Every gamer has a day when they’re playing the latest iteration of a series that’s been around for donkey’s years, when a parent or older relative will peer above their newspaper and realise that you’re controlling a childhood hero of theirs. For this writer, this first happened while playing 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine, when an aunt couldn’t quite believe how acrobatic the formerly limited Super Mario had become. Most of the time in such a scenario, the series in question is Super Mario, which goes some way to express the crazy reach of Super Mario Bros. back in the 1980s.
As such, while Super Mario Sunshine gave this writer’s aunt a pleasant moment of “oh, look how much he’s grown”, Super Mario Maker is designed to blow her freakin’ socks off. How do you quantify the feeling of being given the complete freedom to control the building blocks of the worlds one inhabited as a child? What better gift is there for a parent or older gamer than the ability to be able to pass down the same gaming experiences that formed them, but in a more modern, relevant, and malleable way? Super Mario Maker is a realisation of a dream for some, so while its purpose may not be fully appreciated by some, it’s important to realise what it is that Nintendo have given their fans.
Naturally, to really ‘get’ this game, a player must be patient, and possess creativity in abundance. Mario Maker is a blank canvas, one that effectively cannibalises Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. series, and with it, any restrictions that level designers were previously being held to. A credible NSMB game could not, for example, feature an item box from which Bowser could emerge, while in Mario Maker, it’s simply par for the course. A level isn’t a bad level if it’s a little unfair in Super Mario Maker – you just deal with it. With this power, comes the ability for Nintendo’s level designers, as well as its fans, to really take the shackles off, and let their imaginations run wild.
In fact, the expansiveness of the provided tools mean that many of the levels that are made available to play are not even conventional Super Mario levels. One level sees Mario engage in a multi-levelled game of Bob-Omb basketball to reach the flag pole, while another recreates the quick-fire modes of WarioWare Inc., using clever musical cues, different rooms, and a verticality not conventionally used in Super Mario Bros. titles. One extremely entertaining level makes Mario overcome difficult challenges to ‘save your son’ a la Heavy Rain, while another memorable level allegedly shows you the mental deterioration of a Goomba, following decades of abuse of its people at the hands (or rather feet) of Mario and Luigi.
Such levels can be downloaded with relative ease, as users upload their creations to Miiverse, while others can be saved following completion in a more conventional 10 lives challenge. As such, the magic of Super Mario Maker can be experienced both by creators and by those that are more focused on playing.
The issue with using the word ‘magic’ in game reviews, however, is that it’s commonly associated with nostalgia, which is absolutely required to really get something from this game. A player will relish the opportunity to mess with the established norm of Mario games, which is a joy that undoubtedly will be lost on newcomers. And while on a negative note, it’s also worth mentioning that taking the shackles off creators can sometimes be a bad thing.
The ranking system, however, pushes such levels further down the recommended charts, meaning that the cream really does rise to the top. And really, anybody looking to play Super Mario Maker should already have experience with Super Mario games, because, hey, the game does what it says on the tin. You don’t buy cake mix if you’ve never had cake, surely.
Super Mario Maker is a gift to the fans that have followed the adventures of everyone’s favourite portly plumber, and in many ways, is the essence of what Nintendo is about. It won’t appeal to everyone, it may not be particularly bothered about the best graphics, but it’ll make that little kid inside you really happy, it’s very easy to pick up and play, and will reward you for thinking outside of the box. Happy birthday, Mario – here’s to the next 30 years.