Super Mario Maker for Wii U: The Toilet ov Hell Review
Nintendo just gave us the keys to the most widely-known franchise in all of video gaming. Try not to screw it up.
I have played Mario games for almost my entire life. From trying desperately to conquer Super Mario Bros. on our used NES with my siblings to playing Super Mario Bros. 3 with my grandfather when we’d go visit him in Michigan to the joy of exploring the 3D world of the Mushroom Kingdoom on my N64 on Thanksgiving to even playing through Super Mario 3D World with my wife earlier this year, I can think of very few characters or series that have had as much of a constant presence in my life as Nintendo’s flagship franchise. It was with great delight, then, that I saw last year that Nintendo was hard at work on a level-building system for gaming’s most famous plumber.
It still seems a bit strange that the notoriously controlling Nintendo created this game, but when you consider that the Wii U finally provided the requisite equipment necessary to make this dream become reality, you suddenly realize that it makes perfect sense. There are thousand of adults just like me who grew up playing Mario games; it seems only natural that the company, now that the right tools have been developed, would grant us access to their world and give us the proper palette to make stages for the younger generation. And what a palette it is! Super Mario Maker allows you to develop stages of variable length using items, enemies, and environs from Super Mario Bros. (NES), Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES), Super Mario World (SNES), and New Super Mario U (Wii U). Just grab your Wii U gamepad, pick your game template, pick your background, and have it!
What I love most about this game is how intuitive it feels to build a level. Just grab some item, enemy, or stage block from one of the five tool sets and drag it onto the screen. Want to change that Green Koopa Troopa into a Red Koopa Troopa? No problem; just grab him and give him a little shake with the stylus. Want to make Bowser gigantic? Easy peasy; just drag a Super Mushroom onto the Koopa King, and badda bing, you have a gigantic end boss for your stage. The level building component of this game is so simple, easy, and enjoyable that just about anyone can make a stage. As an added bonus, the developers have retconned the game templates for Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World so that you can add items, enemies, and scenarios that may not have been present in those games. Want to battle Bowser Jr. in a Koopa Clown Car on an airship stage with the original Super Mario Bros. graphics? You can do that! The sheer volume of items at your fingertips paves the way for some truly unique gaming experiences that you may never encounter in an official Mario game.
However, this game’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Anyone can make anything! Unfortunately, this has led to a whole lot of crappy stages that are either inhumanly difficult or just downright un-fun to play. Levels can be accessed in multiple ways. There’s a “10-Mario Challenge” using Nintendo-official stages that show off what the software can do. More importantly, though, is “Course World”. From here, you can access the “100-Mario Challenge”, a random sample of user-created stages, or you can browse through uploaded stages and find one that strikes your fancy. Unfortunately, playing through a “100-Mario Challenge” will undoubtedly expose you to a number of poorly-designed stages. Moreover, “Course World” seems to favor whatever types of stages are the current paradigm, so the limited sorting options can make it difficult to find something you’ll enjoy.
However, this is less of a gripe with the system than it is with the user-base. When you have a random sample of people like me who have been playing Mario games their entire lives mixed with kids whose first consoles may be the Wii U, you’re likely to find variation in quality. Rather than being bummed by this, though, I choose to believe in the community. As the initial glimmer of “Automatic Mario” stages wears off, I believe the community will get better at level building, and more good designs will emerge. Plus, Nintendo has done a great job of supporting its software for this console, so I don’t doubt that some updates and patches in the future will address some of the stage-sorting grievances.
As it is, though, Super Mario Maker should be judged by what it has rather than what it doesn’t have. Sure, there are plenty of things I’d like to see added to the game (bigger enemies, midway flags, a more dedicated campaign mode), but the stock software already offers so many possibilities that new permutations of traditional Mario stages and unconventional levels that turn the franchise’s concepts on their heads will continue to emerge. At this point, I should note that Nintendo added a pretty neat system whereby players can access different 8-bit character costumes either through Mystery Mushrooms or through the use of Amiibo. These mushrooms add an entirely new layer of gameplay that has inspired some makers to build stages based on other franchises. Check out the Legend of Zelda dungeon below for an example.
One last thing I’d like to note is that the music in this game is excellent. From the tried-and-true classics like the Super Mario Bros. 3 “Airship Theme” to new tracks created for the retrofitted NES Ghost House stages (see below), the always memorable and hook-laden Mario songs are present in full force. Even the “Maker Menu” remix tracks are fantastic.
As it is, Super Mario Maker is a somewhat flawed but riveting exercise in game design based on a beloved franchise. While it may be easy to focus on what’s missing, there is more than enough included to allow the dedicated level builders to create some truly unique stages. Even more importantly, though, this game provides a solid bridge between those of us who grew up with Mario and the new generation who may be experiencing some of the greatest games ever made for the first time. For connecting the old and the new, the nostalgic and the jaded, the noobs and the pros, and for doing so in the particularly endearing and kooky way that only exists in the world of Mario, I give Super Mario Maker 4.5/5 toilets. Now go buy the game and console!