Gamers can be a demanding bunch sometimes, especially when talking about sequels and franchises. To this day, some players are put off by how Zelda II: The Adventure of Link doesn’t work like the rest of the series. The same could be said of Super Mario Bros. 2, a game which, as we later learned, wasn’t even a Mario title originally. No matter how much time passes, some players are always ready to unleash angry backlash over the changes made to each new entry in a franchise.
For most creators, their art getting bashed for not living up to some fans’ unrealistic standards will be frustrating but unavoidable. After all, developers are mere people; they can’t make every game appeal to every gamer. But Nintendo’s developers aren’t normal creators. When they’re challenged to do better, they take it to heart — and, in some cases, they can even give it back in kind.
The birth of Super Mario Maker
Enter Super Mario Maker, a game from 2015 that, true to form, is Nintendo’s way of teaching gamers a lesson. Back when the game was first announced, the running joke among fans was, “You make it, if you’re so smart!” Fortunately, and almost ironically, that’s exactly what fans did. And what resulted was four years of unbridled creativity, leading up to the inevitable sequel coming this summer.
Super Mario Maker is, without a doubt, one of the best decisions Nintendo’s ever made. Why? Simple: because it coasts off their most successful IP, Mario, and demands that long-time fans become the artists. Think you know better than Nintendo? Now you can test that out. By giving you ample tools from the get-go, as well as many more that you can unlock later on, Nintendo challenges people to understand how difficult it is to design a video game. And rather than do so via an angry lecture, they’ve decided to be clever and subtle about it. They instead force you, the player, to do the dirty work yourself.
I remember when I first purchased Super Mario Maker, way back in the summer of 2017. I was late to the Wii U craze due to limited finances, but it was always on my radar. When I finally got it and realized how hard it was to design a video game from scratch, I actually gave up. But no sooner did that happen than I realized another of the game’s best features: sharing built levels. If I couldn’t design something, then there was always the option to test someone else’s out for myself. The game even gave me 10 levels to choose from via its 10 Mario Challenge, all of which were pre-designed and tested my wits. And if I completed all of those? Well, I could always go online and download custom maps made by people from around the world.
The longevity of Super Mario Maker
And I think that really speaks to the game’s true brilliance. It’s true that Nintendo didn’t have to design Super Mario Maker around Mario. Any franchise — be it Kirby, Metroid, Zelda, or countless others — could’ve been fine, and I hope and pray that we eventually get to see those as well. But by picking Mario, Nintendo made a bold statement. After all, Mario is Nintendo’s mascot. He’s the one with the most universal appeal. He’s starred in the most games, and he’s the one you immediately think of when the word “Nintendo” comes up in conversation. In many ways, he is as ubiquitous to Nintendo as Mickey Mouse is to Disney and Bugs Bunny is to Warner Bros.
By calling the game Super Mario Maker, Nintendo basically gives its own keys over to its fans. There are no more preset rules, conventions, or norms. Do you want to have a level inspired by Super Mario Bros. where, instead of fighting Bowser, you actively try to avoid him? A level inspired by Super Mario Bros. 3 where you have a real fight with Bowser at the end, instead of tricking him into falling to his doom? One inspired by Super Mario World that’s actually hard for a change? Or even, maybe, a level inspired by New Super Mario Bros. where you fight a small Bowser on top of a medium-sized Bowser on top of a giant Bowser? To quote Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”
“I’m always building!”
That’s the true secret of Super Mario Maker in a nutshell: its endless possibilities. It is so endless, in fact, that Nintendo even ported the title over to the 3DS. And they’re currently about to release a sequel, Super Mario Maker 2, for the Switch, complete with new items, new levels, and a whole new palette based on the layout from Super Mario 3D World. Can anyone say catsuits and glass pipes? Because I can!
Ultimately, the real testament to Super Mario Maker‘s brilliance is how it still has a community five years later. With each passing year, I see new YouTube tutorials of the Bowser and Bowser Jr.-centric levels in the game. These, in my humble opinion, are always the best and most creative of the bunch. But even if they weren’t, I’d still have hours of entertainment building and playing levels. Perhaps Nintendo initially made this as a subtle middle finger to their angry fans, politely insisting that they “do better,” but they’ve also unearthed some talented creators who may have done exactly that. Watch out, Nintendo: You have some competition now!