Let's-a make a level
As an unapologetic Nintendo lover, I often consider it a bit strange that the everlasting Mario franchise doesn’t even register in my top five in terms of series created by the Big N. I certainly enjoy Mario titles and some games, like Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door and Mario Kart 8, are eternally among my all time favourites.
Even still, it’s hard to deny the mastery of 2D Mario’s level design. From the plumber’s baby days on the NES and even stretching up to the newer Wii based titles I’m constantly taken aback by the challenge and plentiful surprises on offer by what many would (and rightly so in some cases) call a tired series, not raking in nearly as much cash for Nintendo as it used to; and given the constant ingenuity displayed by Mario games year in, year out, I find that a bit sad.
I still think Mario tosses in some nice, fresh surprises every now and then. From Super Mario 3D World’s chaotic co-op romp to Mario Kart 8’s gravity defying racing, it’s quite surprising that Nintendo have waited until now to give fans the creation tools to create their own 2D Mario stages. Now, that wait is over with Super Mario Maker, which offers a smorgasbord of assets both new and old for us to piece together our own levels. The question is, then, will Super Mario Maker offer you exactly what you want?
Testing the Waters
When you first load up Super Mario Maker’s creation tool, complete with Nintendo’s signature slick-yet-stylish minimalist interface design, you’ll likely be disappointed by what little you have to work with initially. Only two of the four game styles (Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. U) are available from the start. Only one row of assets is unlocked, too, that features very basic pieces such as the ground, coins, question blocks, goombas and warp pipes.
Perhaps even more disappointing is that some of Mario Maker’s cooler features are needlessly locked from the beginning, such as being able to see Mario’s jump trail (which allows you to strategically place obstacles with greater ease), the ability to set the time and scroll speed of a stage and, perhaps most criminal of all, the ability to use warp pipes to access different areas.
Extra options and resources arrive via “delivery trucks” and if you place enough pieces on your map, these deliveries will “arrive early.” My advice? Just spam coins all over the place which will allow you to unlock things faster, because once you do, Super Mario Maker becomes quite the creation marvel.
A Blooper Goomba Koopa Monstrosity
The best thing I can say about Super Mario Maker is that it’s not just a simple asset pack. Pieces can synergise together to create entirely new obstacles or innovative routes through a level. You could spawn a Hammer Bro and they’ll give you no shortage of grief like in previous games, but why not feed it a mushroom and give it a pair of wings? Now you have a giant flying Hammer Bro who’ll rain death and destruction from above. Tired of question blocks holding a predictable Fire Flower? Put a Spiny in there to catch unsuspecting players off guard.
The possibilities don’t end there, either. Make warp pipes hurl fireballs. Cannons can fire a shower of coins if you so choose. Give Bullet Bills homing properties and spawn hundreds of them to create a Touhou-esque maelstrom of bullets. Stack five Bowsers on top of each other for a deliberately unfair boss fight.
You’re given multiple stage “themes” to work with, too. These range from the traditional overworld to the underground, underwater to a skyward airship, Bowser’s castle and even Super Mario World’s Ghost House. All themes work across all four represented games, meaning Nintendo had to create brand new sprites for assets that weren’t previously represented in those games. The extra effort here is much appreciated and they honestly look like they’ve always been there. I would argue that the new Bowser sprite for Super Mario World looks just a tad out of place, but suitably intimidating and well detailed, regardless.
Super Mario Maker doesn’t care how forgiving or brutal make your levels. You can create an easygoing level with fair design in mind, or go full on Kaizo by experimenting with how assets work in conjunction with each other, setting up nefarious traps that will have players tearing their carefully groomed moustaches off their plump noses. All Super Mario Maker asks is that you, the creator, can beat your own stage before you’re allowed to upload it. While this self-moderation is ingenious in preventing swathes of impossible stages from being uploaded, the servers are unfortunately loaded with poorly designed or unfairly difficult levels, with genuinely brilliant designs being rarer than a decent toy in a Kinder Egg. I’ll get into why this is an issue later.
All Levels Go to Heaven
As you’ve probably figured out, Mario Maker would be a pretty shallow experience if it didn’t offer the other half of level creation; being able to share and play them for yourself. Thankfully Super Mario Maker is outfitted with Course and Maker databases that allow you to search for levels. You can even enter a level’s unique ID to instantly try it out. Rather annoyingly, the majority of the top spots in the Maker search are dominated by popular YouTubers, pushing other talented creators further down the leaderboards. Not to say the most popular levels are bad, some are in fact superb, but my point is Super Mario Maker needs more search options than what is currently available.
Currently, your best bet on finding great levels is on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. In Mario Maker’s 100 Mario Challenge mode, the majority of the levels you’ll play either look unfinished, are short and jokey or are just plain unfair; 100 Mario Challenge’s Expert mode is almost impossible to complete without a good amount of luck.
But does that mean creating levels in Super Mario Maker is more fun than playing them? Well, yes and no. I have played a good number of levels that wouldn’t look out of place in Nintendo’s own catalogue of stellar level design. I wouldn’t say playing the more fiendishly designed stages is fun, but it’s hard not to respect the know-how and sheer Mario skill that these designers obviously have. The mechanics of each individual game do hold up rather well, too, although Super Mario Bros. U’s wall jumping can be a bit cumbersome at times. Saying that, I’ve seen plenty of levels that use each game’s unique mechanics incredibly well.
Truly for Everyone
It was the late Satoru Iwata’s philosophy that games should be fun for everyone, and Super Mario Maker confidently honours that wish. If you’re a seasoned Mario veteran you’ll no doubt appreciate the ability to bend the game’s mechanics to your will. Younger, casual and even hardcore players will enjoy sharing levels with friends and having a go at toppling that near impossible Expert 100 Mario Challenge. Above all else, though, Super Mario Maker has successfully turned a level editor into a fully featured game, and it’s worth every penny.
King of Creation
Despite some shortcomings with search options and some oddly omitted assets, Super Mario Maker succeeds in being the latest high quality first party title on the Wii U. Creating levels is addictive and provides quite the mental challenge. What I love most about Super Mario Maker is the ability to go beyond the norm and imbue levels with ideas that not even Nintendo have done before.