In this series of 30 daily articles celebrating the upcoming 30th Anniversary of Super Mario, various members of the Nintendo Life extended family will share their memories and thoughts on the iconic franchise. Next up is Nintendo Life veteran and Noiseless Chatter master Philip J Reed.
One of the things I remember best about playing Super Mario Bros. as a child was how the game continued long after we turned the NES off. There were obvious tie-ins (cartoons and cereal and bedspreads and dolls) to keep the game in the forefront of our minds, but the real fun came from a roll of paper and a few pencils.
I don't know where my mother got that roll of paper. It was decent quality; maybe she knew somebody who worked for a printer. But we had a massive roll of continuous white paper that was perfect - absolutely perfect - for creating Super Mario Bros. levels.
Nowadays level creation and modding is just about commonplace. I buy games with the functionality, toy around with it a little, and lose interest before I really even begin. (Hello, Mega Man Powered Up!) It's a nice idea, and I'm sure that user-created levels are just ducky, but I've shrugged off so many similar features by this point that they no longer register.
Mario Maker is different, if only because it reminds of of those hundreds of hours I spent with friends, all sprawled out on the living room floor, bringing imaginary Mario levels to life with that roll of paper and limited artistic skill.
I have no idea why we were so excited by it. We weren't even drawing Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool and the rest of the crew. That might have been exciting. No, we were drawing platforms. Waterfalls. Pulley systems. We weren't level designers; we were landscape architects.
But we loved it. There was something about our (unquestionably) terrible drawings of background assets that kept us engrossed, and kept our imaginations engaged. It was impossible, I guess, to look at those levels, however poorly-designed, and not see the invisible Mario skipping and bounding along.
We could never play these levels, but we could imagine how wonderful they would be. The impossible leaps somehow being made. The hordes of enemies being effortlessly trounced. The tricky ascent to the top of the flagpole being handled effortlessly.
At one point I visited my uncle, who also owned Super Mario Bros. He showed me levels I had never reached myself. Did you know, for instance, that there are castle stages after 1-4? And they're even HARDER? It's true! I knew my friends wouldn't believe me, either, so I went home and did the only thing I could do before youtube: I drew what I remembered by hand. I had a record of what I had only seen. I had evidence of worlds I might one day get a chance to explore myself.
I remember we even spent time inventing enemies. One of mine was a Trouter crossed with a Pokey. Can you imagine that?! What wonderful games I was creating on my own, with that stubby little pencil of mine. Nintendo sure screwed up by not hiring me right out of third grade. The rest of the enemies were even less creative.
The thing is, I'll buy Mario Maker. And I'm not sure if any of the levels I slap together will be superior (in any way other than artistically) to what I was drawing by hand so many years ago. But it's giving kids today their own rolls of paper. Their own tool sets. Their own passive understanding of why the myriad components of Super Mario games work the way that they do.
Mario Maker isn't for me. It's a curio and a collectable that I'll have fun with, for a time, and eventually stick on a shelf.
No, Mario Maker is for all the kids who will look back 20 years from now and share their own memories.
And I'm glad that they'll be encouraged to do exactly what my friends and I used to do. Because it's still some of the most fun we had together. Whether or not I play any user-created levels this time around, the important thing is that they're being created. There's love and affection behind the exercise. And that's what matters the most.