At this point it's difficult for a lot of us to take ourselves back to how we were when we played Super Mario Bros. for the first time and how we felt when we did. Level 1-1 is etched so far into our memories that even that first block arrangement, with that first goomba, is something akin to the Psycho shower scene, something to be riffed on, parodied, our familiarity with it exploited to deliver new twists. Just look back at that first Super Mario Maker announcement trailer. The good ol' Mario theme is playing, the goomba walks forward, a Super Mushroom collected and then, suddenly, a tall pipe and a jump that can't be crossed. We know that's not supposed to be there, and are piqued. What's going on here?
We don't really appreciate how level 1-1 is basically a giant tutorial, filled with most of the elements you'll see in the rest of the game, even going so far as to easing you into jumps that you can't die on before showing you the exact same one, but in a way that would kill you if you hadn't already proven an understanding of it before. That little microcosm of tutorializing is so familiar that it's stopped even seeming like a teaching implement, but so many things are introduced to you right then just by the force and design of those blocks. If we take the low path with the goomba, and we die, we learn they're bad. If we jump to avoid, the block arrangement makes it so we stomp on it, and we also get the knowledge of the question mark blocks, the first Super Mushroom.
Super Mario Maker gives you the ability to fully appreciate just how difficult it is to make a level like this by giving you most of the tools that the developers work with.
The thing that usually keeps me from creating levels in other games is an issue of complication. There are too many options and it can be difficult to get your mind around the mechanics, or they require a level of cleverness that I'm just not suited for. A game like Little Big Planet gets complicated immediately, allowing you to pull in so many materials, build in full 3D, make complicated contraptions that animate in clockwork synchronization. Puzzle games, like Pushmo, require me to think about ways to challenge a user in a game where I can't even wrap my mind around some of the puzzles the developers provided.
As of this writing I'm 24, and unlike those other games, I have literally no memories of a time that Mario games weren't a part of my life. I know their feel and their physics, which games allow what types of movement, my memories of the difficult levels and hours I spent playing them. Coming to a game that allows me to take decades (!) of knowledge of a series and finally make the games I've always wanted to frankly seems like a too-late inevitability.
But smartly, Nintendo doesn't treat it as such. It doesn't assume we're all 30 year veterans of the series, or that we're even familiar with all the games across all of the platforms, and that's probably the smartest thing about Super Mario Maker: where other games based around creation like this are easy 'even for beginners', Super Mario Maker was made with them 100% in mind.
A lot has been said about the unusual method of unlocking all of the creation tools, but this completely exemplifies it. You start out with only the overworld Super Mario Bros. tiles, but after playing with them for long enough, the game cues up a delivery of the next pack for a couple of days later. This allows you to both not be overwhelmed by the eventually extensive options, but also provides you time to truly familiarize yourself with creating with what you currently have.
Look, I'll admit, I set my WiiU clock forward to unlock it all, but even still, in that 5 minutes I had to create a level for in order to unlock everything, I'd find myself fascinated by the options before me. If you add wings to this, what does it do? If you shake these and then drag 1-up Mushrooms over to them, how does that react? The tools are honestly so involved that it still feels like there's a lot I haven't even found myself, but the joy of a new discovery and the level ideas it opens up is part of the fun.
And yet they still never feel so complicated as to be overwhelming. Yes, you wind up with dozens of tools in the end, but the editor is fun to mess around with, it's easy to jump in and just try out your level and see how it is, tweak it, and try again. I'd create a level, and have ideas for two more. This isn't just me making these levels for review – these are ideas that came to me beyond that, ideas I want to make for myself. I can consider the game a success just based on that.
Ultimately a game like Super Mario Maker is going to live and die by its community, and currently the sample size it just too small to get a good idea. Most variations like "Every amiibo!" levels where you just turn into the other sprites they've shown off in videos, or "Just keep running!" / "Don't touch the controls!" type mechanics, on-rails levels that are honestly incredibly impressive to see, though I'd certainly hoped for something that's more of a platforming challenge.
And that's where I found Metroid U, the most creative and original level I played. The level was set up as a maze where, like in a Metroid game, paths are blocked until you find powerups that let you through, and easier paths to get back are opened (since unlike Metroid, when you get hit you're losing your power). It's levels like this that really show the creativity of the community and how it's possible to take games from other genres and use them as inspiration for a classic platformer.
These are the levels that make me certain Super Mario Maker will be a success. The endless creativity of all the people out there means that in this box, you're getting a potentially endless collection of levels set in the gameplay styles of the best and most long-running platforming series of all time. And the promise of more to come, and the concept that you can always make your own. It's incredibly exciting!
Super Mario Maker delivers on its promise with the kind of ease you'd expect of a company like Nintendo with a tentpole release of a new entry in their best known series. Level creation is easy and provides plenty of creation room, and using the Gamepad is as simple as dragging and dropping. The levels can be fed to you in multi-level packs, or you can just hunt them down one by one, download and save them for later. It's a game that winds up being a smart use of the Gamepad, the Miiverse, and the full history of the Mario series to deliver a game like no one else could have.