Made Mario and his Merry Levels

maker

I’ve owned the Wii U since its UK launch back in 2012. I’ve enjoyed the console a lot, but more often than not it spends its days gathering dust beneath the heavily used PS4 and PS3. With the exception of perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, each game I’ve purchased for Nintendo’s current console has provided me with a brilliant, but short, 5-20hrs of gameplay. Not to say that there isn’t more to the games on offer for the console (I’m sure Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros will one day break the magic 25hr barrier), but I’m usually no completionist, and Nintendo has certainly proved itself a master of short, sharp, fun games. They are the greatest while you are playing them through for the first time, but you are always left wanting to experience that feeling of discovery again, which you’ll never get back no matter how often you revisit them. It has almost always been this way with Nintendo. Even fond memories of my first epic journey through Zebes with Samus Aran on the SNES were revealed to be no longer than an eight-hour playthrough. Pity then that Nintendo don’t release a new game every week.

If only their games were just a bit longer. Better yet, if only they held an infinite resource of Nintendo magic in their colourful worlds.

Well, it turns out, for Wii U owners at least, that this is now a possibility for the much-loved Super Mario series!
Traps Galore
Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker, released on September 11th 2015, hands you the keys to a content creation tool that lets you dream up whatever outlandish plans you might ever have had for Mario during his 2D escapades. Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros themes are on offer, and within those shells are the backgrounds and bits and pieces that you will need for fashioning jaunts through six styles of level. This is a level design kit that anyone can use, as sure as Bowser will kidnap Princess Peach again.

The interface is staggeringly simple. Just drag and drop whatever aspect of a Mario game takes you fancy, and place it on the grid that will eventually form your level. Initial results might be rough in terms of design and flow, but thanks to the way everything is held together by the robust Maker tools, it will simply look and feel like Nintendo just allowed a member of their crèche to build a level. Everything looks, and feels, Nintendo.
Palette
When you start the game for the first time, you’ll be presented with scant few options, available on only the Super Mario Bros and New Super Mario Bros style levels. Thanks to a day-one patch, the content you received will now be practically rammed down your throat (rather than drip-fed over days), and soon fashion you with the full complement of Mario tools! Every component on offer has its own function within each of the styles of Mario game. Enemies will generally act the same way whether you place them in 1985 or 2012, but later additions such as Yoshi will be transformed into the shoes that Mario could bounce around in in Super Mario Bros 3. You can bring into the original Mario game all of the traps and tracks that were introduced in the games that came after, and create truly monstrous creations the likes of which you would never have seen on the NES. Yet still, they manage to feel authentically NES-y.

One of the limits you’ll have to deal with is that all planes are horizontal, unless you are making a winding track for a platform to follow (but even then, the platform will remain flat). This is but a small blemish on the creator itself, but had the player been allowed the slopes and slides that were introduced post-Super Mario Bros, then it would have been impossible to retain that NES feel on levels that might have incorporated them. If anything, I feel that the small limitation just asks that you get more creative. Try building ingenious systems of boosts and jumps instead, that will wow those that play them, and lend an intensity to levels that was never present back when you held your rectangular joypad with a D-pad and 4 buttons.
Test your levels
For everything else, it is likely that the user’s imagination will impose its own limits. You don’t just have the 60 individual tools available for creating your levels. Drag one of the icons from the tool bar, hold it over the grid and give it a little shake with the stylus. Chances are it will transform into something else, or being an exciting new variant on what you selected. A simple example of this is that a shaken Green Turtle will become a Red Turtle, a Bullet Bill will become a more ferocious, heat-seeking version. The modifications don’t just end there either! You can combine items with each other. You might drop a Mushroom onto an enemy and create a giant version of that creature, or you could drop pretty much anything you want into a pipe and shower the player with contents.

For me, I find that the Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros 3 creations are the most exciting. There’s something about the 2D artwork here that looks just as good today as it did when it was released. Each and every creation option you have is a joy to watch unfold in your own mini world. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the New Super Mario Bros stylings – despite firmly believing that New Super Mario Bros itself is the finest addition to the Mario series since Super Mario World itself. There’s something about the psuedo-3D looks that just doesn’t sit well with me. When I create a level and transfer it between styles of Mario game, I often end up balking at the New Super Mario Bros version and reverting to a more visually arresting choice.

So, for my money, the two styles of game that are unlocked last are where the most fun is at, however, there is another reason for sticking with the original Super Mario Bros besides the need for a nostalgia hit: Amiibos…

INTERLUDE

Upper (2)
Hi, my name is NanashiNoProfile and I am an Amiiboholic. It started, as do all addictions, with just a single peek inside Pandora’s Amiibo box. Just one, brief glimpse, and I came away with a Kirby Amiibo. Perfect model for me, as he worked in all of the games I owned that had Amiibo support. I only needed one. I told that to my colleagues, and I told that to myself. Kirby itself was an excellent, if simple, model. I scanned him into Kirby and The Rainbow Paintbrush and got a Star Dash power. It was a small function, but it was cool to just scan the Amiibo and get the power. I started fighting my Amiibo in Smash Bros, raced in his colours in Mario Kart 8. Small additions, but something so very Nintendo, and so very…

I bought Toon Link. Zero-Suit Samus, Bowser, Ganondorf, Shulk, Ness, Megaman, Pit…

Pretty soon I had 18 Amiibo, and more on preorder to come.

I’m 32. Most of the Amiibo really do very little. Except unlock a new skin in Yoshi’s Woolly World, become a “friend” to fight in Smash Bros, and unlock a playable icon for Super Mario Bros styled levels in Super Mario Maker! Nintendo really know what they’re doing with their plastic nostalgia models, and I have fallen hook, line, and sinker for them.

And will no doubt continue to do so as long as there are models left to be released. Bloody Amiibo.

amiibo lower (2)
END INTERLUDE

Tapping your Amiibo onto the Gamepad will cause the game to stop what it is doing as it allows a pixellated 2D approximation of your Amiibo drop onto the screen. It works for pretty much every Amiibo (and they’re at least a tenner each). You can then use this icon as a Mystery Mushroom, so when Mario picks it up, instead of growing larger he will become the character you have hidden inside, or simply take on a random form of the skins available if you haven’t otherwise chosen a specific one. These skins can only be used in the Super Mario Bros style levels, but once you get over the initial disappointment of that, you’ll likely start to see that you make a fairly authentic Mega Man level, or the ‘original’ Super Princess Peach. You can unlock skins by scanning Amiibo, or by completing the 100 Mario Challenge, once for each skin. The problem this presents is that once you get inspired, you’re going to want that skin. If you don’t unlock it after a few plays of the 100 Mario Challenge, you’re going to buy that Amiibo.

I bought Wario for this reason (to make Super Wario Waker, naturally), and then unlocked the bastard as soon as I had delivery notification…

So, you’ve made yourself a whole host of levels. You’re going to want the world to play them! Uploading your creations is simple – just prove to the game that the level can completed, give it an appropriate name, and you’re away. Super Mario Maker limits newcomers to 10 uploads to begin with, and you can increase that limit by having players play and ‘star’ your levels. It is a long road to earning more uploads. You’ll need 50 Stars for your first ‘Medal’. New medals grant you an additional 10 uploads. I have two medals, and have maxed out my upload limit. I need that third medal, but sources seem to to suggest I’ll need 150 Stars for that. I have 96. This is quite a problem with Super Mario Maker: it’s all well and good preventing new players from uploading hundreds of terrible levels from the off, but the fact that some there are many players with the full 100 uploads available now, players new to the game are going to have a hard time getting their levels noticed in and among the heavyweights. You’re going to need Wii U friends, a resource that I sadly lack. You can always delete your uploaded levels and place new ones online, but if you’ve ten or twenty solid levels up already, you might not want to do that. Fortunately, you can save 120 levels to your Wii U itself, so will have plenty of time to make new and exciting levels that you may want to replace the older ones you have online. I just feel it would have been a little fairer if the minimum upload limit had been a little higher – or that the medal thresholds were somewhat more reasonable!
Menu
And what of the levels that other players have uploaded? There are multiple ways to experience the creations on offer. You can play the 100 Mario Challenge, and choose between Easy, Normal, and Expert. This will throw you 8-16 levels that seem to be organised based on their completion statistics. It is important to remember that no level is impossible, but by the cliffs of hell some of them seem that way! Nintendo has implemented a sort of Tinder-like system where you can swipe away a level you are not getting on with and never see it again (possibly). Enjoy the sounds as it clatters out of your sight and is replaced with a fresh new level to help grind your gears. The quality of the content on offer is less a mixed bag, and more like a box of Quality Street where you’re after the Strawberry Creams but find only three in the box and about fifty Coconut Eclairs. I feel that it is hard to find great levels. There are sparks of brilliant ideas here and there, and some truly brilliant creations, but too many levels have dead ends, or unavoidable traps. Yes, the levels can be completed, but there is nothing to stop the creator (knowingly or unknowingly) create a level with a drop that won’t kill you, but one you can’t jump out of either. There is almost nothing more frustrating than playing a difficult level and then finding that the path at the end splits in three. Paths with no return. Choose one, accept your fate. That fate is usually a spike trap that you now have to walk on. As Super Mario Maker levels feature no checkpoints, “level design” like results in an immediate sweep to the right!

There are other common types of level out there as well. Super easy levels that ask you to run right (sorry, I also made one, though it was a joke), levels where you have to sacrifice Yoshi countless times – seriously, I feel like Yoshi’s use in Mario Maker has become little more than that of blood sacrifice. I’ve not played a single level where I get to sit on his soft leather saddle, and beat him repeatedly about the eye so that he will lick up those that would seek to do me harm on my way to the exit – or “auto” levels where you just start the level and hold still while a set prop boots you on your way to the finish. The latter can be genuinely impressive, but every now and then I actually want to run, jump, and stomp on Goomba heads. Of course, the game is only just out, the sheer number of these levels may die down, and at the least, the people who can’t make a level for toffee will hopefully just give up (or never get the Stars needed to upload more than ten levels!).
Bowser
Fortunately, there are sites that are gathering lists of great levels that means you can sift out a lot of the crap. You still have to enter a 16-digit code to play them (thanks, Nintendo). However you choose to do it, just expect some poor levels every now and again. This is a content-creation tool after all, that’s all there is!

For all the moaning I make about the levels that other players have made, I really love this game. I have spent so much time on it, in such a short couple of weeks, that the game is quickly becoming an addiction. I check every day for new stars, then end up getting lost in making a new level with an idea that came to me during the day. I can see the game being something that I will always come back to my Wii U for, in much the way Minecraft beckons me to my PS4 during a dry game spell. The bad content is a mere blemish on an excellent tool that Nintendo has kindly allowed us all to enjoy. Level creation is almost too simple for words, yet can result in astoundingly complex levels. You can’t really ask for much more than that, and I for one am happy that there will now always be new Mario when Nintendo is not releasing a new Mario game.

I think this game is finally the reason for anyone to pick up a Wii U.

Might as well ply some levels I made as well!

New Mario Bros Arcade (E1E1-0000-006D-8E3A)
Tool Up! (3CF9-0000-0070-91CA)
You Need It More Than He Does… (8015-0000-0077-D785)
Run Right, Run Left. Don’t Stop (8115-0000-0045-2062)
Inferno – Seal One (F3BD-0000-002F-7192)
Inferno – Seal Two (438D-0000-002F-DF75)
Inferno – Seal Three (9595-0000-0039-27E0)
Inferno – Final Seal (CF64-0000-0039-77BD)

Interesting Puzzles
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