My fifth day with Super Mario Maker was noteworthy for three things, two good and one bad. First, the Super Mario Bros. 3 theme unlocked today, which is one of my favorite Super Mario aesthetics. Once I get a firmer grasp on the tools, I imagine I’ll do most of my level designing in the Mario 3 and Super Mario World themes.
My first impulse was to reskin some of my old levels in the new theme, but I quickly realized that this won’t always work. Though the mechanics are mostly the same across all Mario games, the few differences – spin jumps, the ability to carry shells, wall jumping, etc. – have a pretty big impact, especially when you’re trying to build puzzles with a single solution. Your choice of theme isn’t just a matter of aesthetics, but is actually a critical design decision.
In the day’s second major development, I put in some serious work on a level I started the other day, discovering – and fixing – some flaws, and fleshing out the level into something that feels really complete and pretty challenging, with a couple of secrets thrown in for good measure. It’s really satisfying to feel your level come together in a matter of an hour or two, and it’s a testament to this game’s intuitive design that you can so easily and quickly ramp up the degree of polish on your level. I’m certainly not the world’s best level designer, but Super Mario Maker does a great job of making everyone feel like they can create something truly special. The top 1% of level designers will certainly shine in the online community, but the game’s design tools don’t feel like they’re intended only for those people. Anyone who enjoys playing Super Mario games can also enjoy designing them.
And finally, the game didn’t register my play session until just after midnight – the second or third time this has happened to me. So, at this point I’ve had Super Mario Maker for seven days, and have played it every day, but I only have five days’ worth of content. Of course, I suppose this is my fault for waiting until after 11:00 some nights to boot up the game, and I could always futz with the Wii U’s system clock to cheat my way to Day Nine. But still, it’s frustrating that I’m not only having to wait through Nintendo’s nine-day rollout plan – which I’ve kind of gotten on board with – but am also being penalized for when I play the game. Ostensibly, five minutes a day in the level editor is enough to unlock the next day’s delivery of goodies, but I sometimes wait thirty or forty minutes for that message. I wish the game could recognize that I’ve spent several hours in the level editor – well over the thirty-five minutes required of me to earn seven daily content deliveries. In a week that’s been full of joy, and a wholly unprecedented kind of gaming joy at that, this has been a rare source of frustration.
Ultimately, though, this is a minor gripe. Within another week I’ll have everything unlocked, and the game will still feel fresh and exciting. And really, this flaw in the game’s design just underscores what a great game it is. When I’m playing Mario Maker on, say, Tuesday night, and midnight rolls around and then a notification pops up telling me I’ll have to wait until Thursday to unlock the next batch of design tools, I immediately get a sinking feeling. Part of me wants to turn the game off right then and there, and just wait until Thursday to play again, as if anything I do between now and then will be pointless. And then I blink and it’s two in the morning, and I’m still plugging away in the level editor, fighting through yawns to further refine my latest creation, and having a great time all the while.
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