Pre-Review: Super Mario Maker for Wii U

Makin’ Marios, day by day.

As you might have noticed, reviews for Super Mario Maker are popping up all over the place today, meaning that the embargo has officially ended. However, for Canadian media, we only received our review copies on August 28th, giving us far less time than our U.S. colleagues to have things ready for the big day. As a result, for reasons I’ll get into, I’m only going with a “pre-review” today — my thoughts and opinions on what I’ve played thus far.

One of the more controversial aspects of Super Mario Maker is the fact that content is unlocked bit by bit, day by day — at least, in theory. It’s said that you need only spend five minutes per day using the editor to trigger the next batch of content, and while you can cheat the system to get everything faster, I’ve instead opted to play it as intended for review purposes.

As such, there is a lot I haven’t seen yet. Well, check that — by playing stages created by other members of the press, I’ve seen a lot, if not everything. But in terms of what I can actually use with my own two hands, much remains. So with that in mind, here are my thoughts thus far.

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With the limits imposed, things feel very constrained early on. You get the bare minimum to make a course with: ground blocks, above-ground blocks (the ones staircases at the end of levels and such are made from), brick blocks, ? blocks, a Little Goomba, a Koopa Troopa, a pipe, a Piranha Plant, a coin, and a Super Mushroom, and wings you can put on most of the preceding. The Piranha Plant and wings aside, you don’t even get the full complement of options seen in the first level of the first Super Mario Bros. game; you can’t do anything with pipes except put things in them, and you can’t get any other power-ups. You also have two styles to work with, Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. U, and you can make an above ground or underground stage.

As I said, it can feel a bit constraining when you can’t even replicate the iconic first level of the series, the one that’s designed to get people up to speed on things. Even so, I tried to work with the simpler options, and it took me a while to come up with something I felt pleased with enough to upload. One option I tried for was an “automatic” sort of stage, where you basically press right to win by bouncing from one Goomba to the next. Unfortunately, this proved quite difficult, in no small part because the little option that shows the arc of Mario’s jump isn’t even available yet. Even the manual acts like the option should already be there, and being a part of the demos I’ve played, I was surprised to see it was locked away.

My next attempt was to create a level that was sort of the inverse of 2-4 from Super Mario Bros. 3, but instead of flying up to discover a trove of treasure, you’d have to find a way into a hidden underground. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t cooperate, and so the surprise reveal of an underground is revealed the second you hit Play.

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You do have a few options beyond what’s apparent on the surface, however. You can stack enemies, place wings on all sorts of things, or insert different items and enemies into blocks or pipes. You can shake the Koopa Troopa for a few seconds to turn him red, allowing a different movement pattern, while shaking the Piranha Plant changes it into a Fire Piranha Plant. Shaking a Goomba, sadly, just destroys it. Or you can give a Super Mushroom to any of them to Super size them.

That first day, I had more fun playing stages made by others while waiting for more options to appear. Suffice to say, I did find myself inspired enough by some of the wonderful courses that have been uploaded to create my own “1-1” that I think is playable, not too hard, and with some secrets tucked in there for series veterans. It’s just sad that all these creations will be erased when the retail version goes live, as apparently the retail and review versions don’t play nice together. I’m going to try to get pictures of mine so I can replicate it, at least.

As for playing courses that were already made, I began with the 10 Mario Challenge, which is how you find and play the levels designed by Nintendo. Some of the sample courses are unlocked by way of gaining new content, though, and it looks like I have at least six more updates ahead of me.

Perhaps the biggest thing for series veterans to keep in mind is that as robust and detailed as Super Mario Maker is, and as closely as it replicates the styles of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U, it is not any of those games (well, maybe New Super Mario Bros. U). There are nuances and tells throughout, ranging from little things (some background elements don’t blend as they would in the original games, like pipes in Bowser’s castle becoming white) to actual gameplay elements, such as no longer being able to spin-jump off of Grinder buzzsaws. Even the spin-jump itself is mapped to a shoulder button, so Super Mario World pros may need to adjust their style.

Put simply: despite its attempt to mimic the classics, Super Mario Maker is very much its own game.

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The second day didn’t open up a whole lot more. Or at least, it didn’t feel like it: I finally had access to the Fire Flower, Star, and 1UP mushrooms that felt like they should have been a part of the initial pack. Beyond that was a surprise as Lakitu and Spiny, originally enemies that didn’t appear until 4-1 in the original game, were now options, as was a moving platform. Lakitu is fun to play with, as you can drop him from his cloud, or have him throw other things besides Spiny eggs. As for the Spinies themselves, they are quite fascinating to work with — the options here allow you to have them do things they never did in the original games, such as adding wings to not only make them fly, but curl up and shoot four spikes in various directions. Shaking them leaves just their shell, which makes a nigh-invincible helmet or weapon.

Oh, and items can’t “escalate” yet, if at all. So if you place a Super Mushroom in a block, it’s always a Super Mushroom, even if it’s Super Mario that hits it. A Fire Flower is always a Fire Flower, even if they’re just normal Mario.

I can’t say I had too much inspiration strike with the new stuff, but I did take a replica someone made of 1-2 from the original Super Mario Bros. and tweaked it a bit to be more Spiny and Lakitu-centric. I’m actually rather pleased with how that one turned out, but I didn’t bother to upload it.

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Day 3, and we now have underwater levels and enemies, i.e. Cheep Cheeps and Bloopers. There are also spiked balls you can place as obstacles, and best of all, Bill Blasters. This was the most fun to play with yet, particularly to not only experiment with and see how different things react to being fired from it, but the difference between doing so in and out of water as well (Spinies underwater are particularly interesting). One fun bit had the Bill Blaster (which can be shaken to make a red Missile Bill Blaster, which fires things at greater speeds) shoot out a Spiny shell right onto Mario’s head, thereby making him invincible to pretty much everything else that came from above.

Unfortunately, there are some limits with the Bill Blaster. You can’t fire the spiked balls out, nor can you have them emerge from pipes, Super Mario Land-style. Interestingly, you can’t lower a Bill Blaster down to a single block height — i.e. just the barrel — as seen in numerous Mario titles.

Shaking a Blooper gives you a Blooper Nanny, and shaking red Cheep Cheep gives you a green one, but unlike their New Super Mario Bros. counterparts, they aren’t more aggressive; they just swim at different speeds.

I have an idea I’ve started work on for an underwater stage, but I need to see if I can use some other future parts there first.

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The fourth day brought me… nothing new? At all? I have no idea what happened here, and the manual doesn’t really explain. I spent more than what’s been said to be the required time in the editor, but I didn’t receive anything new to build with — not even a notice, of which I’ve seen quite a few thus far, including some with regards to when new content was coming. I’m disappointed.

Instead, I gave the 100 Mario Challenge a shot, and it has three difficulties: Easy, Normal, and Hard, which pulls a random variety of levels from those uploaded online. If one proves too difficult/cheap, you can drop it in favor of another level in its place for the eight (Easy) or 16 (Normal, maybe Hard?) run with no penalty. Very nice, as some courses may have been completed before being uploaded, but can still be poorly designed, frustrating, cheap, or otherwise ill-suited (one I came across was a Fire Emblem quiz. I love the few I’ve played, but I’m in no way cut out for a quiz).

I can’t say much about the Costume Mario mystery mushrooms, but I will say that I’ve already got some, and you don’t have to wait long at all for those.

Early on Day 5, I got a notice informing me that I’d be getting castle stuff to build with on Day 6 (tomorrow, as of this writing). So, two whole days without new stuff. What the heck? I just hope Bowser is a part of that pack.

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A few other notes from my experience: You can’t put string together your own levels to make your own “game,” at least that I’ve seen, while the story presented in the 10 and 100 Mario Challenges is a bare-bones “Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach” thing with some cute animations to go with it. Among other things, I feel like Nintendo isn’t opening up their entire tool set here, nor do I blame them: there needs to be a reason to keep coming back for new releases, right?

Also, this game is absolutely dripping with Mario Paint elements all over the place, and it is terrific. One of the best is that you can still not only play with letters in the logo, but you can also do so in your own levels by backing out to the title screen from the Maker mode. Great stuff all around.

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Suffice to say, like many a stage, my review is a work-in-progress. The game comes out on the 11th of September, and hopefully I’ll have everything unlocked by then to deliver a solid verdict in time for release. That said, from what I’ve played so far? It’s great. A little bewildering at times (what’s with that two-day gap?) and vexing at others (seriously, these waits are killer), but it’s a lot of fun to either toy around with by creating your own levels or just indulging in your thirst for more new Mario levels with content sure to keep coming on an ongoing basis.

supermariomakerboxSuper Mario Maker will be released for the Wii U on September 11th, 2015 at a price of $69.99.

A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.

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About the author

David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.