If Super Mario Maker was the only video game ever made, gaming would still be a valid hobby. That’s partly because Mario games are, in essence, the pastime’s purest form of fun, but Maker’s real accomplishment is peeling back the design curtain and giving players every tool they need to define that fun for themselves. The possibilities are, quite literally, endless, and the only real limit is your ingenuity. Is one Bowser at the end of a castle stage just not enough? Do you want to spell out a marriage proposal with coins in the sky for your sweetheart to fly through? Super Mario Maker affectionately laughs at your simple requests, then offers you so, so much more.
Tools of the trade
At first glance, I, like many gamers, looked at Super Mario Maker and thought: “Those creation tools seem neat, but I just want to play Mario levels.” The thought of countless new levels, every day, for the rest of my life sounded pretty great, and easily justified the game’s price. Through all of the marketing, Nintendo Directs, and live streams, I held on to the notion that I would be much more of a consumer than a producer. After all, I had never really been won over by the creation suite of any D.I.Y. game before, and not for lack of trying.
That mindset literally changed in an instant, for me. On the crowded show floor at PAX Prime, I had my first hands-on experience with Super Mario Maker. I approached it with my anti-creation tunnel vision, and spent most of my time playing a selection of the internally developed levels that come with the game. I had a blast. With about five minutes of the demo remaining, my guide gently encouraged me to try whipping up a stage of my own. Somewhat reluctantly, I jumped into the editor. Within seconds, the latent game creator in me took over.
So what does Super Mario Maker do that other creation toolsets, like Little Big Planet and Disney Infinity, never have? It makes the very act of creation as instantly gratifying and joyous as playing the levels themselves. Forgoing tutorials and tooltips, the level editor, in every way, speaks for itself. If you want to put a lakitu in the sky, you pick one up and drop it in. Want him to throw stars instead of spinies? just hand one to him. Virtually every element of the construction process is that straightforward, and there are very few limitations on what you can do. It all just works exactly as you expect it to.
All said and done, Super Mario Maker’s toolkit is stocked with just about every element we’ve seen in Mario side scrollers, and a few that are brand new. There are certainly notable omissions, but nothing so glaring that it hinders the experience, or your imagination. One curious design choice was to dole out the tools a few at a time as you spend time in the level editor. While I understand the thinking behind familiarizing the player with each element before moving on to the next, this system leaves veteran Mario players in a bit of a bind, as they’ll be missing things they need to execute ideas they’ve probably been kicking around internally for years. In my case, the first level I set out to make revolved around the use of a sub-level, which isn’t available until the final set of tools is unlocked. After the week or so that it takes to unlock everything, though, you’ll never have to worry about this again, so it’s hard to get too hung up on it.
Generations of craft
The simplicity of Super Mario Maker’s creation suite is mirrored in its presentation. From the interactive, daily changing title screen to its clean and concise menus, you’re never more than a tap or two from where you want to be. Some of the interface can look a bit sterile at times, but once you’re in the editor or playing a level, the artistry of decades of Mario games comes shining brightly through.
The decision to include tilesets for (almost) every iteration of Mario’s side-scrolling universe was crucial. By this virtue, Super Mario Maker encompasses three of the most timeless examples of graphic design in video game history (Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World), plus New Super Mario Bros. which– while compelling from a variety and gameplay perspective– doesn’t add much to the package artistically. Happily, Mario’s 8 and 16-bit incarnations have made a spectacular transfer to 1080p, and look more vibrant than ever, without betraying their heritage in the slightest.
These timeless visuals are accompanied by an excellent cross section of music from the classic Mario soundtracks. While the game doesn’t offer any direct control over the music in your stages, there are a variety of sound tools in the editor, each with their own visual accompaniments. In the hands of a skilled creator, these audio-visual additions can make for some truly interesting compliments to the game’s vintage look and sound.
The nostalgia doesn’t end there, Super Mario Maker is punctuated throughout with endearing callbacks to the beloved Super Nintendo experiment, Mario Paint. On this, Mario’s 30th anniversary, I can’t think of a better package to celebrate our favorite plumber’s history.
But what good would all that be if it didn’t feel right to play? Somehow, despite all the subtle tweaks and balances Mario has seen over the years, Super Mario Maker manages to seamlessly overlay four completely different art styles with Mario’s flawless platforming. Momentum, controlled jumps, duck-sliding, it all feels exactly as it should, no matter which tileset you find yourself in. Mario has a few signature moves that are tied to specific games (NSMB wall jumps for example) that could potentially complicate things, but somehow, again, it all just works.
To get you right into the platforming action and hopefully stir up some inspiration, Super Mario Maker comes with around 60 premade levels. These are accessible in the 10 Mario Challenge, a mode where you’re given a stock of ten lives to try to complete a set of eight randomly selected stages. These stages are a good primer for basic level design, but they illustrate some of the game’s more absurd possibilities as well.
Back on the creation side of things, I’d like to make a special note about the Wii U GamePad. Super Mario Maker is, without a doubt, the best argument for the GamePad’s existence that Nintendo has made to date. The airtight loop of dropping some content into a level with the touchscreen then switching to the buttons to immediately test your design would be impossible with any other controller. This instantaneous, iterative design process keeps you focused on your ideas, rather than fumbling with controls and wasting time in menus. It’s unfortunate that this brilliant use of the Wii U hardware came so late in its life cycle.
There’s one more key component of Super Mario Maker, without which it wouldn’t be half as important a game as it is: the ability to share your creations online. My initial plan was to play levels to my heart’s content, leaching off the creativity of Nintendo’s worldwide player base. And thanks to Maker’s capable online functionality, I absolutely could (had I not fallen in love with the creation process myself).
Course World is Super Mario Maker’s online hub, it’s where you’ll find all of the uploaded creations from designers around the world. Unfortunately, it lacks some pretty obvious features. While the game provides some basic sorting options for courses and makers, as well as a self-curating rating system, there’s not much in the way of actual search functions. The only way to find a specific course is with a 16 digit Course ID shared outside of the game, and there’s no way to search for levels by name, theme, or style. This can make tracking down a friend’s uploads or finding levels of a specific type an extracurricular activity, rather than a simple, in-game task.
If you’re simply in the mood to play a variety of random stages, as I often am, there’s 100 Mario Challenge. Like 10 Mario Challenge, this mode presents you with a set of eight or 16 player made levels, depending on the difficulty you choose, and this time gives you a stock of 100 lives to make your way through them. The difficulty is based on stage clear rates, so Hard can be a real challenge. If you can make it through all the levels, you’ll be rewarded with a random Mystery Mushroom Costume, one of 100 alternate outfits for use in the Super Mario Bros. tileset. 100 Mario Challenge is that ‘pop in and see what’s new’ mode that’s perfect for a quick Mario fix.
The amiibo support in Super Mario Maker is robust, but is a bit handicapped by design. The good news is that the game supports almost every amiibo you own. By tapping an amiibo in the level editor, you’ll be granted with a corresponding Mystery Mushroom Costume for that character. Once they’re in your collection, they’re permanently unlocked for use in level design. The bad news is that, while awesome, they are all only usable in the Super Mario Bros. aesthetic.
It’s worth noting that these 8-bit costumes each come with their own animations, action poses, sound effects, and level completion fanfares– with the odd exception of Pokèmon amiibo sound effects. There’s also some very cool attention to detail, like Splatoon’s Inklings turning into squid while swimming, or Sonic the Hedgehog rolling into a ball when he runs. Nintendo didn’t skimp on this integration, but I would love to see these costumes appear in the other tilesets at some point.
Super Mario Maker is the ultimate desert island game, where creation and play are perfectly balanced for infinite replayability. It may sound odd to herald a brand new game a timeless masterpiece, but this combination of beloved, familiar gameplay and limitless creative potential can’t possibly amount to anything less. By design, it will never get old, because there will always be new level ideas to explore. And with millions of designers already sharing their creations with the world, we’ll never run out of interesting new Mario adventures.Leave a Comment