Big ideas, smaller screen
What started as a tool to create levels internally within Nintendo for Mario games, became Super Mario Maker, one of the most beloved Wii U titles which more than 3 million players have been able to enjoy. The dream of being able to craft your own Mario levels were finally a reality, and a multitude of players poured their creativity into their stages, which they then shared with the world.
In many ways, this was Nintendo’s 2D answer to Minecraft. A Mario game created by you and only limited by your own imagination. This was also Nintendo’s ‘Thank You’ to all of their lifelong fans as well as a very welcoming entry to their sidescrolling platformer for those little ones yet to embrace the Italian Plumber (my son loved creating his own levels at age 3 when it launched on the Wii U).
Finally, back in September of this year, Nintendo announced via a Direct that Super Mario Maker would be making its way to the Nintendo 3DS. Seeing the game in motion on the handheld, I was quickly bombarded with the amazing possibilities this would bring. The ebullience of being able to see both screens closer together and edit without having to take your eyes off one to look at the other.
The jubilation of taking the 3DS version with me anywhere, affording me the opportunity to craft challenging levels on the go and then upload them to the network and towards the Wii U sitting in my living room, waiting for my kids to arrive home and partake in my very own version of the Red Wedding, right inside Bowser’s castle.
The video continued, explaining what this iteration would bring, only to send my joy crashing down into the lava pit mere moments later.
That some of the features wouldn’t be able to make it from the home console to its much smaller little brother? Understandable.
That the little brother would arrive dirty, without shoes, only one sock, and having no sense of how to communicate with its big brother? Unforgiving.
Yet, I was reluctant to cast a negative shadow over the pocket sized creator, expecting Nintendo to listen once again to their most loyal fans and make the proper changes to attain the full potential of such a great idea.
Alas, that never came to pass.
Don’t get me wrong. Super Mario Maker 3DS is the ultimate world building tool available at your fingertips and without having you constrained to a TV, but it is still hard to look past all the potential and promises that could have come to fruition, which I as well as many others envisioned during those brief first moments of its reveal.
Let’s talk about what we have first.
Encompassing three decades of Mario games, Super Mario Maker 3DS offers you four skins for you to create your own Mario adventures, ranging from the Plumber’s pixelated beginnings with Super Mario Bros., to the current HD style of New Super Mario Bros. U.
Although the game is transitioning from its 720p version (Wii U TV resolution) or 480p (Wii U GamePad) to the Nintendo 3DS screen (240p), the presentation is near flawless. The smaller and less powerful handheld is more than capable of handling and adapting Super Mario Maker Wii U and its four distinct style templates, with the only real noticeable exception being New Super Mario Bros. U which is the only one of the four styles to have its native format available in HD.
Gone is the need to edit levels or wait days in order to unlock some of the tools. The 3DS version comes with all four templates already unlocked (Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U), whereas the Wii U version has two to begin with (Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. U). A smaller amount of tools is available on the Wii U game to start with versus the amount found on its 3DS brethren.
The 3DS game has removed the ’10 Mario Challenge’ in favor of a new mode called the ‘Super Mario Challenge‘, which can be categorized as the “Story Mode” of the game, and beating it helps you complete your tool box.
Medal Challenges help differentiate the game from its Wii U counterpart and give additional replayability to the levels. Each level features two Medal Challenges, which can ask you to beat a level without jumping, using power-ups, or finishing a stage without moving left among other things.
The game also provides the opportunity to share editing responsibilities between two users. One player can start the creation of a level, and then have another player contribute to it, awarding a collaboration icon on the level to show the people that were responsible.
Super Mario Maker 3DS asks you to forget about a community that was already established and instead get together with your friends to share and create. The problem is that there is less incentive in building levels when instead of having a potential crowd of millions play it, you are just limited to your own friends.
Let’s talk about what we don’t have.
When you first turn on the game you are introduced to the loading screen. A bird is pecking at some food and it takes so long that you would assume bird ate more than its own weight. Luckily, once this initial install is finished, you do not need to wait long for the game to load when you turn it back on.
Although Super Mario Maker on the Wii U did not make it easy to be able to share courses with your friends, it did allow you to upload them for everyone else to see and play, rate it and recommend it. The 3DS version does not allow you to upload levels online. Instead, levels can only be shared over Street Pass or locally with another player who has the game.
Also, you could search for Recommended Courses based on IDs specific to them, difficulty, rankings, and new releases. The 3DS version only lets you search by difficulty or refreshing the courses that appear, showing a different selection when you do.
Super Mario Maker 3DS has no Amiibo support, and because of this, the game lacks the ‘Mystery Mushroom’ outfits of the Wii U version, which in turn eliminates Event Courses from the game. Adding sound is another feature that has been removed, perhaps because they needed to fit this game into a smaller format.
3D functionality is completely absent and this removes an additional wrinkle that could have helped make this an unique experience.
What could have been.
Super Mario Maker 3DS is both fun and equally frustrating. If you never played the Wii U version, it will be an amazing experience realizing all those ideas you had before on how to design your very own Mario levels. It will be even better if you have a friend or family member who owns a copy of the game, so you can share ideas and bounce levels off of each other.
If you spent reasonable time with the Wii U version, not much is there on the 3DS.
It is understandable that some stages are just not possible on the 3DS version because of their size, but Nintendo should have established a set size or total amount of objects that can be used so that both levels could be available on both formats. Although limiting, this could have led to even more creative ways on how to prioritize length and tools and possibly lead to amazing creations.
Both version of the game could have been linked to a single Nintendo Account, making it possible for people that already played and unlocked all the tools on the Wii U version, to have those available from the very beginning on the 3DS. Instead, you have to gather them all over again instead of going straight into world building.
Perhaps we will be receiving a third and final version of the game for the Nintendo Switch and that this time, the game will be able to live to our (sometimes unreasonable) expectations.
Super Mario Maker 3DS is a fun experience that allows you to create your very own Mario levels and share them among your family and friends. Just don’t expect the full Wii U version to be found on the smaller and less powerful 3DS.
Super Mario Maker is now available on the Nintendo 3DS for $39.99.