Super Mario Maker: An Ode to Old-School Challenge

When people look back fondly on games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, they think of inventive power-ups, intricate worlds, and secret exits. I came to the older Mario games late in life, so I think of lava pits and deadly enemies. I was taken back by how difficult those games were and still are today, and it's one of the reasons Super Mario Maker shines. It allows people to create, share, and participate in deviously designed levels that capture the difficulty of old Mario games – then it increases the challenge tenfold.

I recently had some hands-on time with Super Mario Maker, and the first thing I did was play the Nintendo World Championship levels. Clearly they lean on the side of veteran players who know the ins and outs of all Mario games. I'm not that person. Nevertheless, those who follow my Challenge Accepted feature know I appreciate a good challenge, so I couldn't resist jumping in and giving it my best shot. I don't mean to shock anyone, but I died… a lot. The levels threw all kinds of obstacles at me – flaming bullet bills, buzz-saws, chain chops, and the dreaded water section. I barely had a moment to catch my breath as I attempted to carefully navigate through each level. Despite my many failures, I couldn't help but appreciate the difficulty.

One level in particular reminded me of Super Meat Boy, one of my all-time favorite games. Of course the first thing I see is a series of buzz-saws aligning the walls. The only way to reach the top is to wall-jump while avoiding the sharp blades. Fortunately a nearby pipe continually pumps out mushrooms, so one-hit deaths aren't a huge concern. At least it's not a concern for a few moments. Then there's a section with small platforms that require precision jumps. If Mario misses the jumps, he falls to the ground and must avoid a series of fireballs. All of this leads to the second section of the level, which takes place in water and features plenty of spikes.

The relentless danger of that level contrasts the first one I played, which felt more like a puzzle. It looked straightforward on the surface, but then I came across a giant pit, rotating flames, and a wall that was too high to jump over. Of course I tried to jump over the wall anyway and fell to my death. It seemed the secret to reaching the flag was somewhere else in the level, so I examined the vine near the beginning of the level. Nothing there. Then I hit some nearby blocks. Nothing there either. I still have no idea how to beat that level, but it emphasizes the versatility of level design in Super Mario Maker.

That versatility comes from the creation tools in Super Mario Maker. The game will ship with a set of levels, but the real fun lies in the fact that the community will drive the game and and craft seemingly impossible levels. I even feel the need to create my Super Mario Maker magnum opus when the game comes out, and I rarely mess around with creation tools in these kinds of games. I'm the guy who can't make a LittleBigPlanet level to save his life, but Super Mario Maker appears to simplify the creation mechanics while still touting depth and complexity for the truly creative types out there. The game will include plenty of sorting options, so I plan to find the hardest levels when the game ships so I can stream a very special episode of Challenge Accepted.

The Nintendo of 2015 doesn't typically release difficult games, so it's great to see something like Super Mario Maker that speaks to the company's roots and reminds players that Mario games can be both family-friendly and tough-as-nails. The fact that Wii U owners will get to make Mario levels right alongside Nintendo both excites and terrifies me. If I thought old Mario games were challenging, I can only imagine what I'll think of the user creations in Super Mario Maker when it comes out this year on September 11.