E3's Super Mario Bros U offering focused on the idea of asymmetrical gameplay, a concept that Nintendo has been pushing throughout E3. The idea being that the player with the Wii U GamePad has a different experience in multiplayer to those who are utilising Wiimotes or the new Pro controller.
The GamePad player takes on a puppet master role, being able to produce blocks for other players to jump or the ability to ruin everyone's good time for their own enjoyment by rigging it so people will die.
Nintendo thinks this kind of co-op will lead to interesting speed runs, but for most gamers it will likely be a smaller piece of their overall single player experience.
In addition to the new multiplayer, attendant media were able to play around with a couple of the new power-ups. There's a baby Yoshi that allows players to fly, as well as a flying squirrel power-up. After players have acclimatised themselves to the new controls, the flying squirrel power-up allows an additional amount of lateral control to differentiate itself from other flying power-ups in the game. The motion controls, such as shaking the Wiimote, are something instantly recognisable from the Wii entry into the series, but the controls didn't feel quite as polished in this early state.
Graphically, the game is crisp, fast and everything players will expect from a rendered side-scrolling Mario game. Slow-downs in four-player co-op weren't noticeable, and although Nintendo is one of the few studios who can put together a nice looking game on the standard definition Wii, its clearly embracing its new-found hardware and HD capabilities. We played with three stages, which, irritatingly, Nintendo will neither confirm nor deny the inclusion of in the final game. Most compelling was the forest background on the first stage, incorporating as it does the mushroom motif into the woodwork, as well as the new flying enemies that resemble something between a squirrel and a Tanuki.
Although short, the preview showed promise, however the level design was clearly not complete and mostly geared towards the multiplayer demo experience.
Shortly after, a playable level from New Super Mario Bros 2 for the 3DS was made available for the last day of E3 only. Nintendo has touted that this handheld entry into the series is all about gold coins, specifically challenging other players' totals in single or multiplayer.
Additionally, the game has full co-op, and doesn't just include this mode for time trials as in previous games. The social gaming concept for single player also warrants an amount of exploration with its integration of StreetPass, allowing gamers to challenge scores offline.
Despite Nintendo wanting to focus solely on multiplayer, they may be underselling the single player element to New Super Mario Bros 2. The single player level demonstrated not only plays well, it's fast, responsive, visually interesting and includes an amount of small improvements over the original DS entry, especially in graphics. It's also creatively designed, much more so than the demo of New Super Mario Bros U, with a number of secrets and alternate routes scattered throughout. The new gold power-up is also a good bit of fun, allowing projectiles to turn huge amounts of blocks and enemies into even more coins.
It also features the return of raccoon Mario, who was first introduced in the late '80s game Super Mario Bros 3. Although this character has been seen since, it's been a while since his flying abilities were fully utilised. Definitely a welcome return to the series and a nod to old-school fans.
New Super Mario Bros 2 looks like the other New Super Mario Bros games in setting itself apart as an over-the-top game by design, providing itself with a distinct identity within the ever-growing Mario franchise. Particularly in comparison to the only other portable Mario title at E3 this year: Super Paper Mario: Sticker Star.