If you've seen the trailers for Super Mario Maker, you already know it as a tool for creating your own Mario worlds. Giving players the means to create their own levels feels so natural, it is a wonder that it took this long to be made. I recently had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with the title and was taken aback by how much this game resonated with my inner child.
One of the important things to understand about me for the purposes of this preview is that I have always loved making games. When I was in middle school, I made a terrible, terrible card game that I forced a couple of my friends to play. Looking back on that awful game and the hours I spent drawing each card and dreaming up elaborate rules, I imagine I would have lost myself in Super Mario Maker. It is easy to grasp the core ideas of dragging and dropping platforms, items, and enemies with the Wii U gamepad, but combining those elements into an effective and enjoyable stage takes a great deal of finesse and insight.
Part of what makes Super Mario Maker so special is its emphasis on experimentation and play. One of the most fun parts of my time with the title was combining the various power-ups, environments, and enemies together in new and unique ways. You can give a koopa a mushroom to grow them to huge proportions or shake them to change what type of koopa they are. My favorite combination was placing a boo into Bowser's flying clown car, which turns it into a bouncing, enraged vehicle that chases Mario throughout the stage. Really, though, these are just the smallest examples of where creativity will be able to take players in their elaborate creations. Only a small fraction of the items, platforms, and enemies were unlocked in the preview build I played, but even with the smaller selection I could have spent days building and discovering new, awesome combinations.
Creators can switch which between Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. aesthetics on the fly. However, switching also changes the mechanics of gameplay slightly. For example, Mario can slide and do ground pounds in the New Super Mario Bros. version but not in the original Super Mario Bros. version of the same stage. This means that some stages might only be possible in a specific Mario environment.
Of course, Super Mario Maker isn't just about building levels. Playing through the stages that others create is a huge part of the game. This is where things might get a bit sticky upon release. While Super Mario Maker certainly plays well, I have my doubts when it comes to Nintendo policing the stages released by players. The nature of player created content really only makes it a matter of time before someone makes a genital-filled stage or writes out some decidedly not G-rated message with coins. I was told that there would be some moderation of stages from that angle, but wasn't given any details beyond that. The one concrete stipulation ingrained into the system is that creators cannot share their
stages unless they can also beat them. That still leaves a lot of room for truly sadistic stages.
A great example of cruelly manipulative level construction was a short stage in which you begin on a high cliff, an arrow pointing downward in a specific spot. Simple enough, right? However, jumping from the cliff to where the arrow points only leads to death as the entire cliff floor is littered with spikes with only one small opening to reach the end of the level. The opening is definitely not where the arrow points.
Another creative example of level building was the concept of a "don't move" stage. The idea is that you can only finish the level if you don't move Mario. It plays out like a series of impossible chain reactions and dizzying improbabilities. Floating platforms that take you perfectly timed through a maze of fire and let you drop over a huge chasm filled with cannonballs that Mario hops atop like a ninja, propelled through the level and through hazards at astounding speed. They are fascinating little exercises in mastering the building mechanics of the game and I have a feeling that small communities will crop up entirely around making "don't move" stages.
The true gluttons for punishment will be interested in the 100 Mario Challenge, a world composed of the hardest Super Mario Maker challenge levels that must be cleared with only 100 lives. To give you an idea of the difficulty players are in for, I managed to lose all of my lives on the first stage alone and I consider myself to be fairly decent when it comes to platforming games. Prepare yourself for a true test of your Mario abilities.
I should make a brief mention of amiibo compatibility. Various amiibo, like Link or Wii Fit Trainer, can be scanned to place unique power-ups into the game. These power-ups transform Mario into the amiibo character that was scanned in. This alteration works like a normal mushroom power-up as far as I could tell, but with a more fun visual flair. Each character comes with unique sounds and animations. Link holds up a triforce while the Wii Fit Trainer trikes a yoga pose. It is a fun addition to the game that won't leave those who hold themselves outside of the amiibo craze feeling like they are missing out on critical content.
Overall, this is the Mario game that I dreamed of so many years ago. It will be very interesting to see in the coming years how many children Super Mario Maker leads into game design. The tools it provides are simple, powerful, and effective. Though I only played a demo build, I can't imagine that the addition of more modes, objects, enemies, visual styles, etc. will do anything but improve on what I saw. If Nintendo continues to support Super Mario Make after its release with content updates, this could be a game changer for the future of game design. I think that prospect is amazing.
Super Mario Maker releases later this year on September 11 for Wii U.
Feature originally appeared on www.extra-life.org 07/14/15