In celebration of the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., a game that helped revitalize a dead video game market and helped make Nintendo a household name, Super Mario Maker has been unleashed on the Wii U. Will it have the same mainstream success as the original game and can it help turn Nintendo’s fortune around in the home console business? It’s probably too late for that to happen, but anyone with a Wii U should definitely pick this game up as it’s one of the best games of the year, no matter the system.
Super Mario Maker allows everyday gamers to become game designers. Players are able to create an almost endless variety of levels with the amazingly intuitive toolset that Nintendo has provided. Nintendo may not be the first to market with a create-your-own adventure concept – Little Big Planet on the PlayStation family of systems says hello – and there have been countless ROM hacks allowing for precisely these types of user-generated levels throughout the years. But, and this is important, Super Mario Maker is the first creation-type game that I feel truly gets it right. Most of this is due to the innovative way stages can be created. Making use of the Wii U’s touch screen on the GamePad, it’s never been easier to drag and drop level elements with a flick of the stylus. The toolbar is filled with instantly recognizable power-ups, enemies, platforms, and pitfalls. The tools are deceptively simple. Almost anyone, no matter his or her age or level of experience, can have a fun time experimenting with all of the design elements.
Upon first booting up the game, Nintendo throws you into the deep end of the pool as the first thing one does is create a level. A few basics are already placed on the screen, but scroll a bit to the right and there’s an empty abyss just waiting to be filled up with whatever twisted ideas are rattling around in your head. Only a small sampling of the toolset is available from the get-go, no doubt to avoid overwhelming the user with too many options. This allows for some extensive experimentation with the smattering that’s available. Simple enemies, like Goombas and Koopa Troopas can be placed anywhere, even hidden inside blocks. Coins and super mushrooms are available to aid in the players’ quests. Speaking of super mushrooms, grab one and feed it to an enemy to create a super-sized monstrosity that’s sure to create a challenge. Add wings to just about anything. Who says mushrooms can’t fly?
Upon creating a level to one’s satisfaction, it must be played from start to finish and be passable in order for it to be uploaded to Nintendo’s servers. Once that’s accomplished, it will be available for everyone else to play via the Internet. Anyone that’s played that level can then leave comments for the creator and even star a level if it’s something that was truly memorable. The levels that receive a lot of stars will rise to the top of the leaderboards, making them more accessible to a larger audience. You can also follow designers to make it easier to find levels that you really enjoy.
Every course you create will have a unique ID that can be given out to anyone you choose. Unfortunately, your existing friends list on the Wii U doesn’t automatically sync up with Super Mario Maker. You’ll most likely need to swap at least one level first, and then simply follow your friend so you can have access to all of the levels created by that person. With over a million copies sold in under a month and over two million stages uploaded as of this writing, it can be daunting to find levels. Indeed, there’s always an inherent problem with the way levels rise to the top and stay there. Once they become popular, more people see them and play them, and then often will assign stars and thus the same levels and users may end up staying at the top for a very long time. Perhaps implementing a maximum length of time a single level can stay in the top ten would help. There’s also a tab for up and coming courses, which often has a variety of new content, but this can be very hit and miss.
My favorite way of finding new courses is by playing the 100 Mario Challenge mode. A random group of levels is chosen and must be completed with the allotted number of lives. Easy mode serves up eight courses that are usually pretty simple to pass. Normal and expert double the course count to sixteen, each with more challenging levels. Since these are chosen at random some will be easier than others. However, I’ve managed to find some really difficult and satisfying levels this way. One nice thing is that if you come across a level that you absolutely hate, you can simply swipe on the touch screen to send it flying out of the rotation and a new course immediately loads in. Feel free to star the ones you really enjoyed to go back and play again at a later date. This is also a great way to find creators that you like. I often follow them and check out what new levels they’ve come up with.
The more levels you create, the more the toolset fills in. When all is said and done you’ll have access to over 60 doodads, many of which have their own secondary functions. In addition, new stage types and graphical styles allow for serious nostalgia trips. Most of the commercials and official videos show off the original Super Mario Bros. graphics, but this can be switched on the fly in the creation mode. New Super Mario Bros, Super Mario World, and Super Mario Bros. 3 are additional canvases that can be utilized for your level designs. Each has its own power-ups, such as the leaf to turn into Raccoon Mario in Mario 3. Enemies appear across all versions, even if they never existed in the originals. It’s fun to see what each one looks like across the different graphic styles. Speaking of graphics, this game looks great, especially if you like that classic pixelated look from the NES and SNES eras, but the lack of secondary stage options like a desert level or ice world is disappointing.
The sound effects and music tracks in this game are astounding. Sure, you’ll find all of the classic music selections from yesteryear, but when creating levels the music takes on its own variation of the well-known tunes. Placing objects has an auto-tune voice that sort of fills in the melody for the soundtrack. It’s really entertaining and never gets old, plus it changes depending on the level type and version. Another audio perk is the virtual surround sound that comes out of the GamePad’s speakers. If you’re playing the game on a TV, some of the sound effects will come out of the GamePad’s speakers as well, creating a very unique soundstage that sounds great and adds an immersive layer not found in many games.
Not all is peachy in Super Mario Maker. There are a few minor quibbles that could have made this game perfect. First up, there’s no multiplayer mode. This seems like a huge oversight considering all of the Super Mario games presented here have had some sort of multiplayer included, even if some were alternating play. The closest thing to this is if someone is creating a level, a second person can immediately try the new revamped level to test it out. This is hardly ideal and something Nintendo should address with DLC or a sequel. I’ve already mentioned the somewhat lackluster way that levels are curated in the game as well as the omission of iconic desert and ice worlds. Really the only other mild annoyance is that some of the levels, especially those found in Super Mario Bros. 3 and World, are hard to replicate due to the inability to create sloped landscapes. It’s not a deal breaker, but it seems strange that Nintendo couldn’t have come up with an easy solution to include this option.
If you’re still on the fence regarding purchasing a Wii U, I feel that you definitely have more to consider now that Super Mario Maker has arrived. It’s the best level creating game I’ve ever played, and you can easily lose hours upon hours dreaming up and making courses. The other night I spent three hours having a blast playing 100 Mario Challenge. Completing these courses will unlock special amiibo characters that can be used in level creation, or you can simply tap your amiibos as well. Tons of special effects, including user-generated sound effects, add icing to an already delicious cake. There’s plenty of content here to satisfy the staunchest of critics. Whether you aspire to be the next Miyamoto or just want to troll Mario players, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Super Mario Maker.