Review: Super Mario Maker for Wii U

New, improved, and finally reviewed.

Okay, so when I wrote my pre-review, I wasn’t sure when or if I was going to be able to have a final review finished for Super Mario Maker. I would have done something sooner, but once word came out that there was going to be a Day 1 patch that addressed one of my biggest grievances in the entire game, I knew that to give it a fair shake, I needed to play what was going into peoples’ hands.

I will grant you that waiting for patches to fix problems is not something I should do when reviewing a game, and generally speaking, it isn’t. However, I don’t think it’s unfair to basically exempt a Day 1 patch from that ideal, as it’s basically showing that the developer recognizes an issue with the game and has taken steps to remedy it after the discs are printed, packed, and shipped, but before the game reaches players’ hands. By that point, it’s all anyone can do.

Of course, for a review as late coming as this one is, there are now other patches to take into consideration. Since it’s taken so long for me to be able to review a retail copy of the game, I am going to address the added features of that patch as well, as that is going to be the version going into peoples’ hands.

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To briefly recap (for more details, click the link above), Super Mario Maker is a custom level editor fashioned after the Super Nintendo Entertainment System art title Mario Paint (and featuring several references and Easter Eggs based on said title), allowing for users to create and share their own custom made Mario levels in the style of Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Mario World for the Super NES, and New Super Mario Bros. U for the Wii U.

However, as they say, looks are deceiving. Despite the visual and audio similarities, however, these must not be mistaken for the same games. Generally speaking, all four visual styles share the same basic gameplay feel, allowing levels to — for the most part — be interchangeable between styles, and all feel pretty much like New Super Mario Bros. U, or even a sort of midway between that and Super Mario World. As such, in an NES-style Super Mario Bros. level, Mario can run left as well as right, though the uniqueness of Super Mario World is apparent in such things as unstompable Galoombas replacing Goombas and blocks than spin rather than shatter.

That said, Mario’s move set is unique to the titles they came from; the NES games are simple run and jump affairs, while Super Mario World uniquely allows Mario to perform a block-breaking spin jump and throw items upward, while New Mario can perform moves such as wall jumps and ground pounds. Power-ups sometimes differ according to style as well, with Super Mushrooms, Fire Flowers, and Stars being uniform, while a Goomba’s Shoe from the NES games will be a Yoshi in the later styles, or a Super Leaf from Super Mario Bros. 3 will be a cape in World or a Propeller Mushroom in New. This leaves the original style to get the unique “?” Mushroom that transforms Mario into one of many characters, some of which are unlockable with an amiibo, others through certain challenges, and most of them through playing the game’s 10 and 100 Mario Challenges.

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Robust as it is, however, there are certain shortcomings involved. Foremost among these, perhaps, is the enemy selection. It hews most strongly towards the original game’s lineup, but does feature some familiar faces from respective later entries, too, while retrofitting all of them to match the style of games they did not appear in — Hammer Bros. who are neither amazing nor flying in Super Mario World, for instance, or Boos in the original game. As such, my dream of creating a Ghost House filled with dinosaur enemies from Super Mario World to celebrate Halloween for Dinosaur Dracula was slightly derailed pending modifications.

Bosses are similarly limited to Bowser and Bowser Jr., and even then, defeating them is seldom necessary. With some clever crafting of your level, you can make it necessary, but on a basic level, they can largely be ignored. Instead, airships are finished by reaching the game style’s signature end-level finish line like any other level, while castles simply require reaching the axe to dispose of all on-screen enemies, whether they’re over a bridge or not.

Disappointing to some will be the selection of items included as well. The ones named above are, for the most part, it. No Hammer Bros. suits, no Frog Suits, and most tragic of all, not even the Penguin Suit from New Super Mario Bros. Wii and New Super Mario Bros. U is anywhere to be found. In fact, it’s curious/amusing that New Super Mario Bros. U‘s signature flying power-up, the Super Acorn that transforms Mario into Flying Squirrel Mario, is absent from that style as well.

One other small bother is that you can’t mix styles. Enjoy the sunken Ghost Ship from Super Mario World? Too bad; while you can put ghosts anywhere, you can only have a Ghost House, and Airship, or a water level — no combination of any two (much less three), shy of making a sub-level adhere to one type or the other. Also, no night scenes — just throwing that in there, because you know I love a good Mario level set at times of day outside of bright blue-sky daytime.

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The aforementioned Day 1 update addressed one of my more major grievances with the game, that being how long it takes to unlock everything. Without cheating the Wii U’s internal clock, it would take nine days to unlock all the course elements — and as I found out in the pre-release version, you have to set down a certain number of tiles in the editor to even trigger it. Now, however, you can unlock everything within a matter of hours, as placing tiles will not only trigger an early delivery, but continuing to do so will activate the next delivery without having to wait an extra day. Very convenient!

In addition to some bug fixes, a more recent update addressed another major grievance: checkpoint flags. Most Super Mario Maker courses are designed to be relatively short, but some creators have done impressive things with the tools available and created absolutely massive levels that can be discouraging to retread after getting so far and then dying. Now checkpoint flags can be placed throughout the levels (one per sub area) to make the longer treks a bit easier. Plus, it also added item “stacking,” so that having one form of Mario will allow an item block to spawn a different item, thus allowing more flexibility with item placement in line with the main series.

These are small things overall, yet can make a big difference in one’s enjoyment of the game.

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Super Mario Maker is a much more fun experience than I imagined when I first heard about it a couple of years ago, and it’s great for aspiring game designers and folks who don’t want to wait until Nintendo’s next big official Super Mario Bros. release to play some new Mario levels. In fact, if you so choose, you can outright ignore the level creation aspect of the title and simply play levels created by others to your heart’s desire. Just the same, the tools are fun and intuitive enough to use that simply messing around with the editor is enjoyable enough in its own right to allow someone who has never even considered game design before to try their hand.

Like other Nintendo releases of late, the company is still supplementing the title with new material, including new “Event” levels made by famous game designers and other personalities, some of which give you extra costumes for the “?” Mushrooms when completed. It’s hard to say whether we’ll see anything more drastic, but what we’ve got here is robust enough to satisfy, yet simple and streamlined enough that Nintendo’s designers haven’t put themselves out of a job. Plus, there’s still room for them to iterate with a possible Super Mario Maker sequel somewhere down the line, perhaps for the NX?

On a related note, I managed to recreate two of the courses I made from the review version’s media server, thanks to some careful documentation:

New Beginnings: 9443-0000-00E3-35E0

This was my first course, created with the base assets you start the game with. Made to be a “1-1” sort of level, there are a few little tricks and secrets hidden throughout. Nothing major, but longtime Mario players ought to be able to spot them, and it’s a good place for reclaiming a few lives in the 100 Mario Challenge.

Castle Crash: E6F7-0000-00E3-4314

A later creation, this showdown with Bowser seems to be impossible by all appearances. Perhaps some sort of divine intervention is the key?

I’m not sure when I’ll get around to making more levels, but when/if I do, you can follow me on Twitter to see them as they come. Hopefully I’ll get to spend more time playing with the later tools on the public server.

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.