Perhaps it's something to do with Nintendo's next console, the Switch, being a home console/handheld hybrid, but the big N seem to have developed a bit of a "thing" for bringing their often under appreciated Wii U games to 3DS as of late. With the incredible Yoshi's Woolly World set to see a 3DS remake in February, Nintendo have got the Wii U port ball rolling early with Super Mario Maker 3DS - a handheld version of its level creation tool that released in the middle of 2015, with a few extras bolted on to keep handheld players happy.
Although we may have only just said it, it's actually doing Mario Maker a bit of a disservice to describe as being just a level creator, as there's a lot more to take in here. Along with the fully featured level editor, you've also got a collection of 100 brand new, Nintendo created levels to play through in a mode called Super Mario Challenge - not to mention the ability to download the best of the user created courses, and play them on the go.
But as it's the "maker" side of things that gets the title treatment, it's probably best if we start by taking a look at the level creator itself, as it's undoubtedly one impressive piece of kit. While the legendary designed Shigeru Miyamoto may have sketched out the very first Mario levels by hand on graph paper, before programming them into a computer, Super Mario Maker 3DS makes creating your very own levels that much easier, as all you really have to do is drag a few components around using the 3DS's touch screen.
With several handy toolbars providing access to all the Mario components you could ever hope for, from rotating flame barriers, to pipes, goombas, koopa troopers and everything in between, almost anyone will be able to build - and play - their very own Mario level in a matter of minutes. It really is that simple. Shaping land and platforms, adding enemies, hiding coin blocks, and even adding warp doors is as simple as choosing it from the menu, and dragging it into place on the Touch Screen. It's intuitive, and the very definition of pick up and play - and being able to switch to playing your newly created level at the touch of a button, without any loading times makes testing a lot easier.
It's also ever so slightly bonkers. While Mario games usually stick to a specific set of rules, with enemies that work in certain ways, and that can only be found in certain places, Super Mario Maker turns all those rules on their head. If you want a giant Koopa, you can! If you want to hide that giant Koopa inside a question mark block, knock yourself out. Want to pepper your underwater level with Goombas? Why not! They can't technically swim, but in Mario Maker they can! How about creating stacks of enemies of different types, that wonder through the levels? No problem! It's completely insane, but also really refreshing, providing a markedly different take on the traditional Mario experience.
Of course, there's more to making a Mario level than just adding a few goombas and a finish flag - but luckily, Super Mario Maker 3DS has a fantastic tutorial to talk you through the basics - and beyond! While the Wii U version was a little bit light on anything in the way of instructions, there's a genuinely fantastic series of mini-lessons here, that take you through everything from the basics of placing items, to how to ensure your level is actually fun to play. It even goes through the psychology of item placement, and how to add obstacles without frustrating players, giving you a fascinating insight into how the mind of a Nintendo level designer works. As you'd expect, even the tutorials are done with the usual Nintendo flare, though - you'll be guided through the basics by Mashiko, a helpful female assistant, and Yamamura, a sometimes grumpy pigeon who also happens to be a master Mario level designer. Obviously.
However, one of the best bits of the Wii U version was the ability to upload, and share your very own levels with the rest of the world - yet, weirdly, that's pretty much the only feature that's been removed for the 3DS version. There's no real need for them to have removed it, either, as you can still download created challenges - you just can't upload yours for the world to play. Instead, you'll have to rely on simply sharing levels with either folks you know locally via local wireless, or with strangers via StreetPass, which doesn't seem quite as cool as uploading a level for the world to see...
That said, there's a lot more here for the discerning Mario player, rather than creator to get stuck into - a whole 100 new levels, in fact. The Super Mario Challenge mode does exactly what it says on the tin, providing 18 worlds of Mario goodness like you've never played before. Making full use of all the new, weird Mario Maker abilities - like cannons that fire coins (or enemies), or the aforementioned giant enemies - this is a genuinely unusual selection of levels that break all the Mario rules.
In and of themselves, the Super Mario Challenge levels aren't too bad - but it's certainly possible to make them a lot harder. Each level has two special medals you can earn, by completing a certain challenge - and these very quickly ramp the difficulty up. One level consists entirely of stacks of goombas with a piranha plant on top - you can earn one medal for defeating only the goombas, and getting to the end, and the other for defeating only piranha plants. Other challenges ask you to defeat a certain number of enemies with Racoon Mario's tail, reach a goal without using a warp pipe (forcing you to look for other, hidden routes through the level), or set you an incredibly hard speed run target that'll test your Mario skills to their limits
The other main "play", rather than "create" mode, is the 100 Mario Challenge, an online only mode that asks you to complete a randomly chosen sequence of user created levels, with only 100 lives to burn through. We say "only", as the levels the game gives you are often immensely hard, or, as you may expect for a random selection of levels, incredibly weird - sometimes, you'll have to sit for a while just trying to figure out what to do.
But there's also an incredible selection of Mario levels out there, which are a lot of fun to play. As with anything like this, if you give the community the keys to your game, they'll soon figure out ways to use the same set of building blocks that you'd never even have dreamt of - and that's certainly the case here. While one level may exploit how the Mushroom Kingdom's gravity works (seemingly, Mario falls faster than other objects, so one level sees you having to jump off a cliff, and race a falling block to the bottom, before leaping up onto the block as it falls, mid-flight, to get through a door suspended in mid-air), others work like incredible Rube Goldberg machines, and simply require you to sit back and watch as an incredible series of chain reactions happen, somehow getting Mario past a huge number of obstacles, completely unscathed, taking paths through the level you wouldn't even think are possible. It's totally insane - and totally brilliant.
However, Mario Maker 3DS does fall down in a few areas. The fact you can't upload your own creations is a bit annoying, while the inability to truly search levels grates too. For some reason, the only levels you can download here are a selection of "recommended" user created levels, rather than having access to the whole hog. While that has pluses and minuses, as it at least cuts out the crap, it would still be nice to be able to at least browse the whole caboodle.
Still, with a great level editor that's packed with innovative features, and a collection of 100 levels that'll make you view Mario in a completely different way, there's a lot to like about Mario Maker 3DS. If you haven't got enough Mario platforming in your life, get this, and you'll never feel that way again.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS