Super Mario Maker WiiU Review
Nintendo is a curious company when it comes to online freedoms and connectivity, mostly due to their notorious and often warranted reputation for being rather conservative and protective of their intellectual properties. It’s always been oddly contradictory to their otherwise open attitude towards game design and fun-first philosophy. This is a company that has traditionally embraced local multiplayer shenanigans, yet in the same breath took seemingly forever to adapt to a rapidly modernised connected world.
Part of that connected world has been the creation and sharing of user generated content. PC regulars will be familiar with mods and maps, a staple of the user content culture dating back to the 90s. Console folk less so, though not totally alienated, as we’ve seen the likes of Little Big Planet run its own race. Nintendo has dabbled here and there in features more along the lines of local map editing tools. Like Super Smash Bros. Brawl‘s stage creator being perhaps the most recent, memorable Nintendo-specific example of a good idea with less favourable execution. And on the third party front I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend hours in the TimeSplitters 2 map maker on the GameCube.
Nevertheless, whatever Nintendo’s goals may be in the long run, their journey into the world of online stuff has really kicked off in recent times, and their create-and-share vision has culminated today with Super Mario Maker, a game that needs no introduction. But if you seriously want one, here goes; you build levels for Super Mario Bros, and you share them.
Outwardly it’s not the most original idea, as we’ve seen years worth of homebrew (and probably legally questionable) software dabble with map creation for Super Mario Bros. But this is the real deal, a proper officially Nintendo sanctioned Super Mario Bros. creation kit. The closest point of reference I can point to is Mario Paint. It’s been a long while since Nintendo has made anything like this.
Much like Mario Paint this is a buffet of creativity that eloquently balances accessibility with depth, mixing playable content, aesthetics, and audio from several Super Mario Bros. titles into one mostly homologous playground of block dropping and level scheming. I’m not going to detail each and every tool; if you’ve played Super Mario Bros. you know what to expect. But I would like to highlight the wiggle room for creative stages. Don’t be fooled into thinking Super Mario Maker is limited to pipes and koopa troopers. Yes, the fundamental simplicity is there, tools slowly introduced using an intuitive drag-and-drop creation kit on the GamePad’s touch screen, allowing you to quickly and easily map out your stages and populate them with familiar hazards. But the real treat is in manipulating that familiar iconography into cheeky unorthodox challenges. Super Mario Maker carefully toes the line between rigidly sticking to the rules of hazards as-you-know-them and introducing gimmicks and methods of manipulation that transform elements into completely original variations. It’s a very welcome direction and one I believe to be completely intentional; lure you in with familiarity and simplicity, then surprise even the most familiar Super Mario Bros. aficionado with an unpredictable twist on a tried-and-true favourite.
Naturally, Nintendo’s trademark charm (again referring back to Mario Paint) is evident throughout. This is the kind of game where to swap between red and green koopa troopers you don’t simply hit a toggle button, but instead physically “shake” the drag-and-drop enemy on the screen into its new form, complete with the little pixel opponent caught in an animated stress-out. Between details like this, the simple and vibrant colour, and cute soundtrack, it’s clear Nintendo did not want to liken level creation to slaving over an Excel spreadsheet. Instead it’s lively and charming and rich with personality, keeping the art of creation stimulating your cerebral through both interactivity and presentation.
Most other components of the game operate as you’d expect; content creation is easy, as is uploading to the online network. Most everything involves very simple drag and drop or clicking the appropriate flashing icon, and I can’t imagine anybody would struggle to work out what’s what after only a few minutes of play. I did have a bit of frustration with the slow nine day tool unlock policy, which slowly introduces tools over time, I assume to avoid over-burdening the player. But this is an example of Nintendo pulling back on the reigns way too hard. Your experience will be different however, as they’ve already issued a patch to drastically speed up the tool unlock drip feed right at launch.
I’m also a little wary of the overall complexity of stage creation, noticeably the absence of sloped terrain. It’s difficult to define, as I don’t want to give the impression Super Mario Maker is limited in creative scope, more so that some limitations are in place and those are questionable. Similarly for the online environment, where content sharing favours simplicity via “best of” and “new” style menus, and direct code sharing. I feel some search filters would further enhance the online networking, though I imagine this would be quite hard to do without delegating level tags to assist in filtering content down to a user’s need.
Regardless, browsing and playing online stages is quick and snappy. Surprisingly so, as all I had to do with highlight a stage of interest, hit the play button and I was dumped into a user’s customised stage almost instantaneously. Even with the desire for richer search options, it’s great to see Nintendo has content access down to an impressively efficient process.
Ultimately though, Super Mario Maker will live or die on content sharing and Nintendo’s long term support. And that’s not a criticism or a compliment, it’s just an observation of how this investment will be valued. Long term support from Nintendo will hopefully result in patches and DLC expanding the tools with some additional essentials, preventing the existing toolbox from becoming stagnant while expanding the potential in creativity amongst armchair Miyamoto’s. To my knowledge Nintendo hasn’t detailed any long term plans, but fingers crossed. They have, at the very least, the tool unlock speed-up patch for launch, so that’s a great start.
As for the content sharing, that’s simply the heart of the game. Super Mario Maker is a tool, a toy box, an outlet for your own creative but just as importantly a conduit into the minds of other creators. Short exposure to the online environment rapidly demonstrated the value of this deceptively addictive feedback loop; playing user stages doesn’t just provide you with levels-to-play from a perspective of challenge, it highlights the use of tools and creative layouts that you in turn can take inspiration from in your creations. Be wowed by someone’s marvellous creation and then adopt and reinvent those ideas to expand and develop your own.
It’s an alluring back and forth that holds true to the childlike sincerity of simply creating and sharing, feelings I’m certain we all share on some level. Allowing your mind to conjure, and sharing those thoughts with the world. How deep the barrel goes and the longevity of this culture of creativity are decidedly important factors, but also impossible to gauge. That’s up to time. Maybe the candle will burn out faster than you or I would like, or maybe it’ll stay illuminated through many nights of crazy block placing and goomba tweaking. For now though there’s no doubting that with Super Mario Maker Nintendo has taken a admittedly predictable and conceptually straight forward idea, yet executed it in the most charming, accessible, and alluring way possible.