Last year’s Super Mario Maker on Wii U was nothing short of revolutionary. The love child of Super Mario All-Stars and Mario Paint, it proved a unique celebration of Nintendo’s most iconic mascot that let gamers play, create and share their very own Mario levels. In many ways, it was a celebration of Nintendo itself, providing a historical look at the rich history and evolution of Mario’s legacy while simultaneously presenting a peek behind the curtain regarding the complexities and intricacies of good game design.
The 3DS version mostly stays true to these lofty foundations, and in some ways even manages to improve upon its pick-up-and-play formula. A more engaging single player mode, streamlined lesson plans and clever design tweaks present welcome additions to the fledgling franchise. For those who can overlook its few technical flaws and social shortcomings, Super Mario Maker for 3DS can be just as fun and immersive an experience as on the Wii U, destined to sap countless hours from the lives of its players for years to come.
PLAY: GENERATIONS OF FUN
The star attraction of Maker’s portable debut is undoubtedly Super Mario Challenge: a completely revamped single player experience that replaces the Wii U’s paltry offering of quick-fire sample courses housed in the now defunct 10 Mario Challenge. Featuring 100 fully developed stages spread out over 18 Worlds, each one is cleverly constructed to showcase specific items, environments and playstyles to help get those creative juices flowing. Best of all, clearing them unlocks the remaining Maker items not accessible from the start, resulting in a much more fun and intuitive system than the Wii U’s nine day wait cycle. With this mode, the 3DS practically offers an entirely new, albeit untraditional Mario spin-off adventure, complete with structured progression, life accumulation and end-world castles devoid of distressed damsels.
Adding more fire flowers to the flame are a duo of medal challenges for each course. While getting to the goal post alone can prove challenging in its own right, striving to complete alternate objectives, like reaching the goal post while always moving forward, collecting every coin or avoiding contact with specific enemies brilliantly spice up gameplay, and will surely give both speedrunners and completionists a run for their money. My only complaint is the missed opportunity to let players enforce similar strategies in their own endeavors. Smart course design can often help guide a player to similar effect, but a structured system allowing creators to implement medal challenges of their own could have gone a long way in giving the 3DS version a competitive edge over its big brother.
The Mushroom Kingdom faithful will be happy to learn that all four Mario generations return while respectfully retaining their original visual flair. However, while both the NES and SNES era templates successfully make the transition to the small screen with flying colors, the New Super Mario Bros. styling could definitely use a Pick Me Up. Sprites are horribly grainy and pixelated, lacking in both the crystal clarity and vibrant colors of its HD counterpart. Why it doesn’t at least hold up to New Super Mario Bros. 2 standards (which was built with the 3DS in mind) is beyond baffling. Though it still manages to be functional and runs smoothly enough, I can’t help but feel slightly miffed at the lack of visual fidelity presented here, especially from a company as revered for its sense of polish and attention to detail as Nintendo.
The technical hiccups, unfortunately, don’t stop there. Because reasons, pervasive black border surrounds the top screen at all times when playing any stage. While it may not bother some players, its unwarranted existence boiled this writer’s blood with the white hot rage of a thousand angry suns, made even more of a nuisance thanks to the smaller screen of my standard New 3DS. There’s also no stereoscopic 3D support, so those expecting to witness the glory of retro Mario platforming in the wrinkles of the third dimension are destined for disappointment. Whether these blemishes are simply due to technical limitations of the 3DS hardware or an unfortunate byproduct of shoddy emulation practices to meet a rushed holiday release, all I can say on the matter is “boo Nintendo, boo” (and not the good kind of boo either).
Luckily, nothing was lost in making these timeless classics play and feel exactly as they did back in their heyday. From cape gliding and spin jumps in Super Mario World to mid-air spins and wall jumps in New Super Mario Bros., all unique gameplay mechanics remain faithfully intact, allowing for some truly innovative level designs. The Mario series also has one of the most varied and diverse soundtracks in all of gaming, and just like on the Wii U, Super Mario Maker’s portable rendition continues to play homage to that legacy. From the familiar, yet whimsically energetic theme of the original to the famed bassy undertones of the underground, you’ll be humming along to its tunes long after you’ve finished your last play session.
CREATE: D.I.Y. MARIO
Back during Maker’s debut on the Wii U, and as an avid fan of the Mario series since the days of the NES, I was sold alone on the premise of an endless supply of community driven stages. My inner child squealed with glee knowing that at any given moment I could hop online and experience a platforming classic such as Super Mario Bros. 3 in millions of new and exciting ways. I wasn’t, however, all that interested in trying my hand at any of the creation tools. Perhaps I simply perceived myself as more of a consumer of games rather than a creator of them. Perhaps having spent the better part of three days wrestling with the deep and complex toolkit of LittleBigPlanet only to end up with a barely functional, hot mess of a stage that nobody played left me too broken and defeated to consider trying again. Whatever the reasons, I was perfectly content letting the community do all the heavy lifting while I drowned myself in pure, platforming bliss.
Much to my surprise, and thanks to clever implementation of the GamePad, any fears or doubts in my abilities as a novice designer were immediately squashed upon mere seconds of tinkering with the interface. Its clean grid-based structure, simple drag and drop controls, and seamless way it allowed the player to iterate and test ideas demolished the previously insurmountable wall of skepticism I had built up in my head. The system is so well designed, intuitive, and downright charming that I couldn’t help but feel motivated to learn everything the toolset had to offer. Before I knew it, I had come to the burgeoning realization that creating a level is just as fun, if not more so, than playing one.
Thankfully, not much has changed in this respect from Super Mario Maker’s hop to handhelds. Just as true now as it was back then, the game’s interface demands experimentation, which makes the act of creating a level feel like playing a game in and of itself. Want to make that Goomba bigger? Simply feed it a mushroom. Want to remove wings from a Koopa Troopa? Shake him until they fall off. What happens if I stack these enemies on top of each other? Can I hide this enemy in this block? Is this pitfall too far to jump across? This constant encouragement to keep testing, experimenting, and iterating permeates the entire experience of the course creation process. In this sense, merely interacting with the toolset, discovering how gameplay elements work together, and slowly working toward bringing your vision to life become the real meat and goal of the game.
The Maker toolset comes across mostly unharmed, and even includes valuable items that were eventually added on Wii U as free updates like Checkpoints, P-Switch Doors and flame spewing Koopa Clown Cars. In fact, the only notable exclusions are amiibo support via Mystery Mushroom outfits and the absence of recording your own sounds. Both are admittedly odd omissions given the New 3DS’s built in NFC reader and the game’s inability to share levels (and thus possibly inappropriate sound bites) online. Once again, its small decisions like this that make me question whether this port was a rush job, or if Nintendo purposely gimped the 3DS version to keep the Wii U’s more relevant. Nevertheless, it’s still impressive having the near-full package available on the go anytime, anywhere.
An important deviation from the Wii U’s relatively unstructured approach, Super Mario Maker on 3DS completely revamps the tutorialization process by giving players access to a much more fully-featured toolset right from the get-go, including 32 course elements and all the major environments, sounds and game templates. My favorite new addition, though, would have to be the short educational lessons hosted by the edamame obsessed pigeon Yamamura and his “pun very much intended” sidekick Mary-O. The constant banter between the two is uproariously endearing and well worth sticking around for, despite being completely optional. Unlike their trivial existence deep in the annals of the Wii U’s digital manual, they’ve been given much more prominence and fleshed out personalities; more than deserving of future spots in the halls of Smash Bros. trophy stardom.
SHARE: PARTY OF ONE
When not making your own stages, the Course World serves as your personal hub for browsing and playing other players’ levels. This is also a great way to broaden your abilities as a creator and learn from the community at large, more specifically how they use the same tools you have at your disposal in new and interesting ways.
Of course, that’s all you’ll be doing on your 3DS, as Nintendo has completely scrapped all the social features and sense of community it so tirelessly built up on the Wii U. Online functionality has been unceremoniously stripped back, reduced to nothing more than a smattering of randomized, pre-approved courses from the Wii U’s robust database to play either immediately or save to the Coursebot for later. Your creations built on your 3DS cannot – I repeat, cannot – be uploaded online to the community at large, nor can you search specific courses, provide feedback via Miiverse or dish out star ratings to reward quality creations. This is the detrimental downside to Mario’s portable foray in course construction considering that for most creators, the only thing more rewarding than finishing a course you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into is finally sharing it online for the world to enjoy.
Instead, sharing is done using either StreetPass or local wireless between friends. Should you feel so inclined, two players can jointly collaborate on the same course by passing it back and forth between one another. While better than nothing, these options crush the spirit of what made Super Mario Maker on Wii U engaging and course creation motivating. Hopping online to check how many plays or stars your latest creations received and sifting through the comments on Miiverse for better ways to improve your stages lay at the heart of Maker’s magic. While some are sure to find solace in the solitude, I personally found the loss of key social features and abandonment of community values a hard shroom to swallow.
SUPER SOLITUDE MAKER
Super Mario Maker for Wii U marked a momentous milestone for the world’s most recognizable Italian plumber. After 30 years of enduring perilous pitfalls and kidnapping Koopa kings, Nintendo threw Mario a party of epic proportions, and in effect let players become game makers and share their inspired creations with a community of supportive, like-minded mega fans.
While that magic still holds true on 3DS, the lack of visual polish, absence of proper amiibo support, and removal of key online features dampen what could have easily been the definitive Maker experience. A strong solo campaign and various design tweaks go a long way in compensating for these shortcomings, but ultimately fall short in replacing the lost sense of community. It’s still a fantastic title in its own right, and great for anyone seeking unbridled access to an endless supply of fanmade classic Mario courses on the go. It’s just not the same carefully crafted love letter to the past I fell in love with back in 2015, and that’s a crying shame.
System: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: December 2, 2016