I have begun to think of the Wii U as Nintendo’s attempt to revitalize the living room. Historically, the company has shunned online multiplayer, always focusing instead on the experience of friends and family playing together in the same room. While Nintendo claims they will do a better job of supporting online multiplayer this time around (although we’re still waiting for details), I believe what they really want is to convince people that the communal game experience is still the best one. To that end, they are heavily pushing asynchronous gameplay in Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U.
New Super Mario Bros. U is a typical side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. platformer made fresh by a “boost mode” in which up to four players using Wii remotes for standard platform gameplay are assisted by one player using the gamepad to place temporary platform blocks on screen, either as platforms allowing other players to jump on them to reach otherwise inaccessible places or as barriers to protect the others from hazards. In the levels I played it appeared that the blocks weren’t necessary to get through a level but did allow for more variety in how you got through.
The gamepad player can place up to four blocks on screen at once, these blocks disappearing after a few seconds. As the player with the gamepad you need to anticipate where players will need to jump, while the other players need to pay attention to where you have placed blocks so that they can quickly respond to these sudden changes in their environment and use them to their advantage. There is potential for an almost balletic teamwork between players.
When you first create a block it has a mark on it which rapidly shrinks; if another player jumps on enough blocks that haven’t lost their icon yet then you go into a mode where for a short time all enemies can be easily eradicated.
Getting the timing right was tough. The PR flack I played with knew the best place to put blocks, but I often failed to jump on them. And I tended to put my blocks in less than ideal locations, because I had to be aware of both where my partner was and where he might like to go. To do this right, I think you would both need to be experienced in the new gameplay style and familiar with the level you’re playing.
I played the game just with one PR guy; I would be curious to see how boost mode worked with more players.
While I appreciate the idea of one player continually changing the landscape for the other players, I didn’t find NSMBU’s implementation of asynchronous gameplay nearly as appealing as the more varied approach of Rayman Legends. But to be fair, I’ve never been a big fan of the Super Mario Bros. games, and my guess is those who like the previous titles will find much to love about this one. We’ll find out when the game arrives on the Wii U launch date, November 18.