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Super Mario Maker – Wii U

Super Mario Maker – Wii U

Super Mario MakerPlatform:  Wii U

Release Date:  September 11th, 2015

Developer:  Nintendo

Publisher:  Nintendo

Genre:  Level Editor, Platformer

Nerd Rating:  9 out of 10

It was around the start of last year’s holiday season (2014) when we first started to learn some of the major details behind Super Mario Maker, then known only as “Mario Maker.”  Although it seemed like this was a game we might see near the beginning of 2015, it turned out to be almost a full year away from its release, but wow, I think almost any wait would be worth the final product.  Super Mario Maker will certainly be remembered as one of the most innovative games to hit the Wii U, if not the pinnacle of the Wii U’s potential depending on how far away Nintendo’s “NX” is.

Envisioned as a spiritual successor to Mario Paint and born of Nintendo’s own in-house software used for creating levels in various Mario games, Super Mario Maker is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.  In a nutshell, it provides the player (or perhaps “user” is a better word) with multiple environmental elements from Mario games and allows him or her to place them in whatever configuration the user wishes to the result of an actual level.  There is a lot to talk about here, so I’ll do my best to be brief with the details and focus more on the gameplay experience.

Super Mario Maker

During your first few hours/days with the game, you’ll unlock new items by either playing or as time passes.

One starts the game with relatively few options, but by spending time in the Course Maker mode or simply waiting for a couple of days to pass, more and more items and features become available.  I don’t remember the exact number of “deliveries” of “new” items that were made, but I know that by week’s end everything was available.  One of the most interesting facets of level design is the ability to choose from one of four “themes” or “eras” of Mario’s history: the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario U.  When using one of these styles, the game functions not only with that period’s aesthetic, but also the accompanying physics.  For instance, wall-jumping and ground-pounding are only available in New SMB U, players are unable to pick up items like turtle shells and bombs in SMB, flight is available only in SMB 3 and Super Mario World with the Raccoon Tail and Cape respectively, etc.  Even mechanics like swimming are preserved from game to game; it’s just as clunky as it was in SMB and much more fluid in New SMB U.  I really appreciate that the in-game physics have remained untampered with.  Not only does it add to the integrity of using these different options, but it also allows for even more possibilities beyond simply changing how a stage looks.

Super Mario Maker may not include every Mario item ever to grace these 4 games, but it comes damn close.  I won’t list every single option, but there are enough to create diverse levels without repeating oneself.  The player controls everything, the ground, the trees, the clouds, even warp doors and pipes that let Mario travel from area to area.  Most enemies and powerups are intact as well.  Even more options become available by “shaking” certain items on the GamePad.  For instance if you shake a Green Koopa, it becomes a Red Koopa.  One can also “feed” Super Mushrooms to enemies to make them huge!  The amount of usable material is staggering: music notes, trampolines, cannons, vines, hidden blocks, conveyor belts…even novelties like coin-tossing Lakitu and Bullet Bills that fire giant winged Bloopers are possible.

Super Mario Maker

Here’s an example of an airship in the SMB style, with Mario in the Kirby “costume.”

Adding to the feel of the individual styles is that in most cases, the items that were available in the original game are only available within said style.  For instance the Propeller Helmet only appears in New SMB U, thus it isn’t available to be used in any other style.  Yoshi only appears in Super Mario and New SMB U, so he can’t be used in SMB or SMB 3.  The developers did a great job of staying “period specific,” although they have taken a few liberties, especially with the original SMB style, when it comes to some of the environmental factors, such as graphics for Boo Houses and Airships (neither of which were present in SMB).

Super Mario Maker

Underwater levels are probably the least popular among creators.

In addition to the style, the player also chooses the setting.  Most elements can be used in most settings, though the graphics will change; the “ground” in an overworld level will be a different graphic than the “ground” in an airship level.  Overall the user has access to several settings, including the overworld, underworld/underground, underwater, Boo House, airship, and castle.  Eventually the user gains the ability to control the timer, toggle auto-scroll, and set the speed of the auto-scroll.  Other fun features include the ability to see “Mario trails” which show the user Mario’s exact movements in order to precisely space out jumps and a slew of bizarre sound effects to add some individual flair.

Super Mario Maker

The item menu, in the SMB style.

It’s difficult to put into words how vast the selection is and how many small options are available here and there without going through and listing every single little object.  However, the game makes it super-easy to start building a course right away.  Start and stop points are already laid out, but beyond that the screen is laid out in a grid.  Things like enemies typically take up one square of the grid.  Parts of the physical environment like blocks, elevators, trees, pipes, etc. can all be stretched to all shapes and rotated to fit any design.  Casually pitching the idea of “building a Mario level” may sound easy, but taking the time to put together something both fun and challenging is, well, challenging.  The game can’t force creativity onto a user, but it tries to remove as much of the hassle as possible by sporting a very simple and easy to use interface.

Super Mario Maker

A scene in the SMB 3 style.

A familiar drag-and-drop interface is all that takes to get going.  It’s quite easy to draw elaborate swaths of “ground” or the semi-solid “trees,” and then “tap” in the more interactive elements like enemies, powerups, and coins.  Honestly I don’t think Nintendo could’ve made this any easier to use, and that’s a real compliment.  The “hard” part is having the ingenuity to use these elements in new and strange ways while also exercising a degree of restraint.

Apart from the creation of levels, there is also a strong online element to gameplay.  We’re used to top tier games for the PS4 and Xbox One – and even the PS3 and 360 – making liberal use of the internet, but Nintendo has remained on the outskirts, despite being the only company to produce their first 7th gen consoles with wireless cards from the outset.  (The early PS3’s and several iterations of the early 360 required hard-wired connections to the internet.)  Super Mario Maker makes extensive use of the internet outside of its Course Maker mode.  One can browse the endless reams of courses made by others, or one can take it to a more competitive level with the 100 Mario Challenge.

Super Mario Maker

Online functionality plays what might be the biggest role yet in a Nintendo title.

In the 100 Mario Challenge, the player gets 100 lives.  On Easy, 8 levels must be cleared, but on Normal and Expert, 16 levels must be cleared.  This is rapidly doable on Easy and Normal, but these so-called “Expert” levels are really just bizarre exercises in futility.  In order for a user to upload a level, he or she must be able to clear it, but the creator has any many chances as they wish.  So, someone can spend 4 days clearing a level, and then I’m forced to go up against it with a paltry 100 lives.  More on this later.  As expected, the quality of user-submitted content varies wildly.  Some are exceedingly simple, while others push some mechanic or another to its extreme.  Still others weave intricate mazes, and some of the best are elaborate “mouse traps,” requiring the user to initiate the machine with a single action or sometimes pressing nothing at all.  By using elevators, conveyor belts, and other moving elements, users can kick off the action with a cannon or pipe spitting out a sideways trampoline to get Mario moving.  These levels offer nothing in the way of gameplay, but many of them are quite clever and fun to watch.

Super Mario Maker

A sample of 4 out of the 100 available costumes to unlock

The reward for completing the 100 Mario Challenge is a special costume that replaces the standard Super Mushroom within the SMB style.  These costumes are lovely 8-bit renditions of everyone from Waluigi and Bowser Jr. to a slew of Animal Crossing characters, all the way to obscurities like Ashley from the WarioWare series and oddities like the Wii Fit board and a mahjong tile.  Having certain Amiibo can unlock several as well.

Similar to the 100 Mario Challenge is the 10 Mario Challenge, which is presented within the game’s existing content.  There are a set number of these, and once all have been completed, the player has the chance to play the 4 Nintendo World Championship levels.  If all 4 are beaten, the formerly randomized “Weird Mushroom” (inspired by a glitch) will be available for the player to use at will.

Super Mario Maker

“Skinny Mario” in all his high jumping, slip-sliding glory. Reminds me of a goblin or something.

Super Mario Maker

A snippet from one of the World Championship levels, in the Super Mario World style.

These modes are necessities for a game like this.  Not only does it give the player something to do besides design and play their own levels, but it gives them a chance to see what other “regular people” are designing.  Plus, all the levels that are available can be downloaded and edited, meaning one can discover the secrets and intricacies of any levels that they run across.

There’s no shortage of quality content in Super Mario Maker.  Nintendo not only came up with a fantastic and original idea for a game; they also figured out a pretty damn smart way to put the package together, especially with the heavy-handed online functionality.  This is a piece that any Mario fan, casual or serious, will be able to whittle away the hours with and so far, it’s one of the Wii U’s best excuses for sporting its (sometimes excessive) GamePad.  Super Mario Maker is well on its way to a 10 due to the unique gameplay experience it provides, but I have a couple of reservations.

The first is a small but important qualm: the inability to insert checkpoints into the levels.  From a straight up gameplay perspective, this is really the only big thing that Super Mario Maker misses out on.  I have to believe that putting in checkpoints was at least discussed during development; why the feature remains unimplemented is a bit of a mystery.  The player can directly control the length of a level.  When stretched to its fullest, a level can be pretty damn long.  One can prolong the experience by utilizing both the vertical space available and the “sub-area” that becomes available when using pipes.  It takes a little work, but it’s not difficult to create an extremely time consuming level that, when all is said and done, is totally devoid of a checkpoint.  I realize that it would be impossible for the game to “automatically” determine where to put a checkpoint and that not all designers would use it “properly” (or use it at all), but it would be nice if the game at least included the option for the player to insert one.  Even the original SMB wouldn’t make you re-play the entire level as long as the halfway point had been reached.

The other big issue stems from the online component and how levels are managed/processed/rated, especially within the Expert setting of the 100 Mario Challenge.  It seems that Nintendo has yet to devise a reasonable formula for determining what constitutes an “expert level” beyond looking at the level’s “clear rate.”  I’m fine with users submitting whatever sort of levels they want, be they ridiculously hard or ridiculously ridiculous, but Nintendo needs to figure out a better method by which certain levels are dubbed “expert.”

Super Mario Maker

Seriously, does this look even remotely fun!?

Many of the user created levels lumped into this category are full of misdirection, gimmicks, a sort of trial and error meets memorization approach, excess, and outright trickery.  I understand that some people are interested in pushing these games to their limits, playing with pixel-perfect movements, and using other novel techniques to complete levels, but I hardly think it’s fair that players are given 100 lives to complete 16 levels when the creators of these levels have virtually an infinite number of lives available, any one of which is enough to qualify the submission for upload.  Like I said, I think these levels are fine for those that want the challenge, but I would like to see Nintendo implement a sort of screening program for what passes as expert.

Super Mario Maker

Most users seem to prefer the New SMB U style (above) with the classic SMB coming in a close second. SMB 3 and Super Mario World styles are far less represented.

Playing user-submitted courses in general can be equally rewarding and frustrating.  I suppose that some of the techniques used could be considered innovative, but personally I’ve never been fond of trickery.  User uploaded levels fall into 4 distinct categories, and I hope that in the future Nintendo develops some way of classifying them accordingly.  The first class consists of what I call “automatic” or “semi-automatic” courses.  These are little more than fun demos, but they are excellent displays of the mechanics in work.  Typically the “instructions” are given in the title, such as “Don’t Press Anything” or “Just Hold Right.”  Next up are the really mundane and/or poorly designed levels, probably the product of younger players or extremely new users who’ve overestimated the quality of their work.  Luckily the game has been out for long enough that many of these are starting to fall to the bottom of the heap.

The third type is what I like to call “Mario-esque,” or those levels that are created with typical Mario conventions in mind.  These are my favorite to play, and users have still managed to push the envelope while maintaining a strong “Mario feel.”  Finally we have the “experimental/non-conventional” courses, which themselves are divided up into “pretty much do-able” and “pretty much impossible.”  Some of these are great and offer a whole new perspective on familiar elements.  Unfortunately, most of them are too damn hard for their own good.  A couple of favorite tricks include hiding Thwomps off-screen so that there’s absolutely no chance of dodging them, as well as placing hidden blocks right above the area that Mario must jump to clear a hole – thus resulting in instant death.  Other users will flood the area with mushrooms, only for you to quickly find out that you must be small and there’s no way to take a hit to reduce your size.  Another popular trick involves giving Mario a choice of 4 warp doors, 3 of which will lead to instantaneous and unavoidable death.  And probably most common of all are courses where Mario, sans powerup, is forced to square off against 37 supersized Bowsers….with wings.  

Some fans will enjoy trying to figure out how to overcome these sorts of perils, but most of us just want levels we can play.

Some fans will enjoy trying to figure out how to overcome these sorts of perils, but most of us just want levels we can play.

I appreciate these atypical approaches in small amounts, but while they may be fun to create, they’re only appealing to a very small niche of players.  I hope that as time goes on Nintendo is better able to recognize and classify these different types of courses so that users can have an experience more closely tailored to their skill level.  As of right now, much of the online content in Super Mario Maker is quickly veering to those with a) incredible skill, b) lots of time, or c) lots of luck.  I know it’s tough to develop an automated tool to reasonably separate the levels that measure skill versus levels that rely on luck or trial and error, though I feel like this might be the sort of systemic issue that gets prompt attention from Nintendo in the form of an upcoming patch or update, especially as thousands of user-created courses keep rolling in daily.

In an effort to keep the creative process engaging, I do wish Nintendo had implemented some sort of goal-oriented mode.  Realistically, players aren’t always going to be in the mood to meticulously plan, build, and test a course.  Besides, there’s only a certain amount of fun to be derived from playing a level in which you already know all the little secrets and quirks of.  It would great if Nintendo did something like hand the player a finite number of items with instructions to build a level that could be completed in less that 100 seconds, or something of the sort.  Something where a minimum or maximum number of “pieces” must be used to achieve some sort of goal would help keep those creative juices flowing even when users are drawing a blank.

Super Mario Maker

Many players have designed mazes and puzzles which in theory are impressive, but unfortunately the mechanics of a platformer aren’t always 100% conducive to puzzle-solving.

There is a lot packed into Super Mario Maker and I don’t mean to accentuate the shortcomings over all that is fantastic and unique about this game.  These issues are relatively minor compared to what Super Mario Maker has to offer, but then again the smallest of problems make stellar games like this all the more frustrating since perfection seems so close.  Regardless, as of right now, this is easily the Wii U game to own.  It may not bring anything inherently new to the timeless formula that makes Mario tick, though it is an awesome tribute to all that Mario is and has been for the last 30 years.  New fans may find themselves more preoccupied with the extended mechanics and flashier presentation of the New SMB U style, but those who grew up with Mario will have an absolute blast with the building blocks of SMB, SMB 3, and Super Mario World at their fingertips.

So, will Super Mario Maker fizzle or flourish in the months to come?  While it certainly has years worth of potential loaded within, it’s not difficult to see where users could feel like they’ve exhausted their creativity.  Truthfully, I think this is Nintendo’s chance to stake a competitive claim in the DLC market.  Nintendo could continue to increase the longevity by periodically releasing content, everything from small pack of items to all-new styles (SMB 2 anyone!? Seems like a prime candidate…), or even all new, anachronistic items for the chance to make levels that feel like an all new game.  Whatever happens, Super Mario Maker is an instant classic that will hopefully inspire a new genre of console games, perhaps even evolving to a point where users can define their own physical limitations!

Bottom line: if you own a Wii U, you should already own Super Mario Maker.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist

Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

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  1. I was finally able to sit down and give Super Mario Maker a try today. I am quite impressed. Anyway fantastic read!


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