Finally, a good use for the GamePad
Giving players all the tools they need to recreate a game in your own franchise might be a risky move, but Nintendo has done it?and Super Mario Maker lives up to the hype. It?s a level maker and platformer all in one, where users can design and test their own Mario levels, upload them, and play through thousands of levels made by other players.
Designing levels is incredibly smooth and intuitive, not to mention a ton of fun. The GamePad?s touch screen hits that perfect medium between the fluidity of drawing a line and the precision of snapping pieces into a grid, and I found myself watching the screen far more than the TV. In fact, I could play on the go without a TV at all.
On day one with the level maker, there?s a limited palette of blocks and only two choices of game ?style? (the skin that gives your level the look of a specific game, such as the classic pixelated Super Mario Bros. or the pseudo-3D of New Super Mario Bros. U). For each day spent playing the game, more options unlock, introducing new blocks, enemies, level types (ghost house, anybody?), and game styles. The game style you pick changes Mario?s moveset to fit that game, so be careful?a player?s ability to wall-jump could make or break your level.
New elements unlock once a day for the first nine days, but even after day nine I kept stumbling across surprises. Super Mario Maker is jam packed with Easter eggs and fun things to discover, whether you?re controlling a UFO on the title screen or reading the section of the manual that addresses the nobility of cats (no, seriously). I knew that some of the blocks and enemies changed forms when shaken, but it took a few days before I thought about shaking a sound effect. And there are hundreds of weird combinations to test that you?d never find in an official game: wings on a fire-breathing Piranha Plant riding a Goomba underwater? Sure, why not.
It?s a small thing, but the sound design definitely deserves some love. Each item or block dropped in makes a unique sound, which careful listening reveals is actually an autotuned version of that block?s name, pitched to blend in with the background music. It?s hard to get bored filling in the floor when you?re simultaneously conducting a chorus of tiny voices singing groundgroundgroundground to the castle theme. Also amazingly, the game pulls this off without being annoying?I found myself going out of my way to add elements and erase them just to see what the new blocks sounded like. Koopatroopawithwiiiiings.
That?s not to say that the level maker is perfect, because I did have a few nitpicks. Pipes can be made longer from one end, but not the other. The vertical height limit could have been a little taller. And even with everything unlocked, there isn?t access to the full range of blocks and enemies from past Mario games; for example, Bowser and Bowser Jr. are the only boss battle options. Maybe Nintendo?s leaving room for expansions, but it?s a little limiting to know that you?re going to be running into Bowser all the time, no matter how creatively he?s used in the level.
But overall, the level maker is solid, intuitive, and easy to use. It takes a single tap to switch from editing to testing your level, and it?s forgiving if you accidentally switch into testing mode while standing over a gap. Having trouble telling if a jump is doable or not? Test it yourself by turning on a trail of tiny Marios to see exactly where you fell. Need to ramp up the difficulty? Set the level to scroll automatically at a set speed, or place it in a lava stage. Even the way the save game slots are organized encourages innovation?each save slot comes in a group of four for different stages of building, or for making variations on a completed level without overwriting the original.
The system of uploading, downloading, and playing through other people’s levels, called the Course World, seems to have an equally solid base, though of course its actual content will come from the community. Still, Nintendo?s implemented a couple of tricks to bypass the obvious pitfalls of relying on the fans. Probably the most helpful of these is worked directly into the upload system: you must be able to beat your own level before it can be uploaded. This means that no one can make unwinnable levels that trap Mario in a box, or insanely difficult levels that make Cloudberry Kingdom look like a piece of cake. There?s also a limit to the number of levels that each person can upload, at least at first. You start with the ability to upload ten and have to get good reviews and stars from other players in order to upload more. Ideally, this will encourage people to polish up their maps instead of churning out hundreds of low-effort attempts, and people who?ve proven they can make quality maps will have the opportunity to make more.
And, of course, there?s actually playing through all of these maps. There are two categories: the 10 Mario Challenge and the 100 Mario Challenge, which give you 10 or 100 lives to make it through 8 or 16 random levels pulled from the community. There?s a choose-your-difficulty option, too, which works surprisingly well?picking the ?hard? difficulty put me through some genuinely difficult fan-made levels. After each round of courses, you?ll unlock a random character skin for Mario from another Nintendo game, such as Kirby or Donkey Kong. Some exclusive skins can only be accessed by using the appropriate Amiibo.
The 100 Mario Challenge comes with a ?free skip? option, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, if you?ve already played a level and don?t want to beat it again, it?s an easy out, and if you get stuck, get trapped, or can?t solve a level you won?t be forced to burn all 100 lives or start the entire challenge over. On the other hand, unlimited free skips meant that I was often tempted to pass on harder levels just to get to the end faster, and doing that drained a lot of the fun. Of course, that?s a willpower thing, but the skip system might get less abuse with a small penalty?one life lost per skip, perhaps.
At the end of every course, you can star your favorite ones or leave a comment through Miiverse, which will let you easily find those courses again to replay or download for your own personal tweaks. (A downloaded and tweaked level cannot be re-uploaded, to prevent people from stealing others? maps.) If you just want to play quality maps without the randomizer, it?s possible to sort by top rated ones and by map maker. Additionally, you can see all the stats for your own levels, such as the percentage of people who cleared it.
Super Mario Maker has a great level maker that?s tons of fun to play around with, and I?m excited to see what the community can do with it. It could use a few more blocks and updates to be truly unlimited, but there?s plenty to play around with for now. Once the quality mapmakers get going, this could easily become the ultimate Mario game: a wacky, challenging platformer that never ends.
|Developer: Nintendo ? Publisher: Nintendo ? ESRB: E – Everyone ? Release Date: 09.11.15|
Super Mario Maker?s a glorified level maker, but it?s a good one. Though it?s a little short on content, there?s plenty to play around with, and I?m looking forward to seeing what the community can make with it. In the meantime, it?s easy to learn, it?s fun to play, and it?s packed with enough Easter eggs to put the Easter Bunny out of business.
|The Good||Bowser charging into battle on Bowser Jr. while cannons shoot coins everywhere.|
|The Bad||Invincibility Stars. Everywhere.|
|The Ugly||Your princess is always in another castle.|
|Super Mario Maker is a Wii U exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.|