So Nintendo made another Mario game. I know, shocking right?
NintenMario + Cats
The same development team behind Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS and the Galaxy titles for the Wii decided that the first 3D Mario game for the Wii U would be a follow up to the 3DS game. It takes elements from that game, the New Super Mario Bros series, and surprisingly Super Mario Bros 2 (as it is known in the west).
As with many modern Mario titles, it is both familiar and new at the same time. You still run, jump, collect coins, bash blocks, and all those Mario-ish things you expect. The 4 players at once multiplayer works a bit better since there is more area for people to move around in.
In what for some reason took a while to happen, you can finally play as the classic four character gang from Super Mario Bros 2 in a 4 player Mario game. Mario controls exactly like you remember him and Luigi has his higher but floatier jumps. Peach (she isn't kidnapped? Is Mario dreaming again?) has her classic "I can defy gravity momentarily because I wear a dress" cartoon logic move. This ability does come at the cost of her being the slowest on her feet. It is Toad that ends up being by far the fastest of the bunch. You can chose to play any character no matter which player you are, which is nice.
While the clear pipes may sound gimmicky, in practice it does open up some interesting gameplay options. As the levels get more challenging you will notice hazards and enemies hiding in the pipes. You will sometimes be required to take a branching path within the pipe to avoid running headlong into some danger.
Another more honestly gimmicky feature is the use of the touchscreen on the gamepad. Similar to the co-op helper in Galaxy you can stall enemies or effect certain pieces of the environment by "touching". You can also uncover invisible blocks and hidden coins by highlighting the area to alert other players of their location. While a far, far, far more interesting use of the gamepad than the boost blocks in New Super Mario Bros U, it is not yet obvious how useful it will actually be. It is a touch (ha!) annoying to use when you are having to control a character at the same time.
The far more interesting addition is the cat suit. Sorry, "cat transformation". If you get a happy little bell power-up, you proudly fly your furry flag and gain a fuzzy cat suit. This completely alters how you can get through a level. Tapping the run button will perform a quick semi-circle slash of your claws. This can be used to both attack enemies and break blocks. If you jump and then attack, you will perform an aerial pounce attack. Most importantly, you can use your claws to climb up the side of walls. To keep it from being completely game breaking, you can only climb so far before your character tires out and then starts to slide down the wall. As seen in the trailer this wall climbing makes hitting the top of the ending flagpole a breeze. When wearing the suit, you simply can only activate the flagpole at the top.
On top of regular platforming levels, the demo had a level in which you jumped on a large dinosaur's back as he swam down a river and you had to try to collect as many coins as you could while avoiding pitfalls and enemies. There were multiple paths and secret routes to find, each with different levels of risk/reward.
All in all, this is more Mario. The different controlling characters and much more focus on multiple paths and hidden items are a welcome addition. Whether or not the final game can rise above the possible Mario series fatigue will have to wait until it launches this holiday season.