I can’t stop playing Super Mario Maker. Every day it gets bigger and bigger, and more people are making more clever things to try. Yesterday, I played a level where you turn into a spring and bounce around with other springs until you lose yourself and bounce into the flagpole and somehow spring around out of the level. Mario Maker is a really dumb, wonderful thing, and I’m happy to play it every single day.
As an endless stream of Mario levels, Super Mario Maker is already brilliant. Where I underestimated Nintendo, however, was how easily they could draw me into making levels myself. I’d been excited about the game since its announcement, but didn’t have a lot of faith in being able to make levels myself. Other editors like LittleBigPlanet and WarioWare DIY fall prey to complex interfaces that weed out all but the most determined creators from making anything interesting. Nintendo, being Nintendo, have somehow made it almost as fun to create and share your own levels as it is to play any of the thousands and thousands of others at a moments notice.
The game quickly introduces you with an interface that’s all too familiar if you spent as much time with Mario Paint as I did, and makes sure that nothing is more complicated than it needs to be. You’re started off with just the very basics to make your first level, (not even a full set big enough to recreate 1-1) and are told to get busy.
Naturally, you’ll place a block here, a block there. “Hey this is kind of fun!” Maybe drop a Goomba over by that pit…then place a turtle. A couple of pipes here that shoot coins. And a flying box! Gotta have a flying box…maybe one that spits out mushrooms, or maybe a monster! Oh god, I’ve gone and Made a Mario.
And then you’re hooked.
It’s a masterstroke of design how easy it is to make your first simple level, and it’s almost impossible to stop wanting to experiment once you’ve dipped a toe in. Every time I boot the game up I’m greeted with notifications of who has played my levels and what they’ve said about them. The gratification of having people play my levels is inspiring, and I can see a bunch of new game designers being born just by seeing how rewarding it can be to create something of your own.
Even the experience of making the game has been gamified. Not everything is spelled out, and I’m still discovering uses for items from the original set. Discoveries like shaking enemies to change their abilities, dragging other items to combine (try giving a super mushroom to a goomba while in the editor) and more all feel like amazing discoveries as you parse through the seemingly infinite possibilities at hand. As you begin to learn the game more, you’re rewarded with new materials at a steady clip, and you’ll slowly feel like you’ve been enrolled in the most fun game design course ever made.
If you’re not into Mario for the Making, playing him is just as good as you’d expect. Choose the 100 Mario challenge and you’ll be thrown into a very simple world map populated with user-made levels. It’s a Mario game that’s short enough to complete in a sitting (but you can save and quit so you don’t have to!) but long enough to feel like you played through a nice chunk of game. I’ve been making a run through a set of eight “easy” challenges about once a day, and I’m still being surprised as how creative the stages can get. Sometimes you’ll get a traditional Mario stage, other times you’ll see just how crazy Mario can get.
I’ve played shoot-em-ups where you pilot a ship. I played a level where you’re a spring who jumps around with other springs until you lose yourself in the chaos, and then I laughed for a solid ten minutes as I proceeded to replay the level four more times. I played a level where Waluigi faces an existential crisis about his own existence. I’ve also played some really great levels that feel like they could have come straight from an actual Mario game, but I’ve also played some hot garbage made by people who apparently hate themselves, Mario, and you. Mario Maker has an amaaaaazing solution to levels you don’t like though: You can grab the touch screen, and flick them so far that they disappear and a new level is loaded instantly, at no penalty to you. It’s so satisfying to take one look at an “expert” rated level that’s filled with death traps and kills you before you even take a step, grab it with your finger, and flick it into oblivion, never to be seen or heard from again.
When I go to bed, I’m playing Mario Maker. After I wake up next to a dead Gamepad, I usually charge it back up to play more. I can’t pull myself away, but I also have a hard time wishing for a few tweaks that would make the package even better.
As of launch, there isn’t a way to populate your own world map filled with levels. This means that any level you make has to be standalone, and you can’t go on to make a full set of Mario levels. Mario levels are great by themselves, but what makes the real games stand out are the secrets that Mario Maker doesn’t have the capability to have. You can’t have hidden exits to a new course. You can’t design stages that lead into one another, as levels that are meant to be lessons for what might come later. A few Mario standards are missing, and even mechanics that should be in place (Yoshi’s shell-dependent abilities) are strangely absent. Level searching is non-existent, and being stuck using specific Mario Maker codes for friend’s levels is just as much of a pain as Nintendo loves to be.
But I still adore this thing. It’s the best level editor that there ever has been, and it’s just shy of being perfect. The way your items sing a song as you place them is genuinely adorable. The nods to Mario Paint are tucked into every corner, and the hidden inclusion of that fly swatter game blew my mind. There’s even a secret or two hidden in the in-game manual. Who else would do stuff like that?
Super Mario Maker is the most Nintendo thing Nintendo has ever done, and I can’t help but smile at it every day. If you’re a budding level designer (or think you could be!) or just want to see how creative a community can get with the keys to one of the best series of all time, Mario Maker is a portal to unlimited potential.
Just, like, really don’t be afraid to flick those expert challenges away. They’re the worst.