Game Review: 'Super Mario Maker' Is A DIY Triumph

It'll make you feel like a kid again.

Every kid with access to an original Nintendo and graph paper wanted to create their own "Super Mario" levels. Now, Nintendo's letting them.

"Super Mario Maker," out Friday for Nintendo's Wii U system, is a love letter to the classic platforming franchise so many of us grew up with. It's packed with quirky Mario challenges molded in the style of vintage games that you'll recognize from decades past. And, in a first for the series, you can make your very own Mario levels from scratch.

The allure is obvious: Mario games are fun, but they end. Now, they never have to. You can build your own or play limitless selections created by other people from around the world.

In a pleasant twist for the video game industry -- so often built on absurd hype and marketing before major releases -- the game is honestly as good as it sounds. The Huffington Post spent a lot of time with a press copy of "Super Mario Maker" and there's no denying it: It's fun, creative and video game-y.

"Of course it's video game-y," you're thinking. "That's like saying water's wet."

But video games aren't really what they used to be. 

"Pokemon Shuffle Mobile," a recent smartphone game, takes a celebrated franchise best known from Nintendo systems and twists it into a cute but watered-down puzzler that constantly urges players to make in-app purchases. There's nothing mechanically interesting about it, nothing that will inspire players to create something of their own. It's Pikachu on a hamster wheel.

"Super Mario Maker," by contrast, is a bottomless toy box. You can make a level using the mechanics in "Super Mario Bros.," "Super Mario Bros. 3" and "Super Mario World," games released from 1985 to 1992 for the original Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo. For something a bit more modern, you can also design with the "New Super Mario Bros." template. You can mix and match enemies and items in weird combinations, so maybe you have a Goomba marching around with Chain Chomp on his head while Mario soars through the skies in the Koopa Clown Car.

You'll pour hours into a creation, upload it to the Internet and then try someone else's level -- only to discover something totally off-the-walls that you never would've thought of.

It's a great feeling.

An excerpt from a booklet that comes packaged with "Super Mario Maker."
An excerpt from a booklet that comes packaged with "Super Mario Maker."

In a sense, Nintendo is recommitting to the core ideas that have always made the company great. The game, like most "Super Mario" titles, is simplicity polished to perfection: Players are really just setting up an obstacle course from Point A on the left side of the screen to Point B on the right. Every item, platform or enemy has a very basic action. But mix all of these things together and the results can be startling. You'll feel like a kid again whenever you snap together the perfect combination of items and enemies. 

Two pages from the original instruction manual to "Super Mario World." 
Two pages from the original instruction manual to "Super Mario World." 

And the nostalgia doesn't stop there: Everything looks and sounds just like it did when you were young. What could be better in a video game than the perfect distillation of childhood beeps and boops? Nothing.        

Nintendo's Wii U, the only system that'll run "Super Mario Maker," has struggled to find an audience since its 2012 release. Games like "Mario Kart 8" and "Super Smash Bros." have helped, but "Super Mario Maker" may be the first entry that truly feels like a killer app -- something vividly Nintendo that you couldn't possibly get anywhere else. We'll see if it gives the system a boost.     

Meanwhile, if you have the means -- the Wii U isn't exactly cheap, and "Super Mario Maker" is another $59.99 on top of that -- you owe it to yourself to give the game a try. If the best entertainment invokes in audiences the urge to create something for themselves, then "Super Mario Maker" is worthy indeed.