There are so many Super Mario games with “New” in front of the title that you’ll see bewildered parents standing in the aisles of game shops holding one in each hand and trying to remember which of the other words their child might have mentioned. And yet, the arrival of the Wii U on November 30th will bring us another with the launch title New Super Mario Bros. U. Like the other “New” Super Mario games, this is a higher-definition return to the classical 2D platformer. Like New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii, the emphasis is on co-operative play. And like Rayman Legends, asymmetrical co-op provides new possibilities, including the chance that the Gamepad player will have much less fun than everyone else.
When I played a demo level at Eurogamer Expo last week, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by four friends – the maximum number of extra players New Super Mario Bros. U allows. Four of us controlled standard Mario characters – though this game will also let you play as your Mii (a digital representation of yourself) – and a friend who had been particularly keen to try out the new gadget held the Gamepad. He had no on-screen character, and instead took the role of an invisible hand, placing platforms with the touchscreen for those looking at the bigger screen to jump on.
Obviously, the appearance of platforms can be a help or a hindrance to those playing with the more familiar controls. On the one hand, special coins can appear out of reach, and if none of the characters have the ability to jump or fly that high then a quick request made to the Gamepad player can bring these things within reach. But communication is key. If the Gamepad player places a platform in another player’s way – intentionally or not – it can cause disruption.
The demo we played suggested that New Super Mario Bros. U does not give the Gamepad player something else to do when they’re not needed to help things along, which is where the possibility for boredom comes in. New Super Mario Bros. U is just as hectic and generally fast-paced as New Super Mario Bros, and just as crowded with four characters on screen.
In that kind of game, players don’t tend to stop and plan things out. The Gamepad player may be faced either with placing platforms based on predictions of the other players’ needs rather than on request, or just sitting back and waiting for those services to be needed.
As the release date of New Super Mario Bros. U draws closer, we may see more information on what the Gamepad brings to the game, and perhaps a more balanced – if still asymmetrical – way to play. Even if not, New Super Mario Bros. U is, just like its predecessor, incredibly fun to play, especially with friends. It just might not be the game that makes you buy the console you need to play it.