Some games are created with a premise so powerful it would be almost impossible to review them badly. Year after year we see Skyrims and Last of Us-es so obviously destined for a 9.9/10, they're hardly worth reviewing at all.
Super Mario Maker was originally created for the Nintendo Wii U but has now been ported to the 3DS. It takes the single most popular platformer of all time and lets players create original platforming levels using an extremely varied assortment of traps, power ups, flaming fireballs of death, and turtles.
The game has an undeniable history and pedigree, and as a result has things about it which are incredibly awesome. I have a couple of minor quibbles about online sharing and user creation, so I'm still gonna write the review, but I just wanted to make it clear that I'm largely unnecessary on this one. Good to be here though.
You could conservatively say Super Mario Maker is two games. More generously you could say Super Mario Maker is a limitless source of platforming joy.
If you're looking for a platformer and aren't particularly interested in creating levels (Super Mario Maker should have been something of a deterrent) you are going to be quite – but not completely – disappointed. Without a doubt the game's focus is on the creation side, but the single player mode is lengthy, challenging and plays like an articulate love letter to Mario written by his nearest and dearest.
Through hundreds of new levels you explore the history of the plumber - from the original chunky graphics and blippy music of Super Mario, to modern times of Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros where you can make out the moustaches real clearly and the borderline-racist Italian accents are much more defined. Completing levels across different worlds and eras unlocks new items, obstacles and features in creator mode and the levels themselves often serve as tutorials and guides for how objects can be used effectively.
Playing through single player will give useful insights into how level designers think and into how meticulously-designed platform levels can be. However, as enjoyable as I found the game's single player efforts it is Super Mario Maker’s versatility in creation that provides extreme replay value.
Creation is an increasingly popular and ever-more important element of gaming, and as you can imagine Super Mario Maker is all about personal freedom. Level design is at once deep and simply executed - similar to the Wii U version of the game, the stylus is used to drag and drop level elements and navigate around the screen. Different types of level (underwater, dungeon, space etc.) have a different range of available items, but there's no real limit to what you can place and where. If there ever was a way to transfer idle sketches of impossibly far-fetched Mario levels into digital fruition, this game is it.
One major difference between the 3DS version and the original is online capability. Both consoles can get online, but for some reason the 3DS can only share Super Mario Maker locally. This means if you want to spread your created levels throughout the world you have to do it one device at a time, which is not a good business model in 2017. Anyone playing on a DS knows the limited number of online players, especially in New Zealand, especially using Street Pass. It's a strange and limiting choice, but even without tracts of online levels there's still a huge amount of content.
To supplement the 100-ish levels provided by Nintendo, players can also download user-generated content from the Wii U version of the game. This is a valiant effort, but a lot of it is low quality and you can't search for individual levels. You get what you're given and what you're given largely seems to have been made by a toddler with little spatial awareness. A seriously small online community of DS players and very few local users make a supposedly limitless pool of content much more shallow.
Platformers are the bread-and-butter of handheld gaming consoles, Mario is the bread-and-butter of Nintendo, so logically this game should be bread-and-butter for the 3DS. In a lot of ways it is - as a Mario fan I will glean joy from Super Mario Maker on an ongoing basis, and keep making levels for fun.
Unfortunately that will not apply to everybody. If your interest in this title is as a platformer, you could do better in other places – but if you're a level design whiz, this is for you. Even randomly-selected user-generated content will provide continuous entertainment. For Mario fans this is a no-brainer, a must-have celebration of the franchise that shouldn’t be missed.
Brendan received a physical copy of Super Mario Maker for 3DS from Nintendo for review.