Recently I got to play some of the games Nintendo had on display during E3 this year. The event had several games on offer and you can find my impressions on those in the the post E3 report. In this preview I wanted to dive into my favorite game of the event: Super Mario Maker.

When I first heard about Mario Maker (before it adorned the “Super” prefix) I didn’t exactly get excited. Yes, it was Mario but I’ve never felt an urge to build my own levels. In my experience Nintendo has been much better at this then me, so why bother. My guess was that Mario Maker was a commercial version of the tools Nintendo used to develop New Super Mario Bros U so quickly. But now that I have played Super Mario Maker, my excitement for this game has increased tremendously.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not itching to build my own levels. But the game isn’t about building levels alone. It’s more about sharing them and a lot more about actually playing them. For me the playing of these insane levels is what this game is all about. But let me cover the building part first. In my session I didn’t spend that much time in the editor but it’s immediately apparent that this is a Nintendo product. The options may seem pretty basic but the Nintendo employee assured me the final product will ship with a lot more options. Using the gamepad you can build your levels by dragging elements into place. The interface worked very intuitively as building my level required little explanation. But there are some hidden and very Nintendo things in this editor. For instance you can increase the size of an element by dragging a mushroom on top of it. Other cool elements are the ability to see Mario’s jump arc to position your elements accordingly. Furthermore you can play your level at any time to see if it works.

Enough building, on to playing those levels! The demo was setup in such a way that you can select a bunch of levels based on difficulty. This difficulty setting is the first indication at how the community comes into play in Super Mario Maker. The difficulty isn’t a setting bestowed upon it by the creator. No, it’s determined by the number of (failed) attempts recorded by other players playing the level. So, the more people fail a level the higher its difficulty rating climbs. A cool feature when completing levels is that when you die you also see markings of the spots where other people but the dust. Seeing a bunch of these bubbles gave a reassuring sense of not being the only one and some inspiration for the “one more try”. 

If you complete a level and you like it you can star a level and this translates into the level’s popularity, another metric you can use to select a level. If you like a level you can also “subscribe” to the user who created it so you can see whatever else they have produced. Betting on a community like this is a new step for Nintendo but they seem to be doing it right. If it works out the community Nintendo builds here might be something that could help Nintendo retain its audience for future consoles.

Nintendo already had a whole bunch of levels on offer (the final product supposedly will contain 100 levels to start with) which already showed a lot of diversity. I played levels varying from very gimmicky, where you needed to land a single jump perfectly, to levels where you literally didn’t need to do anything at all. Hands down my favorite levels were the NWC levels they used during the Nintendo World Championship at E3 this year. These levels were all over the place and immediately sparked that “just one more try” drive inside of me that so many other Mario games have done in the past. Completing these levels felt like a proper achievement and I hope sharing these achievements will be a big part of the community experience.

Visually Super Mario Maker has four themes to work with. Each theme comes from a specific Mario “era” and each theme renders the level’s elements in that theme’s visual style. The themes included were Super Mario Bros 1 (NES), Super Mario Bros 3 (NES), Super Mario World (SNES) and the New Super Mario bros games (WiiU). Even though switching between the visual styles alone is fun, the themes take it one bit further by also including the gameplay mechanics from that era, including their limitations. So putting a level in the SMB1 theme will limit the options to the player when compared to that same level in the New Super Mario Bros theme. Switching styles while playing wasn’t possible and according to the Nintendo employee this will not change for the final game.

Finally, Super Mario Maker also features Amiibo support (surprise, surprise). The game supports the option to put all kinds of things into the questionmark boxes, including other characters. By pressing using your Amiibo you have have Mario transform into Link, Peach and other supported characters. In the levels I played I only came across Link and it was just very cool. For me this shows that Nintendo is not just using their hard-to-find figurines just to mask DLC. On top of supported existing Amiibo the game will also get it’s own series of Amiibo.

Like I mentioned in the beginning I didn’t have high expectations for Super Mario Maker, but playing the demo turned me around completely. The community driven title will be used to commemorate Mario’s 30th anniversary and it seems to be the perfect title to use. Even if you’re not into building your own levels this game should provide you more than enough 2D Mario mayhem to keep you happy.