It had been a long time since Nintendo relied on Mario to help sell a system right out of the gate. Over the years, he has been called in to action when the timing was right, or when sales were slumping, or even just to fill a void between Nintendo-published, first party games. But Mario as a launch title? You would have to go all the way back to the Nintendo 64 system launch, when Super Mario 64 was a launch title. Of course back then, it was routine for Nintendo to launch a system with it's most recognizable mascot available with it or an addition to on day one, starting with Super Mario Bros. included with the NES and Super Mario World with the SNES. After Mario 64, however, which wasn't included with the system but available to buy separately, Mario wasn't seen on launch for any of Nintendo's consoles.
Was this because they had a plethora of first party franchises to call upon for launches, or did they just want to make Mario bigger and better than just the launch day title of each generation? What the case was, it would be 16 years before a Mario game was launched with a new Nintendo console. That console was the new Wii U, and the game was New Super Mario Bros. U. That's right, not only did Nintendo welcome it's new console with a Mario game, but it plucked it right from the "New" series of Mario games, which effectively made it the second platforming Mario game in a row to share the style and namesake.
For one, I have to believe that Nintendo worried about the Wii U from before launch, as it would be the only reason to explain launching with a Mario game after being so stubborn about that notion for so long. Of course, they had plenty of reasons to be concerned for the Wii U right out of the gate, as they did a poor job marketing the new system as a new system from the get-go. The general public had no idea it was a brand new console, and not just an add-on to the existing Wii console that everyone had in their living rooms. The messaging is starting to get better now, little by little, but honestly, I still run in to people who think the GamePad controller/tablet is just a new peripheral for the old Wii console. Is it the name of the console, the lack of proper marketing, or just general apathy about Nintendo as a whole? I don't have concrete answers, but I'm sure a little of each plays a part in the struggles of the Wii U.
Also, I'm pretty confident that developing a "New" style of Mario game has to be easier and quicker than any 3D type of Mario game, or a brand new style of Mario game, which is why Nintendo can call upon on it when needed. Now, I'm not saying this is just a cut-and-paste development cycle for this game, and not saying it was super easy and required little to no work, but overall, it has to be easier than other types of Mario games. It's important to remember that this is the very first Mario game developed in HD, for an HD system, so it wasn't just the same old "New" game rehashed for the new system. Even Nintendo came out and admitted that developing for an HD system was actually more difficult than they anticipated, which might explain why is this the style of Mario they chose to go with for launch day.
In fact, this game was originally shown off as a tech demo for the new system early on in the revealing of the Wii U, as it was dubbed New Super Mario Bros. Mii. It showcased being able to play as your Mii character running through familiar Mushroom Kingdom style levels, and didn't really show off too much of a new game as it did what the GamePad could offer and what a Mario game would look like in HD. Somewhere along the way, however, they changed up their plan and turned that tech demo into an actual game, changing the name and focus of the game as well. I'm really curious what triggered that decision - was it out of desperation to launch with a Mario game or out of frustrations from trying to develop a new Mario game for an HD system? Or were they just taking the same approach with this title as they did New Super Mario Bros. Wii, trying to bring the family together on the couch, this time with a fifth player, while still showing off how the GamePad can add different gameplay styles to games?
Whatever the process was or reasons for the decisions that were made, day one adopters of the Wii U were given the chance to take home a Mario game with their new system. And whatever troubles or problems they may have encountered along the way, the final product was refreshing and amazingly gorgeous.
It was the first game I put into my Wii U, and from the loading screen, I could immediately tell how awesome Mario looked in HD. Finally, after so many years of perfecting the look of Mario, and making him look his absolute best with the capabilities available, Mario was now officially in HD. It was about time. Every second of that game is beautiful and makes you smile, as it runs flawlessly and smooth, and just makes you feel good as a gamer.
Playing on the GamePad is something Nintendo has banked on as being a major selling point for the system, and let me tell you, it is still great to be able to play a full console game right on the GamePad while watching something else on TV, or allowing someone else to use the TV for whatever else they choose. There is no lag, no drop in frame rate and despite not having the same graphics as your TV (presumably), the games played on it don't look distorted or lesser versions at all. They look great on the GamePad, which makes using it if need be still super enjoyable.
New Super Mario Bros. U also features something new to the Mario franchise, adding a new challenge mode to the game, which gives you the chance to test your Mario platforming skills in ways you've never experienced before. There are a wide variety of challenges, and types of challenges to choose from, and the more you accomplish, the more you unlock, and essentially, the better of a player you feel like. The first couple of challenges of each group are pretty easy to nail, but the difficulty ramps up quickly, as I find myself stuck on several challenges, despite trying them over and over and over again. This adds replayability for sure, and is fun to watch other people try them as well, especially when they fail horribly and you suddenly don't feel like a worthless gamer.
The game overall is just fun, plain and simple. I understand a lot of gamers and fans felt slightly cheated with this game being the Mario launch title they got, but honestly, it was by far the best launch game for the Wii U. That's not a slight to the launch line-up at all, as there were a handful of quality Wii U games available on day one, but out of all of them, Nintendo proved once again that nobody knows how to develop for Nintendo consoles better than Nintendo themselves. Even if it was just a place holder for the game they really wanted to release or not, New Super Mario Bros. U is easily the best addition to the "New" series by a long shot.
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