Last year arguably one of the best titles for the Wii U launched. In fact two did, and alongside Splatoon avid Nintendo fans were treated to Super Mario Maker. An easy to use level creator featuring everyone’s favourite red hat plumber, the game spawned a strong community of designers that switched and shared levels online. Although Nintendo made the process unnecessarily confusing at times, it was this intermixing of ideas that has kept the game going through the year. And it’s the sole reason why its mobile version on 3DS will never be able to match it.
Super Mario Maker on the 3DS is, for all intents and purposes, the same game. You’ll still have access to a massive array of tools from four different versions of Mario, namely the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and Super Mario Wii U. The various worlds give rise to different enemies, utilities and more, allowing you to fully craft your ideal Mario level with literally any item from its storied history. It’s still an impressively robust set of tools, and the diminished screen size and space have no real affect on your ability to create some truly outstanding levels.
The process is simpler too, given that Super Mario Maker now features an incredibly detailed tutorial that takes you from the basics to the absolutely fundamental pillars of platformer designer (the sort of stuff you don’t notice until it’s missing). It’s dragged down a little by some truly horrible conversations between your two in-game tutors, but for the most part I appreciated the extended learning time as opposed to the sink or swim approach in the original Wii U version. Simple elements like highlighting routes with coins all the way to constructing secret paths and stable levels is taught, and designers new and old will likely learn something new by engaging with it.
From there you’re left to your own devices, free to express yourself in whatever way you choose through the design of your own devious or relaxing level. The sheer broadness of this spectrum still hasn’t been lost in a year, with creators taking to making automated mazes, frown inducing speedruns and head scratching puzzles rooms. Giving players the ability to breathe in a level design space while also ensuring challenges are fair and balanced is a delicate line that Super Mario Maker still tows to this day, and the hardware limitations of the 3DS have done nothing to hinder that.
Unfortunately, the game is held back where it really counts. Unlike the Wii U version, Super Mario Maker on 3DS does not feature a course browser. In fact, there’s no way to take a course code and download it directly – the preferred way for users to engage with content from the community. Instead, Nintendo populates custom levels into a Recommend Courses features, dividing them into difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Expert. It’s not clear yet how often this is refreshed, and I was prone to scrolling past the same few courses I had already completed a few times. It’s suffocatingly limited compared to the Wii U, and a real disappointment.
The only tangible way to share courses is through StreetPass, which has varying results depending on where you reside. Here in South Africa, is essentially means you’re relegated to playing whatever Nintendo selects, given that StreetPasses are so incredibly rare. Elsewhere that might be entirely different, and I’m sure attending events such as E3 would nab me a plethora of new courses for me to play around with. It’s a solution that is really region dependent, unlike the ease of use entering a course code presented to virtually any player around the world.
The only other time custom courses crop up is on one of the two additional play modes Super Mario Maker has. In the 100 Mario Challenge, you receive 100 lives to take on eight random player-created stages that are again ranked in terms of difficulty. These challenges are fun because you’re never sure of what’s around the corner, again accentuated by the power Nintendo grants players in designing levels. The 100 lives seems like an apt figure then for players looking to higher difficulties for challenges, with some stages I encountered being infuriating to get through but ultimately rewarding to complete.
If custom games aren’t your thing, though, you still have the option to play the Super Mario Challenge. An 18 level gauntlet designed by Nintendo themselves, this mode acts as a best hits series of the four Mario games present. Each world contains four levels, including the climatic boss battle at the end of each. Beat that boss and you’re given a checkpoint to start over at should you run out of lives, which was very likely during my own couple of runs. Taking a break from the player created madness was sometimes a great distraction, and the light rewards that Super Mario Challenge offered encouraged me to finish it in its entirety at least once.
But once it’s done, it’s done – with little reason to return outside of some inspiration. And that’s really the core issue here with Super Mario Maker on 3DS. While it fixes most of my original gripes with the game (an over-simplified tutorial and the locking of level elements from the get go), it makes more egregious ones in the limitations it imposes on designers. Not being able to directly share levels with players far and wide rips part of the soul out of this otherwise classic title, knocking it down a peg from the high pedestal it still stands on with the Wii U.
And it’s a real shame, because given the form factor it presents the easiest and most convenient way to create Mario levels yet. There’s something so appealing about being able to sit on long flights just hammering away at a platforming masterpiece. But it’s sobering when you realise that masterpiece is relegated to being used in a lucky packet of sorts, or only available to those few who are able to get within a few meters of your 3DS. It’s the real mark down on a otherwise faithful port of an excellent game, and makes it far harder to recommend.