Some of my earliest memories gaming were sitting cross-legged on the floor with a Nintendo controller in hand as I played through the original Super Mario Bros game. Even from a young age I remember thinking of things I wanted to see in the level designs, or things I thought that could be better. I followed Mario through several more games, consoles, and eventually into 3D, but the interaction was always one sided: Nintendo would create the levels, and I would play them.
Nintendo’s latest title for the Wii U, Super Mario Maker, attempts to break away from this and give players the keys to create their own levels. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the game over the last week and a half, and here are some of my impressions.
The game does a decent job of running you through the basics of level creation, however players that were hoping to jump right into level design will find themselves somewhat limited from the start. When you first start up the game you are provided with some basic enemies, power-ups and stage objects, as well as the original Super Mario Bros and New Super Mario Bros U skins. Additionally you’re limited to Grass Land maps at first. When the game was initially launched, additional items were provided each day over the course of 9 days. It required that you log in and play for at least 5 minutes each day to queue the next day’s delivery. However Nintendo made a change just prior to the US launch to allow players to unlock items more quickly if they played for prolonged periods of time. Regardless of the ability to unlock items more quickly, the starting items feel very limiting and can be a put off for new players. It would have benefited Nintendo to create some sort of tutorial system where each new item unlocks after you do a short tutorial instead.
Once you’re finally into the game and creating levels, the game makes it quite easy learn and design. However you’re limited to side-scrolling map types that match what you’d expect to find in Super Mario Bros. There are limits on the number of objects that can be placed in a level, but you can still build some pretty elaborate levels within that limit. With everything unlocked you’ll have access to skins for Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros U. The game offers a pretty good selection of game objects from the different titles, however it doesn’t offer all of them. So while you can create elaborate level designs in the game, it wouldn’t be possible to completely recreate all the different levels from those titles. One of the best elements from Super Mario World that I was disappointed to see not make it was the inclusion of different colored Yoshis. You are limited to only the green Yoshi. The Super Mario Bros 3 skin is also noticeably missing the Frog, Tanooki, and Hammer Bros suits. However they leave Nintendo a pretty big opportunity for future downloadable content.
While the level designer is the core of the game, and a creative person could easily sink countless hours into it, the game does offer some alternative gameplay. The 10 Mario Challenge and 100 Mario Challenge let’s players run through a section of sample courses with a limited number of lives. Completing the 100 Mario Challenge can reward players with different “Mystery Mushrooms” that will turn Mario into a different character non-Mario characters such as Peach and Bowser. However those costumes are only available in the 8-bit Super Mario Bros skin. Many costumes can be automatically unlocked through Amiibos, but many more can be unlocked through multiple completions of the 100 Mario Challenge.
One of the biggest draws to the game is the ability to play levels created by other users. The ability to play other players levels adds countless more hours to the game, and makes sure that every time you turn the game on there’s something new to do. Unfortunately many of the top rated levels I found were “Don’t touch anything” levels in which Mario essentially is just carried around these elaborate levels in a sort of side scrolling roller coaster. They’re interesting to see, but I could watch that on Youtube. Personally, I’d rather play the levels.
The game also noticeably pulls some inspiration from Mario Paint for the SNES. The title screen offers elements you can interact with, and the designer features the Undo Dog and the Restart Rocket. Additionally the save button appears as the same Robot icon from Mario Paint. You can also find the fly swatting mini game from Mario Paint has been added, but it appears to be a random encounter instead of a readily accessible mini game. Gnats will randomly appear on the screen sometimes and if you swat them you will be transported into the mini game.
Overall the game is fun and offers players the ability to create the levels they’ve always dreamed about. However the game is limited in what can be created, and if you don’t find yourself to be a very creative person you’ll get bored with it pretty quickly. The game isn’t exactly a system seller, but if you already have a Wii U, then it’s a good game to sink some time into.