We spent the weekend with Nintendo’s latest entry into the videogame platform market, the Wii U. Featuring the innovative GamePad — part controller, part tablet — the new system was released Sunday, along with a slew of new games and Wii versions of existing games to go along with it. Below, we review some of the latest Wii U game entries: New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, and Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition.
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. U
With four entries appearing on a quartet of consoles in six years, the New Super Mario Bros. series is about as “new” as the concept of Princess Peach being kidnapped. Still, while fans would have no doubt preferred an innovation-pushing entry like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy to launch alongside the Wii U, it’s nice having Nintendo’s mustachioed mascot around on day one.
Like its three predecessors, New Super Mario Bros. U is a throwback to the original side-scrolling entries of the classic platforming franchise. Of course, with that reliable recipe comes all the collectable items, creative power-ups, unlockable secrets, and inventive level layouts you’d expect from a 2-D Super Mario title. Sure, it’s all very familiar, but like every entry on the portly plumber’s resume, its gameplay and presentation are also polished to near perfection.
It doesn’t hurt that the well-worn template is complemented by some legitimate new-ness. As the first true HD Mario game, NSMBU is especially easy on the eyes; the series has always sported a rainbow-shaming color palette, but the extra coating of eye-candy makes it pop even more. On top of the cooperative mode introduced in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Mario’s latest lap around the Mushroom Kingdom adds Challenge and Boost Rush modes; the former tests the skills and speed of even the most seasoned fans,while the latter allows a second player to help — or hinder — their buddies by placing blocks from behind the GamePad.
While NSMBU‘s formula will feel familiar to anyone who’s shown Bowser the business end of a butt-stomp, it still possesses an irresistible degree of comfort-food fun no faithful fan can deny. It doesn’t provide reason enough to pick up a Wii U, but early hardware adopters will want to add Mario’s hi-def debut to their libraries. Grade: B
Bundled with the Wii U Deluxe Set, Nintendo Land is being called the new console’s answer to Wii Sports. Like the Wii’s arm-flailing phenomenon, this theme park-inspired offering does indeed get players comfortable behind the tablet-like controller’s unconventional inputs. Unlike the sports-themed mini-game collection, though, Nintendo Land is packed with depth and variety.
Featuring 12 attractions — and many challenges tucked within each — Nintendo Land‘s brimming content is matched only by its fan-pleasing presentation. Based on properties both classic (Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Donkey Kong) and cult-favorite (Pikmin, Animal Crossing, F-Zero, Balloon Fight), the individual games make up an amusement park that’s a dream destination for anyone who grew up tethered to the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
Thanks to inventive integration of the Wii U GamePad’s various functions, as well as challenges tailored to solo, competitive, and cooperative play, the games sport as much substance as they do style. Not every attraction is an E-ticket, but there’s enough of them on offer that anyone counting themselves among the Mario-loving masses will find at least a few to put a smile on their face and twitch in their thumbs. Grade: B
BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY ARMORED EDITION
Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition is very much the same game EW picked as its top title of 2011, when it was released for other platforms, including Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. In addition to the original’s robust rogues gallery, detail-drenched Gotham City, bone-crunching combat, and playable Catwoman, though, this Wii U reboot’s also got some extras tucked into its utility belt.
For starters, the subtitle refers to a defensive boost both the Bat and Cat can accumulate and unleash during battles. While this particular feature doesn’t significantly add to the existing experience, a number of Wii U GamePad-enabled bells and whistles do a decent job putting players behind the caped crusader’s wonderful toys like never before. The tablet-like device provides intuitive access to the world map, gadgets, and a number of other items and interfaces that previously booted players to a pause menu.
Some touch- and gyro-based mechanics feel more gimmicky (steering batarangs) than game-changing, but the peripheral’s integration generally serves as an immersion-amping extension of the caped crusader’s cool wrist-mounted computer. Hearing his earpiece transmissions crackle through the controller is an especially affective touch. Wii U tricks aside, Armored Edition also adds some hits — all of Arkham City’s previously released downloadable content — and misses — a slight, but noticeable graphical downgrade — to the original experience.
If you’ve already donned the cape and cowl, Armored Edition isn’t reason enough to return to Gotham City. For those who missed out on the original and are looking for a more mature experience to enjoy on their new Wii U, however, this one’s worth suiting-up for. Grade: B-
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