Nintendo Bets Big on Fan Creativity

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mario maker course
image: Nintendo of America

There’s already been a lot of talk this week about who has “won” E3. Was it Microsoft with Xbox One backwards compatibility? Nintendo with its big Earthbound reveal? Maybe Sony with its Final Fantasy VII remake and Shenmue sequel shocker?

Personally, I think it’s us, the fans, who have won this time around. No matter your console of choice, E3 2015 has held lots of surprises. From personal Pip-Boys to transformable controllers to the nigh unthinkable hybrid Skylander/amiibo (Skymiibo?), it’s been big news all around.

I’m not in attendance this year, so I can’t really speak at length about a lot of these recent industry goings-on. But I did have a chance a few weeks back to get some playtime in with a pair of upcoming Nintendo titles–both of which seek to employ their core series’ trademark fun to inspire genuine creativity.

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Super Mario Maker, formerly introduced simply as Mario Maker, is a Wii U exclusive that leverages the GamePad’s touchscreen and 30 years of franchise history into a proper platformer playset. My kids have been trying to make faux-Super Mario levels within Minecraft for ages, but this unique toolkit is perfectly balanced and perfectly Nintendo.

Using any of four iconic graphical styles–Super Mario Bros., the groundbreaking Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros.–fans young and old are tasked with… well, making practically any sidescrolling level their hearts desire.

You can switch styles on the fly to see which aesthetic best suits your creation, and Super Mario Maker all but begs you to mix things up in whatever crazy way strikes your fancy. Goombas in an underwater zone? A Lakitu that drops Coins instead of Spinies? An 8-bit Chain Chomp? Super Mario Maker says bring it on!

Choosing elements, drawing them on-screen, and dragging to reposition is nothing short of intuitive, and grabbing and shaking editable enemies can turn them into special alternate versions that look or behave in unexpected ways.

Amiibo support plays a part by allowing in-game models of select amiibo figures to replace the titular Super Mario when a Mushroom is collected. For me, jostling through a level as the Wii Fit Trainer truly drove home how delightfully outlandish this game can truly be.

Uploading and sharing your creations via the Course World also plays a major part, but Nintendo has taken some interesting steps to prevent unplayable garbage from clogging the system. Before a level can be shared with the community you, the creator, must first prove it can be completed with a full play-through. Once accepted, difficulty is calculated as a function of community plays versus successful arrivals at the finish line… er, flagpole.

Super Mario Maker is exactly the kind of game that celebrates Nintendo’s heritage by encouraging experimentation, and the end result is an almost unthinkable level of fun. And also some occasional frustrated swearing. But in a good way.

From challenging gauntlets of precariously placed floating blocks and swarms of enemies, to elaborate, humorous, and even occasionally meditative Rube Goldberg-inspired puzzles and constructs, Super Mario Maker is sure to enchant you and your family when it becomes available this September 11th.

While I was reveling in the madness that is Super Mario Maker, Nintendo also gave me a chance at some chill time with a somewhat related but much more relaxed title, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer.

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To my friends, family, and, very likely, readers of this blog, I am known as a bit of an Animal Crossing aficionado. An Animal Crossing enthusiast, if you will. As such, I was just as excited to try my hand at Happy Home Designer as I was to make my own mark on the Super Mario franchise.

Since it’s North American debut back in the GameCube era, Animal Crossing as a property has stayed fairly consistent. You, a tiny human, move to a new town inhabited by brightly colored animal folk and carve out a name for yourself as the perfect neighbor. You make friends with squirrels. You help penguins locate their thoughtlessly misplaced belongings. You write letters to cats.

Sure, sometimes it’s on a console and sometimes a handheld. Sometimes you’re in a city and sometimes more rural climes. Hey, most recently you even found yourself conscripted into public service as your town’s mayor, but the flow of the game has remained unchanged.

Until now.

This time around you find yourself in the employ of Mr. Tom Nook. Not like in the old days, when that damnable raccoon had you slaving away to afford your next housing upgrade. No, this time you directly influence the growth and development of your town as a designer for Nook’s Homes.

Rather than amassing furniture for your own digs, you instead aid your animal neighbors by crafting their perfect pads. If Frobert the frog wants a sports-themed home, you first select a location. You then select and customize the exterior of his house, and maybe even toss up a few trees and shrubs for some complementary landscaping–all via a responsive, fully realized touchscreen interface.

Once inside, he’ll have a handful of starter items–furniture and the like–to help set the tone. You position these within the room and supplement them with additional pieces from your own store inventory. If you can deliver the goods (so to speak), your subject will praise you for a job well done.

As you build and decorate more homes, more furniture and options will become available. Moreover, you’re not just limited to single-animal dwellings. Your town will need more than just residences, and things like the location and layout of the local school also fall to you.

In the absence of proper amiibos–those seem to be reserved for upcoming Wii U release Animal Crossing: Amiibo FestivalHappy Home Designer employs amiibo cards. These cards can represent both regular neighbors and special characters like Isabelle, and scanning the card summons that animal friend.

This means, assuming you can track down the corresponding card, you can move in all your Animal Crossing favorites without having to wait for them to randomly arrive. Some can even be assigned jobs within your town–like the roles of teacher or student inside the aforementioned schoolhouse.

For me, the big victory of Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is that it’s a logical progression for the property that steps a bit further out of the established comfort zone, and yet it still completely feels like the series we know and love. You can join me in my new vocation as an interior designer to the animal stars when the game arrives on the Nintendo 3DS September 25th.

Big thanks to Nintendo of America and Golin PR, who provided me with the travel, accommodations, and access needed to provide this coverage.

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