Let’s get the bad stuff out the way – there’s a fair amount of it, after all. The 3DS port of last year’s Super Mario Maker has been shorn of some key features. You can create levels but there’s no way to upload them properly, bar the cute but ultimately fairly pointless ability to send and receive levels via StreetPass. You can play other people’s levels, but the search tools are absent, the ability to follow makers has been cut and – at least as far as I can tell in the version that’s being released this week – there’s no way to input codes and seek out a level that might have taken your interest on the Wii U. Instead all you get is a dumb list of recommended levels with filters for difficulty, and the 100 Mario Challenge that pulls in random levels for you to tackle.
In so many ways this is a disappointing port of last year’s outstanding Wii U game. If you want to make levels, the 3DS’ touchscreen does as good a job as the Wii U’s GamePad ever did, even if it’s a little cramped, yet without the ability to properly share creations it’s hard to see the point in putting the hours in. If you want to play everything that’s out there, this version of Super Mario Maker also comes up seriously short.
And yet I’ve found myself pouring just as many hours into this cut-down version of Super Mario Maker as its full-featured cousin. How so? It helps that I’m not a creator by any means. My two published Super Mario Maker levels involved stringing together a series of long jumps and spelling my daughter’s name out in coins, a level that I was appalled to find out when booting up the Wii U version recently some 65 people have played. To each and every one of you, I am truly sorry.
For those who like to tinker and toy with new creations and then watch them being enjoyed by others, this version of Super Mario Maker is to be avoided. For those who want to simply play, however, I think this borders on essential. Having given the keys over to the players last year in an surprising submission of control, this version of Super Mario Maker sees Nintendo butting in and showing you how it’s really done. In Super Mario Challenge, an all-new and exclusive mode for the 3DS, some 100 levels authored by Nintendo are available in a linear single-player mode. Compiled into short worlds, they’re quickfire entries that are over in a flash, and once completed they’re added to your collection so you can look under the hood in the Course Creator at all their extravagant workings. And extravagant they truly are. Auto-run levels be damned – this is how you make Mario levels.
And good god Nintendo is great at making Mario levels. This is a brilliantly creative trip to the Mushroom Kingdom that’s only enhanced by its limitations. If, like me, you’ve always found the New Super Mario Bros. games lacking a little in heart and purpose, there’s something exhilarating about seeing what happens when Nintendo starts making new levels using the Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3 toolsets. Those softer edges and that slightly bland aftertaste of more recent 2D Mario games is gone, and in its place is something a little sharper, with so much more soul.
There’s an anarchic feel to it all, whether it’s seeing a favourite level torn to shreds, old ideas subverted or simply witnessing a Koopa Clown Car spliced with a Fire Flower for an outstanding glimpse at what happens when Mario goes R-Type. This is a 2D Mario game with the same giddy edge and capable of the same surprises as Galaxy, one that’s never short of throwaway gags or subversive one-liners and one that revels in the kinetic slapstick that’s at the heart of so much of Mario’s appeal.
Super Mario Challenge is a fleeting mode, admittedly – those 100 levels can be seen through in around four to five hours – but it’s still worth returning to them thanks to the challenges within. Each level has two challenges, whether it’s collecting all the coins or, more often, something a little more creative, and many of them are secret meaning this could be a Mario game you’re digging away at for some time.
It’s a thing of wonder, really, and having got over the initial disappointment about those severe edits made for this version of Super Mario Maker – they are many, and well worth considering if creating and sharing courses is your thing – this took me totally by surprise. With little warning or fanfare, Nintendo has just quietly put out perhaps the most enjoyable 2D Mario game since its 16-bit heyday. For all Super Mario Maker for 3DS’ many faults, that’s no small feat.