Let's get this out of the way right now: Seeing a brand new, 2D Mario in HD is surreal. I have been waiting for so long to finally see a Nintendo franchise in high-definition, so seeing Mario run around the Mushroom Kingdom displayed in such gorgeous, colorful, eye-popping graphics kind of took my breath away.
As for the game? It played great. It truly feels exactly like New Super Mario Bros. Wii (one of the best 2D Mario games in a while), with some special Wii U additions.
Keep reading to get my hands-on impressions.
If you have played New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you are familiar with the basic formula. Hell, if you have played any 2D Mario game you are familiar with how it works. Run right while jumping over obstacles and stomping enemies as you make your way to the flag pole at the end of the level.
The gameplay is as smooth and joy-inducing as you would expect.
The first thing you will notice when playing New Super Mario Bros. U is the graphics. They are gorgeous. They don't have a super original art style like Kirby's Epic Yarn or Rayman Origins, but the game still looks fantastic. The colors are bright and vibrant, the textures are crisp, and the layered backgrounds are stunning.
Once you see a Mario game in HD for the first time you will kind of lose your mind. Especially if you are a huge fan of the Mario games.
As far as gameplay, there were three levels on display on the show floor. One was a traditional forest level, one set in the cliffs on the Mushroom Kingdom, and the third was in a star-covered world at night.
Each level showed off something new to do and really focused on how cool the new Wii U features are.
As a single player, the game can be played with either the Wiimote turned on the side or with the brand new GamePad. Both are great and work pretty much exactly the same. You run with the directional pad and jump with the face buttons.
The real features of the GamePad come into play when a second player joins the fun. This second player uses the GamePad to create small platforms which the first player can jump on or use to trap and redirect enemies. This happens with a simple press of the finger on the touch screen. Since the entire game is being streamed on the GamePad touch screen, all the second player has to do is touch anywhere on the screen to create a platform.
It is a very simple concept, but really helps add a touch (hehehe) of strategy to the proceedings. It reminded me a lot of the two-player option in Super Mario Galaxy. Yeah, the second player is not doing much, but it is fun to have a friend help you out as you try to make it through a tough level.
It wasn't playable, but the menu screen had the option for more than two players, meaning four player co-op like New Super Mario Bros. Wii is likely (and all but confirmed in the screenshots for the game). Heck, five players may even be possible, with one on the GamePad and the rest on the Wiimotes. No confirmation, but I think it will happen.
As for the levels themselves, they were classic Nintendo: well-designed and so much fun to play. Outside of the Wii U features, there were two new "power-ups."
The first was Flying Squirrel Mario, which is as cute as it sounds. After picking up a special mushroom, Mario puts on a flying squirrel costume and is awarded special powers. He can float in the air when holding down the jump button, or take flight for a short time by shaking the Wiimote. It is awesome and really easy to control.
In addition to this, there was a baby Yoshi that Mario could carry around. By shaking the Wiimote, Yoshi blows up into a huge balloon and gives Mario an extra high jump. As far as I could tell, this is infinite and can be used continuously until Mario dies or Yoshi is thrown into a pit by accident. Yes, I did this. BUT IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!
Not much was shown of New Super Mario Bros. U, but the stuff I played I totally loved. Even looking past the fact that the game looks amazing in HD, the gameplay was so solid and the new Wii U features so fun that this is shaping up to be a great addition to the classic Mario series.
I wish I could have played more.