By Will Robinson
June 18, 2015 at 11:29 PM EDT
  • Video Games

Mario has a big birthday coming up. Super Mario Bros., which featured the mustachioed plumber with a fondness for red hats, was released in September of 1985. To celebrate that 30th birthday, Nintendo has brought the classic character back for Super Mario Maker.

This project seemed destined to happen. Nintendo producer Takashi Tezuka has worked on enough Mario games to fill the entire Mushroom Kingdom. But it was one Tezuka didn’t have as big of a hand in that stoked this fire flower. When Nintendo’s tools team developed a Mario level creator with a new, accessible technology, inspiration struck: Why not make these tools into a game?

“For years, I’d been wanting to create an experience kind of like Mario Paint and then also a course editor using the Wii U GamePad,” Tezuka told EW. “When those two things combined in my head, I thought, ‘Okay, let’s actually do this now.’ Instead of having just a tool, we wanted to make it something fun that you can explore and make it a sandbox thing to play with.”

The game is crafted by Mario diehards, which is evident from some of the Mario looks included in the game: Tezuka labeled Super Mario Bros. 3 as his masterpiece, while director Yosuke Oshino tapped Super Mario World as his childhood favorite. So he looked back to that title to guide his vision. “The graphics lead on [World], Mr. [Shigefumi] Hino, was sitting right next to me working Super Mario Maker,” Oshino said. “It’s unbelievable that the designer behind my favorite childhood game is working with me on my very own games.”

Consider that the original Super Mario Bros. stages were sketched on graph paper and given to programmers to create, taking at least a day to finalize. By that criterion alone, Super Mario Maker is a triumph. The hands-on demo at E3 immediately launched to the start screen and presented two options: Play, or Create. There are myriad options upon firing up the editing tool, the game’s lifeblood.

Users pick a game skin from one of four Mario titles: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. Once a skin is picked, level background/setting is the next level down. But don’t worry: The skins and settings can be flipped out as the fickle mind goes, even deep into editing. Working in the original 8-bit mode and seek the 3D sheen of the Wii U? No problem.

Everything is customizable, and the GamePad is the key. Structures can be drawn out with the stylus and items and monsters can be dragged from the top of the screen and brought into your world. Truly, as both Ohino and Tezuka posit, this game couldn’t exist without the GamePad. It’s responsive, and it’s simple to create structures and grab monsters. Their behavior can even be changed with a shake or dropping an item on them, like giving an octopus wings; forcing a Bob-Omb to be on the verge of exploding; or making a Goomba bigger by feeding it mushrooms.

The key to the experience is speed and intuition, two primary focuses from Oshino and Tezuka. “One thing that we focused on just how quickly you can create a course and then test it out immediately,” Tezuka said. “You can experiment, try it out, and then make little tweaks to make it just right for you.

“We also thought about processing,” he continued. “You create something; if it takes too long for it to load or to be able to play, you don’t have that immediate reaction and response time.”

Sure enough, jumping from scientist to guinea pig is as facile as hitting “Play” in the bottom-left corner. Now it’s time to run through the level and see how impossible of a task you conceived. If a jump is too high, it’s a painless return to editing mode to drop down a block a couple notches.

The demo also featured sample levels, including one that boasted two fun features: amiibo integration and the Mystery Mushroom. New characters can be used in the game via amiibo figurines, and Mario can superficially transform with the new ‘shroom. No other powers exist, but who wouldn’t want to run around as an old-school Link or a Wii Fit Instructor?

Once the level is complete and beatable, upload it and let worldwide users hop through and rate how good it is. Users can search through all the uploaded stages and sort by ratings and difficulty, which is determined by percentage of completed runs.

The open-ended nature can intimidate the less enterprising gamer, but the team wanted to mitigate any steep learning curve. Sample levels can be altered by the gamer. Not only will the retail version include a tutorial, but each copy will include a colorful reference book to give, as Tezuka said, “seeds of knowledge.”

It includes theory on different ways to scale a tall building, from easy trampoline to bouncing off a flying Koopa chain. In addition, scenes depicted in the book are paired with a numerical code that can be inputted into the e-Manuel, prompting a video detailing that specific moment, aiding in piecing together your own Frankenstein, sadistic levels.

New footage of the game debuted this week at the Nintendo World Championships starring a hellish, nightmare version of Stage 1-1. The fans reacted strongly to each surprise twist in the stage, while failures were meet with judgmental groans. Translation? An implicit, “I could have done better.” Only Mario could elicit that reaction from a wide crowd.

“It’s amazing that something that people played 30 years ago, not only do people understand it, but it still resonates with people,” Oshino said. “We have so many different types of games today, and they still love that gameplay, it says something about the original designers like Mr. [Shigeru] Miyamoto and Mr. Tezuka. People just love it, and there’s just something special about it.”

Super Mario Maker will be available Sept. 11, two days shy of the franchise’s 30th anniversary on Wii U.

  • Video Games
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