The best thing about this is that we finally get to see Mario in glorious HD; regardless of it being a solid game.
The "new" in the name is pretty much redundant as of now, presented here is what we were all introduced in the Nintendo DS glory days of 2006. Ever since that DS game 2D Mario has been a constant for Nintendo. There's nothing that can really go wrong here so it's safe to say that anyone that found even the slightest reason to pick up a previous 2D Mario in this new era should be hooked within no time.
The first releases of the renewal for the plumber on 2D had a Super Mario Bros. 3 vibe attached to it. The whole thing was divided in worlds which you advanced using items that didn't seem to give you as much freedom of movement as Super Mario World had done in the Super Nintendo days. It was safe to say that both paths seemed good enough for our eager desire to play Mario 2D so it hardly matters. This time things are somewhat different.
Newer audiences are going to have to deal with the loosy mechanics that were transferred over ever since the first "New Mario", it has come to a point where it's no longer a problem, that's just how Mario games work these days. You still feel like you have full control but not in the same style as Super Mario World used to be.
The arsenal on your hands is quite diversified as well. In the Wii installment we were introduced to the horrendous mechanic of shaking the wii-mote to perform some upward hurricane motion that. Though interesting in concept, it wasn't really made green and pleasant with motion controls. This time around you can use one of the shoulder buttons to trigger this movement, any of the four for your main controller will do the trick so one of them is bound to suit your needs.
Since the Wii U allows the wii-mote to be used the player can choose to keep using the shake to perform the spin, you can even do it with the regular main tablet-controller since it features built-in motion controls. I have caught myself performing the shake motion for spinning more often than I want to admit in the beginning, kind of like a leftover mannerism from the time I played the Wii version. Quite weird.
Unlike previous ones you actually have a full map to traverse, just like Super Mario World had. Instead of just creating several locations and have Mario jump from one to another they decided to take the Super Mario World card from their sleeve and make an overworld to shake things up a bit. It's quite pleasing really, with internet access people can send messages through to each course; if you can't beat a level you may want to send your frustration while others who may have perform incredible feats might want to boast, like beating the level without receiving damage.
The fire and ice flowers are fully featured and perform like they used to do in previous installments. The flying item, now called Flying Squirrel, has received a major overhaul and now functions quite differently than the usual Tanooki Mario, but not quite like the cape worked in Super Mario World. It simply gives the ability to glide across small distances. There's actually two types of gliding, a short and a long one. Most times by simply falling Mario triggers the longer glide but if you at any time during that period trigger the spin jump mid-air Mario will receive a boost at the cost of getting a much steeper glide that won't last long.
Knowing how to handle the new flying item is essential because it's pretty much the only real difference between what we've been playing in the past. Yoshi is also present and his movements are the standard one. One addition is that whenever he eats a fruit it builds up some kind of meter that once filled gives out a random item. Think of it as an actual functioning mechanic of Yoshi eating fruits in the first levels of Super Mario World, it was useless at the time, now it isn't.
It actually a bummer that Yoshi can't be taken to other courses beside the ones he is present. When you finish a level riding Yoshi it pretty much says goodbye and the next one will be without him one way or another. Though you can't take full grown Yoshi out for a stroll around in any course you feel like you can actually take a baby Yoshi wherever you want. They're actually mostly found on the overworld -- though some are found within courses -- and you're expected to carry him around to eat stuff and give you a hand with useful abilities.
Super Mario World had baby Yoshis though they evolved to fully grown ones after 5 enemies eaten, it doesn't really happen in Super Mario Bros. U, they always stay little no matter how much they eat. What's actually new is that each colored Yoshi have a distinct ability that will save you from a lot of trouble if used well. The red Yoshi inflates becoming a balloon to help Mario. the blue one shoots out bubbles that trap enemies and turn them into coins, the bubbles can also be used to hop. Finally, the golden one lights up the place, this is the one found within courses with no source of light.
As always they don't really take much time introducing any reliable story because, let's be honest here, no one really cares. Bowser and his kid kidnaps princess Peach and Mario takes upon himself the job of rescuing her. The koopas responsible for keeping the castles in each land are back from Super Mario World. The three big golden coins found in each stage for completionists is also back, which is always good because it adds to replayability.
Aside from the main story there's the challenge mode which is phenomenal. The challenges are pretty hardcore and should evoke the maximum potential of all the abilities that aren't really taken to extremes in the main courses. Depending on how well you do in them you receive a bronze, silver or golden medal. Getting golden medal in some of them is pretty tough, some insane jumps and incredible timing are required.
There's Boost Rush, a slightly modified version of Coin Rush from the 3DS version of Mario 2D, I also find it a bit less fun. You basically need to race against the clock and the screen moves at a certain speed, to increase the speed you need to gather coins and, of course, not lose lives. There's a few difficulty levels where a set of two or three levels are played in order. Unlike Coin Rush, which what mattered was the total number of coins, here what matters is how fast you can play these levels. Of course, getting a good time requires getting lots of coins too, but in a good pace rather than a good amount.
The coolest feature, and widely marketed by Nintendo as the best new feature, is the Boost Mode -- not to be confused with the previous mode, Boost Rush. In Boost Mode up to 5 people can play together each controlling one character (Mario, Luigi, Yellow Toad and Blue Toad) while another one plays using the tablet-controller to assist the other players. Whoever gets the job of assisting doesn't really control any character, he simply is tasked with creating blocks for the other ones to travel through the level easier.
Unfortunately this mode doesn't feature an online multiplayer mode so it will have to be played locally, which always harden the process. With online being simply reserved for random little messages you can record for other fellow players over the internet we can pretty much say that it's almost non-existent. A future Mario featuring this Boost Mode and online gameplay would be ideal.
Although in artistic department most of what you find is the same thing rehashed over and over, it's still a delight to see Mario running in high-definition for the first time ever. The music and effects are starting to sound dull and overused while the graphics are as beautiful as they have never been in glorious HD. All in all, it's the good old Mario side-scroller, you probably knew whether you should or not get this before reading all this.