There are many unsavory things that the games press have said about Nintendo in the last few years. The most common comments revolve around the theory that the Japanese platform holder has completely run out of ideas. That said, no one ever asked Nintendo if they were cool with what they do. We just assume that anyone who employs more than 500 people is somehow evil and out to get us, but what if Nintendo is equally as tired of franchise recycling? That could explain the existence of Mario Maker, an application for the Wii U that lets you make and play your own Super Mario Bros. levels.
Mario Maker looks like Nintendo gave you a big piece of virtual graph paper and a bunch of “stamps” that will punch out the blocks and sprites that populate levels of various Super Mario Bros. games. Every grid space on the map can hold one item (be it block, or sprite, or power up), and you simply pick any item (by using the Wii-U tablet controller screen) and then you drag that item into the graph paper square of your choice. Trust me when I say that it is unbelievably easy for anyone to create levels.
Now that’s the basic idea of Mario Maker, and once you get past it everything else is just a modifier. Mario Maker has most of the pieces that you would expect, including: coin blocks, the brick blocks you can break, and the regular old blocks that you can’t break. There are also Koopa Troopa, Goombas, Hammer Brothers, Piranha Plants, and more. The modifiers come into play when you shake the item that you’ve picked up, but before you place it. For example, the Koopa Troopas in the menu appear to be green, but shaking them will turn their shells Red. You could also shake Goombas to change them into the smaller Goombas that appear from time to time.
In the case of placing the green pipes, and other items that come in various sizes, you also have the ability to scale those items bigger or smaller once they’re placed. Add in the fact you can make the forces of Bowser spawn inside the green pipes, bounce on spring boards, or double stack and you quickly realize that Nintendo wants Mario Maker creators to go all the way with their home made maps.
The biggest trick up Mario Maker’s sleeve is the fact that the graphics can go from NES style graphics to Wii U style graphics at the touch of a button. Everything will stay the same in terms of your placement of items, but all of the art assets will change. I’ve seen this same trick performed before by the Xbox360 remake of the original Halo game, called Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. The secret of that game’s dual graphic system is that the game stays the same, but a second graphics engine is built on top of the game to handle the new art assets. Nintendo is very strict about who does what job, and so developers will develop and marketing staff members will market. As a result, no one demoing what I saw actually worked on the game, and for the most part learned what they did about each game from some internal memo. To make a short story long, the person showing me the game couldn’t answer this question for sure, but it appears that Mario Maker uses a similar graphical engine trick as the one that Halo Anniversary uses. One game operating two graphical engines is significant because Mario games of today have slightly different game-play and physics when compared to NES era Mario games. Basically, you can change the graphics back and forth, but don’t be surprised when the game doesn’t play in the exact way it looks like it should play.
The idea of Mario Maker is a cool prospect, but I am not sure if the masses will be pleased with Nintendo’s efforts. This is because everyone has had very unique and personal experiences with Super Mario Bros. games over the years. I, for example, started to lose a lot of interest when I was told that no pipe in the game could be configured to take you to another area of the maps you’ll make. Many of the common power-ups in franchise were also missing in the software I saw, so can Nintendo make a Mario Maker game that will appeal to the majority of people before the game comes out in 2015? If Nintendo leaves out many common mechanics from the franchise, will enough people care? We will only know for sure in 2015, but keep an eye out. Mario Maker looks like game that Wii U owners will be talking about for a while.