Mario Maker’s legacy, even if it achieves nothing else, will be its exposure of just how precariously Mario levels hang together. A platform placed just a block’s width out of whack or a single enemy not synchronised with other nearby troublemakers can play havoc with a level’s flow and leave players feeling cheated. After toying with our own constructions for a while, we certainly have newfound respect for Nintendo’s level designers.
While it may be tough to match Miyamoto and co’s genius without practice, Mario Maker at least makes it easy to start building your own worlds. It’s helped along by Wii U’s GamePad, which might be struggling to justify its existence elsewhere, but proves an ideal tool here. A simple interface lines up the various block types, items and enemies at your disposal across the top of the screen. Once one’s selected, you can tap to place it or drag it onto the editing grid.
Some blocks are fixed to one size, while others, including earth and green pipes, can be stretched to your desired dimensions. Pleasingly, the chime that accompanies every placement stays in tune with the background music, making the act of simply placing blocks a pleasure. If you do get caught up in the melody and place too much, there’s an eraser (you can also double tap an item to delete it), an undo button and even a screenclearing rocket, should you need it.
Most of the available brushes can be edited, so the direction in which an elevator moves, for example, can be changed by tapping on it, while green Koopas turn red if shaken. Mario can also be moved around and placed where you want, and shaking him will cause him to grow as if he’d just ingested a Super Mushroom. You can add wings to any enemy – including Piranha Plants – and they’ll automatically trace a characteristic flight path through the level when you play it. Place wings on their own, however, and they’ll cheerily flap off the top of the screen.
Switching between the editor and Play mode is instant, so you can quickly playtest your fiendish assault course ( Mario Maker was originally developed as an in-house tool for design teams, after all). But switching back to the editor after running through a course reveals Mario Maker’s best feature: a timeline of your route is drawn across the level in a string of transparent Marios, helping you nudge ambitiously placed platforms and power-ups to within reach. Your quality-assured efforts can be rendered in classic Super Mario Bros or New Super Mario Bros skins – again, with instant switching. Hopefully, Nintendo will eventually introduce other styles – Paper Mario and Yoshi’s Island modes would certainly get our attention. Producer Takashi Tezuka has said that he wants to include non- Mario graphical approaches, too, though he’s been careful to stress that nothing has been finalised yet.
Other components in the planning stage include composing your own music, and level sharing. Nintendo is remaining secretive on the latter, however, refusing to confirm any details on exactly how it will work yet. Tezuka has, however, stated that “sharing with friends is really the whole point of making levels”, but the game’s success will rely on this being as simple as designing a level in the first place – having to enter a 12-digit code, for instance, or being limited to only those in your friend list risks undermining Mario Maker’s sizeable appeal.
Even so, at this early stage Nintendo has extracted a surprising amount of mileage from the simple act of mucking around with a limited toolset. Mario’s inherent charm undoubtedly props up this toy’s appeal, but if Nintendo can make Mario Maker as social as the flagship Mario games – with level sharing, leaderboards and perhaps even downloadable replays – this tool should give GamePads some long-overdue workouts.