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Game Review

After spending 30 years perfecting the art of the side-scrolling platformer, the creative minds at Nintendo have decided to hand the game-building keys off to someone else. And believe it or not, that new person is …

You.

Super Mario Maker has two essential components up its game-building and block-jumping sleeve: a place to construct games and a hub where you can play them. As eager as you may be to begin scattering Koopas and Goombas though, it's best to start in the play section where you'll find the "10 Mario Challenge."

This is a section of the game built by Nintendo designers that gives you 10 Mario lives to make it through eight random courses. But these are short, fun challenges that feel very different from your average Mario levels from years gone by. No Mushroom Kingdom to save here. Instead it's a creative mode that lets you unlock building items as you play, as well as giving you a feel for what might be possible if you let your imagination run free.

Sure, you can stack some Goombas yay high with Bowser blowing fireballs at the top, if that's what you want. Craving a series of 20 pipes as wall jumps that lead to a mushroom which allows you to bounce like a spring? Go for it. It all works as a sort of hands-on inspiration section before you actually get to the hands-on instruction.

Kids, Get to Work. Yay!

Once you make it to level-building, it's really much easier than you might expect. First of all, you have a choice of art styles. You can instantly flip between the looks of four different Mario eras, from the original Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario U. Then you build.

With the Wii U Pad and its stylus you simply tap a block, pipe, power-up, sound effect, enemy or what-have-you from the onscreen menu and then tap or lay it out on the screen. It's an incredibly intuitive creation tool that, with a simple touch, allows you to extend a pipe or build a pathway of bricks or, say, raise a cannon and instantly rotate it. And you can always go back and rearrange your creation and populate it as you please. Even for a design-deficient sort like myself, it's super (Mario) easy. Youngsters with an eye for art and model building will absolutely have a ball.

As you start creating, you come to realize that the game has certain fun secrets hidden away that it wants you to find. Existing elements can be combined to create something new, for instance. And if you grab and shake certain bits with your stylus, they transform. (Example: Shaken green Koopas become red ones.)

Play on Your Own Level

Then comes the real test of the gaming pudding. Once you build a level that you're particularly proud of, you can upload it to the Web for others to enjoy. The game allows you to upload up to 10 of your favorites at first and then more if people like your stuff. You can even keep track of various stats such as how many people played your level, how many completed it, who loved it, etc.

Of course, you can always get in on the platform-leaping fun yourself. Play your own levels, or take the 100 Mario Challenge, which pulls from a pool of user-created stages and gives you the chance to play through 16 of them in a mini-campaign.

There's no messy or nasty content to worry over. The "maker" part of this Mario madness is hermitically sealed to keep out the goofballs who might want to taint it. It's all Mario-approved fun and games; even self-recorded sound effects, which you can use on your own console and could be potentially problematic for others, aren't allowed into the uploads. And if you decide somebody else's level is particularly vexing (or you just hate it), you have the option to easily slip out of it.

It's all so elegantly structured for maximum amusement and adventure, in fact, that by the end of my Mario Time! building adventures, I was left thinking that Super Mario Maker almost feels like a game that should never have been allowed. I mean, what if we all get really good at this stuff? Some Nintendo gamemakers could be out of a job.

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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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