Game review: Super Mario Maker

Steve Hogarty
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Super Mario Maker
Mario had his 30th birthday the other day. But rather than putting out an invite to a Facebook event titled “21 again lol” like the rest of us, he’s gone and handed the very tools that sculpt his platforming universe over to you, the player.

Not so much a game as it is a well-stocked level creation kit, Super Mario Maker allows you to design your own Mario levels from scratch by dragging and dropping blocks, Koopas, coins and other assorted Mario accoutrements on to the touchscreen’s graph-paper grid.

It’s intuitive, letting you get straight into drawing platforms, hiding power-ups inside question blocks and jamming piranha plants down pipes within a few minutes of picking it up. You can instantly jump into your level at any time to test it, before switching back out to the creation mode to tweak and improve your design. You can just as quickly transform the look of your level by switching between different Mario game styles, from the classic NES version up to the most recent 3DS games.

What Super Mario Maker very quickly taught me – the exact manner in which it trampled on my dreams – is that I’m rubbish at designing Mario levels. While you’ve got access to near enough all the bits that have appeared in the side-scrolling Mario games, it turns out that it takes some arcane Nintendo juju to become a master level designer.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of guidance here and plenty of scope to experiment. You can go online and play levels designed by people vastly more talented than you, or dip into Nintendo’s own design guides and examples, in which they’ll educate you on what makes a good level. If you reckon your creation is halfway decent, or simply want to be insulted by strangers on the internet, you can easily stick it online and have it critiqued and rated by other designers.

Like world-builders Minecraft and Little Big Planet before it, Super Mario Maker is a surprisingly versatile design tool with an almost limitless potential to spit out new things to see and do. Already the selection of user-created online levels are peppered with examples of mad genius – you’ll find mazes and puzzles and intricately designed Rube Goldberg machines – and it’s here that Super Mario Maker will find its longevity.

Those looking for something more purely game-like won’t find a great deal to enjoy here, but as a toy and a tool, Super Mario Maker is an unmissable celebration of Mario’s expertly designed past.