There are few fictional characters as recognizable as Mario. The iconic Italian plumber first hit the scene nearly 35 years ago, and he has appeared in over 200 video games to date. In Super Mario Maker, Nintendo has finally given fans the chance to shape Mario's world to match their wildest dreams. The Mushroom Kingdom may never be the same again.
Title: Super Mario Maker
Platforms: Wii U
When you first boot up Super Mario Maker, you'll immediately find yourself in familiar territory. The introductory level looks identical to Level 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros. — that is, until you discover that the level has been left unfinished. You will then be prompted to fill in the missing blocks and enemies to complete the stage and allow Mario to reach the goal. I thought this was a very clever way to introduce the level-creation tools to burgeoning builders. From here, you have the freedom to start creating levels with the tools that are available.
Unfortunately, the initial toolset is very limited. In order to have access to every tool in Maker Mode, you must play for at least 5 minutes per day for 9 days. To speed up this process, simply move your Wii U system's clock forward to the next day each time the game informs you that more tools will be available tomorrow. Once you've unlocked all of the tools, you're off to the races (Don't be afraid to reset your clock to the correct day after you've unlocked everything; it'll all still be there). The interface for level building is very intuitive and easy to use. Simply use your stylus to drag and drop items into your level. You can hold down the shoulder buttons to quickly select a group of items — if you need to move all of them at once — or copy a group of items. Some items can be shaken with the stylus to change their properties. For example, if you shake a green Koopa Troopa it will turn into a red one.
There are four different Mario series art styles to choose from (Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros U.), each with unique items and gameplay mechanics. This means that your choice of art style is more than just aesthetic. For each art style, Super Mario Maker adheres faithfully to the core mechanics for that game. For instance, Mario only has access to his cape and his spin jump in the Super Mario World incarnation, whereas he can only wall jump on a New Super Mario Bros. stage. You can use these properties to your advantage, and even build stages around the unique abilities associated with each game.
Where this game really shines is in the creativity of the community. The user-created levels can range from terrible to truly ingenious (Pro tip: don't upload the first level you create, because it will probably suck). Fortunately, the game requires users to play their level to completion before it can be uploaded to the servers. In true Nintendo fashion, there's no simple way to locate any specific level. If a stage is not listed in the Highest Rated category, then the only direct access to that stage is via a 16-digit Course Code that is generated upon upload. However, if you find a creator whose levels you really enjoy, you have the option of following them so you can easily access any new levels that they upload. In one particularly memorable stage I encountered, the creator put wings on a trampoline, which required me to bounce along in midair while avoiding flying piranha plants. This is just one example of the innovative ways in which Mario fans are already utilizing these tools. It was an incredibly difficult level, but it was so clever and well-executed that I was determined to finish it, and I ended up being only the second player to do so. I know this because Super Mario Maker keeps track of how many users have attempted each level, as well as the number of people who have completed it.
In addition to an endless supply of community levels, Super Mario Maker features dozens of preloaded stages which can be unlocked by playing the 10-Mario Challenge. In this mode, you only have 10 lives to complete 8 courses that have been prepared by Nintendo's development team. Each stage that you complete can be saved as a Sample Course, which can then be tweaked in Maker Mode if you are in need of additional inspiration for your creations. If you're in the market for an even greater (or possibly, more frustrating) challenge, you can try your hand at the 100-Mario Challenge, which tasks you with completing as many as 16 randomly-selected user levels with only 100 lives. It may sound easy enough, until you remember how evil people can be when creating levels. Fortunately, if you encounter a level that is poorly designed or too frustrating, you can easily skip it by swiping to the left on your Wii U game pad (Tinder style). Conversely, if you encounter a level that you enjoy then you can give its creator a star, which boosts their overall ranking and also saves that level to your Starred Courses list for easy access. The hardest difficulty setting for the 100-Mario Challenge will only serve up courses with very low completion rates, so play at your own risk.
Super Mario Maker is every hardcore Nintendo fan's dream come true. If you love Mario, platformers, being creative, or enjoying the creativity of others, then this game is a must buy on the Wii U. It's severely lacking when it comes to searching for specific levels, and it's missing some key assets (where's Pokey?), but it more than makes up for those things with its endless potential for great user-created content. I would love to see some DLC down the road (Super Mario Bros. 2 art style, perhaps?), but in the mean time, I've got plenty of Mario action to keep me busy!