Super Mario Maker Review: It's-a We, Mario

Super Mario Maker is a developer toolset, a crowd-sourced game jam, and classic homage all rolled into one--all while retaining Nintendo's innate sense of artful craftsmanship. Our review.

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Super Mario Maker does not feel like a Nintendo game. The company famous for exercising tight control in order to create authored bits of premium playtime would not seem to be the sort to hand over the keys to its kingdom. The surprise of Mario Maker is what a strange anomaly it is--something akin to a developer toolset, crowd-sourced game jam, and classic homage. True to Nintendo's brand, though, it is utterly artful in its craftsmanship. 

Plumbing the Depths

Most of that comes from the tools themselves. As the name implies, Mario Maker is primarily a creation engine, and just about everything revolves around that central theme. The elegance here is its simplicity. Mario has created a language of play that just about every gamer is familiar with, so we all know exactly what to expect when we place a Koopa or Spiny on the screen. We all know exactly how Super Mario Bros 3 feels different than Super Mario World, and the physics models here provide that sensation to a tee.

Many of the assets have alternate versions that can be activated by shaking them. All of the moving characters have their own routines, and many of them can play off each other in unexpected ways. Even those who don't dabble too much in level creation absolutely need to play with the tools and test the way different assets interact with each other. Sometimes that kind of experimentation will spark a new idea that even Nintendo hasn't used. 

In an apparent effort to encourage this kind of experimentation, Nintendo has hidden the majority of the assets behind timed unlocks that become available each subsequent day you create. The idea is that you slowly wade into small batches of the tools, which makes enough sense. A lot of the assets interact with each other, so giving you access to all of them at once would create an absurd and even daunting amount of combinations to try out.

Still, I'm not convinced this was the best solution to the problem of overwhelming players, and I did occasionally find myself frustrated to have an idea in mind that had to wait three or four days to test out. It ceases to be a problem or even a thought once all the tools are available, but I did wish Nintendo had at least let me choose which order to gain new pieces.

Do the Mario

The creation tools are really the showpiece here. Super Mario Maker does come packed with a series of pre-made stages, but they're more like a sampler platter than a hearty meal. Most of the stages are short, simple proof-of-concept designs or clearly engineered to show off a particular gameplay concept. They're instructional without being hand-holding, but don't go in expecting a full-fledged Mario game from those alone.

Some are truly ingenious though. The stages from the Nintendo World Championship, once unlocked, provide an extremely satisfying and well-designed challenge. More than any of the other pre-fab stages, those show the breadth of the toolset provided.

Naturally, the real meat of the game comes from a practically endless array of user-created stages. The friendliest approach for taking these on is to jump into a 100 Mario Challenge, which mixes 16 random stages together from one of three difficulty levels. It's an easy, low-impact way to get your fix of Mario platforming. For those who want to seek out particular stages, there are sorting options available that are mostly great. You can find the top Starred stages, ones that are Up & Coming, and hand-picked Featured stages, all filtered by difficulty level and region. The Search function is sadly much more obtuse, using a 16-digit code instead of a simple word match.

Infinite 'Other Castles'

As you might expect, the quality of the stages themselves is pretty inconsistent. I found playing on Normal the best option, providing a nice balance between traditionally designed stage layouts and unique experiments. I particularly liked the auto-play stages, which use the full extent of moving parts to create a Rube Goldberg machine that ferries Mario to the finish.

The difficulty is determined by some hidden algorithm, at least part of which is how many times players die in a given stage. This has already created some trouble on the Expert difficulty. Player-creators largely don't seem to grasp how to make a stage that's tough-but-fair, so Expert difficulty feels like a gauntlet where survival depends less on quick reflexes and more on knowing the stage layout by heart. The requirement to publish a stage is the ability to finish it, but there's something to be said for knowing how to playtest as if you've never played a stage before.

The number of high-quality, smartly-designed Expert stages I've run into randomly can be counted on one hand, and so I still have yet to make it through the 100 Mario Challenge on that difficulty. Hopefully with the launch of the full game, the sheer number of creators will help quality Expert stages rise to the top and become favored in the random mixture. If nothing else, the deluge of bad stages should help us appreciate how hard it is to make a good one.

Making Mario Ours

All that is to say, making the game fun is up to us now. Nintendo is known for being conservative and protective of its properties, and it's taking an uncharacteristic risk by giving players this much control over its most iconic character. We're already seeing creativity flourish. I can only imagine what will happen when we're all Mario's caretakers.


This review is based on a Wii U code provided by the publisher. Super Mario Maker will be now available on September 11 for $59.99. The game is rated E.

Editor-In-Chief
Review for
Super Mario Maker
9
Pros
  • Creation tools are elegantly simple and intuitive
  • Pre-made stages smartly showcase design concepts
  • Near-infinite replay value in 100 Mario Challenge
  • Each Mario game carries its own distinct feel
Cons
  • Item unlocks a boring wait for forward-thinking creators
From The Chatty
  • reply
    September 2, 2015 7:00 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Super Mario Maker Review: It's-a We, Mario

    • reply
      September 2, 2015 7:14 AM

      Pretty short review - and did you do away with review scores again?

      Regardless, I can't wait for this game. I'm so ready.

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 7:20 AM

        We have a pretty standard review word count that we tend to stick to. Review scores are definitely still intact! This one got a 9, so it's tied for the highest score ever given by Shacknews. We have yet to give a 10.

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 7:25 AM

          Gotcha - That makes more sense. I appreciate the review...and I must be blind because I couldn't find a final score anywhere?

          • reply
            September 2, 2015 7:26 AM

            Ok yes, I'm blind. Sorry.

          • reply
            September 2, 2015 8:23 AM

            Score doesn't appear to be anywhere when reading the store in latest chatty.app

            • reply
              September 2, 2015 8:46 AM

              I didn't notice it right away on desktop either. Not sure if it's because I have a large monitor but the score on the right is really small and doesn't stand out since it's a little black and white image

          • reply
            September 2, 2015 12:06 PM

            They should have put the score in the main body, and not the side bar. Side bars like that are typically links to other content, which is why you didn't read it or see it.

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 7:35 AM

          Any particular reason you stick to a word count? That seems kind of odd. I can see trying to have a reasonable minimum but if you have more to say then say it.

          • reply
            September 2, 2015 7:51 AM

            It comes down to a few reasons. The primary one is reader interest. Most readers don't keep up with a very long word count, and to be honest at a certain point you start to write more fluff and unnecessary details. A word count makes sure we say what we need to say efficiently without wasting the reader's time. That said, it's a pretty loose guideline, so it's not as if we aggressively chop down our reviews or anything.

            My advice has always been to say what needs to be said, and if we need to massage it afterwards we can. Most of the time the word count doesn't even come into play. In this case, I wrote up my thoughts, checked the word count, and it fit. I added a little more in the editing process but I had pretty well hit the sweet spot in the first place.

            The other reason, and certainly not the primary one, is that we're syndicated in Tribune newspapers. For them word count actually does matter, and it's easier to have it around the length they prefer from the beginning instead of having to essentially publish two versions of a review. We have actually done that before if a review really warranted much longer thoughts, like a game that has both a big single-player and multiplayer component that could each hit the word count themselves.

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 7:44 AM

          Might want to display the score at the end/bottom. I find that's usually where sites have I so I look for it there. Maybe that's why JohnnyRey missed it?

          • reply
            September 2, 2015 7:52 AM

            We do have the score and bullets repeated at the bottom, but it's "below the fold" so to speak where you might overlook it as part of the site footer.

            • reply
              September 2, 2015 7:55 AM

              Gotcha, thanks!

            • reply
              September 2, 2015 12:09 PM

              The score is in two places that people aren't looking. I'd think of at least mentioning it in the text, if not moving the actual number display to the content column. My 2 cents!

            • reply
              September 3, 2015 7:14 AM

              Honestly I didn't even see the score til you mentioned the two places it was in.

    • reply
      September 2, 2015 7:15 AM

      I wonder if this will be a monster hit for Nintendo. Seems like it should be.

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 7:20 AM

        It's super accessible and the level creation "feels" like a game in itself, not a chore. (according to IGN) So, I think it will be pretty popular. Can't wait.

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 8:01 AM

        Hell yes it will! This should have been a launch title. they would have moved a hell of a lot of product if it had.

        Let me put it this way. I love to dog Nintendo. I haven't bought a Nintendo console since the NES. I find their corporate culture and way of doing things to be very anachronistic. Yet, I will fucking buy a Wii U just for Super Mario Maker. As soon as I saw it in action on UPF a couple of weeks ago it had me by the balls.

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 8:48 AM

        i can never really get into making levels in games. playing them might be fun but i imagine the levels will either be stupid hard or just poorly made. not sure whether i should bother.

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 10:42 AM

          In order to publish a level you have ot have completed it successfully yourself so that will at least limit that badly made levels in a reasonable smart way. Also I think it comes with 60 some levels packed in so that's probably on par with any other 2d mario game I would imagine.

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 11:25 AM

          You don't have to make anything at all. There are 10 and 100 Mario Challenges where you'll get 10 or 100 lives and have to finish a group of randomly picked courses (you can still sort by difficulty, etc).

          Its like Pandora where you get near-unlimited number of Mario levels to play through, and you can ofc sort and choose levels yourself, follow makers that you like, etc.

          • reply
            September 2, 2015 1:16 PM

            Also, there are more levels designed by Nintendo that ship with the game already than in any prior 2D Mario game, which is nuts.

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 12:53 PM

          That's the beauty of Super Mario Maker. Some people will crank out levels. Others will play them. I expect those demographics will cross over, but I, like you, enjoy playing levels much more than making them. And that's fine!

          • reply
            September 2, 2015 1:16 PM

            Yeah, I'll be doing a lot of both, I really enjoy map making so this should be right up my ally.

    • reply
      September 2, 2015 10:39 AM

      So I'm pretty intrigued by this game and it might push me over into buying a WiiU. I know people go crazeballs over the amiibo thing but I couldn't give a shit about physical toys that just collect dust.

      So I was thinking of pre-ordering this and then sellin off the Amiibo since I think it's supposed ot be some kind of exclusive or something.

      http://www.walmart.com/ip/Nintendo-Wii-U-Super-Mario-Maker-Console-Deluxe-Set-Walmart-Exclusive/46332782

      Good idea or worst idea?

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 12:27 PM

        Sound plan

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 12:32 PM

        Not bad. If you didn't want to hassle with selling the amiibo, could save ~$50 buying the refurb model on Nintendo's site.

        https://store.nintendo.com/ng3/browse/subcategory.jsp?categoryId=cat570935

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 12:36 PM

        Please to be selling me the bundled Amiibo.

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 12:55 PM

          That's what I was thinking. Maybe hook up some shacker with it for a decent price.

          • reply
            September 2, 2015 12:55 PM

            My GF and I would be forever grateful.

            • reply
              September 2, 2015 1:18 PM

              Or he could sell it to me and my wife will be forever pissed off, you know, for the lols.

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 1:15 PM

        That reminds me I need to sell off these three Japanese amiibos that I'd bought when I was deep in the craze, but that arrived after I'd sold my collection. Time to troll the Craigslist!

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 1:18 PM

          Which ones?

          • reply
            September 2, 2015 1:20 PM

            Well, they're the Japanese ones, so there's the Schoolgirl, the Schoolgirl with a Dick, and the Schoolgirl vs. Tentacles.

            • reply
              September 2, 2015 1:21 PM

              Is that a reference to the Splatoon three pack?

              • reply
                September 2, 2015 1:22 PM

                Qty Item Price
                1 amiibo Super Smash Bros. Series Figure (Little Mac) (Re-run)
                Japan 19.99
                1 amiibo Super Smash Bros. Series Figure (Captain Falcon) (Re-run)
                Japan 19.99
                1 amiibo Super Smash Bros. Series Figure (Wii Fit Trainer) (Re-run)
                Japan 19.99

                Sub-Total 59.97
                Shipping (Air Economy Box Registered) 17.00

                Total 76.97
                All values USD


                I should've bought them from yes-asia instead of playasia ....they didn't charge shipping

                • reply
                  September 2, 2015 1:22 PM

                  I will buy that Little Mac in a heartbeat.

                  • reply
                    September 2, 2015 1:23 PM

                    Fuck it, Falcon too.

                    • reply
                      September 2, 2015 1:26 PM

                      What, no Wii Fit Trainer? Sexist! We got a sexist here!

                      • reply
                        September 2, 2015 1:50 PM

                        :D We only get the characters that interest us.

                        • reply
                          September 2, 2015 2:16 PM

                          This is the second time you've aped me on asking about Amiibos IN THIS THREAD :[

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 1:19 PM

          Which ones do you have?

    • reply
      September 2, 2015 1:17 PM

      When will someone make a DOTA stage?

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 1:21 PM

        When "multiplayer".

      • reply
        September 2, 2015 2:24 PM

        After someone recreates Warcraft 3 inside of it

        • reply
          September 2, 2015 3:27 PM

          Someone will create Doom inside it which plays Minecraft inside in which someone builds a computer that plays Warcraft 3 inside it that plays a DotA mod. Of course, it will instantly crash because of the poor CPU on the Wii U.

    • reply
      September 2, 2015 1:51 PM

      [deleted]

    • reply
      September 3, 2015 4:33 AM

      I'm in love with the 8 bit costumes. Link and DK look so cute!

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