Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS allows you to make elaborate, intricate Super Mario Bros. levels. It does not, however, allow you to share those levels on the Internet. If that leaves you wondering who exactly this game is for, you’re not alone.
To be released on Friday, December 2, Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS is mostly identical to the version that Nintendo shipped on Wii U last year, just for the company’s portable system. The original console version is probably the best game-making game I’ve ever played. The stylus-based touch interface makes it dead simple to start dropping blocks, enemies, and traps down onto the screen, your fingers working as fast as your imagination. It brings back memories of drawing out terrible “videogame levels” on lined notebook paper in middle school, with the added benefit of being able to play them. And since you can rapidly, effortlessly switch between playing and editing, you can test the levels as you’re making them.
The 3DS version works just as well. While the touch screen on even the XL model of 3DS is a bit cramped compared to Wii U’s, it’s still quite easy to draw and drag elements around. You can’t use the “Mystery Mushroom” from the Wii U version that allowed you to alter Mario’s appearance to that of other Nintendo characters, but otherwise all of the different course elements are here for you to make levels that range from simple to ridiculously complicated, with hidden keys, locked doors, mid-level checkpoints, boss fights, etc.
You can skin those levels with graphics that resemble the original Super Mario, Super Mario 3, Super Mario World, or New Super Mario Bros. Each of these have ever-so-slight gameplay differences–Mario can only do off-the-wall jumps in his New iteration, e.g.
As with the Wii U version, you begin with only a limited set of simple tools, which aren’t even enough to recreate the first level of the first Super Mario. In the home console version, “deliveries” of new items would arrive on a regular schedule as you played with the editor. The 3DS version doles them out in a different way: they’re unlocked as you play through 100 different pre-made levels created by Nintendo. While these are somewhat interesting in and of themselves, they mostly function as an hours-long tutorial in coursemaking, introducing new items that you don’t have yet and showing you a variety of ways that they could be used.
Making Mario levels on the go is superior to making them at home, since you can tweak and edit whenever you have some free time, rather than having to sit yourself down in front of the TV for extensive editing sessions. But then comes the real question: what do you do with them? You can share them locally, which means that if you meet a friend in real life who also happens to have a copy of the game on them, you can send them individual levels. You can also share via the 3DS’s “StreetPass” feature, which allows you to passively send data to any other users who are near you, who own Mario Maker, and who have turned StreetPass on.
That’s not very many people at all, though, and personally I can’t imagine spending very much time on levels that practically no one will ever be able to play. And from the looks of things, I don’t even think Nintendo imagines this is the case either. Looking at the marketing materials for the 3DS version, it’s clear that the company is trying to position it first as a gateway to a vast library of Mario courses that you can play whenever you like, and only secondarily as a game-making utility.
Besides the 100 levels created by Nintendo, a selection of Wii U levels created by users is also accessible on this version of the game if you connect it to the Internet. This is an excellent reminder that most levels created by Mario Maker players are stupid garbage. In the small selection of levels I glanced through, I saw three levels that were simply annoying, looping brick mazes, levels that had no content but begged for star ratings in their titles, levels that play automatically, et cetera. Finding one that was actually meant for enjoyment was no easy feat. It would be sub-optimal, but still workable, if you could create a level on the Wii U and have your friends play it on 3DS–but you can’t search for individual levels on 3DS, so that’s a no-go.
In fact, without online game sharing, or transfers back and forth between 3DS and Wii U, or anything that allowed you to share your creations with more than just the people in physical proximity to you, this winds up mired in its shortsightedness–and miring you, as well, in whatever few dozen levels Nintendo’s algorithm plucks from the millions available online. Given all that, I wonder if the ideal audience for this game might be small children: I’ve seen enough kids enjoy making Mario Maker courses that they never upload, but just have their parents play through when they’re done.
Still, it’s little wonder why Super Mario Maker 3DS exists. Nintendo has only sold 13 million Wii Us, but nearly a quarter of Wii U owners bought Mario Maker. On the portable side, Nintendo has sold 60 million 3DSes, and previous Mario platforming games on 3DS have sold 10 million copies each. In other words, there’s a buttload of money to be made here, and Nintendo has done the exact minimum amount of work necessary to make that very buttload, just in time for what’s probably going to be 3DS’ last big holiday season. Too bad it couldn’t be bothered to make this the definitive version of the game that it could have been.