Mario Maker

Sometimes a game has the power to seize the imagination from the moment it's revealed, with a self-hyping capacity to get thousands of gamers excited from little more than a glimpse. Others can be a slow burner or need the right moment to set off alarms in an individual's head. This writer will admit that, while always being aware of the merits and potential success of Mario Maker, that personal lightbulb moment only arrived with a slightly silly 30 second video in the last few days.

The video in question is below, in which Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto tackles a level by the much-loved Game Center CX host Shinya Arino, capturing the core attraction of the game in 26 seconds.

A lot of the appeal in that video is in the participants, of course, but that short clip also demonstrates what Mario Maker can bring. Rather than simple recreations of classic levels or a screen so crowded that it seems impossible, it was a stage designed to be tough but also visually charming, with some slapstick comedy thrown in. An app like Mario Maker - should we call it a game? - is open to all kinds of level styles, naturally, but it took that clip to take your writer from an interested spectator on the fence to being truly all in and excited about the release.

Tipping Stars

Of course, Nintendo's opened up level creation tools to gamers in the past, even doing so well ahead of the concept's time in the NES era. In recent times, too, it's consistently offered up level creation and sharing in titles such as Pushmo / Fallblox and Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars. It's not as if Nintendo has been behind the curve, but nevertheless the importance of Mario Maker is starting to shine through - this isn't a new download-only franchise or a spin-off, but rather Nintendo's most substantial franchise being placed in the hands of fans.

Certainly when we looked at the app in 2014, and based on what Nintendo's promised since, as a tool Mario Maker will offer capabilities not far away from those enjoyed by those who produce the 'real' 2D releases. Wrapped in a colourful user interface are an impressive number of environments and editing options that can be displayed in styles from the NES, to SNES and the modern HD era. There's a lingering suspicion, too, that the September release date - pushed back from initial first half of 2015 windows - is driven by a marketing idea to match Mario's 30th Anniversary and, actually, that makes a lot of sense.

Just recently we shared a fairly critical piece with this writer's views on Nintendo's struggles with modern media and trends being damaging to its reputation, and one of the core parts of the argument was that the company loves control a little too much. While Mario Maker naturally determines what tools we'll have to make our own Mario experiences, it nevertheless does open the door to a crown jewel - perhaps we're the maniacs that'll take over the asylum, but that could be a lot of fun. We should welcome the possibility that Nintendo's opening up 2D Mario in this way.

New Super Mario Bros. U

Thinking about Mario Maker beyond the basic angle of its impending release, it's interesting to think about how it could influence the future of 2D Mario titles. Not too long ago some were complaining about an overload of games in the "New" series, with the DS entry making way for rapid releases on Wii, 3DS and then Wii U in successive years. Yet by the time we get to Mario Maker's arrival it will have been around three years since the Wii U launch title, though the 30th Anniversary may bring an 'official' 2D Mario to us - it's not easy predicting what Nintendo has up its sleeve.

While the commercial clout of the New Super Mario Bros. series is unlikely to fade any time soon, it'll be fascinating to observe the reaction of the company's biggest fans - as a community - to the prospect of creating and sharing their own levels and worlds. It seems that Mario Maker's sharing tools will be relatively forward-thinking, with the option to share packs of levels as Worlds, rank others and save levels that we enjoy, and the scope for a community to form around this functionality - especially with Miiverse - is truly exciting. Importantly, it can also tap into a sweet spot - it fulfils retro fantasies, but also plays into the relatively modern concept that gamers are in control and want to create experiences of their own.

As the brief viral popularity of Super Mario 64 HD proved, there's a real appetite for celebrating and appreciating the best of Nintendo while also playing around with its work, moulding it and customising as desired. The brand power of the big N is still very much in play, but there's certainly a generation that wants to be less passive and more active in celebrating these classic experiences. Though Mario Maker is coming long after the substantial creation tools in games like LittleBigPlanet, it can arguably take off online in a bigger way than that flag-bearer within gaming communities; certainly more effectively than is typical of a current day Nintendo title. If Nintendo can also implement a Mario Kart TV-style YouTube tool into Mario Maker, meanwhile, all the better.

NES Remix

A challenge for the app is that it's arriving on hardware that's struggling to sell, but we're sure Nintendo will be monitoring not just raw sales numbers, but also how engaged gamers are once they pick it up. We'll be writing about the current Virtual Console market this week, but as one early thought it could go further in adjusting how Nintendo treats and shares its retro classics. We've seen the NES Remix titles do rather well, and soon we'll have amiibo Tap: Nintendo's Greatest Bits serving up demo 'scenes' by using the toys. The idea of banging out a well-presented NES ROM complete with a digital manual and charging $5 is clearly being gradually re-assessed by the big N.

A future of multiple user creation apps that allow you to easily create your own NES style games, for example, seems full of possibilities. All retro pixel tile-sets and 2D, it could keep Nintendo's legacy alive while dealing with the increasing realities that there's an audience less bothered about buying VC games and more interested in creativity. While the development effort required in producing these tools is undoubtedly substantial, the potential to iterate and utilise them long-term is also enticing - online Nintendo Game Jams using Mario Maker and successors, contests for level design and more could be a reality. All of this taps into social media and could get large groups talking about and playing Nintendo games.

We're drifting into pie-in-the-sky territory, but it's that potential for Mario Maker and beyond that has us excited. Even if it took a slightly goofy 26 second video to grab this writer, it's done the trick.

September can't come soon enough.