Super Mario Maker (SMM) is a family friendly 2D level editor and platforming game. There is no foul language, no lewd conversation or gestures, and no nudity. There is plenty of very mild “cartoon” violence (jumping on characters heads to squish them), but there is no realistic violence, and no gore. There are enemy characters called Magikoopa. They dress like a cartoon wizard (robe and pointy hat) and use wands to cast magic charms at Mario. Users cannot play as a Magikoopa and can never use magic. Since the game has a level editor, it is possible that a lewd image or gesture may be present in a level created by another user. However, it’s quick and easy to drop out of levels, and content can be flagged if inappropriate. That said, Nintendo has always been a family friendly company and I’m sure that they are dedicated to keeping the game and all of it’s user created content, as clean and family friendly as possible. This game is rated E (for Everyone).
While Mario games are usually a bit short and repetitive on the story, Super Mario Maker has no story at all. This is a tool as much as a game. The game opens to a simple but vibrant menu. Players are given two options: Create and Play. Create takes gamers to the level editor (which forms the bulk of SMM) and Play takes them to the online portal. The online portal is where players will head to try their hand at the 100 Mario Challenge, search for other users creations, and find the Event courses. The menus here are colorful and easy to read. A couple of quick taps with the stylus will take users wherever they want. Everything is vibrant, clean, and easy to navigate.
On the platforming side of things, SMM doesn’t deviate from the standard Mario. The big new element here is the level editor. The editor gives players more power over the Mario universe than all of the previous Mario games combined. Players simply choose a style and theme from a list, then place blocks using the Wii U stylus. SMM offers four styles that mimic four of Mario’s most popular iterations: Super Mario Bros (1985), Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros (Wii U). Each style not only looks different, but contains the major differences that each game represents. For instance, the Super Mario Bros style has all of the gameplay elements of the original game, and none of Mario’s newer traits. That means no ground pound and no grabbing things. The Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros styles each contain elements of gameplay that their respective games brought to the franchise. In addition to styles, players will pick a theme for their level. Do you want a Castle? Maybe an airship level? Perhaps you have an underwater adventure in mind? Different themes bring subtle differences for the most part. The theme will determine the palette of the blocks you place. All of the objects are available for each theme, but their colors or look might change a little.
Level building in Super Mario Maker is about as easy as it gets thanks for the Wii U’s tablet controller and stylus. To add blocks you simply select what you want off of a drop down menu, and tap or drag to add blocks, enemies, coins, etc. Building a complete level takes very little time. If you want to test it in process simple press the Minus button and you instantly jump into the level to try it out. Still, there’s a lot of depth to the editor. Maybe not in an obvious way, but creating a quality level is a lot more difficult than it at first appears. Once a level has been completed, it can be uploaded for other users to play. In order to upload a level, the creator must be able to finish the level they’ve designed. This doesn’t keep brutally difficult levels from surfacing, but it does ensure that every level can be beaten. While anyone can create a level, creating a well liked, popular level requires time, patience, and a lot of playtime. So yes, anyone can create a level, but only the dedicated will likely find more than a couple of hours of pleasure in the editor.
Once in the editor creators have a reasonable amount of power just from using simple gestures. Items and enemies can be stacked on top of one another, items can be placed in ? boxes, and users can shake objects back and forth on the screen to either get a different object (arrows turn into checkpoints) or get a modified version of the original object (green koopas turn into red koopas). One of the best things about Super Mario Maker is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. Not only can items be stacked but enemies can be stacked as well. They can also be crammed into ? boxes to surprise unsuspecting players. Creators can even combine a Mushroom and Fire Flower to ensure that their guests get a Mushroom when they are small, but a Flower when they are big. All of these things combined give the creator a reasonable amount of control over his or her level. It’s not as deep as many might want, but that’s the price to pay for accessibility.
In addition to the level editor, SMM allows players to not only share their own levels, but to play the levels of others. The online hub provides gamers a place to find levels to play. Levels can be sorted using a couple of different categories, but that doesn’t really help all that much as the “top rated” category doesn’t really cycle through choices (most of those being levels that play themselves) and most of the “up and coming” levels are of questionable quality. Simply put, it’s nearly impossible to find quality levels to play in SMM. In order to do so gamers have to rely on the internet. As you might imagine, while googling it works, it’s still a pain. On a happier note, if players do find a level they like, they can “heart” (follow) the creator and can easily find them later on a quick list of followed creators. Nintendo has also provided some courses created by Nintendo personalities, as well as some special event courses (like the one used for the PAX Prime Omegathon Final stage).
Other areas to look at in SMM are the 10 Mario Challenge and 100 Mario Challenge. The 10 Mario Challenge gives players 10 lives to make it through a set of levels provided by the development team. These levels really just showcase what can be done in Mario Maker and serve as a tutorial of possibilities. The 100 Mario challenge gives gamers 100 lives to complete either 8 or 16 random levels from the community. The 100 Mario Challenge comes in Easy, Medium, and Expert difficulties. Easy gives players 8 levels to beat while Medium and Expert provide 16 levels. Completing a set of levels from the 100 Challenge earns players a costume for use in the original SMB style. Most of these costumes represent popular Nintendo characters from a variety of eras (KIrby, Samus, Pikachu, etc.). Costumes can also be unlocked by using certain Amiibos. It’s a nice touch, unlocking a costume with an Amiibo saves the player time and likely gets them a favorite character. However, Amiibos are not required to unlock or use costumes.
You may have noticed there’s nothing in the above paragraphs talking about co-op or multiplayer of any kind. Sadly, in spite of recent Mario titles showing a strong multiplayer preference, Super Mario Maker forces single player. This is extremely sad to see as even the original Super Mario Bros supported two players.
The graphics of Super Mario Maker are a little different than most games. Each style has it’s own graphical assets. So, when you are building or playing a level from the original Super Mario Brothers style, everything is in 8-bit with the same color palette you’ll find in the original. If you jump to the Super Mario World style you get 16-bit graphics with more colors and fun designs. Similarly, jumping to the New Super Mario Bros theme will bring full 3D graphics with all the trappings. Given the range of styles the game supports, the graphics are fantastic. Especially seeing the original Super Mario Bros graphics and colors brought into the realm of HD.
“If you’ve played one Mario game you’ve played them all.” is a common refrain found in gaming communities across the web. While the overall answer is rather subjective, one area can’t be disputed and that’s the controls. Mario’s 2D controls have barely changed since 1985. Super Mario Maker has kept that tradition. While the controls can be changed to suit the users preference, the standard remains A/B to jump and X/Y to sprint. As always the controls are tight and quick to respond. Some of the courses players design can be brutal. Happily, because they must complete their own course before it can be uploaded, the controls are always up to snuff.
While I’m a big Mario fan, and I enjoy Super Mario Maker quite a bit, there are a number of things about this title that irk me. First and foremost is the lack of multiplayer. As discussed above SMM only supports 1 player. Given that multiplayer of some kind has been a staple of 2D Mario games, this is a real shame. Another issue that SMM suffers from is the inability to find good levels from within the game itself. There are only a couple of ways to sort levels, and looking at popular levels just doesn’t cut it. Plus, the popular levels list doesn’t update very often. This means that if the user is playing regularly they’re likely to see the same titles top for popular list for weeks at a time. It’s true that a host of good levels can be found around the internet, but it’s a shame that gamers have to resort to a 3rd party device to find good content. My last major issue with the game is that it doesn’t support sloped tiles. I understand that slopes would’ve made level creation more complicated, but slopes have been part of Mario’s level design since Super Mario Bros 3. Not having them makes it really difficult to build a great looking Mario level.
As it stands, the gameplay of Super Mario Maker doesn’t deviate at all from past Mario games. What it does, primarily, is allow players to shape the 2D Mario universe to their liking. This isn’t a Mario game for a new generation so much as it’s a celebration of the last 30 years of 2D Mario games. I have been playing Mario games from the beginning (yes I’m that old) and I love being able to finally make my own Mario levels. However, even as a huge fan of the series I have to acknowledge that Super Mario Maker isn’t what I expected it to be. While SMM is family friendly in-so-far as the gameplay and graphics go, it’s no so family friendly due to some of the decisions that Nintendo has made. At it’s heart, Super Mario Maker feels like it was intended primarily for people like me. Hardcore Mario fans who have been playing the series for many years. Yes everyone can play it, and people of all ages will enjoy it, but I suspect that only long-time fans of the series will find any lasting value here.