Everyone is a co-developer in Super Mario Maker.
Nintendo knows how to make an expertly crafted Mario game. The company excels in level design and mechanical variety on a game-to-game basis, and each new entry in the series showcases the company's creativity. But what happens when Nintendo takes the tools used to make Mario games and puts them in the hands of players? It results in Super Mario Maker, a special game that emphasizes the creativity of an entire community. Best of all, it's the kind of experience that will only improve with time.
Super Mario Maker is all about creating and sharing levels. The game includes developer-made courses for those who want to test their platforming skills right out of the gate, but they serve a more meaningful purpose. Jumping into test levels allows players to see what kind of inventive courses can be made with the tools in Super Mario Maker. All sample courses can be edited at any point, so it benefits prospective creators to jump in and tweak existing levels to better learn the intricacies of effective level design.
Creating a level from the ground up is even more satisfying, though, and Super Mario Maker features an abundance of tools for folks who like to let their imaginations run wild. Essentially every iconic character, enemy, and item in the 2D Mario franchise exists in some form in Super Mario Maker. There are goombas, chain chomps, POW blocks—the list goes on and on. It's like a dream come true for Mario fans, and the game encourages players to experiment with different combinations. If you want an underwater level full of goombas, that's absolutely okay. Super Mario Maker allows seemingly disparate elements to coalesce into unique courses, and it's a large part of the game's charm.
Although items and enemies play an important role in the course creation process, the actual layout also stands out as a key element. I stuck to the Super Mario Bros. theme for most of my time with the course creator, but the game allows players to also make levels with a Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, or New Super Mario Bros. U motif. The visual variety fosters even more creativity, as the approach to a Super Mario Bros. 3 level may be completely different to one with a Super Mario World theme.
These tools only scratch the surface of the course creator. Many items and enemies can be transformed by shaking them on the screen, sounds can be applied to those items/enemies, and the Wii U GamePad even allows players to record special audio cues. Considering the number of choices in the game, it will take time for players to familiarize themselves with the creation tools. Nintendo addresses the potential issue with a system in which it drip-feeds content. Players only start with a limited set of tools on day one, and they must spend at least five minutes with the course creator every day over a nine-day period to unlock every tool.
Unfortunately, the approach limits the more imaginative players out there who can make use of all the tools in a single day. They have to wait multiple days to unlock the more exciting items and enemies, and the same holds true for players who like to add a bunch of different obstacles to mask level design inefficiencies. It's a bit strange that Nintendo didn't add some kind of tutorial instead, as the company often holds the player's hand in other games. On some level I appreciate the company's hands-off approach, but the solution doesn't necessarily trump the simple addition of a course creator tutorial.
No matter how many tools may be unlocked at a single time, players can head to the Course World to check out levels created by other people. I played Super Mario Maker on a pre-release server, yet there were still plenty of incredible courses on display. Some were ingeniously designed Mario levels, while others delved into entirely different genres. I even played a bullethell shooter with fireballs. The Course World features a wealth of content already, and it will grow exponentially once the game comes out. The progression of the Course World in the coming months will be an exciting development to follow.
As for the Course World interface, it does its job but also needs improvements in a few areas. On the plus side, players can sort through levels by stars to find the most popular courses. There's also a featured section, and course creators can even be followed if they have a penchant for making multiple stand-out levels. That all works well, but Super Mario Maker is missing more sorting options. Some kind of tag system or extensive search feature would benefit the game immensely. As it stands now, players can only search for other courses with a specific ID number.
The Course World issues are only minor blemishes on an otherwise fantastic game. Super Mario Maker captures the childlike glee of seeing a game in action and wondering what it would be like to create one. Players in the game are crafting classic Mario levels just like Nintendo has done for all these years, albeit with simplified tools. It showcases the imagination of the video game community at large, and it hasn't even been released to the public yet. I can't wait to see how Super Mario Maker grows and improves as more Wii U owners purchase the game and join that community.