It’s all about one word: imagination. Super Mario Maker and developer Nintendo takes that word and pays homage to it for every Mario fan worldwide by allowing people to essentially have a Super Mario game with endless levels. Sure, if your level doesn’t make the cut, then Nintendo will likewise cut it from the game (so it is said), but a lot of the levels here are simply endless. This is one of the first Mario games to take such a daring leap from strict set-level designs and into bounds of giving people a blank sheet of paper and letting them enjoy endless level fun.
There’s an endless level of fun in the game design’s mystery in having user created levels. The concept itself is no different – first propounded by Sony Computer Entertainment’s most popular title LittleBigPlanet. Super Mario Maker takes the ‘Create’ and ‘Share’ elements of LittleBigPlanet and allows you to create your levels from a book of nearly 100 pages. The elements unlock over 9 days and the toolkit involves using various building blocks to create levels. The unlocking progression is something I actually liked because it prevents people from being overwhelmed by options right away.
Super Mario Maker can allow you to do a crazy amount of things with pretty much any and all building elements. Enemies can pop out of building blocks, be super-sized, and it’s clear that there is a real layer to customization that the previous games never saw. For players who own the 30th Anniversary Mario Amiibos – there is an option to tap the amiibo and make Mario super-size. I was unable to find this Amiibo for reasonable prices anywhere (less than $60) and unfortunately didn’t get it myself which is an aspect that could have helped to raise the score on this game – but one I cannot really include in this review other than mere mention. Music can also be used as well to enhance level play through and finally level designs can be changed from retro to a modernist 3D element style found exactly in New Super Mario Bros. Wii U among 4 different styles (Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, Super Mario Bros. 3, and New Super Mario Bros). I won’t keep delving into the endless tools to make here because they really do work and are part of the fun surprise in this game that really caters to fans in terms of quality of build and replayability. There’s a 10 Mario Challenge as well that allows players 10 lives to finish 68 stages of varying design and difficulty. Each of these are great and provide a great look into the history of Mario while being very fun in terms of skill level. As an added bonus, player designers can see each level and how it was built from the very own in-game tools which is inspiring. The only gripe I have with levels is checkpoints are entirely missing. It boggles my mind that players have to start from the very beginning if they lose all their lives, especially considering some of the newer games included level checkpoints.
My biggest criticism with Super Mario Maker simply comes down to one element I feel that was entirely missing compared to a title like LittleBigPlanet: the Play aspect. Sure you can play through these levels by yourself and create levels as a glorified builder of endless content but Super Mario Maker lacks on the magic of what made LittleBigPlanet so profound: playing with your friends through multiplayer. A title of this magnitude could have been a great opportunity for Nintendo to back its online offerings and strengthen its online community which is sorely lacking in a lot of titles sans Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros Wii U. There is no local co-op to be seen and no online co-op play at all. Super Mario Maker is great for people who are not really into cooperative gameplay, but for those people who do have friends that are super into Mario, sharing is simply not enough. In fact, sharing just usually prompts most of my friends to go “How cool would it be if we could just play this crazy insane level together?” further just rubbing salt in a seemingly open wound for many people as it already stands.
As I played Super Mario Maker one day, another one of my friends could only stare until it was her turn – and even then the novelty of “let’s see if you can beat my score, dot dot dot” wore severely thin even to me from the start. Mario was never about competition to a lot of gamers, it was about two plumber brothers or a pink-dressed Princess Peach working together to finish a level when she wasn’t held hostage by a giant-sized lizard known as Bowser, or at least that is what it slowly became at it’s core. A lot of people were excited for Super Mario Maker to come out well before launch, but even at a local GameStop launch when I mentioned how much greater this game would be with online cooperative gameplay with up to four players and what a missed opportunity it was – not even the most die-hard fan expressing adulation of the game before picking up their own copy could not help but sadly nod his/her head in agreement at me pointing out such a sorely missed opportunity or have a wishful glint in their eyes hoping and dreaming one day of a Super Mario game of this magnitude with cooperative gameplay.