Nintendo may have heard its fans express disappointment and dismay over the Nintendo Wii re-release of a Super Nintendo Entertainment System game from back in 1993 used as a way to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the beloved franchise, or maybe Nintendo didn’t pay that much attention and just decided to do something different for this most recent anniversary, but either way, this time around, rather than reliving old adventures in Mario’s history, Nintendo has given its fans the tools to create new adventures in the Mario world themselves, and share those adventures with other fans all around the world, with the release of Super Mario Maker for the Nintendo Wii U. Super Mario Maker is a video game for players that want to design and build their own Mario levels and/or for those players that simply want to play levels assembled by other players from across the globe.
The box art for Super Mario Maker barely, and I do mean barely, scratches the surface in demonstrating what’s possible with this level building software. The box art depicts a Wii U Gamepad stylus in the hand of the player being used to “drag and drop” a warp pipe across the screen to its destination. Looks easy, right? It actually is as easy as it looks! Nintendo has designed the software to be pretty intuitive and all-around user friendly, for players of pretty much any age. Everything illustrated on the box art can be done in mere seconds. Want to place Bowser on top of a Boo, so that Bowser only moves when the Boo moves? Just use the stylus to select the Boo enemy, place the villain in the spot of your choice on the level grid, and then use the stylus to select Bowser, and hover the Koopa King over the top half of the Boo until the two visibly become linked. It’s not something you’ll see in a Mario game developed by Nintendo, but that’s part of the point of this game. It’s designed to let you take on the role of game designer and experiment however you like within the confines of the tools that the game makes available to you. For the first time, you’re not just playing levels in a Mario game, but you’re also designing them, for you and others to play!
I feel that this game does give a person a good taste of what it’s like to be a game designer. When I’m designing a level in the level editor, I’ve learned to ask myself, “is the enemy placement challenging, yet fair to the player?” and by that, I mean, am I placing an enemy too close to where a player is going to land after a tricky jump or will the player be able to see the enemy I’ve placed in the air, or did I place the enemy too high to the point where it’s off screen and will fall suddenly on top of him or her without warning? I’ll ask myself other questions too, like, did I put enough power-ups in the level or if the puzzle I made has a fairly clear solution. I try to put myself in the shoes of a stranger who may play my level, because as the one designing the level, I obviously know the ins and outs of it, so I have to keep in mind others won’t, and that means making the level fair for them so that they’ll have a good chance of beating it, and hopefully have fun at the same time. The more levels I make, the easier it is to make better level design choices.
The user friendly interface is a big selling point of this game and one of the game’s strongest qualities, in my opinion. As mentioned, yes, designing a level is as easy as it looks on the box art and in the above screenshot! Of course, the more comfortable and familiar that the player becomes with the game, the more he or she will be able to do, like creating tracks for enemies to be connected to and follow a set path, but jumping right in and making levels couldn’t be any easier, in my view. As illustrated on the box art and screenshot above, Nintendo made it so a grid consisting of small squares overlaps the level when in the level editor tool, so lining up ground tiles, enemies, coins and so on is greatly simplified.
For those concerned that the box art only depicts the classic “Super Mario Bros.” graphics and worry that all the levels you design and play will be limited to what the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System could display, fear not, because that’s not the case! As the back of the game box reveals, in case you weren’t already aware, “Super Mario Maker” features four game styles: “Super Mario Bros.” and “Super Mario Bros. 3″ from the Nintendo Entertainment System, “Super Mario World” from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System” and “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” from the Nintendo Wii. All four games styles look straight out of the games they’re based off of. Even cooler, you can start out designing in any one of the four game styles and switch to another with a tap of the stylus, and everything carries over, without having to start over! So that means if you start designing a course in “Super Mario Bros.” style, and want to switch over to “Super Mario World” style, all you have to do is tap the icon in the top left corner and select “Super Mario World” and everything instantly changes over to that style! A great feature from Nintendo, without question.
I like that there is a brief, but informative tutorial when you load up the game for the very first time. I feel that was a good move on Nintendo’s part to help acclimate players to the level editor and essentially show them the very basics rather than just dropping them into the level editor. I know that I found it helpful as it aided in easing me into using the level editor, and even after the tutorial is concluded, the electronic manual that can easily be pulled up by pressing the “Home” button on the Wii U Gamepad, which by the way, is required for this game as it relies heavily on the Gamepad which acts sort of a “canvas” for you to create on, but getting back to the electronic manual, it contains a real wealth of helpful tips and mini guides on creating levels with relative ease that are enjoyable to play for both you and others, and as shown in the screenshot below, includes guidance on how to potentially expand the amount of time and enjoyment you get out of the game, by not only teaching you what you can create and how you go about creating it, but also, how to get into a creative and thoughtful mindset before and during the level design process. Basically, the electronic manual doesn’t just teach you how to design levels, but it also gives you a glimpse into how the minds of professional level designers work and how you too can train your mind to think like a professional level designer. Perhaps it’s partly Nintendo’s hope that some players that play “Super Mario Maker” today will go on to become the professional level developers of tomorrow!
What I love about the electronic manual is how it’s not just some dully written, instructional piece designed to show you how to build levels. It’s much more than that. It’s filled with personal, human touches and even bits of humor. I think the way it’s written, people will want to read through the entire manual, and how many gamers out there ever do that? Most just want to dive right in and play the game. By writing a manual that’s conveys a one-on-one tone that’s encouraging, uplifting and even funny at times, while still being informative, gamers will want to read through it all, and are bound to be better off afterwards, because they will have learned more and be better equipped to build quality, fun stages, which is important if you’re making levels for friends or to share online with others. While experimentation can lead to the same results as reading the electronic manual, I do think reading it makes it easier to get comfortable with the already intuitive level editor, and thus get more enjoyment out of the game sooner rather than later. Anyone that is considering purchasing this game or already has but has yet to read through the manual really should take some time to check it out.
For those that do skip the electronic manual though, “Super Mario Maker” has an easy enough learning curve, and Nintendo apparently felt that limiting the tools a new player has access to would make the learning curve even easier. While I can understand not wanting to overwhelm new players by making all five rows of the tool palette available from the get go, it can be a little underwhelming and maybe even a bit disappointing at first to only have access to a small portion of the toolbar and limited themes at the start and it really restricts the extent of exploring and experimenting what the game has to offer. I found myself focusing more on taking advantage of a hidden cheat in the game to unlock all four game styles, plus level themes and all the tools by repeatedly filling up the screen with ground tiles so that additional tools would be unlocked within minutes rather than having to wait for twenty-four hours to pass, which is the way it was intended by Nintendo. Instead of playing around with what I had, I was only focused on unlocking everything so that I had access to all four game styles, level themes and tools, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of this hidden cheat, so I think Nintendo should have just made everything available at the start rather than having stuff unlock little by little over the course of nine days, which was dependent on the player playing every day, otherwise it would be even more than nine days just to gain full access to the level editor tools and features. I feel that was an unnecessary restriction, but I’m glad that there was a way to bypass it.
Once you have full access to the level editor tool set, the potential just explodes, and with the Wii U Gamepad and stylus, tapping into that potential is a breeze. I like how with each level, there is an option to add a sub-level, accessible via warp pipes. The sub-level can be just as big as the main level and have its own theme, too, which is cool, so if you want your level to start out in the ghost house theme, and have a warp pipe leading to an underwater area, you can, or you can start out with the underwater theme and have a pipe leading to a castle – essentially an underwater castle! It’s pretty neat, really. What’s also fun is being able to do things like stack enemies, so you can put a Bullet Bill Launcher on top of a Goomba and have a mobile Bullet Bill Launcher rather than the traditional stationary ones. You can also attach wings to a variety of enemies and obstacles, put said enemies and objects in Koopa Clown Cars, and so on. The trick to getting the most out of “Super Mario Maker” is to experiment, experiment, experiment with the level editor – and play levels online to see what clever ideas others have come up with on how to get the most out of the tools available. The tool set might look kind of limited at first glance, but when you realize how you can mix and combine enemies and objects, like putting enemies or objects into Bullet Bill Launchers and having the launchers shoot enemies or items instead of Bullet Bills, and when you discover “shaking” objects and enemies results in different behaviors or objects or enemies all together, the tool set suddenly seems more versatile and extensive than it did at first glance!
Now despite all that one can do with the level editor, it does have some limitations, and they are somewhat odd limitations at that. For one, it’s not possible to have bodies of water or lava on any level theme besides the underwater and castle themes, respectively. Games like Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, both of which have level themes available in this game, have levels where water appears in ground-based levels or lava is used in underground portions, and considering how with the level editor, making ground tiles is as simple as selecting the ground tile and dragging it across the Wii U Gamepad screen with the stylus across the segment of the level that you wish it to appear, I don’t see why the same couldn’t have been done with water and lava tiles. Including water and lava tiles seems like it would have been an easy and practical thing to do, and it would have given players even more creative options. Thus, this means that “Super Mario Maker,” a game made and released in 2015, can’t even fully replicate levels from “Super Mario World,” a game made and released in 1991. That is one of the game’s shortcomings, in my opinion. Also too, the level editor doesn’t give players the ability to even make slopes, something “Super Mario Bros. 3″ did back in 1990. Slopes too would have made for more aesthetically pleasing levels and would have given players more creative freedom. That’s another shortcoming of the level editor in this game. The one upside to this is, Nintendo listened to fans requests – and complaints – about check points, another common feature in Mario games being absent here, and Nintendo offered free downloadable content that patched in check points, among a few other features, so maybe Nintendo will listen again and offer another free downloadable content package containing the aforementioned features.
Aside from course creation, the other big aspect of “Super Mario Maker” is the online component. It’s there you’re able to upload your own levels to for others to play, star and comment on, as well as play levels from others from all around the world. There are millions upon millions of levels created by others and uploaded online for you to play and even download and save, if you come across one that you really like. The online component, or Course World as it’s called, is also getting an update from Nintendo in December, because it’s another aspect of the game that players criticized and said needed improvement. I agree that, in its current form, the Course World is pretty poorly designed. There’s no search function, so you have to know the course ID of a level to play it, so that means you have to turn to internet gaming communities and websites dedicated to the game to find levels to play. There are a few other ways of finding levels to play through the Course World, but it’s very cumbersome and only makes it possible to see a very, very small portion of what’s been created and uploaded. You can view and play some of the most recent uploaded levels, as well as the highest rated ones, in addition to ones that are currently featured, and too, there’s the one-hundred Mario challenge that gives the player one-hundred lives to complete a number of user-made levels, but overall, it’s not easy to browse levels or makers, as in, the people that create the levels. There needed to be an easier way to see what’s out there among the millions and millions of levels, Course World needed a simple text search as well as maybe user-made communities, where levels that shared a similar theme would be grouped together.
The online component of this game also suffers from not being able to separate the poorly designed as well as malicious levels from the quality ones, and once again, having to turn to the message boards and website of the internet to find good levels. There are plenty of levels online that employ cheap, mean-spirited tricks that most official Super Mario games never did with the intent of frustrating the player. Things like death traps, from say picking the wrong door or warp pipe, resulting in instant death or trapping the player in an area that he or she can’t escape from, and thus either has to wait for the timer to run out or quit the level, and also too, stuff like off screen enemies that fall from the sky and kill the player without warning and levels that require trial and error to complete. It’s especially frustrating getting these levels when trying to unlock character costumes in the one-hundred Mario challenge, where it eats away at the player’s lives and forces them to start over again and again, There’s no quality control when it comes to uploaded levels, so finding the good ones can be a painstakingly long process because unfortunately, the poorly designed and malicious levels are far more common it seems. However, there are many truly fantastically designed levels too that are better than some of Nintendo’s own efforts, so it’s a matter of having patience. Sadly, Nintendo indirectly designed an online environment where separating the good from the bad is really time consuming and complicated it with a poor search component.
Nintendo apparently tried to offset this and incorporate some form of quality control by requiring more and more stars to be earned in order to upload more and more levels, with stars being earned when a person plays and stars a player’s level at the end. Unfortunately, because it’s so hard for people to find other people’s levels, a person basically has to advertise his or her levels online on message boards, video upload sites and so on. It’s become a reoccurring joke on the internet that unless you’re you have a big YouTube following, it will be very hard to earn stars and thus be able to upload more than ten or twenty levels. The sad reality is there’s truth in that joke. If Nintendo would have put more thought and care in designing the Course World segment of the game, and made it so levels and level makers could be more easily found, tracking down quality, fun levels to play wouldn’t be nearly as hard, and those that make fun, quality levels would be more appropriately and frequently rewarded with stars so that they could upload more quality, fun levels, rather than having their levels sit there, unplayed by the majority, and struggling for stars. The bad thing is, when Nintendo launches the Super Mario Maker Web Portal in December, it won’t even be incorporated into the game as a DLC update. It will be online, thus still requiring players to turn to the internet to find quality levels, rather than the software itself, where such a component should be. As is the case with most Nintendo games, Nintendo again demonstrates how the company has very little understanding of how to properly and successfully incorporate online functionality into its games.
As I mentioned above, character costumes can be unlocked in this game. “Super Mario Maker” isn’t just a celebration of the Super Mario Bros. thirty year anniversary; it celebrates much of Nintendo’s history as a whole, to an extent. By playing the one hundred Mario challenge through the Course World, you will unlock character costumes. Character costumes transform Mario into other characters; even characters that are owned by other companies but have appeared on Nintendo consoles, like Sonic and Mega Man! The costumes are purely aesthetic and don’t give any special power-ups or abilities, but completing a level while wearing a particular costume will trigger a unique little jingle from that particular character’s game series in place of the standard level completion jingle, and plus too, the character costumes come with unique sound effects for every character, so I thought that was a really neat little concept Nintendo integrated into the game, and it’s a fun change of place playing as say Shulk from Xenoblade Chronicles or Villager from Animal Crossing in eight bit sprite form. All the character costumes are only available in the classic Super Mario Bros. style, unfortunately, so you can’t incorporate character costumes in the other three styles. While it would have been nice if that were the case, I can understand that would have required a tremendous amount of work on Nintendo’s part, since there are already one-hundred and six costumes available to unlock, with more being added by Nintendo, so to incorporate them into all four styles would have required multiplying the aforementioned number by four! I’m thankful for what we were given in terms of character costumes. It was an unexpected little extra that celebrates so many of the video game franchises that have been a part of Nintendo for decades now as well as new franchises that have just recently become a part of Nintendo’s library, like Splatoon.
“Super Mario Maker” for the Nintendo Wii U has its flaws and shortcomings, without question. It has fewer flaws and shortcomings today than it did when it was first released in September because Nintendo listened to those that purchased the game and realized an oversight had been made in the exclusion of check points within levels, so an update patch was released. Now, Nintendo is listening to those that bought the game again and is trying to make searching for and playing levels easier and more user-friendly, although the route the company is going doesn’t seem ideal and may not address the problem as effectively as players had hoped. The good news is though, Nintendo is listening and trying to improve the game through patches and other means, so perhaps in the future, “Super Mario Maker” will have even fewer flaws and shortcomings, resulting in a better, more enjoyable game.
That being said, this is still a great game, even with the aforementioned issues. Fans of classic Mario games will want to give this game a try as it gives you the power to design your own levels and share them with your family and friends, as well the world. It’s not just about making levels though. It’s also about seeing what others have made, and gleaming potential ideas from what others have done and putting your own unique spin on it while enjoying and encouraging your fellow level makers. What “Super Mario Maker” offers is potentially unlimited replay value because new levels are constantly being uploaded from all around the world. Millions and millions of Mario levels, just waiting to be played.
The simplicity of the level editor makes this game accessible to anyone of almost any age. Simplicity in using the level editor though doesn’t necessarily mean the levels themselves will come out simple. The more time you spend experimenting with the level editor and by visiting the Course World to see what other players have come up with, it will become apparent that there’s far more potential than what there appears to be on the surface, and the key to unlocking and utilizing that potential? Creativity. A person’s creativity is what powers this game; not the tool sets or the themes or styles, but one’s creativity. The more creative you are as a person, the more you can do with “Super Mario Maker,” but even if you feel you’re not that creative, tinkering with the game may change that, and even if that’s still not the case, anyone that enjoyed playing Super Mario Bros.,” “Super Mario Bros. 3,” “Super Mario World,” or “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” will find an almost constant flow of new levels from these games to play, still making the game worth checking out.
Ultimately, I think “Super Mario Maker” would make a great Christmas present or gift any time of the year or just purchase in general. This game thrives on user-created content, and in order to get the most out of it, a fast access internet connection is required. As long as you have that, you can build your own Mario levels and share them with people spread across and in between the four corners of the world and enjoy what others have created. By developing and releasing this game, Nintendo made one of the best moves it could have made when it came to coming up with a means to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of “Super Mario Bros.”. Level design is what made the franchise what it is today and now you have the ability to contribute to that legacy by sharing your own vision of what you think level design should be like in a Mario game. Nintendo has made it possible for its fans to become a part of the “Super Mario Bros.” legacy and in a pretty prominent way, and I definitely recommend fans not pass up the opportunity to be a part of that legacy.