Super Mario Maker is a Mario Fever Dream You Make Yourself

The world is your mushroom.

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Super Mario Maker--launching for Wii U on September 11--is the only game that has allowed me to trounce a swarm of Cheep Cheeps as the Wii Fit Trainer.

First announced as Mario Maker at E3 last year, Super Mario Maker--as it's called now--is in many ways reminiscent of SNES title Mario Paint. Several UI elements link Super Mario Maker to its predecessor, including the presence of Undodog and the way tools are lined up along top, bottom and sides of the screen. Players are given a wide range of tools and have carte blanche to put whatever they want into their creations, rules of physics and logic be damned. During my hands-on time with Super Mario Maker, I tried to push the limits of what I could add and how nonsensical my courses could be; turns out, those limits aren not very scant.

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Super Mario Maker gives you the option to create levels in one of four visual styles: the SNES Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U for Wii U. This includes everything from the background style and block materials to the look and type of enemies. You can create a level reminiscent of the original classic, complete with 8-bit Goombas and coins, or build something a little more modern by working within the New Super Mario Bros. U tools. You can switch between these on a whim as well: say you begin making a Super Mario Bros 3 level and decide you'd rather make a Super Mario World level. A tap of the stylus on the left-hand world selection menu can change it all in an instant, allowing a lot of flexibility when making sweeping changes to levels.

The amount of stuff--enemies, power-ups, blocks, coins, conveyor belts, springboards--you can get into a level is a little mind-boggling. I packed the skies of the level I created with giant flying Bloopers sporting tiny wings. Mid-level, along the bottom third of the screen, swam a horde of Cheep Cheeps. Goombas rode on top of each other and popped out of secret blocks when Mario hit them, creating a minefield of enemies. After several failed attempts to survive the onslaught, I placed a fireball power-up in a question block at the level's beginning, giving me an advantage in taking down the sea of creatures.

Enemies and other design elements are selected from a row of squares on top of the screen, and you can open a larger menu that goes deeper into the design rabbit hole, with more enemy and obstacle options. Selecting an enemy with the stylus and then shaking them will change the enemy to another variation; for example, shaking Cheep Cheeps turns them into red Cheep Cheeps, which unlike green Cheep Cheeps will actively follow Mario around, and shaking Bloopers turns them into bigger Bloopers with a train of baby Bloopers. It's a quick, simple way to change enemies' types and behavior on the fly.

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Nintendo has also retroactively made elements from newer Super Mario games for the older games' themes. For example, Haunted House levels did not appear in the series until Super Mario World, but developers have made versions of this theme for Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 levels, complete with chiptune background music. Boos and Chain Chomps, who debuted in Super Mario Bros. 3, have been made into cute pixelated versions of themselves for Super Mario Bros. levels. It's a nice touch that grants even more freedom to level creators. It's not hard to imagine seeing complete recreations of newer Super Mario game levels rendered in the Super Mario Bros. 8-bit style.

Unique to the 8-bit Super Mario Bros. levels is amiibo functionality, which allows Mario to don skins of other Nintendo characters. These skins don't grant Mario any addition powers, but they will change the way he moves. For example, tapping the Wii Fit Trainer amiibo to the GamePad adds a tiny pixelated version of her character, and doing the same with Kirby gives Mario the chance to become a pixel Kirby. When wearing the Wii Fit Trainer skin, Mario will bounce around doing yoga moves, while as Kirby he will be able to move and float like our favorite pink blob. These skins can be hidden in mushrooms placed in question blocks, and are used in a way similar to traditional Mario power-ups. Using the Wii Fit Trainer I was able to destroy the aforementioned school of heat-seeking Cheep Cheeps, executing various yoga poses mid-air as I jumped on their heads. Completing a level using one of these skins also changes the way the player character approaches the end-level flagpole and the music that plays. The Wii Fit Trainer will swing on the pole like a gymnast, while completing a level as Kirby plays the familiar level completion jingle from his games.

According to a Nintendo representative, select Amiibo will be compatible with Super Mario Maker, and will add the appropriate character skin for use in the game.

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As a creation-focused game, Nintendo has implemented a ton of features to foster Super Mario Maker's online community. Players can upload levels for others to play, although Nintendo's software will prevent the uploading of levels that cannot be completed by their creator. In this way, Nintendo is looking to prevent flooding online mode with unplayable levels, giving those who put hard work into their creations time to shine.

In Super Mario Maker's online play mode, you can download other users' levels to play and edit. However, you can't re-upload a version of another person's level that you yourself have edited. This is another way Nintendo hopes to protect users' original creations, by preventing others from changing a block or two and then passing it off as their own for credit.

Player-created levels can also be rated, and there is a search function within Super Mario Maker's online component where you can test the highest rated levels of the day, the week, of all-time, or within specific regions. More popular levels will show up in a featured section, and you have the option to favorite and follow individual creators to keep up with their newest levels and to look up specific levels by individually ascribed alphanumeric codes. You can also award creators medals. At the start, players will only be able to upload a set number of levels, but the more medals a creator amasses, the more levels they will be allowed to upload.

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I played a handful of levels created by Nintendo employees, and what hooked me in the end was the unpredictability of what I was playing. If you've played a Mario game enough times, you know what's coming in each and every level; where and what the next enemy is, where the secret Fire Flower is placed, how to cheat the system and skip to the end. But Super Mario Maker ensures that everyone who picks it up will have a unique experience, as well as the opportunity to create their own one-of-a-kind experiences. I found myself shouting and laughing along with the people I was playing with, overcome with genuine surprise and shock at how innovative and outright bizarre these user-made levels could be.

Super Mario Maker is a fever dream, one that you orchestrate yourself along with thousands of others, subjecting one another to your creations of fancy. It's a fresh way of looking at a series that has done nearly everything in the book already; instead of making another game, why not let the players make the game they want? I'm already itching to get my hands on it again, and to finish my perilous level of flying Bloopers and Wii Fit Trainer mushrooms.

For more news from today's Nintendo Digital Event, check out our complete news roundup.

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