Last year, the Nintendo Wii U received one of the most brilliant games for it: Super Mario Maker (reviewed by us over here). It allowed you to create and play your own Mario levels, and then connect to the Internet and share your level with the world. To date, gamers around the globe have created well over several million Super Mario Maker courses, which is impressive given the small-ish installed user base for the Wii U. To shake things up, Nintendo brings Super Mario Maker to the 3DS, so let’s grab our construction hats and see what’s new.
For a far better overview of Super Mario Maker, please do go back and take a look at our original review, since much of what I had to say about the Wii U version applies just as much to the 3DS version. In fact, you’ll probably have a better context of what I’m talking about here, especially if you don’t own a Wii U and never played that version.
Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS is functionally almost identical to the Wii U version, and the basic concept is precisely the same. You use different objects to create a course to play, which you can then save and share for others to enjoy…or cry over, depending on how evil and twisted your course-creating skills are. On the 3DS, you use the touch screen to drag and drop elements around, and when it switches to play mode, the action moves to the upper screen. Like before, you can also switch your theme between classic Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario U, ensuring compatibility between the two versions of Super Mario Maker.
A number of features have actually received upgrades over the Wii U version, most notably the tutorials. Your host from the first game, Mashiko, now receives a pigeon companion named Yamamura. If Mashiko shows your the mechanics of creating a course, Yamamura shows you the art of it, showing you example courses and then explaining why certain elements are placed in certain ways. For example, he shows a line of coins and explains that it’s used as a guide for people to show them the way. There’s actually a lot of subtle psychology going on here, and if you’re at all interested in the psychological basis and functionality of level design and of metagaming, you’d better pay attention to him. It’s fascinating stuff, but if it’s not your thing you can also safely bypass the explanations and just get straight into the course creation. But still…being taught course creation by a pigeon is a little weird.
Another feature that got a minor upgrade is the Super Mario challenge, where you’re given ten lives to get through 100 courses across 18 worlds, all newly created by Nintendo. The worlds have been themed slightly, and the courses feel more traditional than they did in the Wii U version, although the amount of imagination shown here is a brilliant inspiration for your own designs. Another addition is that each course has two additional goals (other than just getting to the end), and each course has different goals. Furthermore, the second goal is hidden, and only made visible by completing the first (although it’s quite possible and conceivable that you can inadvertently complete the second goal without knowing what it is). Some of the goals are straightforward, such as “defeat every enemy” or “collect every coin”, but some–such as the one that says “complete the course without pressing left”–can present a real &@#$* of a challenge. Some are more puzzling in nature, such as “complete the course without using a warp pipe”, leading you to try and discover other ways around the level. It’s another great example of using lateral thinking in course creation.
Each course you complete is added to a list of courses that you can edit and remix as you feel. Notice I mentioned about two paragraphs up that courses you create can be shared. I specifically did not say “uploaded to the Internet”, because in the case of Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS, you can only share courses with other people via streetpass or via direct share, and this is, I feel, the weakest point of the game, since the whole point of it is to be able to share your creations with the world. That’s not to say that you can’t OBTAIN courses from the Wii U library, because you can. You can’t rate them, but you can play them. I wasn’t able to test this during my playthrough because the 3DS servers are still offline.
I need to go back to chatting about the course creation tool, because there are a number of other things that this title does better than the Wii U version. For one, course elements are unlocked at definite points, such as completing tutorials or Mario Challenge levels, which was a better way of doing things than the Wii U version’s “play with it enough and it’ll unlock” modus operandum.
While the portable version of the game is pretty awesome for creating courses, I feel it slightly misses the point, and I think a huge opportunity has been missed here by not making the saves cross-compatible with the Wii U version. It would have been awesome to be able to create courses on the go and then upload them to the Wii U for transfer to the web. (For a far more in-depth discussion about the differences between the two versions, check out this NintendoLife article which explains it far more elegantly than I can.) That aside, I do highly recommend Super Mario Maker, both the Nintendo 3DS version and the Wii U version, for slightly different reasons. If you don’t already own the Wii U version, you really have to get your hands on this, because it is quite literally the most definitive version of Super Mario you’ll ever get on the little handheld.