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At first blush, Mario Maker looks like any other Mario game. You've got the red overall-wearing plumber going through levels and mashing on Goombas, Koopas, Piranha Plants and other nasties. It's very straightforward, aside from the part where the levels seem to be unfair for a regular Mario title. Perhaps there is a nearly impossible stack of Piranha Plants that you need precision timing to conquer, a randomly bouncing Koopa Trooper who you can narrowly avoid with careful jumps, or an impassable wall. We've all encountered that one jump or one part in a Mario game that we're tired of and would rather skip past.
Mario Maker is a game that takes this to heart. While it is a Mario game, it's more of a Mario editor. By tapping a button on the Wii U GamePad, you're able to instantly switch the game into edit mode. From here, you can completely revamp the level. Want to remove that annoying plant? It's gone. Add some more blocks? Toss in a Mushroom Block to get some additional health along the way? Go wild. You can even make the game harder if you want and add more enemies, dangerous challenges, or a big, nasty pit that requires a pixel-perfect jump. You can even change the graphical style. In the demo, you could instantly swap between 8-bit Mario and New Super Mario Bros. U visuals.
The core editing system is point-and-click. You tap a Goomba icon and then tap where you want that Goomba to go. Adding and deleting blocks is done by drawing with the stylus and a simple Mario Paint-inspired undo button. The demo version that we saw at E3 2014 was limited to a few classic Mario enemies and items. We were told that more power-ups and items will be available in the final version of the game, though they were not able to discuss precisely what will be included. Even with the bare bones available, it was immensely easy to fool around with the levels. It only took a few moments to completely revamp a level to my liking. This can be done at any time, and you can swap between playing a stage and editing it on the fly. The only downside — at least in the demo — is that enemies respawn every time you edit the level.
It's really impressive how well designed the level-creator engine is. The flexibility of the Wii U GamePad is a real benefit to the creation process. Being able to easily tap, draw and move objects means you can go to town with the level design. The title even includes a helpful "trail" of Marios when you finish a level, showing exactly where and how you jumped to allow for more precise editing for the next playthrough of the stage. In theory, this would allow for effectively infinite variations in Mario gameplay for players of all skill levels. If you really get stuck, you can just tap the edit button. You could erase everything and make a straight line to run across, but what's the fun in that?
Unfortunately, Nintendo is being mum about what else is going to happen with Mario Maker. The E3 2014 demo showed off the editing system in action rather than serving as an example of how the game will play. The rep was not able to tell us if trading levels will be possible, or if the game will have a campaign mode, although he did confirm that Nintendo would talk more about Mario Maker's core gameplay later in the year. Mario Maker is coming exclusive to the Nintendo Wii U in 2015.
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