Super Mario Maker Review: Choose Your Own Adventure


Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 4

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo Wii U

Release Date: September 11, 2015

The video game industry would not hold its prominence in popular culture today without a little help from just one character; Mario. He is the focus of a franchise that has sold 210 million units to the public and was, at one time during the 1990’s, a better-known character than Mickey Mouse. It was during that time when 2D platforming reigned supreme; when nobody else could come close to the excellent level design captured in titles such as Super Mario World, Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3. What better way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the franchise than to launch Super Mario Maker, a level editing software title that finally hands the players control of the face that faced them (and others).

Super Mario Maker starts you out on a reimagined version of Super Mario Bros’ World 1-1. Everything seems to be going fine until you have to suddenly make a leap towards the Goal Pole. Even with a full speed dash, there simply isn’t enough real estate left, and you fall into the abyss. Don’t worry, the game’s level editor pops up to help you insert everything you need to fix up the rest of the level, including tiles for the ground, enemies to thwart, mushrooms to grow strong and a Question block to host them. You can drag items with the Wii U GamePad, and even shake them to create added effects. It’s the best use of the GamePad to date, easily, and is very intuitive to your inputs.

From Day 1, players can only design levels for Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. U universes. In fact, you cannot even craft a World 1-1 replicate from scratch right out the box, as important items like Fire Flowers and Super Stars that are hidden in item blocks are not available options quite yet. Super Mario Maker makes it a priority not to overwhelm players by throwing an entire toolbox at them without learning what each tool does on a step-by-step basis, and rolling out content unlocks for 5 minutes of play each day is Nintendo’s means of controlling this learning curve.

This game is definitely what you make of it…

You’re not just waiting to create full levels in Super Mario Maker; you get to play them, too! Part of learning the process is to see the wackiness that awaits you, and Nintendo does an excellent job of illustrating the creative freedom at hand for equally as creative players. The 10 Mario Challenge has players keep 10 lives while going through eight random levels. Most of them are short bursts of creativity, such as ground pounding the correct question block to unlock a fire flower that gets you past the vertical wall of Spinies. Others have you dodge incoming fireballs, similar to bullet hell side scrollers.

It is here that players take notes from Nintendo, and have the opportunity to adapt to the knowledge right away. Every completed 10 Mario Challenge course is saved to a Sample Course hub, where you can jump in and make additions or subtractions to these base levels. You can’t upload any edited sample or previously uploaded course, but the time spent learning the perfect balance of difficulty, entertainment and charm of a Super Mario Maker level embodies is time well spent.

This game is definitely what you make of it, with an equal opportunity for enjoyment for both creators and players. You can truly come up with some brilliant experiences in Super Mario Maker, with freedom that stretches to the point where calling it a “level” is a disservice. Brand new to the game are tools like music blocks that play musical notes. Line up enough sounds to hit at certain points on an auto-scroller? You can Rick Roll players. Sound effect blocks bring flavor to creations by serving as narrative, whether to laugh, applaud, tear down psyche with a “whomp whomp,” or even fill them in yourself.

I had some considerable amount of time to play with Super Mario Maker, finding more enjoyment out of what others could create. European players who had the game less than a week earlier got into some really wacky concepts that I just could not wait to explore, myself. The biggest problem surrounding this game is, unfortunately, that I was forced to wait. Locking out editing tools in level editing software is like removing colors from a painter’s palette; it puts an unnecessary limitation on their ability to express themselves. Even basic necessities like a Mario trail that outlines movement while testing a course is locked out.

Building up your toolbox, day by day, is a pointless restriction by Nintendo, one that fundamentally misses the mark.

The very first thing I wanted to do with Super Mario Maker was to make my own interpretation of Bowser’s Castle; make multiple choice routes ending in one grand finale against multiple Bowsers. Despite my willingness to get a strong familiarity with each item, enemy, pattern or asset as my disposal, it would take nine full days to naturally build up enough time with the game to unlock what I wanted. Bowser, and his castle, are available on Day 4. Boos, Kamek and invisible blocks arrive at Day 6. Yoshi; the next day. Finally, on Day 9, are the ice blocks and one-way doors that I need to be the ultimate trickster.

Building up your toolbox, day by day, is a pointless restriction by Nintendo, one that fundamentally misses the mark. There is nothing more disappointing in the promotion of a game like Super Mario Maker than to tell players, “You can do all these things, and more,” when the truth is, “You can do all of these things…eventually…set at our pace, not yours.” The game is all about players finally getting an open-ended entry into the theory and practice of level design in a great video game series. If you truly are afraid children might become flummoxed with the options at hand, at the very least give more seasoned players the option to unlock everything from the very first moment outside of the tutorial.

Once those 9 days have elapsed, and you’re truly free to do what you want, there’s little limit to what you can actually accomplish. Despite Super Mario Maker set to make platformers, critics and Youtube channels on the Media server have already crafted levels that resemble Metroidvania, brain-teasing puzzles, races, choose-your-own-adventures, memes, tributes to classic characters and combinations of the like. There’s no “right” way to play, just like there’s no “right” way to design. I just wish that levels with hidden payoffs weren’t given away in the Course World preview, as they ruin the surprise on certain levels.

Plus, these online levels provide means of exploring content you might not otherwise get to experience right away: the Mystery Mushroom. Most, if not all, amiibo are compatible with Super Mario Maker, unlocking 8-bt character sprite solely for use in Super Mario Bros. Even that content is not locked strictly to players and creators, exemplifying Nintendo’s handling of physical-based DLC. The only downside is, due to the fact it’s much easier to craft dozens of different character sprites, they’re only available in Super Mario Bros. It’s a small price to pay for some truly lovely fanservice/amiibo integration that doesn’t feel too manipulative.

What most surprised me about Super Mario Maker is just how much thought goes into developing the tools, let alone what individuals make them do. A lot of effort went into make every piece, every enemy, every concept work throughout each iteration of past Mario games. There’s a Whomp block for each game, just like there are now physics built in for Goombas, Koopa Troopas and more within underwater levels. In order for players to make levels that work, Nintendo needed to make sure everything functioned properly. Thankfully, the game utilized everything required to perfection.

Super Mario Maker is the perfect celebration of gaming’s greatest franchise.

There’s a fundamentally sound video game experience with Super Mario Maker, but it is still one that leans heavily on its community to generate excellence content. That alone is a scary concept, and one that shows its stripes when open strictly to the reviewing community and Youtube Gaming’s multitude of channels. The general consensus; we’re not that creative! It’s not something to decry the game for; it’s not the game’s fault nothing to play there right now is on the level of a Kaizo Mario World.

That’s what most excites me for when Super Mario Maker launches; things can only get better from here. The online hubs rise the very best to the top, either by playthrough totals or by favoriting. With a group of hundreds of thousands showcasing the best, the community gets to experience a variety of different ideas, concepts and game-within-games that they couldn’t possibly imagine otherwise. We may very well see the “Dark Souls” of Mario, or even “Mario: A Hideo Kojima Game.” Almost anything that works on a 2D plane is possible with Mario at the helm. The possibilities are endless.


More from Nintendo

Super Mario Maker is the perfect celebration of gaming’s greatest franchise. As such, it both feeds the man excellent platforming content while teaching him how to fish with gradual level design implementation. While the restriction, and slow release, of tools from Day 1 is both too harsh and too limiting, the unnecessary pain of waiting is rewarded with an excellent title every Wii U owner should pick up. It banks on decades of nostalgia while offering gameplay options previously unavailable in vanilla Mario titles. Whether you want to save the princess or throw all obstacles possible in the way, there’s something for everyone in Super Mario Maker.

A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.

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