The latest major Super Mario Maker update is live, being the second of its kind (outside of minor Mystery Costume additions) at the time of writing. The first notable update was, in some ways, focused on fixing perceived shortcomings of the launch code - it included stacked power-ups in blocks and, particularly tellingly, checkpoint flags. For those keen to create lengthy stages that players will actually complete, that simple addition was extremely welcome.
The second update partially continues that trend, but is also seemingly a response to some of the ways players have sought to diversify the game. Bumpers can add to the chaos and P-Warp doors have been tweaked but nevertheless give scope for increasingly devious puzzle stages. The online stage finding / bookmarking website is also live, a neat example of web portals and games interacting, similar to the way Mario Kart TV and Splatoon websites have operated.
What stands out to us in this latest update is the Fire Koopa Clown Car. From the earliest days of Super Mario Maker one of the neater trends in level creation was to pay homage to old classics in Mario-esque ways, one of which was to create crude sidescrolling shooter levels. Give Mario a Fire Flower and a clown car and, to a degree, you have a Galaga-inspired stage. The limitations of it were obvious, but stages like these were among this writer's early favourite.
The Fire Koopa Cloud Car, of course, answers that. Though its fireballs are limited to two or three at a time on screen, the charge shot that allows players to shoot away bricks means there are all sorts of potential ideas just waiting to be realised. It's another area in which we can apply silly twists to the Mario formula. Recent data mining points to an Mystery Costume that could riff on those themes, too.
This is all the latest step into a new kind of Mario madness, of course. Back when we reviewed the game we were keen to draw a line between what makes a 'traditional' 2D Mario game and what defines Super Mario Maker. The argument was that, in reality, they're different beasts.
What Super Mario Maker delivers is entirely different. With freedom and the playful options provided by Nintendo comes reckless, unconventional and goofy gaming. Many of the stages we've enjoyed would feel wrong in a normal Mario platformer, but in the context of this experience are hugely fun. If 2D Mario games are the fine art galleries, Super Mario Maker is a public 'happening' of chaotic street art, in which anyone and everyone simply goes with their instincts with spray-paint in their hand. One doesn't supercede or replace the other, it merely enhances possibilities.
So when we say that Mario platforming won't be the same again, we're not saying the time of normal 2D Mario releases is over. What Super Mario Maker does is provide a new divergent path, running perpendicular to the classic gameplay that tops the charts generation after generation. Nintendo's embraced this, in providing a toolset and means of sharing creations that's both substantial and playful, maintaining templates while experimenting with them.
We did talk there of enhanced possibilities, however, and this writer's view is shifting to a sense that Nintendo could be heavily influenced by the direction Super Mario Maker has taken. Perhaps 2D Mario games are due a fresh reboot, a 'New' new.
The New Super Mario Bros. series is now four games old, one on each system since the DS; we'd certainly defend all of them as typically fun, tightly-designed 2D Mario experiences. They're carefully crafted by some of the finest level designers in the world, and New Super Mario Bros. U was arguably a step in the right direction after the divisive New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS. The Wii U launch title brought in some new companions with Baby Yoshis, and had clever twists and elements of design that showed a focus on detail, rather than the sequel-itis and safety seen in NSMB2. Yet a lot of gamers have now been immersing themselves in the madness of wearable helmets, attempts at flying levels and all sorts of bizarre tricks in Super Mario Maker. 2D Mario is anarchic and slightly strange once again.
For some, who remember and still enjoy the older generation of 2D Mario games - with examples like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World being prominent - this is how it should be. With the passing of time and familiarity it's easy to forget how crazy that third entry on NES was, and how interesting the SNES entry was as a step into a new generation of hardware. Then there are the Super Mario Land titles on Game Boy, which feature strange lands, power-ups and - yes - a flying section or two. As long as the perspective was 2D, anything else seemed to go for the designers.
When NSMB arrived on DS, though, it innovated in terms of adding minigames and using the DS hardware, but also kept things relatively simple to re-introduce audiences to the genre; don't forget, there was a long gap in new 2D Mario games before that 'New' arrival. The phenomenal success of that game then triggered the sequels; the new series was a safe bet as Nintendo cultivated new audiences. Yet the mixed response to the 3DS entry and the woes of the Wii U in general have given Nintendo an opportunity to reassess.
While Super Mario Maker isn't a new 2D Mario entry in the typical sense, it gives Nintendo easy-to-access data on what players want from their Mario games. Thankfully Nintendo is very unlikely to countenance 'do nothing' stages, but what it will be observing are some clever, wacky ideas that make use of the toolset. It's interesting to read that the team behind the game were keen to encourage this free-wheeling approach to level design by including quirky tools and items; it's almost as if the Mario designers are living through fans, and seeing which strange ideas actually stick.
Nintendo has key points of reference if it wants to move on from the safe approach of the New series and rebrand 2D Mario once again in the NX era. It can look to its own games of the NES, SNES and Game Boy eras, when flying, frog suits and puzzling levels designed to tax the mind as well as reflexes were the norm. It can take more cues from its 3D games, which arguably have retained more of the IP's unpredictable creativity. It can now also look to Mario and his 30th Anniversary, which is being celebrated through Nintendo-supported antics and peculiar stages in Super Mario Maker. While many stages in the level creator are flawed or downright broken at times, the diversity of ideas could be hugely promising when in the right hands. Nintendo is encouraging these designs, providing increasingly quirky mechanics and items for us to play with, living vicariously through our imaginations.
If Nintendo allowed its teams to produce a 2D Mario adventure that incorporates that Maker madness, yet applies design brilliance and intelligence to the chaos, then we could see a truly great Mario adventure. The playfulness and occasionally demented imagination of the early games with modern day technology and design - combine those elements and we could have a game that's truly 'New'.
That, we think, could be Super Mario Maker's greatest legacy.