Have you ever wanted to make your own Mario level? Admittedly, I haven't – Nintendo more or less created the platforming template with the classic Super Mario games, and I trust its vision a lot more than mine or anyone else's.
And yet Super Mario Maker is absolute magic, as Nintendo not only provides the tools to make a retro-fabulous level, but also lets loose the reins a bit – allowing not only players but the company's own designers to rethink what a Mario level should be. Even if the role of maker doesn't suit you, there's plenty of fun to be had.
Super Mario Maker seemed like an odd curio when it was first revealed, but in truth, it might be the smartest use of the Wii U's GamePad to date. Being able to create a 2D stage by tapping on a touch screen is such a huge improvement over, say, moving around analog sticks and digging through menus in LittleBigPlanet.
And the game eases you into the process, giving you a handful of new items – world styles, enemies, blocks, items, etc. – to work with each new day you play. Some might find that slow, but the piecemeal introduction keeps things approachable for everyone. True, it's difficult to make a great, memorable Mario stage, but it's easy to make a pretty solid one with Super Mario Maker.
Granted, the game is bound by the gameplay conventions of the side-scrolling classics – Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World – along with New Super Mario Bros, so the fundamentals are kept simple. But simplicity feels like an asset here: anyone can make a playable stage, while devotees can wrangle plenty of challenge and personality (custom sound effects!) into a stage with enough time, obsession, and ingenuity. And it's not nearly as intimidating as LittleBigPlanet has seemed in recent entries.
World of possibilities
Naturally, created levels can be shared online, which means there's a potentially endless supply of new content to soak up. In the review version, that has so far yielded everything from extravagant rollercoaster rides through enemy and hazard-packed levels to a partial remake of Metroid, not to mention a stylistic homage to Donkey Kong Country. And there are more mundane-seeming stages that are just intricate, well-crafted Mario levels – those are the most impressive of all.
When the servers open wide to everyone, we can expect a deluge of new stages. Over time, surely the community's top amateur designers will drop in amazing original creations and homages to keep us all entertained for months to come. While the levels can be enjoyed individually, the 100 Mario Challenge – which gives you that many lives to blast through a stack of especially difficult player stages – offers a badge of honour that you'll really have to earn.
Even with all of that, what I especially loved about Super Mario Maker was playing its dozens of new and remixed stages designed by Nintendo developers, which are short and spirited jaunts through classic concepts. Goofy sound effects and visual flourishes put an unexpected and totally joyful spin on the old Mario playbook, and they're often just quick bits of challenging amusement rather than fully fleshed-out levels.
And that's a great thing. Were Super Mario Maker just a dry toolset following the company's exacting specifications, it might have had very limited appeal. But by relaxing the typical Mario standards and letting both players and Nintendo creators tinker, the result is wonderful, silly, lovable fun.
Super Mario Maker verdict
Super Mario Maker puts the Wii U's GamePad to perfect use by letting you build stages with a stylus and touchscreen – which will yield ample enjoyment to come as the community shows off its skills. But even if you find creation tedious, there's so much here for Mario fans to savor, spinning nostalgic bliss into something new and memorable.