Nintendo does what Nintendo does, and that can often lead to frustration and confusion. When they announced Mario Maker I thought that it looked cute but was generally of little interest to me, which is especially strange as I love both creative games and Nintendo’s humble mascot, Mario. Perhaps it was more to do with the fact 2D Mario games, while always very good, seem to lack excitement and can be all-too predictable. The game launched and although it had yet to make it into my machine, the internet was full of buzz and Super Mario Maker began to appear everywhere in videos full of interesting features and crazy level designs.
Super Mario Maker is just that, Mario maker. The player can use the simple tools provided to make a 2D Mario game, which can be uploaded and then shared with other Super Mario Maker players. There are a couple of modes including build and play, both of which are fairly self-explanatory, and the game comes included with some basic courses to show users the various features and explain the possibilities available to the user. Most of the content comes from other users around the world and this can often prove to be hit or miss. I started with the 10 Mario challenge which gives the player 10 lives to make it through 8 levels provided mostly by the community in an attempt to save the Princess, again. The game was fun and the platforming was excellent, and what you have come to expect from a Nintendo Product. But was it really up to the same standard?
The tools may have been provided by Nintendo, and what great tools they are (I shall return to these later), but it’s the imaginations of fan boys, other developers and Mario novices that have created something truly special in the world of Mario, with ideas both great and odd. On top of this there’s also the 100 Mario challenge where you have to complete a number of levels dependent on the game difficulty, whether it’s Easy, Normal or Expert, these again come from the community of uploaded levels. Once you have cleared Expert though you gain access to the wonderful levels that were created for the Nintendo World Championships 2015. Of course, when playing the harder levels it brings out some that are altogether rather cruel with traps and some generally poor game design that appears to have been employed to merely get the player stuck. Still, hold a button and the levels are skipped with the game loading a new one within seconds. Now, I like a challenge and I have been playing Mario games since the 80’s so I know how hard a Mario game can be, but I also understand what great level design is and what elements can completely undo them.
And it is undoubtedly this struggle to maintain balance that proves to be half battle with this game; yes lots of the levels here are fun, hard and unique, with more than a few adding interesting features such as complex puzzle solving, exploration and characteristics that cross over from other past Mario games. So although sometimes you can get a couple of bad levels these can be skipped without penalty, which is great as if I wanted to play a poor platformer there are plenty to choose from, after all, a level must be of a certain standard in order for me to invest my time. The game features a rating system and team of moderators that check the levels before they are made playable, and it’s also a requirement that the creator must be able to finish their own creation before uploading. There will be lots of fresh new levels to play, but the ability to rate them means that the best creators will hopefully get the attention they deserve, which will surely allow the end user to piece together some truly unique Mario experiences.
The creation part of the game is the key focus here, with Nintendo taking basic 2D game design and managing to simplify it without any real issues. The original Super Mario Bros was designed on simple squared/grid paper and its transfer over to the Game Pad has worked just fine. The game provides you with very basic tools to get you started like primitive blocks, mushrooms, Koopa Troopers and the one theme of the inaugural Super Mario Bros from the original Nintendo Entertainment System. To begin with though, it is very slow at releasing the content so as to not confuse or leave the player feeling overwhelmed, so it can take a little while to get going. New content is dished out daily or after having used the creation tool for a period of time. The game themes included are Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros U, so there are certainly a wealth of possibilities to explore. These game themes can be changed at any time when building your level and come with their own unique game play mechanics, graphics and physics based on the original property.
Mario’s abilities are also relevant to the chosen theme, want to implement a spin jump? Well then, clearly that falls under the realm of Super Mario World, or perhaps you’d like to utilise New Super Mario Bros U’s wall jump? These are a couple of the abilities that change when the game theme is altered. Of course, not all game mechanics are restricted though. Certain level stages, characters or power ups make the jump to all game themes so new sprites based on each title have also been created. When crafting levels you can choose a stage design such as castles, ghost houses or underwater areas, along with air ship stages and the normal over world and underground stage themes. So, you want a ghost house from Super Mario Bros? You bet! Or maybe a Super Mario World air ship level...well, yep, that’s here too. With new music, new art and a near limitless wealth of possibilities, the only limit is surely in the imagination of the creator. Nearly everything about the creation tool is adjustable, from auto scrolling to the length of the levels and even the timer. That’s not to say it’s perfect and there are a few places where it feels a bit limited compared to Nintendo’s own tools, so no mixed theme levels and no check points.
Nintendo have shown it does not mind DLC though, so expect to see additional content incoming, and from the outset, this game is already chock full of unlockables and rewards, so there’s already plenty to keep users hooked and coming back for more. It also supports a quite silly amount of amiibo and lets you add classics like Mega Man or Sonic into the mix, which can really make for some strange crossovers. Still, all of these amiibo unlocks also available for players to earn in a more traditional way and do not need to bought, in fact they don’t even need to be unlocked to play a level someone has made featuring Wii Fit trainer...
By today’s standards, Mario Paint on the SNES might seem really primitive, but Nintendo has always been good a creating creative software and this game features lots of throwbacks to the SNES classic and it every time it does, whether it’s a music track or a visit to the fly swat game, it will never fail to bring a smile to the face of any old school Nintendo fan as their nostalgia goggles explode in sheer joy. Personally, I went from being restively unexcited to thoroughly enjoying my experiences with Super Mario Maker, and in many ways it is an excellent tribute to the wonderful Super Mario Bros on its 30th anniversary. It also makes great use of the Wii U’s Game Pad, and besides, if the idea of creating your levels doesn’t exactly float your boat, this game is still chock full of other peoples’ content to play and explore. Still, who knows, perhaps – like me - you might just find that a small tinker has the potential to turn into a masterpiece.