Nintendo Land Preview: Catching Up With Mario Chase

When Wii U was first shown last year at E3 2011, I was there. I watched Reggie and Mr. Iwata introduce the system and its trademark touch screen controller, and heard them mention something interesting: asymmetrical gameplay.

The idea sounded simple enough. While up to four players play on the big screen, another player uses the touch screen controller, getting a unique view of the action and taking on a different gameplay role to the rest of his or her friends. But when I left the Nokia Theatre I just didn’t quite get it. How was this a big game changer? With this skepticism hanging over my head, I took a trip to the Nintendo booth, where I found a neat little demo called “Chase Mii.”

Find out why this one simple game completely sold me on Wii U’s “asymmetric gameplay” – and why over a year later I just can’t contain how excited I am to see it show up in Nintendo Land as “Mario Chase.”

The core premise should be familiar to anyone who grew up playing “tag” or “hide-and-seek,” but offers a unique twist. Instead of the “it” player chasing down everybody else, everybody else gets to gang up on whoever is “it.” The game supports up to five players – one “it” player (dressed as Mario) who uses the GamePad to get an overhead mini-map view of the action in order to evade capture, and up to four chasers (dressed as Toads) who play with Wii Remotes and try to track down the GamePad player.

If the Toads can catch the Mario player before time runs out, they win; if Mario manages to elude them for the duration of the clock, he or she will win.

Multiple play maps exist to add play variety, each littered with obstacles and walls to hide behind, resulting in a maze-like stage that serves a dual-purpose. The GamePad player can use his or her surroundings to escape pursuit… but an effective Toad team can also make use of the scenery to trap their opponent. Maps can also come with unique terrain features: one has slides for speedy escapes, another has mud pools that slow down anyone who steps into them. Each of them has four color-coded zones so the Toads can easily identify their location as they shout directions to one another.

In order to catch the GamePad player, the Toads will have to press a button to tackle, and Mario can use a single invincibility star in the center of the stage to make a speedy getaway in a pinch… but other than that, none of the players have any weapons or special moves to speak of. All you can do is run, weaving your way through the maps in order to catch up to your quarry or shake off your pursuers.

This level of simplicity may seem juvenile to those who are used to the weapon variety, shoot-outs, and stealth kills seen in today’s complex first-person shooters, but at the same time there’s a reason why games like “tag” and “hide-and-seek” are so popular among kids. There’s a low level of skill required to play and very few moves to memorize, but it takes quick reflexes and smart planning to win.

If you’re one of the Toads, the trick is in the teamwork. Split up and scan each zone separately, taking a peek at the other zones periodically to see if you can spot something that your partners cannot, and you’ll have a better shot at tracking down the GamePad player. With all the clutter littering the stages, even if you pinpoint the correct zone, you may not necessarily catch your opponent as he or she lurks behind and creeps between the various “cover” fixtures.

Once you’ve caught sight of the Mario player, however, do whatever you can to keep him or her in your sights for as long as you can. It’ll be tough to trap the “it” player alone, so it’s usually a good idea call out to your teammates to inform them of your prey’s coordinates. When I played Mario Chase at Wii U Experience yesterday, the PR rep showing us the demo would frequently say things like “he’s at the top of the red zone!” or “she’s heading towards the center from green!” This will give your teammates a basic idea of where to go; it’ll be up to them to respond as effectively as possible to these cues. Delivering these instructions lets the GamePad player know he or she has been found out, though, so sometimes it might be better to just stay silent and see if you can get any closer.

Ideally, you’ll want to be able to have two (or more) people following the GamePad player at once from different directions to ensure a successful chase. The more people you have running after Mario in a line, the more opportunities he or she will have to cut out of sight.

If you’re Mario, you’ve got a very different task. You don’t have any teammates, but you do have the aid of an overhead map view, where you can see your location relative to other players, as well as which direction they’re looking in. It’s enough to give you a rough idea of whether or not they can see you, but you can never be sure. Ideally you want to stay as far away from other players as possible, but if you’re playing against four players who have spread out to multiple zones, that’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds.

Some of the Toads might come uncomfortably close – but it might be better to stick to your current zone, keeping hidden behind whatever cover you can find to avoid being seen, than to risk being exposed as you flee to another zone. Or it might not. You’ll have to watch what the other players are doing as closely as you can and react as soon you get the chance.

It’s a very different dynamic than a shooter in that once you spot your enemy, you don’t just shoot – the game’s just getting started. That said, watching what’s going on all over the map is the key to victory.

If you’re the GamePad player, you can can see everybody on the map – but that doesn’t mean you can keep a close watch on all of the Toads at once. While that guy in the red zone might be heading in the complete opposite direction, another player might be swiveling around just in time to see you from across the map. If you’re trying to shake a couple Toads who are tight on your tail, you still have to keep a close lookout for others who might attempt to head you off. It’s intense and stressful precisely because you can see everything, and since you’re outnumbered, that means that it’s hard to keep track of everything at once.

The Toads can only see what’s in their line of sight, so they have to work together to spot the GamePad player regardless of where he or she is hiding. Unlike the GamePad player, they don’t have a map to orient themselves around, so their opportunities to strategize are mostly limited to spreading out and checking for signs of movement from across the map or around a corner.

Throw it all together, and you get an experience that seems on its face to be an incredibly obvious formula for frantic fun, but that inevitably isn’t really like anything we’ve seen so far. No flashy guns and explosions, no killstreaks and re-spawns – just the raw, primal feel of the chase. There’s something about that I just can’t get enough of.

Mario Chase is one of the twelve attractions included with Nintendo Land, which will be released alongside Wii U at the system’s November 18 launch and comes packed in with every Deluxe Set bundle.

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