Super Mario Maker could very well be one of the most important games I've ever played. That's an importance for me personally. I don't know if you'll get the same feeling that I did, but I am more than happy to share my experience with you. For me, Super Mario Maker serves as an amazing lesson in game development. We all know that it takes a lot of coding and programming to make a game actually function, but that's only one piece of the puzzle. It's the actual creation of what a game is at it's heart that's the tricky part. Super Mario Maker has given me more respect for game creators than I've ever had before, and I thought I had a lot!
For all intents and purposes, Super Mario Maker really does let you get right into the creation of classic-style Mario levels. You might not have every single bell and whistle that popped up in classic Mario outings, but you have a ton of content at your fingertips. Super Mario Maker truly does allow you to strut your stuff and take game design for a whirl. The nasty business of coding has been pushed aside, making way for you to go hands-on with an expertly-crafted design tool that makes level creation a snap. It's ridiculously easy to create what you want, but it's infinitely hard to figure out what you want to create.
I think we've all thought about designing a Mario game from time to time. We've seen some stages and thought we would be able to tweak them to make them even more enjoyable. An extra enemy here or another jump there. Minor adjustments to make an overall experience that much better. It seems like such a simple thing to accomplish, but you really see how hard it is when Super Mario Maker gives you the keys to the kingdom. Now comes the 'put up' part of put up or shut up. You have nothing standing in your way...nothing to stop you from making your masterpieces that you've been planning out for years.
Creating a level in Super Mario Maker is nothing short of an amazing experience. More than any other game I've played, it gives you a true appreciation of what game developers do. Of course, in this specific instance we're talking about what Nintendo does with their Mario games. Most would agree that Mario titles are the pinnacle of game design when it comes to platforming. They are amazing pieces of virtual fun. Each level seems maximized to pull the most smiles possible out of you. It's these levels from classic Mario games that have cemented Nintendo a place in game history and Mario as a character that never goes out of style.
When you sit down to try and craft a level worthy of Mario, you find out how incredibly tough it is. Well actually, it's quite simple to make a really terrible level. You could bang one of those out in a couple minutes and call it a day. A few bricks here, a few enemies there and you're good to go. You've created something that no one will enjoy and would never have gotten Mario noticed when he first got started. Truthfully, Super Mario Maker has you feeling a bit in awe of Nintendo and a bit dumb yourself. I mean that in the most wonderful way possible, because it forces you to really sink your teeth into what creating a great level is all about.
One of the most magical elements of creating levels in Super Mario Maker comes from testing things out. You can test your creations on the fly as you make them, instantly getting your own feedback on how a level feels. When you do this, you'll quickly find all sorts of issues that you never even planned for. Some jumps may end up completely unfair. Some enemies may not behave the way you expected them to. You might have even created a part of your level that people will never be able to access. Things work out great in your head, but going through that process step-by-step and getting it into a functioning level that people can play takes a lot of work.
As I said earlier, getting the work done is as easy as could be. Super Mario Maker's level editor is an insanely ingenious creation in and of itself. All the amazing, important and fun parts of a Mario game have been boiled down into a system that simply lets you click and drag. You have the ability to create content that used to take Nintendo weeks on end. It's obvious that Nintendo knew what they were doing with this editor. I mean, these are the guys that MAKE Mario games! Of course they know how to build an outstanding creator to make those games! They're giving you a ridiculous amount of power in a setup that couldn't be easier to use. Absolute minimum effort needed from the player to build levels, absolute maximum power tucked inside the editor.
All this power might be why Nintendo decided to tuck away a lot of design features behind a time lock. You'll have to put in time with the editor each day for 9 days to unlock all the building blocks you can get. That includes enemies, ground tiles and more. I'm still not sure how I feel about this decision, but I can see why Nintendo did it. They didn't want to overwhelm newcomers and give them too much to do. They wanted people to play a bit day to day, learn how to create with the tools they have and then give them a bit more as time went on. A way of easing you into Mario level creation. I understand the decision and I respect it, but I'm not sure if it's necessary. If the idea of time-locked content doesn't sit well with you, all you have to do is fast-forward your internal Wii U clock day-by-day, log in roughly 5 minutes with the editor each of those days and you'll be set.
The ultimate test of your level design comes when you upload your creation online. Quite frankly, I found this to be a truly frightening experience. I took a long, LONG time to create a level that I felt was worth an upload online. Even then, I thought people would absolutely hate it! I wanted to make sure I put something out into the online world that people would really enjoy and be challenged by. I quickly realized that I'd never hit a point where I'd be 100% happy with my creation. That was yet another moment where I realized just how hard it is to be a game developer. There comes a point where you just have to stop tweaking, wrap things up and get it into the public's hands. Super Mario Maker gives you a taste of what that's like, but none of the financial risk that the real game devs have to face!
For me personally, the greatest joy came from watching my friends and family tackle levels I created. I had a ton of people come by the GN warehouse and play some of my creations. I cannot express how insanely fun this was, nor how big of a learning experience it turned out to be. Things I thought were common knowledge for Mario fans turned out to be exactly the opposite. I'm talking about people that have played all the 2D-style Mario games. They didn't know how to bounce on springs...didn't realize how to get height when bouncing off an enemy...didn't understand the importance of running and jumping. Again, these are people that have played games for YEARS and are up-to-date on all systems! Once again, this lead to a much deeper understanding and respect for those that are willing to craft games and put them out there for all to hopefully enjoy.
No matter how good you think your design is, someone is going to fumble along the way. No matter how simple you might expect your level to be, someone is going to have trouble with it. No matter how hard to try to build a level with baby steps, someone is going to be unable to pass it. You can do all you can to try and make something that all players can play and appreciate, but it's never going to happen. You learn that you have to know your audience and create for it. If you like tough Mario levels, make them as tough as you can, but also fair. If you want levels anyone can enjoy, be prepared to limit yourself while still trying to find ways to make things fun. Don't try to create levels that are everything for everyone. It simply will never happen.
I imagined most of my Super Mario Maker time would be spent playing levels that people created. I ended up being about as wrong as I could be. I have become a Super Mario Maker level creation addict. I just pick a random Mario style and go to work on whatever pops into my head. It takes hours to put together something I'm happy with. It's a free-flowing level design process that ends up with a well-rounded idea. It involves painstakingly moving square by square to plan things out. It involves hundreds of playthroughs to try and figure out every way possible that people could play. It is a process that makes hours pass by in minutes. You really lose track of time and your surrounds. I think that's because the entire process is so simple, but so rewarding. I never, ever expected to be this deeply enthralled by a level editor...but here I am.
It's sad that more people don't own a Wii U. Super Mario Maker is the perfect experience to showcase the GamePad and all of its features. There are no other games out there that utilize the GamePad as well as Super Mario Maker. I feel like the Wii U was built for Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Maker can only exist on the Wii U. The marriage of hardware and software is so tight that it truly is hard to imagine it existing with any other control scheme. In a perfect world, Super Mario Maker would turn the Wii U into an overnight success. The title definitely deserves that kind of success story. While I don't think that'll happen, I will say that Super Mario Maker deserves to be in every single Wii U owner's game library.
For 30 years now, we've been playing all sorts of fantastic Mario adventures. Who knew that a game where YOU get to build Mario levels would end up being one of the franchise's best entries yet. Super Mario Maker provides endless fun for both creators and players alike. I can honestly envision people playing this game another 30 years down the road. It took Nintendo 30 years to figure out how to create great Mario games and they keep on learning. It'd be silly to think that we could master it in a few months.
Super Mario Maker will have you looking at the Mario universe in ways you never expected to. Whether you're looking to create or play, be prepared to lose a ton of free time to this experience. Super Mario Maker shows us that making Mario levels is just as fun as playing them...if not more!