The first 24 hours of Super Mario Maker probably resulted in more levels being created for the moustachioed plumber to sprint through than Nintendo ever came up with in the preceding 30 years.
It’s all change for Nintendo at the moment. With a new President in place and some reasonable success with new IP in the form of Splatoon, it seems almost incongruous for their first Autumn release to be a loving tribute to 30 years of Mario. But we are where we are.
Super Mario Maker is, as the name implies, not your traditional Goomba and pipe-’em-up. While the traditional gameplay is there in spades, the real purpose is less a game and more a creative platform with Mario as the tool.
The point of the game is its level creation tools. The player is presented with a course, and can place blocks, pipes, enemies, power ups and platforms along it with the intention of creating almost unbeatably punishing levels, drawing obscene shapes with question mark blocks, or sometimes actually creating a fun yet challenging experience. A kind of LittleBigMario, as it were.
This controls pretty simply, with the GamePad and stylus used to place blocks on a grid. It can be a little less deliberate and precise than you might like – it’s easy to have your finger slip and scratch a line of blocks across your intricately laid out design, resulting in extra clean up time and swearing. A picross style system of single blocks laid by single taps, with perhaps a straight line tool, would have been preferable.
There are some interesting new additions, mind. The little graphical flourishes added to the traditional graphics are a beautiful touch, like the fireworks that pop up at exciting moments. It feels like an update of the old engine rather than either a new game or a straight port, and the mechanics have come across with all the familiarity of control players should recognise from the SNES era.
If you’re not the creative type, don’t fear too much. There are thousands of levels available online to download and play, many of them of professional level design standard or higher. A particular favourite used the Super Mario Bros. 3 graphical style to present a tricky and unforgiving assault course across an airship, dodging cannons and spanners before taking on Baby Bowser in a tricky boss sequence.
The addition of a book full of concepts and tips that comes with the game is a pleasant one, and adds to the sense of occasion and importance Nintendo are obviously trying to build with this release. They’ve had precious few successes on the Wii U, so this seems like an attempt at back to basics. What do people like? Mario and expressing themselves. Right, wrap them up a Mario level creator and we’ll make a packet.
Cynical it may be, but it’s remarkably effective. The 2D Mario games were just about the pinnacle of the platforming genre, and as such it’s interesting to be able to tinker with the nuts and bolts even if you’re not flush with ideas.
The game is not without flaws. It’s best played with the D-pad owing to the 2D style, but the GamePad is not well laid out for it. The lack of offline multiplayer is odd, considering the game incorporates the multiplayer-supportive New Super Mario Bros. U engine. There are some game visual styles which for reasons unknown were left out – specifically, the look and feel of Yoshi’s Island and the Game Boy Super Mario Land games. It is possible – given Nintendo’s recent zealous conversion to the concept – that these are features which will be added later via DLC, but it doesn’t sound great for the flagship marker of Nintendo’s most successful franchise to launch without features.
It’s difficult to know whether to count Super Mario Maker as a main series Mario game. On the one hand the only gameplay available is the classic style that’s been available for decades, but on the other it declines to tell a story or string together a linear progression of difficulty for players to work through. It is less a major installment than a statue along the road, pointing back to whence travellers came and saying “Look at how far we’ve come”.
Super Mario Maker is a well-built, fun and endlessly replayable game, owing to the literally infinite possibilities for levels. While it may not be reason enough on its own to buy a Wii U, existing owners would be missing out not to give it a shot.