Overshadowed by the cry of thousands of Nintendo fans demanding better support to the Wii U, Super Mario Maker may be the quintessential Super Mario Bros. experience, if not the prodigal son of Nintendo’s unconventional console.
Born from the desire to create a new Mario Paint game, Super Mario Maker was never meant to become what it is today. Takashi Tezuka said the inspiration behind the 30th anniversary title was not to create a level editor, but to develop a next-gen creative suite for a sequel of the 1992 SNES title. Though the idea never materialized, a group of engineers and programmers took the would-be creative suite and transformed it into the level editor we see today.
In the Nintendo Digital Event that aired a few hours prior E3 opened its doors, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka outlined how the process to create a game was an arduous task. From drawing the levels in graph paper to translating these ideas into codes that somehow wouldn’t crash the archaic architecture of the NES.
Yet the concept behind Super Mario Maker is not new. For years, level creators suites have roamed the internet and video game consoles, from the infamous ROM hacks Kaizo Mario and Automatic Mario, to the Little Big Planet series. Coincidentally, in an interview for Game Informer, Tezuka-san mentioned that they were aware of the existence of the Playstation title when developing Super Mario Maker, but the intention was never to replicate the work of Media Molecule.
In Little Big Planet players are given an endless amount of creative options, namely in the sequel. But the game was as fun as the player made it be. More often than not the process would be arduous and frustrating. Obviously not all creators suffered the same fate, but there were clear flaws to the interface that made the creating process feel like a chore.
The same could be said about the ambitious indie title Sound Shapes. While the interface was more lenient, the problem with the editor came from trying to be a bit too ambitious for the limitations of the game itself.
In one instance while playing Sound Shapes, hyped from the experience of the single player mode, I had this urge to create a multi-path level. Just like Miyamoto did in 1985, my first thought was to sketch out the layout for the level, including the musical notes, traps and enemies placement. Designing the level was somewhat easy on paper, but the transition to the screen was not. Frustrated with the results and the amount of time it took me to plot just one small section of my project, I decided to never return to the level editor.
These two examples highlight how difficult the process of designing levels for a video game can be. The sad truth about games like LBP is, even when someone succeeds at creating a level, the final product always feels lackluster. More often than not it feels the tools themselves try to hinder the level creator on purpose, as if the developer prevents the player to fulfill the same level of coherence of the stages packed in the game.
The aforementioned titles have some resemblance to the 30th anniversary celebratory tool, few of them achieved to streamline the process and offer the sheer fun that Super Mario Maker exudes.
Part of what makes Super Mario Maker such a unique title is due to its original conception. While the idea of making a Mario Paint game died in the drawing board the quirky nature of the SNES title managed to find its way into the creation tool.
This distinctive feel is present in every single aspect of the package, from the colorful menus, to the numerous references and easter eggs the interface hides (the flies from Gnat Attack find a way to infiltrate the grid of the editor).
Yet, it feels more prominent in the sound design of the game. When I read Koji Kondo was being brought back to compose and direct the sound design for the game I couldn’t help but to feel baffled, “Why would they need to summon Kondo when all these songs were composed aeons ago?”. While the sound design of the ‘Play’ portion of the game remains unchanged, the same cannot be said about the ‘Make’ portion...
I’m going to try my best to explain what happens with the game when the player is designing a level. Basically Kondo-san deconstructed every song from all four iterations of the series and reconstructed them creating a musical chimera of sorts - What once was the beloved Ground Theme of Super Mario Bros 3, is now a psychedelic Frankenstein of a song, yet there’s a certain familiarity that few composers could have achieved.
The guys at GameXplain recorded a direct feed session in which the sound design is showcased.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Placing assets in the grid produces these otherworldly sound cues. Each item’s name is called by a distorted voice that follows the rhythm and melody of the background music. It’s a bizarre, yet joyful moment that every Nintendo fan should experience.
What’s interesting is how Super Mario Maker breaks the conventions and rules set by Tezuka and Miyamoto in the 30 year lifespan of the plumber. It feels quite liberating, mostly cause it is fun. Stacking towers of enemies, shooting coins out of a bullet bill or putting wings on a blooper wearing a piranha plant as a hat, just to name a few of the many possible concoctions.
During my 15-minute trial with the E3 demo I managed to created a level in the same amount of time it took me to play through it. I also have to mention that the showfloor demo was being constantly updated by other players who were playing the game at the same time. New levels would pop up all time amongst the many Kaizo-esque levels there were some that rivaled the quality found in the New Super Mario Bros. series.
Making levels feels intuitive, an it’s simple enough for anyone to be able to create a level. Nintendo obviously has struggled to make the Gamepad a vital asset in the lifespan of the ill-fated console, but it appears it finally found its best implementation. If there’s one game where the existence of the gimmick feels justified, then Super Mario Maker is that game.
Super Mario Maker is the most important title Nintendo has ever created. It is a love letter and a thank you note to every gamer who has picked up a Mario title in the past 30 years.
It represents the ultimate Wii U experience, the one game who took advantage of the potential of the console like no other - opening the doors to a new generation to take the helm.
Cheers to another 30 years of amazing games!
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