Super Mario Maker for 3DS Review – Stifling Creativity

I have always been a big fan of video games that promote creativity. The idea of designing your own stages, characters or events in a game you enjoy makes you feel like you’re a game designer yourself. I remember playing games like Stunts on my old IBM 486 computer as a kid and enjoying creating my own stunt tracks to race through in 3D. Games like Excitebike on the original Nintendo allowed me to make my own race tracks too. When Sony and Media Molecule dropped Little Big Planet on us in 2008, it was a game changer by allowing gamers to create not only their own stages but even their own mini-games by implementing a robust and easy to use set of design tools and allowing players to share their creations online. Last year, Nintendo set out to do the same thing using Mario’s popularity to push the game, which was Super Mario Maker for the Wii U. The game was one of my top ten favorite games of 2015 and the sheer amount of creativity I was seeing out of it was exciting.

Fast forward to 2016 where Nintendo is on the brink of launching a brand new console while trying to push as much software out as they can on the aging Nintendo 3DS hardware. Many ports of poorly sold Wii U games began development for the 3DS including Yoshi’s Woolly World and, you guessed it, Super Mario Maker. The idea of creating and playing Super Mario Maker on the go was appealing, especially since the 3DS is well suited for such a game, so naturally I was excited for Super Mario Maker for 3DS. Unfortunately, the game shipped as a gimped version of its Wii U big brother and as a result the title simply fails to deliver the experience that Wii U players were given last year.

Let’s start by going into the positives since there are actually many. Super Mario Maker works VERY well on the 3DS. The intuitive and snappy creation tool set that allows users to easily create their own unique Super Mario levels translates to the 3DS beautifully. Everything works exactly as you would expect coming off of the Wii U version. The game gives us plenty of tutorials to help in the creation process, but honestly if you’re familiar with the Wii U version then you can easily skip the tutorials (which are narrated by an annoying pigeon and a receptionist lady and would recommend skipping on that basis alone) and still feel comfortable in jumping in and creating your own levels.

All of the tools included in the Wii U version are here and they work exactly the same. Nintendo pulled the same tactic here by locking building tools behind something that forces the player to put time into the game in order to unlock every piece used for creating stages. This time around, instead of locking the items behind days played, they lock them behind the single player mode. If the player wants the whole suite of creation tools available to them, they will have to complete the Super Mario Challenge in order to do so, which kinda sucks for those who want to jump right in and create.

The Super Mario Challenge feature is very appealing for those who do not wish to jump right into creating their own courses. This feature is basically a single player campaign that guides the player through 18 worlds consisting of 4 courses per world. All of these courses are designed using the Mario Maker tools by Nintendo employees and all of them are just as fun and unique as you would expect coming out of the community. That’s a total of 88 levels pre-loaded into the game that players can enjoy (12 are locked behind challenge goals), while each course offers challenges that give players a reason to return and conquer each one. I really enjoyed my time with this mode and there were some really challenging stages here that kept me on the edge of my seat.

Course World mode makes a return in Super Mario Maker for 3DS where players can hop online and download user created courses and play through them at their leisure. The inclusion of Course World essentially gives players an unlimited amount of Super Mario stages to play which adds endless replay value. Players can even download stages they really enjoyed and save them to their 3DS to play through again later, which is added to the Course Bot mode that keeps a collection of download and user created stages to access at any time. The 100 Mario Challenge is included too which selects a group of random online stages and gives the player 100 lives to try to complete all of them, adding even more replay value to the package and some extra challenge.

Unfortunately, this is where things start to really go down hill. Nintendo failed to add any method to share your user created courses online. The only way courses can be shared is by using Street Pass, or walking past someone with a 3DS powered on or in sleep mode who also owns the game in real life. In the United States, Street Pass just isn’t effective or popular enough to make this the sole method of sharing courses with other players. Not only does the lack of online course sharing stifle creativity but also makes it extremely difficult to get your created courses in the hands of other players. Seriously, who wants to spend countless hours creating, tweaking and perfecting your very own masterpiece just to be able to have it sit on your 3DS without being share to the world unless you just happen to get lucky walking past someone who also owns the game in the mall? It’s not going to happen.

Online sharing isn’t the only thing Nintendo cut from this version of Super Mario Maker. Gone also is the extremely cool Amiibo functionality that allowed players to warp any Amiibo figure straight into the game as a playable character. I loved jumping online and seeing creators attempt to make Mega Man-like courses that actually included Mega Man! The ability to rate stages, filter, sort or even select styles of created courses downloaded from the Course World are also absent too. When entering this mode, Nintendo simply lists random stages made from the Wii U version that you can select from. There isn’t any way to filter out stage types, template types, users anything. Difficulty is the only filter included here, so I guess Nintendo wasn’t dumb enough to throw that one out a least. I couldn’t even let the creator know that I enjoyed their course or give any feedback on it at all after playing it; all of which was in the Wii U version. Who thought that was a good idea?

Playing a course using the Super Mario Bros, Super Mario 3 or Super Mario World templates look really good running on the 3DS. I can’t say the same about the New Super Mario Bros U stages though. Instead of simply using the same graphics engine as the DS or 3DS New Super Mario games, they just downgraded the hell out of the Wii U version to where it appears jaggy, blurry and unattractive running on the 3DS. I feel bad for anyone using an 3DS XL model because that larger screen is going to be even more of an eye sore in Mario U courses. While I’m not going to go as far as recommending you DON’T play any stage using this template, I honestly can’t see why they didn’t just use the same graphics engine that powered the very good looking New Super Mario Bros 2.

Families with children who each own their own 3DS device are completely screwed if they plan on sharing a single copy of the game. Each user will need their own copy of the game due to a lengthy manual install that’s mandatory before playing. If you insert your copy into another 3DS, the data must be installed all over again and it wipes out the content saved on the cartridge, thus hosing whoever played the game last. What the hell is up with this?!

Super Mario Maker for the 3DS screams of “cash grab” to me. Nintendo did very little to enhance the experiencing on the 3DS and did nothing but cut content out of the core package that were, in my eyes, essential to providing the appeal of creating and playing user created courses. So many opportunities were missed here, like including templates for handheld Super Mario titles like the old monochrome Gameboy entries such as Super Mario Land 1 and 2 and New Super Mario Bros DS. The Nintendo 3DS is perfectly capable of housing all of the features that the Wii U version had, so releasing such a bare bones version of Super Mario Maker is puzzling to me, especially since everything translated so well to the 3DS handheld.

Everything really comes down to the type of player who will be playing Super Mario Maker for 3DS. If you’re a creator and the main appeal of this game is crafting and sharing levels, you’re better off staying far away from this version unless you absolutely do not care about sharing your courses online or have friends to swap stages with via Street Pass. If you’re the kind of gamer who only wants to play Super Mario courses and won’t use the creation tools much, then this version isn’t bad since it essentially includes an endless amount of Super Mario courses in mobile form. In my opinion, I wouldn’t support this title unless Nintendo decides to patch in new features later on, which isn’t out of the question since they did the same with the Wii U version. Still, Super Mario Maker for 3DS is a disappointing title that really could have been an amazing mobile version of the classic Wii U title if Nintendo actually put the effort into it.

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Josh Faulkner

Josh is a native Ohio-an who grew up in a small town that had very little for kids to do. As a result, Josh picked up video games at a very young age. Video games played a huge part in his childhood and continued to do so in his adult life. Starting out on an Atari 2600 when he was 3 years old, gaming has sort of grown up alongside with Josh and continues to be his biggest hobby. As an IT technician by day, Josh is an aspiring gaming writer by night who founded a few websites including 16 Bit Heroes and Too Busy Gaming, while also dabbling in retro gaming YouTube videos and live streaming events.