Super Mario Maker was a fantastic gift to the community, when it released on Wii U back in September of last year. After decades of games that defined the platforming genre, Nintendo were putting all the tools to make your own levels in your hands, letting you push the boundaries and create the truly weird, wonderful and delightfully playful. Now you can take all of that on the go, with Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS.
It would have been easy for Nintendo to simply repackage everything that was included in the original Wii U game, but they’ve taken a different route. In so many ways, it’s the same game. It features the same four themes from previous games – Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. U – a common language to the level creation, and even allows you to play some of the same user created levels, but it’s all been been rebuilt with the 3DS in mind.
The 10 Mario Challenge on Wii U has been replaced with something more straightforward in Super Mario Challenge. Where the 10 Mario Challenge picked 8 levels at random from a catalogue of 68 Nintendo created designs with 10 lives, Super Mario Challenge has you playing through a new collection of 100 levels in order, trying to get all the way through to the end without running out of lives. Thankfully, there’s quite a few levels that will spew out coins and lives, giving you a nice healthy buffer for the more challenging moments.
This is Nintendo at their very playful best. These are levels and ideas that just a couple years ago you would never have expected to see created by Nintendo themselves, but here you now have towers of Bowsers, Piranha Plants riding on the heads of Goombas, and so, so much more to deal with.
They even encourage you to think outside the box and play in different ways, thanks to each level having two medal challenges to aim for. They can be as simplistic as collecting 50 coins or picking up a 1-Up mushroom as you play, or as ridiculous as running underneath five flying Piranha Plants or leading all of the level’s Boos to the finish flag. It adds a compulsive desire to go back and try again, and I’ve sunk many lives into replaying a level right after having first completed it. Thankfully, as soon as you complete a level in Super Mario Challenge, it’s added to the Coursebot for you to replay and aim for the challenge medals outside of that mode. These levels can also be edited and used as a way to learn how to get the best out of the game’s creation tools.
If you’re familiar with the level editor on Wii U, you’ll feel right at home on 3DS as well. Everything about it has been shrunk down from TV and Gamepad to the handheld’s twin screens, with the top screen showing how the level will look when played and the bottom screen giving you everything you need to create with just a few taps of the stylus. The same interactions exist, so there’s the familiar iconography of Undo Dog, the palette of objects, items and enemies at the top of the screen, the manner in which you shake things in order to transform them into their variants, and so on.
However, compared to the rather spacious 16:9 Gamepad screen, the touchscreen on the 3DS feels very cramped. You only have 16 grid squares width compared to 24 that are shown on the play area of the top screen and 24 that are in the Wii U’s editor. You can hide some of the tools on either side, so it’s 20 squares wide, but the Wii U creation feels more natural.
Yet the 3DS version has learnt lessons from the Wii U’s occasional stumbles. You don’t need to unlock tools and objects by returning over time, but instead unlock new things by completing the loosely formed worlds in Super Mario Challenge. After each castle level, Mashiko and Yamamura will pop up to congratulate you, give you a couple of pointers and then tell you what to look out for in the next few levels, all in an inimitable style. They’re also on hand to lead you through a series of easily accessible tutorials that you can work through or ignore completely, if you so wish.
But you do have to wonder what the point is to creating on the 3DS. You can’t share your creations by uploading them to Course World, only by sending them directly to someone nearby, whether actively through Coursebot or by setting a level to be beamed to passersby via Streetpass. It greatly lessens my desire to create levels in this version of the game.
You can still play many levels uploaded to Course World from the Wii U version, but even here there’s a number of annoying hurdles to overcome. You can take on the 100 Mario Challenge, giving you 100 lives to play through 16 randomly selected community creations, or check out a selection of recommended courses that have been curated by Nintendo. These can be played when online or downloaded to Coursebot to be played on the go, with space to save 120 levels. Downloading levels one by one is a bit of a pain, though.
Super Mario Maker on Wii U already struggled with sharing and discoverability, and even now the in game options and the website that lets you search and queue up levels is far from perfect. On 3DS you have even fewer options. You can’t follow creators, you can’t see or use course ID codes, you can’t see or create comments, you can’t give a level you liked a star, you’re deprived of so much of the content that has been created over the last year.
In the end, I find myself much more frustrated by Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS than I really ought to. If this had a different verb in the title and eschewed the notion of creation, if this wasn’t releasing in the wake of the outstanding Wii U version of the game, it wouldn’t be a problem, but this game strives for something and comes up short. It’s still worth picking up for fans of Mario games, but there are too many jarring limitations that I really hope Nintendo see fit to address.