Over the last thirty years, Nintendo have been training us; showing us the ways of brilliant 2D platforming game design through periodically releasing side-scrolling Mario titles. And now, with Super Mario Maker we’re ready to try our own hand at it, giving something back by creating our own 2D Mario courses and sharing them with the world.
Super Mario Maker, then, is one of the most accessible, well-presented and downright fun to use creation tools around. There’s no bloated editing options to get your contraptions ready – most of that’s done dynamically – and it’s clear from the start that this is a different beast from the likes of the much more complex LittleBigPlanet.
It’s simply a case of something doing what it says on the tin – allowing you to create pretty much anything you’ve seen in a 2D Mario platformer – rather than trying to go above and beyond that and become something of it’s own. And yet it comes in such an endearing package which has tons of little quirks, ultimately making the creation tools feel more of a fun game themselves rather than simply a way of designing levels, and that’s the reason it works so well.
It does help that pretty much anyone who enjoys video games knows how Mario works at its core. Creating bigger versions of enemies, for example, is done by feeding them a super mushroom, while grabbing and shaking them with a stylus will transform them. We all know that Mario might need one of those super mushrooms for himself to grow bigger before a challenging part in the level, and that these are usually found in question mark boxes. So, place down one of those boxes and drag a mushroom to it, and there you go. You might then experiment, taking cues from one of the sample levels or just playing around yourself, and instead put an enemy in the box to set up a trap.
This sense of discovery and experimentation is at the core of Super Mario Maker – and Nintendo’s tools make it a breeze to figure things out. There’s also a well thought-out difficulty curve with the creation mechanics, as you’re drip-fed a small batch of new items and mechanics daily, giving you time you get to grips with the new content before moving on.
All of this adds up to create a suitably user-friendly experience, particularly when coupled with the Wii U Gamepad’s touchscreen controls.
Although each course has to have a starting post and ending flagpole, everything that goes between is up to you; paint your platforms in whichever shape you want, choose from six different themes – from ground, to underwater, to the hellish castle themes – and let your imagination go wild, spicing it up with custom sound effects and anything else that might make sense.
And then, you’ll be able to switch between different styles of Mario visuals, based on four games from the series’ history: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. Each of these reacts to everything you’ve placed down, changing it to that game’s representation in real time, and it’s really quite impressive.
While most of the mechanics and items are available in each style – a testament to how Mario has stayed true to its origins – there are a few things exclusive to each version, mainly focused around the way Mario himself acts. Only in the NSMB style can you wall jump or ground pound as Mario, while the Cape Feather will only appear in the SMW style, and Yoshi will be replaced by a Goomba in a shoe in the Super Mario Bros. game styles.
When you’re happy with your course, you can either save it for local use or further editing, or upload it to what will soon become a sprawling database of platforming levels. There are some limitations here, in that you must play and beat your level before upload – to prove it can be completed – and that you can only upload ten courses at a time. As you get a higher star ranking across your uploaded levels, the amount you can upload will increase, which is quite a neat system to have in place.
Despite the complete-before-uploading system, there’s ultimately nothing to stop poor level design, and you’ll find that some of the levels don’t quite live up to Nintendo’s own designs, though of course many others do. Thankfully, there are dozens of existing courses in the game – from both Nintendo and other guest creators – which you can play in an offline mode known as 10 Mario Challenge. That means you’ll have ten lives to beat a selection of eight courses.
The online equivalent of this is 100 Mario Challenge. You’re far less likely to lose on this one, naturally, as you have 100 lives, but here you’ll see a selection of user-created courses, with three difficulty options to choose from (the levels themselves are dynamically assigned a difficulty level based on clear rates). You can skip a level if it’s just a bit too difficult or not very exciting, but unfortunately can’t create a queue of specific levels to play.
Other than finding levels through that mode, you’ll be able to see featured, highly rated, or up-and-coming courses, with a bit more information about them before diving in. Disappointingly, the search function is extremely limited, and you can only find individual levels through their course ID or creator rather than being able to search for specific terms or course titles.
Despite having to, for the most part, stick to the Mario formula, people are already coming up with some more original ideas. There’s a level where super mushrooms are your enemy, and you have to avoid them to get through the small gap at the end, one where you have to escort a power-up to the end, a shoot-em-up using the fire flower and clown car, and even one which takes cues from Metroid in its design, using power-ups such as the mushroom or fire flower to allow you to progress to the next area in an open level.
We’ll undoubtedly see more of these original ideas as time goes on – things that you wouldn’t expect to see in a Mario platformer – but we’ll also see people using Nintendo’s tricks to create an expansive pool of perfect platforming levels, and that’s definitely something to look forward to.
There’s one omission which lets it down and that is that although you can create fantastic multi-level courses – and do pretty much anything you’d want to in a 2D Mario game – there’s no option to add checkpoints. This means that longer levels with hard stretches will need to be completed in one go, and that the Metroid-esque levels will send you back to the start with none of the upgrades upon failure.
Otherwise, the whole experience just oozes charm; whether it’s blocks singing along to the them as you place them down, Mario cowering in fear as the eraser approaches, or the cutely designed scenes in the Mario Challenge modes, Super Mario Maker will consistently bring a smile to your face.
Super Mario Maker is a true celebration of gaming’s most popular icon. It’s Nintendo’s love letter to the fans, not just giving them the tools to create and share Mario courses, but wrapping it up in a wonderfully presented package and teaching them everything they could possibly want to know. The beauty is that some fans will inevitably be able to go beyond that and pull off some tricks that Nintendo haven’t even thought of yet.