I played a lot of Super Mario Bros. when I was younger, and like anyone who immerses themselves in an activity for a lengthy amount of time, there reached a point where I started to think, “I bet I could design my own Super Mario Bros. course.” And with Super Mario Maker, from Nintendo for the Wii U, that day has finally arrived. With this new game, anyone can create their own courses using graphics and elements straight out of all-time favorite Super Mario Bros. games, including the original Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U, and more. Along with being able to use the skins from all those different titles, would-be course builders can stage adventures in the familiar overworld, underworld, and underwater settings.
With the Wii U Gamepad, players can use the stylus to point and drag icons from the toolbar into the main area. The initial set of tools includes everything you nee to construct a rudimentary overworld level in the Super Mario Bros. style, including breakable blocks, which can double as platforms Mario jumps on; the iconic question mark blocks that release power-ups; the magic mushroom power-up that grows Mario into Super Mario; and familiar enemies such as Goombas and Koopa Troopas. It’s fairly easy to place multiple objects or creatures, or to select a bunch of on-screen items at once—just wield the stylus as you would a mouse on the computer.
Once you’ve got the course you want set up, click the icon at the bottom-left corner of the screen to switch into active mode and test-drive your creation. It’s easy enough to toggle back; or, if you meet an untimely demise while demoing, the game will automatically stop and switch itself back into the editing mode, at which point you can either try again or tweak obstacles to make them more or less difficult to overcome.
Despite the array of tools available from the start, Super Mario aficionados playing Super Mario Maker for the first time ever might find the options sparse, especially considering all the icons, creatures, and visual elements that have appeared in the franchise throughout its many iterations. Those looking for more exciting elements, such as the Fire Flower or the infamous Bowser, will need to wait a little bit, as the game automatically updates the more you play, adding new icons, enemies, and skins as you master the previous set. A piece of advice: Follow any tutorial instructions. In this way, you’ll have fun, and the wait for the next set of tools will be over before you know it.
The game also does something wise to offset any influx of building options: If you grab an icon and shake it a little, you’ll get variations on the object and character. For example, with a little shake, a standard Koopa Troopa gets some wings, or the Piranha Plant that rises straight up out of pipes transforms into the type that shoots fireballs.
I only played through two courses, unlocking a one-up mushroom, some atmospheric background details, and a few other touches to round out my homemade course, but I still haven’t unlocked the ability to place a boss-level villain, such as Bowser. For those like me, whose digital lives remain incomplete, there’s always the option of playing courses created by other Super Mario Maker players. The game lets users engage with an entire community of fans online, play their courses, and offer feedback on their creations. The ability to leave comments provides useful data for the maker, plus, whenever someone loses a life while playing a course, it leaves an on-screen mark, allowing the creator to see where players are struggling. The more times a course is played, the more information the creator has as to where the toughest stretches are located, and how balanced the overall level of difficulty is.
Now, there is a rule that any shared courses must be beatable, but that still offers plenty of room to do amazing things! During demo sessions, there were a number of courses that I thought were particularly innovative. For example, “Save Yoshi” initially sounds like a rescue mission for Mario’s green dinosaur pal, but as it turns out, players have to hold onto him for the entire mission in order to pass the final obstacle. This isn’t easy, and there are impediments throughout the course that require getting separated and reuniting with Yoshi.
There are also courses that are so wild and crazy, it’s hard to believe they exist! My personal favorite was “Walk, Don’t Run,” in which players must, as the title dictates, continue walking to the right without either stopping or breaking out into a run. Any deviation from the plan leads to an unfortunate end, either due to pitfalls, hazards built into the scenery, or wave after wave of enemies. But if players simply walk at a steady rate, everything turns out fine.
Super Mario Maker offers the option of engaging other players’ courses a la cart, or in a more traditional style, which gives you a finite amount of lives in which to complete a set number of courses. But of course, the most innovative aspect is being able to create your own levels, and ultimately, share them online. If you’ve ever had an idea for your own Super Mario course, now’s your chance to put pen—or more accurately, stylus—to digital paper! Ultimately, Super Mario Maker is a terrific tool for learning aspects of game design, as well as just a fun way to celebrate one of the most venerable franchises in video game history.