There is, in some quarters of the internet, a snide attitude towards Nintendo as a company. ‘They make the same games over and over again’ they will say. A cynic would say that Super Mario Maker goes one step further by leaving all the work to the player, simply giving them the tools to design their own levels. Nintendo do not usually cater for cynics.
If Splatoon was Nintendo’s take on the first person shooter then Super Mario Maker is their version of games such as Little Big Planet. The core of levels are there but the main attraction is to tear them apart, add your own spin on it and share the end results with the world. The advantage behind Super Mario Maker is that it has thirty years of being ingrained into popular culture to fall back on. Sackboy is a good character but Mario is far more recognisable. For all the building blocks Super Mario Maker gives you none are unfamiliar, you’ve been playing games featuring them for the last three decades.
Upon first loading up the game you’ll be given something that looks near to World 1-1 of the original Super Mario Brothers. The level will then suddenly open up into a vast chasm, giving you the opportunity to finish it off by placing blocks, stairs, platforms, Koopa Troopers and Goombas. The WiiU Gamepad’s touchscreen actually makes this a complete joy by allowing you to take icons from the top taskbar and drag them wherever you want them to be. Shaking them gently also turns various things into other forms. Rocking a green Koopa Trooper will turn it into a red one for example. Placing mushrooms on enemies also makes them grow bigger. Using this process it’s possible to have any number of giant, flying Goombas and the like around your level. Levels can also be themed around four Mario titles namely Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario Brothers 3, Super Mario World and Super Mario Brothers U. Themes can be changed at the flick of a options screen and every block changes accordingly, even if that particular design feature wasn’t originally in the game you’ve chosen to base on. The actual process of making levels in Super Mario Maker feels good and tactile.
Super Mario Maker also gives a wonderful insight into Nintendo’s design process. The underlying fact being that they’ve made it incredibly easy to make a level but it’s harder to make anything as good as they do. This isn’t a fault of the game by any stretch, it’s more the idea that you truly have to break down levels into their component parts to see what works and why everything is there. A very basic level can be drummed up in a matter of minutes, getting one that others will play and enjoy will take a little longer.
It’s the online library of user generated content that will keep Super Mario Maker going though. Vast amounts of levels currently seem to be simply there to be as frustrating as possible, simply throwing in crowds of enemies and hoping you can dodge past them. Every new player is limited to ten downloads though and only gains more when a certain number of stars are awarded by others players for the quality of levels made. It’s a sure fire way of making sure the cream rises to the top. In some ways this has already happened as some gems shine through. There are levels which mimic other games and others which revert standard Mario gameplay features in new and interesting ways. Eventually as time goes on the better levels will be far more prominent.
When Super Mario maker was first announced it seemed a little trivial. Just the original Mario Brothers theme was shown and it came across as something that would be more suitable as a free download. A curiosity and nothing more. Nintendo have built on the premise to give something that is both fun to make and play using all the features built up in the history of Mario and some more. It’s the house of Mario giving you the keys and telling you it’s your turn. Other games may feature user generated content but tend to get bogged down in their own mechanics, alienating all but the most dedicated. Super Mario Maker has an array of sort of design flourishes that Nintendo often weave into their own games. As such it’s a wonderful toolkit for experimentation and learning exactly what a good job Miyamoto and his colleagues did thirty years ago.