The familiarity of playing any side-scrolling Mario game is like riding a bike. Or, perhaps a more fitting analogy, like running into an old best friend. No matter how long it's been since you've rescued Peach, the time away from the Mushroom Kingdom is immediately insignificant. The formula, colors and Goomba stomping is the same. However, it's the little things Nintendo does that keeps us coming back, and the main reason why New Super Mario Bros. U is such a joy.
Mario games were never about cutting edge graphics. Instead, Nintendo tends to focus on constantly refining the platforming experience which, almost 27 years after the first Super Mario Bros. was introduced, still remains as good as it ever was; running, jumping, coin collecting, and now, flying like a squirrel. It's a simple concept, really: You get the acorn-like mushroom, turn into a squirrel/human hybrid, and suddenly you have the power of upward mobility. If you thought the Propeller Mushroom was fun, wait until you play as Flying Squirrel Mario. Whoosh.
If you've played New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo's new title is largely the same with a broader scope thanks to the power of the Wii U. There's more of the world for up to 4 (or 5 with the GamePad controller) players to see and explore, and now you can even use your own Mii as a character. "Look, Uncle Bob just walked into Koopa Troopa again."
Using the GamePad controller introduces an entirely new element to the Mario world. The user in control acts as an omnipresent being of sorts, an overseer of what's transpiring onscreen. The cool part is the GamePad allows you to insert blocks in either helpful or inconvenient places, so you better hope that you're nice to the person in control. You can briefly stun enemies as well, making it easier for less skilled players to complete a level.
The charming world of Mario is as irresistible as ever. Even during the brief time I spent with the game, using a baby Yoshi to balloon me up to ledges and coins never got old. New Super Mario Bros. U won't blow you away with revolutionary new elements, or conjure the excitement of something like Halo 4. Rather, its excellent 2D platforming, familiar touches, and small additions is what's allowed the franchise to stand the test of time, and why we can't wait to get our hands on the full version.