E3 2015 Hands-on Preview: Super Mario Maker

Mario goes DIY, but is that a good thing?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/18/2015 11:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Some folks are crowning Star Fox Zero the star of Nintendo’s E3 showing this year, but I found myself leaning more toward the charm of Super Mario Maker, instead. When the game debuted at last year’s E3 as simply Mario Maker, it came across as a fascinating if slight level-builder for the Mario series, a feature that many fans had been clamoring many years for. I wasn’t one of those fans. I’ve never been active with user-created content, whether I’m making it or someone else is. Mario Maker, which then was only showing off the ability to swap between the looks of Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. U, didn’t do much to sway my opinion. A year later and much more information about the game spilled, however, and I now find myself singing a different tune. I had hoped Nintendo would launch an all new 2D or 3D platformer to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., but Super Mario Maker is actually a much better way of celebrating that inaugural title along with everything else that makes the series special.

Revealed prior to E3, Super Mario Maker allows players to generate levels using the visual styles of four Mario games: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. I assumed the only difference between the four looks was purely cosmetic, but as I discovered during my hands-on time with the demo, each visual style brings with it that game’s particular physics and controls. The nitpicky gamer geek inside of me plotzed over such attention to detail, and as I began to think of the consequences of such a move, it dawned on me how comprehensive Super Mario Maker is in its attempts to recapture the magic of the four games it draws from. Firstly, by sticking to each original game’s physics, it opens up a ton more variety for users when designing levels. For example, a level created with New Super Mario Bros. U‘s wall jumping in mind will play completely differently if switched over to Super Mario World‘s style, as the plumber has a different moveset in that game.

These tweaks might seem inconsequential to some, but the reality is that each of the four games that serve as Super Mario Maker‘s foundation have distinct nuances to them. There’s no throwing in Super Mario Bros. Mario can spin jump and crack certain blocks from above in Super Mario World. Mario didn’t ground pound in Super Mario Bros. 3. All of these details amount to a varied and rich suite of options for users to take advantage of when crafting stages. All of this sounds great, but another reason I’m not a fan of making my own content in games is that I always feel that the process is never streamlined enough for my liking. Too many controls to learn, too many bits and pieces to keep track of. That’s not the case with Super Mario Maker. Crafting is a breeze for numerous reasons. To begin with, everything is laid out on a nice simple grid on the GamePad. Mario creator Shigeur Miyamoto has remarked that making levels in this game is reminiscent of the pencil and paper approach he and his team had to rely on when building the original Super Mario Bros., and the use of the GamePad here is a fair approximation of that process. Tap and drag enemies, pipes, bricks, blocks, and more anywhere on the screen. Control what items appear, how often, along with enemy size, level size, and much more.

It’s like the ultimate playground for Mario enthusiasts, but Nintendo being Nintendo of course took things a step further, much to my delight. Though play mechanics for Mario aren’t universal between visual styles, characters all carryover regardless of what game they’re from. Nintendo took the time to create 8-bit versions of characters who have only appeared in later games, such as Kamek (Magikoopa). Seeing a pixelated Bowser Jr. got a huge grin splitting across my face, and I had to resist the urge to annoy everyone around me by pointing out all the different details I kept noticing. For the first time in my life, I’m desperate to start making my own levels. I keep having visions of recreating the entirety of Super Mario Bros. using the assets of the other games. What’s more, I’m also very interested in taking advantage of the game’s sharing capabilities. Super Mario Maker allows users to upload their levels for anyone to play. Thankfully, Nintendo has made sure to balance the boundless freedom of creation with a vetting system to keep uploaded stages in check. Anything a player puts online has to be beatable, otherwise it won’t be published. Nintendo also plans to determine what sort of difficulty level bracket a given stage should fall into as opposed to letting players decide. That all means any shifty users hoping to intentionally frustrate other players are out of luck. It’s the sort of player-friendly approach the company is famous for, and it will ensure Super Mario Maker is a seamless and fun experience for all.

Speaking of character integration, a couple of the levels I got to play featured the Amiibo support that was outlined by Nintendo. An 8-bit Link skin wrapped itself around Mario, resulting in the surreal sensation of seeing the tunic wearing hero jump on baddies and avoid flying hammers. By the time my twenty minutes of demo time were up, I walked away from Super Mario Maker incredibly hopeful. If the end game is as impressive as my brief playthrough was, this is going to be a wonderful gift to fans of the series. Don’t fret about being stuck playing only downloadable levels though, as the Nintendo rep told me the game is expected to ship with content already available right out of the box. I got to play levels from the Nintendo World Championships, for example, and others like them will allow fans to begin playing as soon as the game boots up. I’d expect to be playing this one for a long, long time, as it’s so packed with content and possibilities, it’s going to take fans months, maybe even years to maximize Super Mario Maker‘s potential.

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