The Nintendo World Championships 2015 was an event that had various similarities to the Super Smash Bros. Invitational from E3 2014 - it was charming, had some flat moments, the occasional hiccup, yet managed to seize momentum at key moments to keep us watching.
It was a lengthy event that actually started rather poorly: Splatoon was the first game up, but a combination of the commentary team - 9-year-old MiniWheat was a divisive presence - and the fact we couldn't really follow who was in each team made it a damp squib (or damp squid?).
That was arguably the worst section, though we'd suggest there was a steady improvement from that point onwards. The 'underground' elimination stages were entertaining as retro speedruns, with the Super Metroid round being a particular highlight, and Nintendo also revealed a new 3DS game - Blast Ball - in another event, a team-based shooting game with strong Metroid-like design. If anything, giving a game its World Première in the event only served to inflate expectations a little too far in subsequent rounds. There was also Reggie Fils-Aime taking on Hungrybox in Smash Bros. and getting trounced, though some of the smack talk from Hungrybox and the commentators was, in this writer's opinion, in poor taste.
Ultimately, though, it was the arrival of Super Mario Maker - as per its new extended name - which stole the show in its introduction for the final round. The vibe of its introduction actually did - for some in the Nintendo Life team - bring to mind the iconic scene from The Wizard that introduced Super Mario Bros. 3.
It was a terrific contest between famed speedrunner Cosmo and qualifier John Goldberg, with the latter triumphing. You can see it all unfold over the course of more than an hour from the 3 hour 30 minutes mark below; it's engrossing viewing.
First of all, praise should be given to the Nintendo Treehouse team members that designed the stages, while Cosmo and John Goldberg (AKA John Numbers) put on a great show, with the latter clearly being an enormous fan of the platforming genre. Both players showed outstanding skill, and it seemed apt that one of the most popular Nintendo speedrunners - Cosmo specialises in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and once held the world record - and a fan that had come through the qualifying process were the two to go all the way. The method that got us to the tournament was undoubtedly flawed, but the finale played out well for Nintendo, the competitors and - we'd suggest - viewers at home.
But back to Super Mario Maker, and for this writer that finale provided the eureka moment that made this one of the hottest releases of the year. There are multiple factors behind this tipping point, all of which reflect the effort that the development team has invested into the project.
It was welcome to see all four visual templates incorporated - Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. U - and they looked terrific. Super Mario Bros. 3 will always be a personal favourite here, but what was particularly exciting was seeing item cross-overs, with items identifiable with specific games being recreated perfectly with fresh pixel designs and models. We got a kick out of items such as Kuribo's shoe, while the peculiar new red stiletto certainly caught the eye; hopefully an 8-bit Yoshi will be shown over the course of E3 too, either in the Digital Event or Treehouse broadcasts.
There were visual moments to thrill, then, but these were the first demonstrations - presumably with a near-final build of the game - that truly pushed the envelope in terms of what is possible. We saw all sorts of enormous enemies and items - which is done with a Mega Mushroom functionality - yet it was the detailed execution that was exciting. Homing Bullet Bills, diverse environments, aerial foes / platforms bursting out a perfect distance to enable tight platforming - the precision and diversity on show was intoxicating.
Much of that is down to the skills of the designers, naturally, but the range of the available tools shouldn't be underestimated. We saw levels of a significant size, made up of multiple rooms, areas and environment styles. There was a haunted house with mystery doors, a stage that went from a fort environment to underwater and back again - these were hefty stages worthy of any Mario title, albeit designed to be fiendishly tricky beyond the difficulty of an actual 2D Mario release.
When we consider the online sharing options that'll be supported, which will even allow us all to group stages into mini Worlds, the potential for this to be a Wii U social phenomenon for Nintendo are clear. The concept brings Sony's LittleBigPlanet to mind, naturally, but the sheer scope of the tool-set - aligned with the brand power of Super Mario - gives this game the potential to truly take off.
Can Super Mario Maker be a major success to boost Wii U hardware momentum in a meaningful way? It's hard to tell. Whether it's a mainstream smash hit or not, though, we can't wait to create our own Mario stages this September.