I’ve never aspired to design games.
I love to play games, write about games and talk about games, but I also know that I lack the skills necessary to build one myself. I’m in awe of the studios that do manage to ship a complete, working product, even if it doesn’t turn out exactly as they originally intended, because I know the insane amount of time and resources that are dedicated to game production.
For all of these reasons (and probably a few more), I’ve never been able to fully invest myself into a game that relies on me to provide user-generated content.
Super Mario Maker is the first.
What’s so incredible about Super Mario Maker, the latest Wii U flagship title, is its simplicity. Many games with creation tools tout the ease of use of their systems, but with Super Mario Maker, it’s more than marketing speak. Whether or not you’ll design a masterful platforming level is inconsequential — anyone can pick up this game and start building.
But rather than jump straight into the Course Maker, I wanted to see what everyone else had wrought.
As you’d expect, the quality swung rapidly back and forth between levels as other reviewers had begun to share their first levels, but almost every level I played had at least a thread of an idea worth following. With elements as recognizable as the ones that make up Mario’s world, it’s never difficult to see what the creator was going for.
Another unsurprising aspect of Nintendo’s latest title: it’s incredibly easy to navigate. From the home screen (which is completely interactive), you’ll see two buttons — “Make” and “Play.” “Make” will drop you seamlessly into the game’s creation mode and “Play” will take you either straight to the 10 Mario Challenge or to the Course World menu.
If you just want to jump in and start playing, the 10 Mario Challenge is for you. In the 10 Mario Challenge, you have to work your way through 8 random levels all created by other players with just 10 lives. If 10 lives doesn’t sound like enough, you can take on the 100 Mario Challenge instead, which includes a slightly harder difficulty with 16 levels instead of 8 and 100 lives.
Once you’re done exploring the random creations Nintendo chooses for you, it’s worth checking out the Course World, where you can scroll thought the rolling selection of featured and highest-rated courses. From the Courses menu, you can sort by location, time period and difficult, so if you want to play an expert course from Europe that someone uploaded recently, you can do that.
But despite all of these menus and modes of play, when it comes down to it, Super Mario Maker is still a Mario game. You’re going to spend your time jumping between platforms, consuming mushrooms and stomping on Goombas, just in a different order than in any previous 2D Mario game.
So, enough about playing Mario, let’s talk about making Mario.
When you load up the game for the very first time, you’ll be dumped straight into the creation mode. The toolset is extremely limited at first, but it’s important to learn the ropes before you start trying to combine elements from every type of Mario level you’ve ever played. Super Mario Maker doesn’t give you all the tools right away anyway.
After playing with the Course Maker for five minutes, you’ll unlock the second set of tools, but here’s the catch — they won’t be delivered until the next day. This is true of each toolset, so if you want to unlock the entire suite, you’ll have to mess around in the Course Maker every day for nine days. Miss a day and you’ll fall behind.
It’s a head-scratching decision, but admittedly, it kept me coming back. Yes, you can futz with the Wii U’s internal clock to cheat the system if you want, but if you’re willing to play along, you can create increasingly complex levels over the course of a week and a half without being overwhelmed by dozens of enemies, blocks, pipes and moving platforms.
The Course Maker is amazingly intuitive as well. As I said earlier in the review, you’re almost certainly not going to design a level worthy of inclusion in Super Mario Bros. 4 right off the bat, but creating a level worth playing is easier than you think. After you drag and drop the elements on to the screen, you can move Mario wherever you want him and start playing.
Your course doesn’t work? Grab the eraser and try again.
In order to design a course you’ll be happy sharing with others, you’re going to have to iterate and edit dozens of times, but watching a course come to life has been one of the most triumphant gaming moments of the year for me. None of my courses are great, but the fact that one or two are playable (and unique) is enough to keep me invested.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the helpful (and occasionally necessary) instructions that often accompany new tools when you unlock them vanish after you read them for the first time.
By the end of your tool collection journey, you’ll have dozens of tools, sound effects, pre-made course templates and more to play with, but you might not remember exactly how one piece of the puzzle that is the Course Maker is intended to be utilized. That said, once the game launches, there will be countless online resources to check if you need help.
With Super Mario Maker, Nintendo accomplished everything it set out to do. It’s both a stage for creators to share their best courses and a platform on which dedicated gamers can build the next great Mario game. Super Mario Maker is an essential part of any Wii U owner’s collection.
Nintendo provided BGR with a copy of Super Mario Maker on the Wii U for the purposes of this review.