Tuesday, September 22, 2015

[REVIEW] Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker
Played on: Wii U
Genre: Level editor, 2D Platformer
Developer / Publisher: Nintendo

That Friday, I went to work knowing it was gonna be tough to get through the day. Whatever day job tasks I had in front of me, I could only focus on one thing: the Mega Man-themed level I was going to make when I got out of work, bought my shiny new copy of Super Mario Maker, and scurried home. That's the kind of thing Super Mario Maker does to you: the very idea of such a game-slash-development-tool, a first in the Mario franchise, and quite likely the defining Wii U gamepad-centric title, is enough to inspire obsession.

I believe there are two kinds of people who will want this game; let's call them Teddy and Jimmy. Teddy wants Super Mario Maker because he can't wait to see what shenanigans other players will come up with. He doesn't feel particularly excited with the creative challenges of coming up with his own levels, and as such that aspect of the game doesn't appeal to him. Is Super Mario Maker a worthy buy to Teddy? Perhaps. I can't really tell, because I am no freaking Teddy. No, my friends, I'm a Jimmy. In fact, I'm the Jimmiest Jimmy you can get.

You see, Jimmy fancies himself a creator. He likes that extremely satisfying feeling of dreaming something up and watching it unfold. Jimmy likes to write songs, to create stories, to think up ideas for video games. Jimmy spent years as a kid inventing fictional countries with his brother and a couple of friends who lived next door, and went to the trouble of coming up with every imagineable aspect of said countries, from their ancient history to their soccer teams to their musical charts. Okay, maybe it was specifically Rick who did that, but you know what? If you have any crazy creative exercises you like to go through, you're a Jimmy. And you'll love Super Mario Maker.

The game is a surprising addition to the Nintendo catalogue and, at the same time, exactly what you'd expect from the Kyoto company. It has one of the most brilliant presentations I've ever seen in a video game, with wit and charm permeating every tiny detail, no matter how inconsequential. It has an extremely well-thought-out interface that's easy to use and get the hang of, and it offers hours upon hours of lighthearted yet challenging fun. Like I said, this is all very Nintendo. What is not is the degree of freedom the game gives you, and that is a very welcoming change of pace for the company.

With a gradually-unlocking set of tools that covers a limited chunk (more on that later) of Mario history, Super Mario Maker allows your imagination to go wild. You can make regular Mario stages, of course, and it's very advisable that you start there. As you get the gist of how things work, however, you'll be able to think of novel ideas, interesting ideas, and yes, utterly crazy ideas. Even within its limitations, the game is a veritable blank canvas for a tireless Jimmy mind.

The process of unlocking tools is, at first glance, kind of cruel. After fiddling with the "Make" mode for five minutes, you have to wait one full day until the next unlockable update... or do you? As it turns out, you don't. If you, like the good Jimmy you are, start obsessing over every new unlocked set, putting it immediately to good use on a new stage, you can get the next delivery in a matter of minutes. This process also helps you start by thinking small, which I hear is very advisable in order to become good in any creative craft.

With so many possibilities to pour your hours into, it's hard to fault the game for what it doesn't do. But, my friends, I told you I'm a hardcore Jimmy. I don't merely want to make my stages and call it a day. I want to come up with my own graphic backgrounds. I want to make new enemies and bosses. I want to access more power ups, such as the ice flower or the frog suit. I want to write my own tunes in a Mario Paint-like composer. Sadly, those aren't options here. But hey, downloadable content is a thing, so who knows? Maybe Nintendo isn't done throwing us delicious creative bones just yet.

The good news is that, by playing with the available tools, you'll be surprised at the amount of ideas you can build from the ground up. For example, that Mega Man level I wanted to make? I spent fifteen hours (I kid you not) fine-tuning what was a very ambitious idea, and even though I had to make cuts to what I originally envisioned, it worked and I'm very proud of it (it's at 9438-0000-005A-C6FA if you feel like checking it out). 

So let me flat-out say it: Super Mario Maker is the real deal. I keep occasionally lamenting the lack of a few features (and especially the half-assed music-making options), but those are immensely overshadowed by what I am, in fact, allowed to do in the game, especially on the "Make" mode. The pixel-perfect Super Mario physics, as well as the creativity of a big international community, probably make the game still worth it if the only mode you wanna rock is "Play"... but Teddy boy, let me tell you: you're missing out.

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