Super Mario Maker, recently powered-up from its initial moniker of 'Mario Maker', was a huge part of Nintendo's E3 presence both this year and last. Just a few months ahead of its September release it still had plenty of new surprises in store for this year's show, and still managed to captivate attendees' imaginations. The interactive Super Mario Maker Show showcasing the game was mobbed with people every time we passed through Nintendo's booth, and though frequent appearances by Charles Martinet certainly didn't hurt, the crowd seemed just as excited by the game itself. We loved what we played at last year's E3, and the new demo on offer this time proved that it's earned its since-upgraded title - Super Mario Maker is shaping up to be a beautiful celebration of Nintendo's flagship series.
When our Nintendo representative handed us the GamePad for Super Mario Maker, she offered up some excellent advice: "You can jump right in if you want, but my favourite part is the title screen!" Our interest piqued, we played around a bit and found some fun easter eggs right off the bat. On startup, the Super Mario Maker logo appears overlaid as Mario runs through a short stage in the background - but if you touch the D-Pad or the analogue stick, the logo fades away and you'll find yourself playing the level; reach the goalpost and the title screen returns. A later play session revealed another fun surprise: using the stylus on the GamePad's title screen paints in waves of Kamek's multicoloured magic wherever you touch, reminding us of Super Mario 64's pinchable polygon intro. These are little touches, but they're indicative of the love and care that's gone into making Super Mario Maker. They fit right in with the quirky spirit of the game - seen elsewhere in shaking objects with the stylus to change their properties, rather than selecting variants from a menu, for instance - and the playful, Mario Paint-style sense of creative wonder it inspires.
After toying around with the 'Make' mode, which felt just as fresh and fun as we'd remembered, we jumped into the 'Play' section to try out some of the pre-made courses put together for the demo. The first two stages we played were tailor-made to showcase the new amiibo integration, and let us run through an obstacle course stage as Wii Fit Trainer, and a tricky underground dungeon level as Link. The 8-bit costumes, donned by picking up a Mystery Mushroom, were instantly appealing and bursting with details - pressing 'Up' on the D-Pad sent Wii Fit Trainer into a confident Tree Pose, for instance, and her jumps were accompanied by vocal cues of 'Up! Down!' coming from the GamePad's speakers. You'll be able to add in amiibo mushrooms of specific characters to your created levels, which is fantastic - we imagine players will come up with plenty of side-scrolling tributes to the various worlds represented by Nintendo's figures.
Once we'd finished our workout with Wii Fit Trainer and reached the end of the temple as Link, we went back to basics and played through some memorable new stages as Mario. One, named 'Koopa 101', tested (and improved!) our knowledge of Koopa mechanics, and we had to stomp with care and purpose to open up a path to the goal. 'Escape from the Giant Wiggler' re-imagined Mario's caterpillar nemesis as a kraken in an underwater stage, presenting a demanding gauntlet of trial-and-error challenges to overcome. Another level, '10 Seconds or Less', was a mad-dash to the finish with a ten-second timer, requiring a taped-down run button and a perfectly-timed jump to pull off. Similarly demanding was 'Leap of Faith', a short stage consisting of a single blind jump, with spikes blocking the way to safety save for one one-Mario-wide section - it took us dozens of tries, but we managed it eventually, with thanks to our obliging Nintendo representative. Perhaps our favourite of all the levels we played was also the easiest: 'Automatic Mario v4' was an amazingly intricate Rube Goldberg machine that used moving platforms, conveyor belts, bounce blocks, Bob-ombs, Bullet Bills, Buzzies, and Thwomps to get Mario safely from the stage start to the goal, provided the player didn't touch a single button. It was mesmerizing to watch, and supremely smile-inducing.
We had a great time playing through all of these levels, but what impressed us most was how different each one felt from the next. True, several tended towards the super-hard, 'trapformer' side of the spectrum (like 'Leap of Faith'), or were built around a single clever concept ('10 Seconds or Less'), but we also played through quite a few stages that just felt like fun, creative Mario levels.
Most exciting of all, these levels really showcased the idea of Super Mario Maker as a platform. We have no doubts about the potential for greatness from fan-created stages, and Nintendo seems committed to making levels easy to share and distribute, via 16-character codes as well as direct in-game channels. Our representative also mentioned that players will be able to share levels within smaller, user-defined communities, and we already can't wait to see the first Nintendo Life level packs go live!
Outside of the new pre-made stages, Super Mario Maker is sporting an improved interface compared to last year's build - friendly, fun, and intuitive - along with the ability to swap between four different graphical filters on the fly: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. Each of these look great - the slight drop shadow on foreground sprites in the 8-bit modes is an especially wonderful touch - and newer elements of the series have been retrofitted to older graphical styles in thoughtful ways. There were also a few new modes in this demo, including the '10 Mario Challenge', which tasks players with finishing a series of eight random stages using ten lives or less. We'd love to tell you what lies at the end as a reward, but our third stage was 'Leap of Faith', and we didn't stand a chance.
It's not long now before Super Mario Maker makes its retail debut, and we're more excited than ever to get to work in the final version. Mario Maker has always been a great idea, and with all the polish and personality on display in this latest build, it's looking like it's going to be a truly great game as well. With Super Mario Maker, Nintendo is giving us much more than a Mario level editor - it's giving us a way to celebrate the series, in typically joyous style.