Thursday, January 14, 2016

Super Mario Maker

Played on: Wii-U
Release date: September 10, 2015

I've not had this dumb, childlike grin on my face in nearly 20 years.

In a way, I've been chasing the feeling of playing Mario, Sonic, Metal Gear Solid, and Resident Evil for the first time. These moments in gaming that are forever burned into my memory, causing me to buy every single entry in the series against my better judgement. (I'm looking at you Resident Evil 6.)

Super Mario Maker is the first time I've felt like a game has changed what I think about games since probably the original Gears of War.

There have been level editor platforming games before like Little Big Planet, but none of them quite nail the addictiveness and fun of Super Mario Maker.

What I didn't like

The complaints I have of the game are the same complaints everyone has.

Hiding most of the building tools behind some weird experience plus time equation makes it really hard to feel what this game can be.

However, I disagree with people that say everything should be unlocked from the beginning.

The first time I played Super Mario Maker was at my brother's apartment. He used the timer cheat to unlock everything immediately. We sat on the couch trying to dissect how to create a boss fight from Super Mario Brothers 3 with the tools given. There's not a way to create "If / Then" statements in Super Mario Maker (as of right now), in that we can't tell the game "if the player beats this boss, then this key appears."

We had every tool unlocked and there were so many things we could drop into the level that I felt overwhelmed. We spent large amounts of time looking at the various rows of tools doing nothing. Sometimes we would drop something in the level to see how it would interact, take it off, and then 10 minutes later repeat with the same tool because we forgot.

So when I got my copy of Super Mario Maker, I used the time cheat to unlock things until I felt like I had enough tools at my disposal to create a diverse and challenging level. (It was somewhere around the day 4 items where you unlocked spikes, fire walls, and hammer brothers.) It really helped me focus on a concise level and allowed me to build on the tools I had every time I unlocked something.

The other issue is finding friends that you want to follow online.

True to Nintendo's troubled online history, your friends list does not automatically populate in your "followed" Mario Maker users.

They did just release a separate online site that seems fairly robust and easy to use. Before this site, you basically had to get a level code from your friend and follow them that way.

What was OK

Because the million or so people that own Mario Maker are not professional designers, some of the courses feel like a waste of time.

There's a 100 Mario Challenge where you start with 100 lives and Nintendo pulls 8-16 random levels based on what percentage of people beat them.

If you play the easy challenge, most the levels are auto-play levels. You wait for a trampoline to pop out of a tube and send you on a ride.

The medium difficulty levels are a mixture of terribly designed auto-play levels where you can die because the timing is off, really short actual levels, and every now and then you find something good.

And the expert levels tend to be ones that were diabolically created. There's only one way to beat them and if you don't think to bring the trampoline with you until the end of the level, you aren't beating it. It has less to do with skill and more to do with figuring out what the creator wants you to do.

What I liked

You start thinking about level design. You start deconstructing what you like about your favorite platformers.

Typically I start with an idea for a cool spot and build around that.

I start with a Mario game and a theme (Ghost house, dungeon, hills) and then I build 2-3 paths to get to the end. (There's always a medium and a challenging path as well as a hidden path.)

It's hard to reward players in Mario Maker. 1ups mostly don't matter unless the player is in the 100 Mario Challenge. Instead, you have to hide normal mushrooms and fire flowers and make them rare in the level.

The If/Then statement scenario is actually one of Super Mario Makers strengths. It really opens parts of your mind much like when you built LEGOs as a kid without instruction books. There's a classic moment from Mario that you want to recreate and you'll sit there and think about the tools you have and how to create it.

Building becomes an obsession. I'm out to dinner with my wife and get an idea for a level and all I can think about is getting home and putting it into action. And this is helped by being able to sit on the couch with the Wii-U gamepad while we watch Netflix through the PS4.

One thing that sort of shook the foundation of what I believed about Mario is how accustomed I was to "newer" Mario moves.

I played Super Mario Brothers so many times through that I still have muscle memory for every jump, how long to hold the jump button, and how to bounce off of every enemy.

But the Super Mario Brothers tile set is the hardest for me to build levels with. My brain defaults to wanting to grab shells or wall jump. Since that didn't exist in the original Mario Brothers, you don't have that option.

Super Mario World and sadly Super Mario WiiU tile sets are the ones I feel most comfortable in. I've been trying to challenge myself to work in Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario 3 more, but my favorite levels I built are built with the later Mario games tools.

Final Thoughts

Every system has been looking for that system seller this generation and it's ironic that the system seller is on the system that sold the least. If Nintendo launches the NX without some form of Mario Maker, they've done things wrong.

It's become part of my nightly ritual like brushing my teeth. I log in to see if anyone played one of my levels and then I play 3-10 levels myself. Until the servers shutdown, this is an unlimited 2D Mario generator.

Rating: Buy it and buy a WiiU

This may be the best game I've played in the past 5 years. I don't know how else to say it.

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