Super Mario Maker represents another case of Nintendo trying something a little bit new. At this point, Mario and his games are an almost universal brand. Everyone knows how the games work, how their levels are laid out and how controlling our favourite little plumber feels. Over the many iterations of our Italian friend’s adventures, I’m sure almost everyone has gotten stuck in one level or another and thought, “Oh, I could design it better than that.” The good news is, now you can — or at least, now you have the tools to prove whether or not that’s true.
This game is only a game in the sense that Minecraft is one – it definitely has the functions of a game, but first and foremost it is a creation suite. Ranging across three distinct eras of the Super Mario games, Maker gives you a surprisingly deep set of tools to really push the game’s formula – or not! Whilst the Create Mode definitely gives you the tools to try new things, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating your own levels that fit within the guidelines of official game worlds, if you want to try and prove you can put as much polish on your efforts as those of the true developers.
Create Mode is designed in a way that slowly doles out the elements at your disposal, so as not to overwhelm. Of the three style modes the game covers – original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. U – only Mario Bros. and Mario U styles for normal worlds and underground worlds are available at the start, along with the basic level elements you would find in World 1-1 such as Super Mushrooms, ? Blocks and coins. Placement and level editing is simplistic and intuitive – tap to drop an item, click and drag to place a bunch of it. Creating item boxes is as easy as dragging any powerup (or enemy) on to a ? Block. With a grid system in place to ensure level design isn’t too freeform, it’s easy to dive in and know what you’re doing.
After spending at least five minutes messing around with the starter tools, you’ll trigger a notice that more will be unlocked the following day – underwater levels, Bowser castle style, Super Mario World content and so on. Each time new content is unlocked a Sample level is also introduced, giving a brief rundown of how to use it. For young gamer-creators it’s a smart move; overwhelming a kid with absolutely everything at once would both be paralysing from the amount of choice, and not allow time to properly introduce the various components and mechanics available to play with.
Unfortunately it’s also a point of frustration for older gamers, or those ready to immediately dive in at the deep end. With no option to say “I’m ready, give me everything”, you’re left to wait it out before you can start realising your really bonkers ideas. Given the sheer variety of content on show from other users via the online community it can be maddening to see a truly unique level – say, fighting three Mega Bowsers stacked on top of each other with a homing Bullet Bill cannon for a hat inside an enclosed combat cage, armed with only a Koopa Clown Car and Fire Flower – and knowing that you do not have the tools to build something like it yet. (Editor’s note: We’ve been informed there will be a patch to get rid of this wait for unlocks. Problem solved!)
Speaking of the online community, it seems well-built for the content it needs to manage. For one, no level can be uploaded to the community unless its creator can complete it from start to finish at least once. It’s a simple but obvious qualification, ensuring that nothing impossible to beat clogs up your game. If you can’t make it through, it’s because you haven’t figured out how to think like the level’s creator yet. User feedback on a level gives it a higher rating, helping the cream of the crop rise to the top. Levels can also be filtered by what’s popular at the time, or up-and-coming creators to ensure that the spotlight won’t be hogged by whoever gets there first. You can also search by creator, as well as filtering based on level difficulty, region of the world and how new the level is to really tailor to what you want to play in the moment.
There are also a number of modes designed to save you from having to pick out levels one by one, such as the 10 or 100 Mario Challenges. 10 Mario Challenge unlocks any level you beat in the Coursebot editor collection, by pitting you against random levels with only 10 lives. With three levels of difficulty, 100 Mario Challenge pits you against up to 6 random levels, with – no surprise – 100 lives to work with. Given the potential difficulty of any given user level, both options still present a surprising challenge.
There’s more to discover within the game proper, such as the role amiibo figurines play in-game and strange new power-ups that will either make you laugh or give you nightmares – but I don’t want to spoil everything. All told, Super Mario Maker is not for everyone. It’s a potentially infinite toybox of new levels, even if you’re not creating them yourself… but that doesn’t mean every single one will be a masterpiece. For every truly great level you find, you’re bound to find three that either require pinpoint precision, are more chaotic than clever or are just not fun. If it weren’t for the slow unlocking of the game’s content I feel like I could dive in more freely, but this game isn’t necessarily for me. For all the truly creative types out there this game is bound to bring us a wave of Minecraft-esque, truly inspired creations over the next who-knows-how-long – and for that, I’m properly excited.
December 2016 marked the release of Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS, a version of Super Mario Maker, well, for 3DS. Pretty straightforward, eh?
The port essentially is the same game, with a couple noticeable changes. First, you won’t be able to upload any level you create on the 3DS; instead, you’re forced to swap it with friends via the 3DS’ StreetPass functionality. Course World is essentially stripped back to nothing with Recommended Courses, a bit of functionality that lets you look at randomly served offers from a list essentially pre-approved by Nintendo. After playing a course you like, you can merely save it for later. It’s pretty basic, but considering the age of the 3DS, I guess it makes sense.
10 Mario Challenge isn’t offered in the 3DS version of the game, though you have all difficulty levels from the get-go in the 100 Mario Challenge.
In terms of starting tools, you get more straight away on the 3DS, even though you’re also force fed a greater amount of hand-holding tutorial levels. Extra unlocks are obtained by the Super Mario Challenge mode, which essentially serves as a single-player campaign. It’s admittedly a pretty neat way of obtaining new items; you’re earning them with effort, not by time as in the original Wii U release.
Ultimately, Super Mario Maker is paired down on 3DS, but not to ridiculous levels. Editing is as easy on a 3DS touchscreen as a Wii U touchpad — though decidedly easier on a 3DS XL than a 3DS — and gameplay is largely the same. If you own a copy on Wii U, it’s probably better to stick with that. For most of us — who either don’t own a Wii U or who mothballed it a while ago — this entry’s a great little package to pick up for Christmas.
Super Mario Maker was reviewed using a promotional code on Wii U and a retail cartridge on 3DS, both as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.