After seven days with Super Mario Maker – that is, seven days by the game’s accounting, but actually eleven – the time-gated rollout is starting to wear on me. For one thing, the game has inexplicably decided to make me wait two days between every item drop, so what was supposed to be nine days will end up being maybe fifteen. For another thing, the benefit of the delayed rollout is starting to wear off. During my first few days with the game, the restricted toolkit forced me to be creative with my designs; by now, though, I’ve got enough tools that I could make a zany, overstuffed, too-many-ideas level if I wanted to. Any austerity in my approach to level building is self-imposed. I’m still learning the importance of restraint in level design, but from other people’s levels, not from the game’s gradual rollout of features.
Weirdly, though, this flaw in the game’s design – or at least the flaw in its execution, in my case – reveals just how great the game is. Every time the game informs me that I’ll be waiting more than 24 hours for the next batch of items, my brain says, “Alright then, may as well stop playing.” But I don’t stop playing. I cannot stop playing. It’s just too fun. Not only do I keep playing despite my disappointment, I keep designing. I’m not spending nearly as much time playing other people’s levels as I’d like to, because I can’t pull myself away from the level editor. Because I always feel like I’m just a few tweaks away from making this level truly great.
I can tell already that I’m not going to be that great at creating Mario levels, at least compared to what the community is capable of. It hasn’t even been two weeks, and there’s already some phenomenal – and phenomenally creative – stuff out there. My relative ineptitude should be discouraging, especially when giving up on my dream of being a great creator would just free up more time to play everyone else’s better levels. But Nintendo has done such a good job of making the level editor feel like a game that I’m content, even thrilled, to simply make decent, flawed levels just for my own amusement. For the sake of creating them. Getting a section of a level to function the way you want it to is at least as satisfying as playing through a challenging Super Mario level.
As for what I unlocked today, the big new feature was sound effects. You can drag a sound effect icon over to an item, and the item will make that sound when you interact with it. Want to make a question block that cries like a baby? Go ahead. Want to fill a level with chirping birds? Feel free. Want to record your own sounds, so you can troll your friends with Goombas that say, “You smell like farts, Eric,” when you stomp on them? You can do that too, though you won’t be able to upload those sounds for the rest of the world to play, for obvious reasons.
As far as gameplay goes, this is a pretty trivial addition. It doesn’t actually change the way the game plays at all. But like a lot of seemingly insignificant elements in Super Mario Maker, the mere presence of the sound effects helps to steer you towards certain types of creativity. Clever designers are already using these sounds to add a ton of atmosphere to their levels, such as an eerie heartbeat that can make you just nervous enough to miss that tough jump. The sound effects underscore the idea that the point of Super Mario Maker isn’t just to recreate the experience of playing Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and the rest; it’s to use the Super Mario tools and remix them to create entirely new, unpredictable, sometimes zany experience.
On the other hand, the sound effects tool is perhaps the first element that feels like it doesn’t belong, or at least makes the game feel different than it did to this point. Everything else (so far) in the game has shown a charmingly obsessive attention to detail. A great example of this is the way that elements that didn’t exist in certain games, such as Bowser Jr. in Super Mario Bros., have been reanimated in those games’ styles. Even Amiibo support – which allows you to throw dozens of characters, such as the Inklings from Splatoon, into your levels – has imposed the Super Mario Bros. aesthetic onto all of these characters. Sound effects, in contrast, have an entirely different, less charming aesthetic. The sounds aren’t at all related to the Mario universe, and the little voice-bubble graphics that pop up to accompany them are animated in a completely different style. It pulls you out of the game a little bit. I’ve loved being immersed the atmosphere of these four different Super Mario games, some of which I haven’t played in years. As much as sound effects add potential to customize levels in interesting ways, I don’t know if the feature is worth the cost, at least as currently implemented. I’d love to see Nintendo patch this feature to somewhat Mario-ify it.
There are still a number of features I’m waiting to unlock, features that I know exist and that linger in the back of my mind as I’m editing levels, whispering suggestions that I can’t yet implement. Within a few days, I should have everything unlocked, unless the game starts to play even looser with its concept of time. Every day of playing Mario Maker has been fun, even with an incomplete feature set. But over the last few days, the wait has finally started to feel like a wait.
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