Aspiring to one day make my own games, I have a little first-hand experience with how difficult the process can be. Simple things like creating a small platforming level require an incredible amount of finesse – something that can only really be explained after being experienced.
Given that not everyone has the time to dabble with code just to let their creative juices flow can be frustrating, but a handful of games have proven how robust toolsets can allow for the creation of some spectacular games within a predetermined set of rules.
Super Mario Maker for the Wii U is now another one of those titles, although its keen focus on creation over play makes it a far more malleable engine for creators to get their hands dirty with.
It doesn’t mess around either. From the moment you start, Super Mario Maker plunges you wrist deep into its powerful creation engine. Moving the camera with the analogue stick and placing objects with a simple tap, drag or painting of the stylus on the Wii U Gamepad allows you to quickly and easily create levels of your own.
Each of these levels can be dressed up in different Super Mario eras as well, which not only change the visual makeup of your creations, but the gameplay mechanics behind them (like Mario’s ability to jump from walls in more modern iterations).
Once you’ve nailed how to stuff mystery blocks with mushrooms and filling pipes with fly traps, you’re all set to name and upload your level for the world to sample. Super Mario Maker ensures that your level is doable before (by forcing you to complete it first), after which it is quickly and easily uploaded onto a global map.
This hub curates inventions from all over the world – breaking them down into new and upcoming creations, levels ranked by star ratings and currently trending ones. As with any good search, these can be filtered: by week, month or the entire game’s history.
It’s in this hub where the polish of Super Mario Maker shines brightest. While sorting through levels is easy enough, finding ones of immense quality is even easier – giving you a wealth of unending singular levels to explore and play.
Most of the time the best of these subvert platforming entirely. One of my favourite didn’t require my input at all, mimicking the sense of excitement I would get when constructing the Mouse Trap boardgame. Not to play, but instead just to see an intricate system of events play out with immaculate efficiency.
Another limited my time to just ten seconds, turning Mario into a lighting fast twitch platformer that demanded the utmost dexterity to even hope for a pass. In fact, it was rare to find a traditional Mario in any sense of the word, apart from the odd remix here and there (which were equally entertaining).
The way creators have already started to bend the tools at their disposal to their will was astounding, allowing me to lose myself in a never ending stream of inspiration for my own creations. At least until Super Mario Maker sent a few hurdles onto my path to stifle my progress. Listen, I get it – having an engine that has essentially created one of the most refined platformers in the history of gaming can be a bit daunting at first.
To help this Super Mario Maker staggers the tools it gives you over time, letting you get comfortable with the limited set you have, before introducing new rules to dabble with. It’s clever, and somewhat a requirement, but the time it takes for new tools to appear is a little confounding.
In the first two days with the game, I was locked out of most of the tools I really needed to make some of the creations that popped into mind immediately, with only simple blocks, power-ups and basic enemies open to me from the start. The game eventually lets loose more of its tools– such as like editing the time limit or the scrolling speed of the camera – but the time spent unlocking the beginning and full toolkits is just far too long.
Ultimately it took a dedicated nine days of play (consecutively!) for the full monty to open itself up. An exercise in both frustration and patience that the game carelessly flaunts around at the risk of scaring away budding creators.
It’s even more disheartening when you find what you considered a brilliant idea already up on the online hub, again making me wish Nintendo wasn’t so stingy about handing out tools for me to get going.
It also, funnily enough, mirrors a lot about what is just so difficult about creating something unique enough to get noticed. Super Mario Maker weirdly simulates the independent games scene in this regard – with well named, well presented levels often getting more attention than ones that might be mechanically superior. It distils the feelings of success and disappointment in a rather safe environment, which was both gratifying and gut-wrenching at different times.
But if you’re just looking to kick back and not find yourself under the stress of creating the next big viral Marion level, there’s some light elements to accommodate that itch. Outside of online you’re open to taking the Ten Mario Challenge. The challenge gives you ten live and eight levels to progress through, simulating randomised Mario world with levels from all ages.
Jump online and the same thing is down with user created levels, although you’re given 100 lives instead. It might seem like overkill, but the aforementioned 10-second level wiped out 70 lives rather quickly. Player creations can be devious.
It’s another reason why Super Mario Maker sometimes falls just short of being perfect, because of it’s over-reliance on both buy-in and extended dedication to get the most out of it. For someone who doesn’t have the time to play everyday, Super Mario maker makes it needlessly difficult to create the levels you want by locking you out of its more challenging content.
At the same time, I also wish I could share some of my creations with people who don’t have the game too – even if just in a limited, smaller scope. But despite these reservations, I also can’t stay mad at what is essentially a truly staggering toolset that will probably give thousands of players the equipment that they need to create some magical Mario memories for years to come.
Super Mario Maker’s reliance on being a creation tool ensures that it is the best in class at that, even if that means actual playing content is a bit on the scarce side. But once everyone gets their hands on it and start flooding the hub with new levels every day, you’ll find it hard not to pick up the pen and create ones of your own.
Last Updated: September 2, 2015