This will come as little surprise, but we here at Nintendo Life really quite liked Super Mario Maker. An outstanding game and one of only a small handful to truly make use of the Wii U GamePad, we spent countless hours tinkering with levels, running the 8-bit mushroom courses as-and-when they came out and playing the best user-created levels. We even recreated several of our favourites from the original games, switching palettes to see how they’d look if they’d been created for a different game in the series.
We’re not going to dig out our Wii U to check our exact playtime, but Mario Maker was one of those rarefied games to hit a triple-figure hour count (ah, how we miss the comprehensive breakdown of our playtime in the Activity Log). It had so much to offer and sucked away hours so rapidly that the game seemed to bat away our criticisms and nitpicks when they cropped up. While no game is perfect, Nintendo EAD absolutely nailed the level editor interface, striking the perfect balance between functionality, intuitiveness and playfulness. Channelling the same spirit behind Mario Paint, its depth was revealed through doing; tapping those icons and experimenting rather than reading reams of text. By not revealing every secret in a pop-up tip box, Nintendo fostered a sort of online “Have you tried X?” playground hearsay we all remember from the good old days.
With the meat of the game – the editor – being so comprehensive and user friendly, faults could be forgiven or forgotten as you tinkered, but they certainly existed. Some of these issues were addressed over time with patches. Course elements, for example, were slow to unlock, especially for seasoned veterans who wished to start constructing fiendish gauntlets from the get-go. Other missing elements were patched in, although there would be some we’d have to wait for the sequel to get our hands on – more on that later.
Given Nintendo’s patchy history with online endeavours, it should have come as no surprise that Mario Maker faltered in that area, too. The general system for building and sharing courses was installed from the beginning, although features arrived to streamline the experience – being able to bookmark courses via the Super Mario Maker Bookmark website made finding friends’ courses easier, as well as sharing your own masterpieces on social media. Nintendo’s policy for removing courses was a little vague to begin with, too, and players found that their uploaded levels would suddenly disappear without warning or reason. A patch was eventually added that provided an explanation when a course was deleted from the server, with ‘unpopularity’ being one of the possibilities, although this always felt a little stingy. While it encouraged us to up our game, some poor little five-year-old being notified that Nintendo had binned their first ever attempt at a course because no-one played it seemed a bit cruel, no?
Another frustration for players was the inability to create proper ‘worlds’ and share them online. Every level was a one-shot – an excellent way to showcase your construction skills, but we wanted a broader palette; we wanted to show we could make a proper ‘game’. It seems to us that the best worlds in 2D Mario games, just as with great compilation mixtapes (or playlists for those born in the 21st century), follow many subtle rules to get that pacing, that ebb and flow just right. They have to start off with an explosive opener, then take it up a notch before cooling off with an underwater or underground level before the classic gauntlet and boss encounter. Or maybe we could subvert expectations – break all the rules to come up with something fresh!
We were eager to show off everything we’d learned from a lifetime of playing Mario in two dimensions, whether or not we could get anywhere near the same beautiful flow of the originals. Indeed, the results were immaterial; it was something we were desperate to try and share, and that wasn’t an option in the original game.
That’s one of our biggest hopes for Super Mario Maker 2 - to be the ultimate mixtape machine. As brilliant was the original version was, we inevitably ran out of tracks to remix, so the fact that the Switch entry is a sequel and not simply a ‘Deluxe’ upgrade is incredibly exciting. Slopes are, of course, easy to fixate on because their absence in the original stood out like a sore thumb. We had little problem replicating world 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. 3, our absolute favourite 2D Mario game (at this precise moment), but the very next level was beyond the scope of the editor.
Arguably, it wasn’t until you went back and played the actual game (or Super Mario World, or New Super Mario Bros. U) that you realised quite how much was missing. Butt-sliding down slopes to was an integral part of those games from the very initial stages, adding a flavour and burst of pace to the games that you simply couldn’t emulate in Wii U Mario Maker. Players for whom the ‘New’ games were their introduction to Mario probably felt the lack of inclines even more keenly.
Now, all this talk of replicating classic courses might sound like we’re suffering from a dearth of imagination and simply trying to rebuild past games wholesale in Mario Maker, but the ability to duplicate 1-2 isn’t really the point. Arguably Mario Maker’s greatest triumph was revealing the secrets of great game design to the layman; how the tool gave you the means to create your own levels and then forced you to work out the kinks. Our first efforts were predictably pitiful, and we inevitably looked back to the real 1-1s and gained a greater understanding of the design behind the classics - how to instruct the player, to demonstrate and escalate. Yes, we spent a good amount of time creating zany one-off levels filled with towers of goombas and rivers of mushrooms, but some of our most rewarding time with the game was spent fashioning our very own Super Mario Bros. 3 level pack – a group of courses with peaks and lulls like great albums or, indeed, great Mario games.
Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s also the initial step to understanding how something works, the first stepping stone on the way to putting your own spin on something. Sonic Mania is a recent example of a platformer with many levels that begin as carbon copies of original classics before branching out, blending sections from other acts and spiralling into completely new takes on those zones. It’s this ability to remix original elements with our own ideas that makes Mario Maker such a tantalising proposition, and a fully expanded palette that includes all the tools from the original games is essential to empowering players.
The inclusion of the slopes will simply enable us to expand our horizons that much more; to play with pacing and once again look back on the original games with a new critical eye. Getting to the flagpole is all well and good, but having fun as you do so was the primary goal of the original developers. There’s still so much left to be revealed and we’ve already discussed potential features we’d like to see, but the thing we’re really excited about is the opportunity Super Mario Maker 2 will give us to appreciate and revisit those old classics from a new perspective. We can’t wait to see how the long-gone Miiverse integration translates into the Switch sequel, either (and you can check out the lovely Alex's video for his thoughts on that particular topic, plus an alternative idea for sharing your masterpieces via a certain much-maligned app). Mario Maker 2 is an opportunity to get everything perfect – to make an Awesome Mario Mix Vol. 2 – and we can’t wait for June.
We’re a little giddy at the thought of Mario Maker on Switch, and there's not too long to wait. Did the first one click with you or did you bounce off it? Share your experiences and hopes for the sequel below.