If you’re like me, as a kid you had notebooks full of level ideas for your favorite games. For us, Super Mario Maker is a dream come true. Nintendo’s latest release makes level creation fast, easy, and most impressively of all, fun. Lots of games have let you make your own levels, and many of them have been built around that feature–but Mario Maker is without a doubt the best one yet.
There’s no tutorial, because the game doesn’t need one. If you want a platform, you select a brick type and draw it. If you want a coin block, you drag and drop it. If you a mushroom block, just drag a mushroom into whichever block you want it hidden in. Do you want your koopa to turn red instead of green? Just give it a little shake. The interface is 100% Nintendo, simple, streamlined, and filled with fun, goofy little touches.
But why is it special? Why am I gushing about it in a way that I wasn’t about, say, LittleBigPlanet? The first reason is that ease of use. LittleBigPlanet had fantastic creation tools, but they were complicated ones that required hours of tutorials instructing you in its various features. People made great levels, but just a small percentage of players actually engaged with making stuff. Mario Maker doesn’t have that barrier. Literally anyone who plays it can make something fun.
The second reason is that it’s Mario–the standard against which all 2D platformers are judged. You’re not just making levels–you’re making levels for a game that’s the genre standard and damn near perfect in its design and mechanics. And that inherent familiarity works to your advantage both in creation and in playing created levels. You know how a fire flower works. You know how a goomba works. All that’s left is to combine them in new ways.
You can build your level in four different styles from throughout the series, and each plays according to the rules of its corresponding game. Jumping and movement feel just like the originals, and the mechanics uniquely correspond to each game. Mario 3 features the raccoon tail, Mario World gives you the cape and spin jump, and New Super Mario Bros. lets you wall jump and utilize the helicopter suit. Newer mechanics mostly work in older games, though–if you want to build airships in Mario 1 and fill them with boos and wigglers, you absolutely can.
Not every feature the series has ever seen is present. You can’t make sloped terrain, and most of World’s cast of enemies are missing entirely. But you can do tons of things that were never possible in the original games. You can create a death stack of hammer bros, or make a lakitu throw down helpful items, or hide giant Bowsers inside of question blocks. If you want to make levels that feel like real Mario levels, you can. If you want to make silly gimmick levels, you can. If you want to make absurdly difficult levels that screw the player over at every turn, you can.
And you can share and play them online. You can seek out featured or highly rated levels, or follow individual creators, but the primary way to play is the 100-Mario Challenge, which gives you a random selection of levels and challenges you to clear them all with 100 lives. You can see where other players have died, and on more popular levels you’ll see Miiverse comments throughout, which gives a communal feeling to checking out these levels. You can’t seek out levels by name or theme, but the sheer volume of stages would make nearly any kind of tagging or search system a nightmare, so the grab-bag approach used here makes sense.
Super Mario Maker is really something special. It isn’t just a neat level creation tool. Making levels here is so simple, intuitive, and fun that it’s more entertaining than playing most other games. Leave it to Nintendo–they’ve managed to make game design a game itself.