If you were growing up in the late 80s or indeed any time in the 90s then chances are, at some point or another, you sat down and drew out ideas for Mario levels using pages ripped out of your math copybooks. Such is the simplicity of the core Mario platformers that it’s hard not to find inspiration in them and to try and impress your friends, …or endlessly frustrate them. Those ideas rarely made it past pen and paper because sadly most of us simply didn’t have the knowledge to actually go out and make them a reality. Now Nintendo has finally given us the opportunity to make our dreams come true and infuriate our loved ones with whatever bizarre, wacky and challenging levels we have been thinking about for the past 30 years. Does it live up to expectations… read on to find out.
Video games have always encouraged creativity and imagination and perhaps it is no surprise that we are seeing more and more games that are all about giving you the tools you need to create your own games. We’re seeing more and more games offer editors like we see in Grand Theft Auto V, in the Trials Series or in Halo’s forge mode. Then of course we have games that are almost entirely dedicated to user generated content. The likes of Little Big Planet and Project Spark have seen players accomplish some truly amazing feats and show off the artistic potential of gaming. The only downside to these games has always been the level of dedication one had to have in order to create a truly enjoyable experience. Try as you might these games always fall into the same patterns as players find they simply don’t have the time or skill to pull off some of the wonderful ideas they have. Pretty soon the community is divided between a large majority who simply play other people’s creations and a small minority who invest the necessary time and energy to become truly proficient with the system. This is where Super Mario Maker looks set to break the trend.
Mario Maker is quite possibly the most simple level creation tool out there, making the likes of Little Big Planet look like rocket science. Whether you’re 5 or 85 you’ll be able to use this with confidence and have an absolute blast doing so. It just so happens to be an added bonus that the game is one of the best uses of the Wii U Gamepad to date. Using the Gamepad’s touchscreen it works on simple drag and drop concepts. You can create levels using the visual styles from four different eras, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Land 3, Super Mario World, and the latest New Super Mario Bros. title. You also get the choice of what type of level you want to make, normal, underground, castle, air ship, ghost house, water… . Yep you can finally flood your friends with water level after water level after water level. Just don’t expect to have many left by the end of it all. Once you’ve chosen your era and your level type you can populate it with whatever you like, adjusting its length with a simple grab and slide mechanic. You can spawn any object you want (well actually a few are missing from the game, more on that later) just by tapping where you want them. You want bloopers flying through the sky, you got it. You want a goomba riding majestically across the screen on the back of a giant winged koopa, sure why not. These are your levels and they’re your rules.
As if this wasn’t enough the game also gives you the option to add a few more little touches allowing you to drag and drop effects into your level. Just met up with your old buddy Yoshi? Well that clearly calls for a laser light show complete with a 1up throwing Lakitu and a warp pipe spewing gold coins into the world. If you happen to own amiibo then you’ll probably love the functionality that they offer in your level creator and if you don’t own amiibo, well, no problem, because you can unlock that functionality gradually if you just keep playing levels. Tap an amiibo on screen while you’re making a level and you’ll be able to place a “mystery mushroom” power up that will turn Mario into a 2D sprite of your amiibo character. These sprites come complete with their own sound effects and animations. Water levels can be made infinitely more bareable when you’re playing as a Splatoon squid. Perhaps you want to make the world a scary and strange place by using Mario Maker to create an homage to Green Hill Zone. Well try tapping a Sonic amiibo to get the finishing touch you need to make worlds collide. The only negative here is that presently this functionality only exists for the NES era.
Uploading your completed levels is quick and easy. Simply tap save and upload and as long as you have an actual working connection it should be done in a matter of seconds (and I say that with an average upload speed of 0.3mbps). You will however have to actually prove that your level is beatable by completing it yourself before it goes live. This of course prevents people uploading troll levels that can never be won. When it comes to playing user created levels you have a few options available to you. You can choose from a list of the most starred levels (so make good use of your ability to star good levels when you come across them), the most recent levels, or you can play the 100 Mario challenge. If you don’t own amiibo this is how you’ll want to go about unlocking those bonus power ups. The 100 Mario challenge gives you 100 lives to complete a series of 8 or 16 user created levels that are selected at random. If you come across a level you either don’t like or can’t beat you simply swipe the touchscreen to send it packing and get dropped right into a new level.
As you can probably imagine you’ll likely want to make quite liberal use of that swipe. While there are some truly superb levels already available on Mario Maker the game also does a wonderful job of proving why game designers study hard and earn their keep. Sadly not everybody is naturally talented and there are some awful levels to stumble across. For every great level there are many more bad levels. This problem should slowly solve itself as the player base become more experienced with the game and you can always swipe away a bad level in the blink of an eye but it is something to be aware of. Give people all these great tools and you will of course see hundreds of redesigns of World 1-1, hundreds of levels filled with every conceivable enemy taking up every pixel of the screen before throwing a star at you and giving you a straight 10 second sprint to the finish line. Then there are the heaps upon heaps of “automatic” levels which tell you not to touch the controller and just watch as Mario gets automatically passed to the finish via a series of springs and moving platforms. Truthfully these can be highly impressive when done well and some of them will leave you scratching your head wondering how anybody came up with them, but, when you get 3 or 4 in a row they soon lose their novelty.
While Mario Maker offers you plenty of items and level styles to work with it doesn’t offer everything from those four games. Among the absences are the likes of the Frog Suit, the Tanooki Suit, Charging Chucks, Ice Flowers, Power Balloons, etc. These won’t really hamper you’re creation too much and perhaps we may see them included in future updates but it should be pointed out that you can’t quite do everything you’ve ever wanted. Somewhat more frustrating is two other, far more noticeable absences. Mario Maker allows you to make incredibly tough levels and it makes those levels even tougher by not allowing you to place checkpoints. It also does not allow you to use sloped platforms so if, like me, you were hoping to create a level that had Mario scoot his way across the world to victory you may be a touch disappointed. It’s also disappointing that there are no real search functions to allow you to find levels to your taste. A simple tagging system could have been wonderful here but it was an opportunity missed by Nintendo. Similarly Nintendo have continued with their trend of not fully understanding the social online element of gaming. If you want to find levels by your friends you’ll need to first send them the 16 character auto generated ID for your level and then use that to play the level and follow the creator in order to have easy access to any future levels they design. On a more positive note they do allow you to comment on levels via Miiverse so you can compliment a talented designer, or give them friendly tips on how to improve.
These niggling issues aside Super Mario Maker is exactly what it says it is. It makes Mario levels and it is most certainly Super. Making levels and sharing them with your friends is an absolute blast. In this game creating is every bit as much fun as playing and while there are some notable absences from the creation tool you’ll still be able to make some really exciting and interesting offerings. If you want to play nothing but highly polished well designed professional standard levels then this is certainly not the game for you but if you were the kid with a copybook full of hand drawn levels then this really is an absolute treasure well deserving of a spot in your gaming collection. Unlike other games in this genre Mario Maker requires little from the user other than a passion for the game and a spark of creativity. It might not have the versatility of Little Big Planet but what it lacks in versatility it makes up for in ease of use. 2015 has seen Nintendo release some truly wonderful first party games and this is one of the best yet.