Super Mario Maker? Game of the Year? In 2015, the year of giganto-open world sandboxes? Why yes, for a couple of reasons:
- Firstly, I haven't had time to play any of the big games this year, thanks to the last year's backlog (can Fallout 4 be my game of 2016? No, of course not. I won't have finished it by then.)
- Secondly, for the same reason everyone else my age* likes it. As a kid - and forgive me if you've read the next sentence in many other places around the internet - I used to draw mw own Mario levels on paper.
Yeah. I know. You've seen loads of other people write this. But Super Mario Bros. was an absolute revolutionary revelation.
As a very young kid, I was first introduced to ye olde British computers. Don't get me wrong, they were really exciting at the time. But this meant loading games from cassette tape (which could take several minutes), often the result of which was a "game" which was often designed with little thought as to how someone other than the developer might need to learn how to play it. There weren't difficulty curves or second chances. So an instantly-loading, side-scrolling, actually fun to control game, that was deliberately designed to show you how to play in its opening scenes, was treated as the holy grail.
*Everyone who counts
I played it over and over again. And because I knew the 32 levels by heart, I longed for new ones. For the sake of historical accuracy (and, I guess, in complete conflict with the point of the first few paragraphs here), being a late adopter of the NES, I got Super Mario Bros. 3 soon afterwards, and that's got 90 of the buggers. But even then, I wanted more. So, being just about young enough for this kind of imagination to be acceptable, I drew out my own Mario stories, on paper (sometimes squared paper - prestige). I think I started off drawing Mario 3 levels, with slopes and flying and Toad Houses. But after a while, I think I appreciated the original's level style more. It's probably an early example of appreciating an older game as being "stylised". Now, in 2015, suddenly I'm able to make my childhood dreams a reality. Super Mario Maker provides a simple, intuitive interface, allowing you to construct a Mario level of your very own, and upload it to the (Jugem's) Cloud (if you got that reference, leave a Like at the bottom of the page).
There are of course some disadvantages of having to wait 25 years to be able to do this. My 8-year-old self would've gone absolutely mental, dragged any old crap across the screen, and published about 500 levels by now. It certainly would've done this:
Alas, the above didn't make the cut. Having got the game 4 months ago, I've finished making precisely 7 levels. Now I'm a working adult, very conscious about the quality of my creative output, I can't just rush these things. I make sure I have a theme before starting. I tinker with jump difficulty and enemy placement. I try and follow the 4 step theory as explained in the creation of Super Mario 3D World levels. I upload it after playing it through at least twice without editing the content. And occasionally I get maybe 2 stars.
There is another reason for the pace of my creativity. I'm too busy playing other people's levels!
In perspective: There were 32 Super Mario Bros. 1 levels. There were 48 Lost Levels… levels. There were 90 Super Mario Bros. 3 levels, 76** Super Mario World Levels, and I think 80-odd in New Super Mario Bros. U. That's quite a lot of Mario. But now there are HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of levels.
It's always fun to see if your follow-ees have made anything new; it's like Tumblr but with Super Mario Bros. instead of erotic fan art. You can try a Hundred Mario Challenge, where you're given 16 random levels from around the world. In short, you can never run out of Mario! OK, sometimes you hit a wall in the road of fun; some people insist on making levels with "last world of The Lost Levels" difficulty, or a puzzle based around a mechanical quirk that Nintendo wouldn't let past the play-testers. Another complaint is that you reach the last level of your random 100-plumbered quest, only to discover it's a "don't move, we've made an automatic Mario Rube-Goldberg Machine" level. But, more often than not, it's great. Perhaps the designer's made a level based on a famous building, or a shape, or a concept, or an idea that you've never seen before in a Mario game.
In the interests of criticism, and the avoidance of blind fanboy-ism, what concerns are raised? Some people, presumably raised on Doom WADs, say it's too simplistic. I'd argue that it does a good job of streamlining things, and makes sure that it does what it does very well. It's just classic Mario-ness; the system that defined how 2D platforming should work, and how it should feel. Take, as a comparison, Little Big Planet. I really wanted to love that game; it had a lot going for it, from the cute and cuddly protagonist, to Stephen Fry's charming narrative, to the quirky selection of audio and visual objects. But it takes far too long to create anything that feels remotely like a finished level of any meaning. More importantly, Sackboy himself doesn't control well at all. Bar a few mechanical tricks with the environment, it becomes a plodding also-ran platformer very quickly; the kind of nonsense we dealt with on the Amiga in 1993. Super Mario Maker avoids all of the faff, and makes it possible to have something half-decent finished within a reasonable amount of time (this is an important thing as far as Nintendo is concerned, and it probably means - as someone who used to mess around on Zelda Classic*** - you won't get a Legend of Zelda Maker).
***If you don't know, don't ask
It's also nice to see that Nintendo aren't afraid to mess around and subvert their own rules, either. Giving mushrooms to things and making them giant? Stacking baddies? Retro-fitting Bowser Jr. into the original Super Mario Bros.? And the mystery mushrooms, with the ability to play as an army of amiibo-based Nintendo legends (albeit re-organised to run and jump like an Italian plumber)? What's more, like all of Nintendo's Wii U success stories, they keep adding more good stuff to it. Checkpoints! Super-fire-y clown-mobiles! Bouncy rings! And of course, many more mystery mushrooms. You can play as Princess Daisy for crying out loud!
The only other concern - and admittedly it's one that I do have myself - is that, by allowing people to write their own versions of the classic Mario stories, they may be destroying the sanctity of the original games. In the future (when we're playing Super Mario Maker Multiverse 3 Alpha on the Trump-Nintendo X-Station) will the original NES and SNES games be seen as a "starter pack" for the infinitely-expanding Mario universe? Probably not; if there's one thing that you can say after playing a multitude of Mario missions (award please), it's that you appreciate how clever the original level designs are. And more importantly, it's got everyone talking about Mario again. Hurrah, I say. Hurrah.