Super Mario Maker is a bit of an oddity in Nintendo’s catalogue, being more of a toolbox than a fully-fledged game. Your typical Mario game has dozens of carefully crafted levels structured with a definite difficulty curve, but even the Nintendo created levels available don’t stick to this structure.
The Nintendo made levels only scratch the surface of the content available though, with the main conceit of the game (as you’d probably guess from the title) being that everyone can create their own Mario levels. The vast majority of the levels available are ones that other users have created and uploaded – with varying degrees of success as there’s no bar to entry other than the level being possible to finish.
The first mode most players will likely tackle are the game’s built in levels which you play through the 10 Mario challenge that has you complete a series of four levels within 10 lives. There are multiple sets of these to complete, with varying levels of difficulty.
It probably won’t take most players too long to get through these however and most time will likely be spent in the Course World, the ingame portal to online levels. Here you can play any user uploaded level and, if you like it, give the creator a star or leave a comment. Accumulating stars from your uploaded levels will give you medals and unlock additional upload slots as this is limited to ten levels at first.
While creating levels, Mario Maker uses the Wii U touchscreen and places a grid between the level elements and the background, which makes it easier to judge distances.
As you make levels and place blocks and items you gradually unlock the rest of the toolbox, including the rest of the styles. You can create levels using the original Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros U. Super Mario Bros 2 is absent due to the Japanese game of that title using the same artwork as the original game and the Western version having very different gameplay.
As the only style native to the platform, the New Super Mario Bros U artwork unsurprisingly looks pretty much exactly like it did in the original game. The older games however have had a little work done to them to spruce them up and the sprite art has never looked better, particularly Mario World which to me looks absolutely amazing in HD.
With everything unlocked you have quite a wide range of level parts and enemies to choose from sourced from all of the games that have styles present. There are some omissions, particularly enemies from Super Mario World, due to largely sticking to enemies that are present in most Mario games but there is a surprising amount of new artwork that has been created to fill in the gaps – many of the enemies were created after the original Super Mario Bros so needed to have sprites made for them and Super Mario World’s Bowser had previously only been seen from within his flying Clown Car so required a full sprite.
You’re not just restricted to what was available in the original games, either. Many enemies and items can have wings added to them so that they can fly, you can give most enemies a mushroom to make them double in size and you can also create stacks of enemies on top of each other to make a wall of enemies to fight through or avoid.
As Super Mario Bros doesn’t have a special power up like the feather from Mario World, it instead introduces a new special type of mushroom that gives Mario a costume of one of a huge selection of video game characters. These are all initially locked, but completing the 100 Mario Challenge for online levels or using the relevant Amiibo figure will open it up for use. As well as a new sprite and sound effects, finishing a level with a character costume on will play music from that character’s original game. The full cast of the most recent Smash Bros game are all available as well as a number of characters and items from other games.
On launch, the item boxes were unable to replicate how they worked in the original games, with a fire flower for example always being a fire flower even if you were small Mario. Nintendo have just announced an upcoming patch to the game that will add the original functionality, so that if you’re not already Super Mario a fire flower would then just give you a super mushroom. This new update will also add checkpoints that you can use in larger levels to make dying and restarting much less arduous.
Other notable omissions from typical Mario level structures are pipes that can allow travel in the same area as currently the pipes can only let you travel between the main and sub area of levels, and sloping ground which was introduced in Super Mario Bros 3. I’d also quite like the option to add shallow water and to move the end goal of a level from the main to sub level so hopefully we’ll see some of these in future updates.
Given the huge scope of content available, it’s quite disappointing that Nintendo haven’t included a robust search engine to find the kind of levels you might like to play. The sections that there are split into two categories, up and coming and most popular. I can’t work out how the up and coming section works as I regularly see levels in there with no stars or plays, but most popular is straightforward as that’s simply the levels that have been given the most stars by players. Unfortunately, this means it’s filled with automatic levels that don’t require player input which I have absolutely no interest in. Some are quite impressive from a craft side of things in how impeccably they have to be timed to work but I’m playing a Mario game to play Mario levels not to sit back and watch it. The ability to search and filter levels, showing ones that are a more traditional kind of gameplay for example, would make finding levels that you want to play significantly easier.
Even stranger is the lack of friends list functionality as you’d think in this day and age with such an inherently social game that you could automatically see your friends’ levels but no, you have to play and star one of their levels to be able to follow them as a maker instead of being added to a list straight away.
Thankfully, the community have stepped up and created online resources such as Mario Maker Hub but this means you need to enter in the randomly generated code that identifies the level for each one you want to play which isn’t exactly user friendly.
My final real gripe is that you can’t update levels that have already been uploaded. For example, when the upcoming update adds the checkpoints I intend to edit most of my levels to add them in and make the levels a bit more accessible. In doing that however I’m going to have to upload the new version of the level which will create a new level code for it and then either leave both uploaded or delete the old version, which loses that level’s play history as well – you keep any stars from it but can’t see how many people had played it anymore.
I do rather wonder why it wasn’t released for the 3DS – either instead of or as well as the Wii U version. The 3DS has its own version of New Super Mario Bros, after all and the 2D artwork would have worked just as well there and a portable collection of Mario levels would have been a very cool thing to have. Hopefully its success will lead to a 3DS version down the line as it has with Hyrule Warriors.
It’s certainly not going to be a game for everyone. While there are plenty of levels out there for those just want to play Mario levels, the inherent uneven quality and unpredictable nature of them means that a huge chunk of the content available would likely not of interest. If however you’ve always kind of wanted to make your own Mario levels then like me you’ll probably spend many, many hours in the level creator tweaking and perfecting your level designs and for me that’s really where the game shines.
Super Mario Maker is available now on the WiiU, and both myself and Matt have spent many hours with Mario Maker and have a number of levels uploaded. We’re both only really interested in making classic style levels, and if this would be of interest they’re all available on Matt and my own Mario Maker Hub pages.