Release Date: September 11, 2015Platform: Wii UDeveloper: NintendoPublisher: NintendoGenre: Level-editor/Platformer
Super Mario Bros. is a game that needs no introduction. It still stands the test of time as one of the most important and iconic video games in history, and one that has influenced the decades of gaming excellence that have followed. Super Mario Maker is a shining celebration of those many years of love, with every Mario fan, young and old, now wielding the power to send our mustachioed plumber friend on an adventure that’s plucked and cultivated from their wildest dreams. While the creation tools at your disposal are incredibly easy to use, the vast wonders which you can produce from them offer a fresh and revitalized experience that will keep Mario at the forefront for another thirty years.
I had read reports that Super Mario Maker was originally intended to be a new Mario Paint game, and you can actually see a bit of this influence when it comes to the intuitive yet robust creation mechanics. Budding Mario level designers can use their stylus to quite literally paint sprawling, blocky landscapes on the Wii U GamePad screen. Every available asset corresponds to a tiny square on a massive grid, and you can even stretch out the distance to the end goal if your level warrants it. Most everything else is performed by a quick tap on one of the grid boxes, from placing a goomba out on the prowl to stuffing a question mark box with a 1-up mushroom. If you want to rework something, you can simply erase it with your stylus or reset the whole stage entirely. Testing your masterpiece involves dragging Mario to the desired start point and pressing play, which effectively lets you iron out the kinks in a specific area or the entire level, depending on your current needs. It really is that easy, and Mario newcomers and veterans alike can start creating their own levels within minutes thanks to this fluid and accessible design.
Your available items are organized in rows by type, and you can even create a customized toolbar for the ones you find yourself using the most. It’s also exciting to flip through the different visual styles between four iconic Mario games and watch your creations morph before your very eyes. One of my favorite things about Super Mario Maker is that the game lets you save your levels in a set of four that constitutes your very own Super Mario world, complete with 1-1 to 1-4 designations. Rearranging the order of your world is as simple as holding and dragging with the stylus, and you can play through the whole thing in sequence after you’re done editing. It’s a really wonderful touch, one which heightens the magic of becoming an actual Super Mario game developer.
One of the most interesting design choices in Super Mario Maker is the way it handles dishing out new items and tools for creators to experiment with. You’ll start off with a modest tool set including two visual game styles (Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. U), two different environments (ground and underground), and a handful of items and baddies associated with each, like your standard mushrooms, pipes, and koopa troopas. Additional items and environments are then unlocked over time.
At first, I received notifications telling me that a new set of tools would arrive on a specific date, but quickly found I would unlock the same ones at fifteen-minute intervals just from spending time in the create mode. There are both good and bad things about this system. On the one hand, it lets you ease into the creation aspects without getting too overwhelmed by having dozens of items at your disposal from the start. Conversely, sometimes you just have a great idea for a Super Mario Bros. 3-inspired course which you can’t start on yet, and you might feel like you’ve overused everything in your sparse inventory, limiting your potential creativity.
In addition to making your very own Mario levels, the other real draw of Super Mario Maker comes from playing the endless array of imaginative and wacky scenarios uploaded by other users. This “Course World” is the true heart and soul of Super Mario Maker, and the already vast and dedicated community will be what keeps the game’s longevity going well into infinity. Just a quick perusal of the top rated user levels will net you all sorts of fun and amusing creations and level ideas, from silly phrases spelled out in blocks, to crazy and impressive chain-reaction displays, to some expert platforming sections that could give the original Super Mario Bros. a run for its money. The possibilities for what can be accomplished with Super Mario Maker are seemingly endless, and that’s only in the game’s first week alone!
Despite the huge plethora of user-created Mario levels that are out there just waiting to be discovered, searching for specific ones you want can feel a little clunky at times. Aside from scrolling through the designated lists of Featured or Star Ranking, you can also search by specific creators or turn on some vague filters such as level difficulty. Sometimes the easier option is to fire up a round of the 100 Mario Challenge, which gives you a hundred lives to complete a series of eight randomly selected user levels. This is a great way to jump right into the community content without getting lost in the online search features, though with this it’s never certain what zany or harebrained level you’ll be challenged with next! There is also the 10 Mario Challenge, which bears the smallest outline of a campaign, giving you ten lives to complete a predetermined set of eight levels. New course sets are then randomly swapped in each time you finish a round of this mode, and the best part is that the levels you’ve already completed are automatically added to your course list and open to future tinkering.
At its core, Super Mario Maker achieves exactly what it sets out to do: provide a well-executed Mario level designer with an incredibly accessible pick-up-and-play interface, an endless supply of innovative levels from a dedicated fan community, and a true celebration of one of gaming’s most important and revered mascots. It’s also a game that’s positively begging for DLC down the road, as even though there are already so many tools to work with as it is, my gears are constantly turning with what I would do given some different visual styles and enemies. And in the end, that is the real beauty of Super Mario Maker: it brings out the inner creativity in everyone.
Joe Jasko is a game critic.