Super Mario Maker is launching for the 30th anniversary of the original Super Mario Bros, and to say the franchise is showing its age is an understatement. Mario hasn't really had a new idea since Rosalina joined the cast for Super Mario Galaxy back in 2007. The thing that has kept the Mario franchise viable has been solid level designs in its various incarnations, so I was skeptical regarding the viability of a title that is essentially a creation tool, because it removes the biggest strength from an otherwise tired franchise.
However, Nintendo's legitimately fantastic design sense is still present in Super Mario Maker. The displays are easy to understand, the tools are intuitive and fast, and the social elements are handled in a way that allows creators control over who can see their stuff. It's the only title from this year's E3 I felt any sort of real excitement regarding.
The cool thing about Mario Maker is that the workflow for a level is fluid. If you want to pick your setting – water, air, castle, whatever – at the beginning, go ahead. If you want to map out your level, then pick your setting last, or midway, you can do that too. And the touch screen and stylus makes tracing out the platforming path fast and easy. It's amazing how quickly you can lay down the basics of a level; if it's a short map, you can get the platforms down in seconds. Enemies and power-ups are then added through icon-based menus that you tap to cycle through. If you want something to be bigger, you add a mushroom to it. If you want something to be smaller, then you shake the character until the mushroom flies out. The shaking is actually really fun to do, and somewhat gamifies the experience of building a level.
Amiibos can also be used to give Mario costumes. The costume is selected based on the Amiibo you choose, so for instance, Wii Fit Trainer adds a Wii Fit trainer costume for Mario... which is hilariously weird but I love the cosplay element. But the absolute master stroke regarding level building included in Mario Maker is that the maker of the level must be able to complete it themselves in order to unlock the ability to upload the level. This prevents people from uploading broken junk that will just serve to frustrate other players.
While you're playing through your own level, the game tracks your path, so you can see where a ledge might be too high or a gap might be too wide, making fixing things easy. “Easy” is really the base idea behind the whole process. Super Mario Maker is such a joy to use that your creative limits are really the only thing holding you back from designing amazing side-scrolling Mario levels. There's a small learning curve regarding some navigation elements – the thing that tripped me up the most was how to set Mario in the correct place to start a level – but it only takes a few goofs to figure out the right way to do things. The whole experience is far more intuitive than the building modes in a lot of other games.
Of course, there's no limit to the number of hours you can spend creating levels and playing the creations of others. Like most things Nintendo offered this year, Super Mario Maker goes back to the origins of a decades-old franchise, but it does so in a way that's fresh, fun, and friendly. In other words, it's the roots of Nintendo at its best!
Super Mario Maker will be released on the Wii-U in North American on September 11, 2015, almost exactly thirty years after the release of Super Mario Bros on September 13, 1985.