Part of it is his transformation into a half-human, half-squirrel creation that gives him expanded upward mobility. The other is just the simple notion that when I jump, I can shake Wii U's GamePad and send Mario soaring into the sky. It's the simple things that make New Super Mario Bros. U a joy, and lifting to the air vertically and gently floating downward as a squirrel is about the simplest way I know how to express my joy in playing Nintendo's latest 2D Mario game.
Some things don't really change between 2D Mario games. In this case, the Wii U sequel follows the footprints of its Wii predecessor, with up to four characters moving through the insane Mushroom Kingdom. A new platform does bring about some differences, namely in the form of a HD system and its touch-based controller.
Wii U not only expands the scope of a 2D Mario game, and brings with that a stunning, crisp, colorful HD presentation, but allows players to now select their Miis as characters in place of Mario, Luigi or the two Toads. I've never been too fond of pulling Miis into Nintendo's more imaginative worlds, but no doubt more casual players will certainly find the feature appealing. Look! Grandma is stealing all the coins - get her!
But none of that really compares to what this version really brings to the franchise - a fifth, omnipotent player that can literally affect the world around the other four characters.
Using the GamePad in conjunction with up to four more players (on Wii remotes or potentially Wii U Pro Controllers), allows the person in control of the tablet to stay out of the platforming action, watching from above, inserting blocks into the world with the simplest touch. Touching placed block again will cause the platform to shrink, but it will now contain coins, becoming a more desired object for players interested in competing for the high score. And, of course, if you're like me, you'll not only change the world to assist some gamers, but punish others as well. These manipulative abilities extend to enemies as well. Tapping on an enemy will stun it, allowing those traversing the level to sneak by unharmed. It's a very different experience, and will no doubt appeal to some who find Mario games too intimidating - or those looking to rule over the Mushroom Kingdom like never before.
New Super Mario Bros. U is very much what we've all come to expect not only from the larger 2D part of the franchise, but specifically its 'New' iterations as well. Yet it's some of the seemingly small choices that somehow make a great deal of difference. The flying squirrel suits. The baby Yoshis that balloon up to carry you. The HD visuals. The fifth player. These are small changes that no doubt some will cry are too insignificant, but the sum of them can add to something great. Plus if there's one thing Nintendo has proven over the past 25 years, it's that it knows how to make a crisp, polished 2D Mario game. Let's hope this Wii U version continues that fine tradition.