Infinite Mario. It’s one of those dreams of childhood and of platformer fans worldwide. Despite challengers from a number of indie games such as Super Meat Boy and N++, Nintendo and its affiliated studios remain the best at creating super tight yet never frustrating platforming experiences.
The Wii U is the best of the current generation consoles for platformers, with a comparatively wide variety of available titles starring Yoshi, Kirby and of course Mario himself in both 2D and 2.5D forms. With Super Mario Maker Nintendo is masterfully establishing one and for all that platformers, the genre that made the company famous are its best asset.
Super Mario Maker at its core allows you to do two different things, to play Mario Levels created by an already impressively diverse community, or to create Levels yourself.
Many of the current Levels created by others are automatically playable Levels aiming to show off the capabilities of the designer(s) ability to use the tools rather than to create a fun experience of the player. Compare the shredding of a metal band to the more nuanced and careful. It also highlights the restraint that Miyamoto and other Mario Levels designers have shown over the years, focusing on the “fun” rather than the extravagant or visually impressive.
Of course, this all may change after the game’s public release with a flood of pent-up new design skills on show. The ‘play’ side also features 10 or 100 Mario challenges where you have a limited number of lives to get through a certain amount of courses. These are a chance to randomly experience a variety of user generated courses.
What Nintendo has mastered here is the most approachable yet powerful game development kit in existence. Mario Level design websites and tools have been available for a while now, but none have matched the ease of use of Super Mario Maker.
It makes great use of the GamePad (where you design your course) with accessible tools ranging from bricks, pipes, powerups and almost every other familiar Mario-game item. These items unlock over time – originally over 9 days but since a recent patch (not available to me at time of review) at an as yet undetermined rate. I found myself designing a Level a night, incorporating the new tools released that day as I went.
It’s an extremely limiting way of introducing you to the game tools, but as someone who is often overwhelmed by open-ended games I appreciated the slow release. It was also fun to see how I had progressed over the course of just a few days from basic variations of World 1-1 to entirely new designs.
When creating a course you are able to choose from four Mario styles: the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World for SNES (personally my favourite) and New Super Mario Bros. U. The pixel-based styles have received a facelift and look fantastic in 1080p.
They are however immediately distinguishable from the original games, while the New Super Mario Bros. U. style is indistinguishable from the professional, released games. You will have to keep in mind that there are real gameplay differences between the different Mario games though, which may come as a surprise at first. You will have to design your Level with these slight differences in mind. For example, the New Super Mario Bros. U Mario can wall jump, unlike his pixel progenitors.
Super Mario Maker gives you a great excuse to finally make use of your amiibo too. Touching an amiibo to the gamepad will add their pixelated likeness to your course as a powerup. You need the amiibo to add them to the game, but course players don’t need them to use them in a course, which is just as well. Many of these are demakes, with Fox McCloud a particularly nice demake of the original.
Of course as Nintendo gives an inch, I want to take the whole mile. I would love to be able to program simple ‘if this, then, that’ statements or set different rules up (such as always keeping Fire Mario’s costume active for example). I’m sure that designers will find creative ways to overcome these barriers though, and it undoubtedly would have created a more complicated interface that could have driven away those not technically inclined.
As wonderful as the game is there are also some notable omissions as it stands in Super Mario Maker.
You can’t add checkpoints to your course, so Levels tend to be short. In addition, there’s no way to link Levels to create worlds or set courses in a particular order. Nor can you create multiplayer courses. Finally, there’s no ability to set Luigi, Toad or Peach which have been staples of the series as playable characters for decades, as the starting player. Hopefully these shortcomings can be addressed in a future update.
I would also love to see a companion app for the 3DS where you could enjoy player-created courses, and a version for the upcoming NX console to ensure these courses aren’t lost to time and specific hardware requirements.
Playing with Super Mario Maker – or perhaps it is “using” it is more accurate – makes me think about all the possibilities for future games in a Maker series. Metroid, Legend of Zelda, Kirby and Donkey Kong game makers are suddenly a real possibility, one that I would pay good money to see come to fruition. Has Nintendo effectively created a new genre of games here?
There have been many game maker titles such as Little Big Planet before, but Super Mario Maker seems qualitatively different, due in no small part to the Wii U’s GamePad, and Nintendo’s unrelenting focus on polish, quality and accessibility.
This points to a risk for Nintendo: will a flood of bad Levels dilute the brand? Why buy a Nintendo game when there are infinite Mario Levels available? Nintendo will have to compete on quality, not simply its proprietary rights to its intellectual properties.
Super Mario Maker, and its endless amount of innovative challenges will ensure the Wii U stays connected to TVs for many years to come.