Super Mario Maker was made available to the world on September 11, 2015. Your favorite media outlets have covered the game in earnest already, and I’m sure you know what to expect. Here, we have a bit more of the same, but from a different perspective — one month later. One month is a lot of time and allows the player to digest the game and look at it again without rose-tinted glasses. It’s no secret that Super Mario Maker has has sold incredibly well with over 500,000 units sold in the past month, with a boost of Wii U sales by 110%. It received near-universal critical acclaim for its ingenious level design capabilities. Super Mario Maker is a special example of a classic series being done right.
Super Mario Maker is very simple to play. There’s two different modes — Play and Maker. Play mode is very simple: you get a handful of lives to tackle a series of 10 progressively harder levels (which range from extremely easy to intermediate-level difficulty by the end). These pre-determined levels do nothing more than to introduce some level design tips that players can use in order to design their own, mixing from the classic World 1-1 level from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the more modern New Super Mario Bros. mechanics. The levels do show the colorful history of how Super Mario has evolved in its 30 year run, from the pixelated and blocky NES era to the complex, 3D Mario that has a level of “realism.” It’s a fond, nostalgia-inducing moment. You also get the 100-Mario challenge, where you get 100 lives to complete a bunch of different courses.
But, the real cream of the crop is in the Maker mode. Maker mode drops the player into the classic World 1-1 level, but as the player runs through it, the course stops very abruptly, in which the game pauses and notifies that more work needs to be done. As a minor side note, Super Mario Maker does an incredible job at bringing the GamePad to use. It’s one of the first Nintendo Wii U titles that, for me, felt like an actual extension of the game experience rather than a forced gimmick that required looking down at the low resolution screen. The design is intuitive; players can indicate which obstacles they wish to add into the course and can drag the GamePad’s stylus across the screen to quickly fill in what they want. Instead of tapping haphazardly all over the map, there’s a fair level of precision that the game allows which makes adding features in bulk a breeze.
The features of the level design are remarkable. From the ordinary question mark block to the bricks on the road, players are given a near-unlimited quantity of design elements to add into a level. They are also free to hot test any part of the level and re-edit at any time. The sky truly is the limit here. Adding highly unconventional elements to the course are some of the best parts of it. Really, if the player can dream of something in a Mario level, they can do it. A Chain Chomp coming out of a pipe? Homing Bullet Bills firing in mid-air? Completely normal and doable. What Super Mario Maker does next with this idea makes this such an encapsulating experience — they add cameo elements from other games. With the aid of the new Mystery block, players are able to don the appearance of classic Nintendo staples. Pokémon costumes? Completely normal. Fancy seeing Link from The Legend of Zelda? Why not? These elements, combined with other whimsy features such as confetti explosions and disco balls, adds such a level of depth to the creativity that players are allowed to exercise in this game. The power is in the hands of the player for the first time in Super Mario’s 30 year run. Players can now put on the shoes of famed Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto and create levels to their hearts’ content. The only (extremely minor) restriction is that levels need to have a designated end point, whether it be by flag pole or by hitting the rotating card from Super Mario Bros. 3.
Speaking of Super Mario Bros. 3, did I mention that the game allows the player to change what kind of game architecture they can use to design levels? With the level architecture, there are four different modes that represent Super Mario at its finest — the classic NES Mario experience, the design style from Super Mario World, the incredibly loved Super Mario Bros. 3 design cues, and then, finally, the modernized New Super Mario Bros. style. The joy of these different modes is that, as we remember, each mode has a slightly different style of play, ranging from the simplistic to the 3D evolution. Each mode carries over the mechanics that made each style special. While Mario is only able to jump and run in the early days, in later incarnations he’s seen wall-jumping and stomping about. These are the little design cues that show attention to detail and make it such a winner.
Now, it wouldn’t exactly be a great title if there wasn’t a means to share level design. Thankfully, Super Mario Maker allows people to share levels with the world, and even has its own popularity system of sorts. Stages can be uploaded to Nintendo’s servers, where they are ranked and allow the creator to see statistics such as how many times the levels have been played, or how many times a level has been beat. You can sort by featured levels and popularity to see what are some of the fans’ best levels. Often times, people take use of the level design to create absolutely stunning courses that defy the imagination; courses that have all sorts of chaos running but play classic Nintendo tunes, or courses that don’t even require the player to interact at all, instead relying on a visual spectacle.
And then, on top of that, there are the interactive levels that go simply beyond the intentions of what the developers designed for a platformer, opting to create an experience that involves exploration and backtracking, not unlike the classic Metroid or the hardened RPG. Going even beyond that are some of the most terrifyingly difficult levels that require an expert level of precision and a complete understanding of the game mechanics of that particular generation in order to succeed. A great classic example of insane level design that borders sadism is Pit of Panga, a series of levels that will have players tearing out the hair on their heads (even if the level is only two screen widths). Some of the most complex level design could be found in these creations, with a level completion that is below one percent, sometimes with only 10 or 20 completions, and that is out of millions of attempts.
Super Mario Maker is a title that the Nintendo Wii U desperately needed for this year. It’s no surprise anymore to say that Nintendo has had an incredibly dry run with a lackluster E3 showing and delays to their flagship franchises. It was entirely necessary for Nintendo to release a crucial title that could be absorbed by millions for the holiday season, because with a floundering Wii U investment and a decline for their handheld line, they needed a guaranteed money in the bank release. Super Mario Maker fulfills that on so many different levels.
Super Mario Maker was crucial for Nintendo’s successes this year. It brought to the table, for the first time, a chance for players to take control of a flagship franchise and play things for themselves. Super Mario Maker brought with it a sign of change that Nintendo may be loosening its grip on their restrictive stance. The title also introduced a high level of flexibility in cameo appearances from classic Nintendo properties. But what was most important was that at the end of the day, they stayed true to their goals: by making games fun for everyone. The titles can be seen as a swan song farewell to Nintendo’s former President Satoru Iwata. This is a game that resonates strongly with its audiences. Sales numbers can only say so much here, but it shows that at the end of the day Nintendo knows what to do at the best possible times, and that we should count on them to create more of these top-notch gaming experiences.
Having played this title both in review and earlier at this year’s Electronics Entertainment Expo, this title quickly has become a new favorite on the Wii U. For once, I’ve been able to grab family together and have fun making some quirky level designs ranging from the standard platformer to something more than what the developers intended. This game is a must-have for any Nintendo Wii U owner, and is a definite recommendation for those who want a more thorough Super Mario experience. The only minor flaws in this title are that unfortunately, level designs have to come to an end within a 500 second time limit. That, or the fact that some of the design elements are locked behind time walls. O-
Once those prerequisites are met, the game becomes a true playground.
I don’t hand out the score I am about to hand out very often, but it’s truly one of those examples where the game warrants a purchase and merits its perfect score. Its innovation stands out to the level of the creativity that was observed with Super Mario Galaxy. Therefore, it’s no doubt that this is a great game to fill a holiday stocking and will bring family and friends together, just as Nintendo envisioned.
Gamer Professionals would like to thank Nintendo of America and the press division for providing a review copy.