Launching next week, Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker is poised to make quite the impression on gamers young and old. With its blend of one of gaming’s most iconic properties and the sort of creative freedom usually only reserved for sandbox titles, it’s both a retro throwback and a new school virtual toolkit. But is it right for you and your family?
What exactly is this game anyway?
Whether you spent your 8-bit youth planning out presumptive jump puzzles on graph paper or are presently helping your own kids build extravagant platformers in Minecraft, Super Mario Maker is a full realization of your game design dreams. More than anything, it’s an expansive suite of tools designed to help you–as the title implies–make your own Super Mario levels.
You can skin your creations in the original’s iconic low-fi glory, the still gorgeous Super Mario Bros. 3-style sprites, as 16-bit era standout Super Mario World, or as the more modern, high-poly incarnation, New Super Mario Bros., complete with appropriate power-ups, enemies, and sounds. Better yet, you can change on the fly with a simple tap on the GamePad, and even bring totally anachronistic worlds to life.
Want to make an 8-bit ghost house? Sure! An underwater level full of Thwomps and Goombas? Go ahead! Flying Piranha Plants? A Lakitu that tosses coins? A mushroom-spouting pipe? Knock yourself out, you glorious lunatic!
Wait; it gives you all the building blocks to make Super Mario levels? That sounds a little… overwhelming.
That’s sort of the beauty of this title. On day one, you’re given a limited palette of blocks, enemies, and other elements. Play around in creation mode for five minutes or so, and you’ll get an alert telling you when new goodies will be made available. By playing a little every day for a week, you unlock a wealth of content at a very manageable, deliberate pace.
This both incentivizes play and doles out Super Mario Makers‘ massive offerings without ever overwhelming the player. In another sense, it eliminates the dreaded tutorial mode by encouraging you to–if I may dust off this old jewel of an idiom– build with the bricks you’re given.
So I can recreate my favorite 8-bit memories?
Yeah, if that’s your thing. Whether you grew up playing Mario and friends in the 1980s, ’90s, or even the 2000s, Super Mario Maker presents you with a visual aesthetic that will no doubt seem delightfully familiar. Of course, that’s not to say that SMM doesn’t encourage the use of non-traditional elements and outside-the-box thinking.
Oh, where to start? A slate of different sound effects, from doorbells to laughter and cheers, can be added to your level using the same simple drag-and-drop interface as the graphical elements. You can record your own custom sounds using the GamePad mic, and there’s even a bonus set of elements that are eventually unlocked that only serve to make your levels more surreal.
What if I’m not good (read: terrible) at creative building titles?
I feel you, my friend; I feel you. Even as I was uploading the very best of my creations to the Course World, I couldn’t help but feel outclassed by what everyone else had contributed. Meticulously constructed underwater obstacle courses and massive choreographed levels that literally play themselves seemed to be the order of the day–and the fact that many of those in this review cohort were either A) Nintendo staffers or B) longtime game journalists likely didn’t help matters.
Still, I discovered both inspiration and fun in playing the fruits of their labor. Whether just perusing the available levels–which can be modularly viewed in categories like “Featured” and “Up & Coming” for easier digestion–or taking part in the 10 or 100 Mario Challenge sets, it rather felt like a beautifully interactive “Game Design 101” course.
But how will I know which levels to play?
In addition to things like the Featured category, you can look at levels sorted by popularity and/or creator. Play through a level you love? Star that bad boy! This Star Ranking further helps you separate the wheat from the chaff, and you can even read player comments to get a better idea why folks love the things they love.
Like YouTube comments?!
Oh hells no! Nintendo’s often heavy-handed approach to moderating online interactions definitely works in your favor here. Sure, you may see the occasional negative comment, but you’re not likely to encounter the sort of racist, sexist, homophobic, totally unhinged rants to which we’ve become (sadly) accustomed within traditional online portals.
Super Mario Maker–or, at least, my time with this review build of Super Mario Maker–feels like a community of like-minded gamers. Innovation is praised, and I even received some helpful pointers from a couple of the more seasoned designers in the comments to my meager levels.
And I can share the levels I create?
Yes, if you want to. Super Mario Maker asks so little, even though it gives so much. If you aren’t quite confident in your design chops, then you can simply hold back on uploading your creations.
Before they’re accepted, you must prove that your levels can be completed–which prevents the Course World from being overrun with unbeatable crap. Players can also see how many plays/completions any given level has recorded. This is a perfect way to gauge the complexity of a given creation before you play it.
Is there amiibo support?
Oh is there! Nintendo touted support for 100 amiibo, and some intrepid designer was even nice enough to showcase every last one of them (even the ones not yet domestically available) in a single level.
Tapping an amiibo to the NFC area of the GamePad adds the character skin in as a design element, which can then be dropped into your level as a Mystery Mushroom that re-skins Mario as said character. It’s a fun twist on amiibo functionality that, sadly, only works in original Super Mario Bros.-style levels. Thankfully, other players can experience this transformation within your uploaded creations, even if they don’t have that particular amiibo in their collection.
Bottom line: is this one a buy or a pass?
Super Mario Maker is a must-buy, plain and simple. While it hasn’t yet supplanted my longtime Wii U fave, the power and glory that is Splatoon, I find myself making time for it each day–to play and noodle and, in spite of myself, even learn a few things.
If you are a creative gamer with a love for the franchise, Super Mario Maker is a Nintendo-fueled dream come true. And, even if you have no deep-seeded fantasies of yourself as a video game designer, experiencing the creations of others is every bit as enjoyable.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America