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REVIEW: Nintendo lets you make the next “Mario” game

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  • Nintendo Wii U / Rated E / $59.99 / released September 2015
  • OFFICIAL SITE: Nintendo
  • FINAL: You WANT this game. 4 out of 5 stars

For 30 years, Mario has run to the right, leaping chasms and squishing goombas. While Nintendo has never stopped inventing new challenges for Mario to discover just off of the right hand side of your screen, the company has found a way to turn you into a video game creator: “Super Mario Maker,” available now for Wii U.

“Super Mario Maker” is not the first game creator tool, but it has captured an ease of use that sets it apart from modern releases like “LittleBigPlanet,” “Disney Infinity” or even “Minecraft.” “Mario” starts from a simpler place, of course. “Super Mario Maker” travels all the way back to the video game glory days of the 1980s, before 3-D visuals and open world exploration, and finds a simplified core that is more or less perfect.

Using the Wii U GamePad and stylus, “Super Mario Maker” offers palettes of objects and enemies for you to place throughout the horizontal grid that defines Mario’s world. The (mostly) flat design keeps things easy, so you can create rooms of coins or obstacle-laden paths with just a few taps. You can toggle between creating and playing on the fly, so levels can be tested at any point without having to wait for anything to load.

Your saved creations can be shared online to be played and rated by other players. Initially, you can only upload ten levels, which is not nearly enough, although you can earn a higher cap as other players “like” your work. Nintendo also gently informs you that they will eventually delete online levels that are “not popular,” which makes one wonder just how small a server facility the company has secured. Additionally, you’d expect the game would automatically connect you to your friends’ levels (as declared on your Wii U itself), but you have to input a 12-digit level code first and then opt to follow your pal.

Once you’ve made a few levels on your own, the flip side of the adventure promised by “Super Mario Maker” is exploring the creations of others. The game’s “100 Mario Challenge” randomly selects online levels and gives you a hundred lives to get through them. Your reward for doing so is one of dozens of costumes for the pixelized plumber, which will make him look like Link from “The Legend of Zelda” or the Wii Fit Trainer, for example. New costumes can also be unlocked by scanning in figures from Nintendo’s amiibo line of interactive toys.

In order to be made available online, a level has to be able to be completed. While you do not have to worry about stumbling into impossible levels, you might find some that are nearly impossible. Thankfully the game provides a skip option, so you can hop over anything that’s burning through your stockpile of 100 Marios. The game really needs checkpoints, however. It’s a mystery why something as common as a time-saving checkpoint was not included in the tool set.

The joy of “Mario Maker” is discovering all of the surprising ways that objects interact with each other, and using that to break your expectations of what “a Mario game” means. Have you considered loading a cannon with coins instead of murderous bullets? How about super-sizing a goomba and letting it carry a projectile-throwing Hammer Bro? You are encouraged to experiment, and the ability to quickly jump between creating and playing keeps the process from dragging.

This review is based upon product supplied by the publisher. Image courtesy Nintendo of America.