Jumpman, a carpenter who later became the plumber Mario Mario, has been in a few games over the years, often joined by his brother, Luigi Mario. Mario’s first game was in a repurposed Radar Scope cabinet and based on a revised version of the Popeye arcade game that Nintendo bid for but lost. It was, of course, Donkey Kong, where an escaped Ape holds Mario’s girlfriend hostage; she was originally ‘The Lady’ and later became Pauline (not Daisy).
Rushed through by Gunpei Yokoi and young artist and first-time game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong was a huge hit. In Donkey Kong Jr., Mario’s second game, the plumber himself was the all-out bad guy you were trying to defeat. It was the only time Nintendo had Mario as the antagonist; since then, Mario’s been the hero in around 270 games. No character has been in as many games as Mario or sold as many games, and that’s testament to just how popular Mario has remained over the 30 years that he’s been around. Some of my personal most beloved games have been Mario-based, including my all-time favorite game: Super Mario World.
I was pumped when Nintendo revealed Mario Maker; what made me squeak like a gleeful mouse was when they showed the Super Mario World toggle. My childhood dream of creating more levels to my favourite game can come true at last! Well, kind of, but we’ll get to my misgivings at the end of this review. For now, let’s revel in the joy of Nintendo’s Mario Maker. As the name suggests, you can create, save, and upload your own platform-based Mario levels. They can be in your choice of styles, either original Mario 8-bit, 8-bit improved (Super Mario 3), 16-bit (Super Mario World), or current-gen New Super Mario Bros. U. You can probably guess what style most of my levels will be in: SMW, of course.
I pre-bought the game; it decrypted earlier than I expected, so I’ve played quite a few hours already, which means I’ve not had much sleep. I’m sre that wont efect the wuality of this reveew.
The first thing I noticed is how tightly SMM grips your hand and guides you through learning it; it acts like a deranged mother bear. “No Gordon, chew your Salmon like THIS.” When finally let free to create my own levels, the choice of elements was really limited. I disliked the restriction and the pop up announcing ‘two days until your next elements unlock.’ Instead of joyful sounds, it had me squealing like a mouse in a trap. I wanted those elements now! So I started doing this:
10) Spend 5 mins in the course creator trying things out and unlocking the next element set
20) Get the ‘A few elements unlock in 2 days’ pop-up
30) Press Home, Close Software, Settings, Change System Clock forward 2 days
40) GoTo 10
Then, I had all the elements unlocked in under two hours instead of days; now I was cooking.
I set to playing a few levels then building my own, which is when I realised that the graphics in SMM are great. They’re what you expect from your Mario playing of yore but extra polished, improved, and given a coating of 2015 hipster paint; sprites that never existed in older Mario games appear flawlessly as you switch between styles—a new addition is the idea of Mario costumes. You can unlock these in a few ways: buy the Amiibo, play a course created by someone that bought an Amiibo, or complete challenges within the game.
The game comes with a variety of course examples that unlock alongside the elements. It also has the “10 Mario Challenge.” it’s in these challenges you can win costumes to dress up Mario. Yes, at long last you can use Sonic the Hedgehog in Mario levels. It feels … wrong. Dirty. Like next door’s grandparent hitting on you. My brain, soaked in the artificial marinade of Mario versus Sonic from the early 1990s, at first rejected the idea, but you soon get used to costumes, and they come with new SFX and motion, too. It’s a neat idea that will feed the Amiibo maw that wants all your money.
Building a level is an experience; it’s not a flat and dull like you might think. Everything you place is musical, the items sing their name as you place them, they dance and wiggle as you try and place them. Shaking items can sometimes change their properties, like shaking a green Koopa turns them red. Mario cowers as you move the eraser near him and flies randomly buzz across your screen. Swatting these flies leads to a sub-game all of its own. The act of creation has so much charm and detail that it’s, in itself, fun for anyone, even if you’re not the most creative person in the world.
The UI is better than a lot of Nintendo UIs, which can be, let’s face it, esoteric in nature. When you finally unlock everything (I’m hearing rumors of this waiting period getting patched out), not much gets in the way of playing Mario or creating levels. I was disappointed by the length of the course IDs you need to type in to hop to a specific specific course: you can’t search on creator name for example, so there are limits. You are also restricted in level design, for example in level height and length, and you’re limited in the number of elements you can place. I hit the limit in the number of enemy sprites placed in my first level design.
I called it limit and went to upload it; SMM then forces you to complete the level you just designed in one life. If you can manage that, then the level will upload to Nintendo’s servers, and people from around the world can play your Mario level. Seeing the counter rise as people play gave me a physical chill, and I was back to very happy mouse noises. Here’s how to play a specific level; you need to know this as people start swapping course ID codes:
Select Play, Course World, use the Search Icon in top right of the Wiimote screen. Enter the Course ID 295D-0000-0013-551C.
Or whatever course ID you are provided. That particular ID is my challenge to TMS readers. It’s my first complete level and is moderately tough, because the power-ups are hidden away; visual clues reveal some of them but not all. Once you find the power-ups, the level becomes a lot easier, and you should be able to breeze through. The course hub, with its featured levels and the ability to post your course IDs anywhere, is going to create an interesting social Mario experience. I can’t wait to play levels you make, so post your course IDs into the comments below.
Right now, the hub is filled with so many terrible levels—ones that are hugely unfair or levels that play themselves. Last night, the most popular level was one where you didn’t touch the controller and the level completed itself by shoving around the Mario sprite. Why?! I want to play levels, interact with them and not have them be a passive experience.
What I’d like to do is a followup post to this one where I list some great levels and highlight ones from TMS readers. Contact me on Twitter with your levels: @marcyjcook.
Should you buy MM then? Well yes. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest store or download the game digitally, but get it and get it now. This really is a masterpiece, and you’re beholden to buy it if you love video games. Are you buying it right now? You should be. Right Now!
Remember though I said I had misgivings? Well don’t let these put you off MMin any way but … after I unlocked everything, I was left with a feeling of ‘Is that all? It’s so limited.’ I’m hoping that over time, Nintendo will add much-needed extra elements and the blatantly missing two-player mode. The costumes are fun, but I want Luigi running alongside me in the levels, and it’s weird that he’s missing. Please Nintendo!
Mario Maker is 60 USD, 69 CAD & 35 GBP