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E3 2015: Super Mario Maker promises all the Mario, forever

Crowd-sourcing Mario stages may be the best thing to ever happen to the series. That statement may sound hyperbolic, especially for a series as revered as Mario, so let me temper it with some realism. Super Mario Maker will inevitably be filled with stages that are poorly designed, and pretentious reimaginings that try to improve on 1-1, and well-meaning stages that tip too far into frustratingly hard to feel at all satisfying. Despite all that, I honestly believe that a theoretically endless stream of fresh Mario platforming is exactly what this series needs. 

To the extent that some stages will be bad in myriad ways, it won't be for lack of proper tools. The creation interface in Super Mario Maker is sharp and intuitive. It takes just a few moments to start putting together something fully functional, and then you can playtest it in a snap. Mario has always been an object lesson in how simple mechanical underpinnings can be remixed in a near-infinite array of possibilities, but Super Mario Maker puts that point to sharp relief by letting creators experience it for themselves.

Not content to simply let us replicate the classics, though, Nintendo has smartly figured out ways to let creators make things that were never actually in the older games. Placing a mushroom on an enemy makes it gigantic. You can link two enemies together so they travel as one. These weren't actually in any old Mario games, but they feel correct and intuitive because they're built on the same foundation as the rest of it.

At the intro screen, I started moving the analog stick instead of the directional pad. I was immediately playing a Mario stage, right in the title screen. The title screen is a stage is a title screen. I couldn't help but smile. (To get back to making my selection, I needed to use the D-pad.) 

Once I actually did enter the menu, finding the best stages was easy. That's not saying much now, when the game is only being presented in carefully choreographed presentations, but the sharing at least appears to be exactly what we'd expect from a modern online game. I don't anticipate having a hard time finding a constant stream of stages to play.

Fresh off the heels of the Nintendo World Championships, we learned that the ultra-hard NWC stages will be included. I got to witness our own Andrew Zucosky get surprisingly far in one of the most brutal Mario stages I've ever seen, with the rest of the gathered Shack crew cheering him on. At one point he had to desperately swim away from a cannon that fired angry Wigglers. 

You want more of the near-impossibility of The Lost Levels? How about thousands of creators all trying to outdo each other? Deaths are marked by a helpful little X, a Super Meat Boy-like conceit that lets you compare your deaths with others. It's not as if Nintendo doesn't know that people will use this to press the boundaries of difficulty. They're counting on it.

Nintendo is using E3 to showcase its Amiibo support, which is both charming and the least important part of the game. You can insert question-mark Mushrooms to turn Mario into a variety of Nintendo characters like Wii Fit Trainer or Link. It's entirely superficial, but it's cute.

If I sound dismissive of that charm, it's because Super Mario Maker has so much potential to be more than simple charm. It's a celebration of its history and a step into its future, rolled into one. That future will come when someone finds a way to use these simple tools to innovate, in the same way its original creators did 30 years ago. I can't wait.

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