or awkward.
Casual gamers can expect an entertaining 8 hours single or multiplayer, but dedicated fans could spend many more hours collecting and exploring things off the beaten track. With the launch of the Wii U, it's a beautiful thing that a whole new generation of kids can experience Mario in a similar way that we did back in the late 80s. If you're a parent, it's your duty to bring this game into your lounge this summer.
Platform: Wii U