Classic platforming meets intuitive level creation in Nintendo's newest addition to the Mario franchise.
It's hard to figure out just what to do with Mario Maker. Not in terms of mechanics; the build-your-own-platformer is pretty intuitive, and the Wii U GamePad's touchscreen makes it easy to drag and place obstacles, enemies, and goodies into each stage. But without a price point (Nintendo reps on the E3 price floor wouldn't comment) it's hard to judge what it's supposed to be-a full-fledged retail title? A budget-priced downloadable?
I may not be sure where Mario Maker belongs, but I do know that it's incredibly easy to get started. Instead of trying out any of the pre-made Mario levels, I decided to start with a blank canvas, severely overestimating my game design skills. I can't say I made the world's best platformer in my few minutes with the level creator, but I did put together a rudimentary stage, complete with coin boxes, goombas, and bricks a-plenty. Going a little deeper, I could put wings on the goombas-or any other enemy-to make their path a little less predictable. And with the touch of a button, I was able to switch from 8-bit Super Mario Bros. graphics to New Super Mario Bros. style, keeping everything I'd built intact. I found myself switching back and forth just to see what my level would look like in both styles; as a lifelong Mario player, it was a bit surreal to be making my own twist on Nintendo's flagship series.
Because there aren't a ton of games in the "make your own platformer" genre, it's hard not to compare Mario Maker to LittleBigPlanet, even though they're not all that similar. Nintendo's level creation tools aren't nearly as deep as Media Molecule's, but there's also not such a steep learning curve. In LittleBigPlanet, you could spend hours going through tutorials and unlocking items before even figuring out how to make one completely coherent level. Mario Maker has no such obstacles, putting all the tools you need right in front of you-but then again, there aren't nearly as many tools to work with. It's a trade-off, and your enjoyment will depend on what you're looking for. A highly in-depth level creator this is not; a way to enjoy classic Mario platforming with a self-editing spin is exactly what you're going to get.
After messing around with the level creator, I played through some of the pre-made levels available for the demo, which gave me an idea of the kinds of wacky stages that can be built with a little more time and patience. It was fun to see things that aren't typically in the Mario formula. Jumping or floating piranha plants? Look out! Strategically placed springs that constantly bounce power-ups out of reach? Why not?
I can see the entertainment value of Mario Maker, and I'm sure I'd have fun making levels and testing out other zany creations-for a little while, at least. I don't want to fixate on price point, but I feel like it would be great as a budget-priced downloadable title; it didn't make a strong enough case to feel like a $60 game. I also didn't get an idea of how easy it would be to try out other players' levels, which is definitely something I'd want to be able to do. Expect to hear more about Mario Maker in the months leading up to its 2015 Wii U release.