THOUGH far from the first title to include a level editor, Super Mario Maker draws on the power of Nintendo’s iconic mascot to build an entire game around the idea.
Series such as Little Big Planet tapped into a deep well of community creativity when it set free the toolset that its creators used to build the whimsical world of Sackboy and co. But LBP can also feel overwhelming to the new player, the unfathomably broad range of user-generated levels a testament to its depth.
Super Mario Maker doesn’t fall into the same trap, for want of a better word. While fiendishly complex levels are beginning to emerge from the SMM community already just days after its release, the average tinkerer like you and me will find it much easier to get started.
If you’ve ever wondered how games are made, or thought you could easily emulate your favourite, SMM puts a delightful range of tools at your disposal. The tutorial guides you gently by the hand in placing blocks, enemies and goodies. It all seems so … natural, probably because after 30 years of Mario’s history we’re intimately familiar with the components of his world.
A pipe here, a coin-filled block there, a goomba pacing on the floor – it’s easy to recall and construct a familiar landscape. It’s just as simple to test and play through your creation with one click.
But SMM won’t let you get ahead of yourself. Objects and abilities become unlocked over a couple of weeks’ play, forcing you to learn at a measured pace. It’s frustrating, sure, but it’s still impressive what you can build in the beginning with just a handful of parts.
In opting for simplicity, however, Nintendo is limiting your efforts to the plumber’s familiar 2D platforming – albeit with any of the visual styles, tricks and characters across three decades.
Sample levels from Nintendo teach you the basics, including some layouts reminiscent of favourites such as Super Mario Bros, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. Then you can deconstruct them in the editor to absorb the principles of good design before you put your own ideas to the test and upload them for the world to try.
In these early days, Nintendo’s curation system has worked well to showcase the best of the community creations. But Little Big Planet ran into discovery problems when its tally ballooned into the millions.
Nintendo revealed this week that the SMM community has already surpassed the one million mark. Hopefully, the company can continue to highlight the most entertaining efforts, or at least introduce some sort of tagging system that can help when searching for your preferred style.
Super Mario Maker offers tremendous entertainment purely for nostalgia reasons alone. But it goes further than that in letting everyone emulate Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario’s genius creator, with a simple drag-and-drop interface.
You may just realise, though, that game design is best left to the professionals.