Super Mario Maker: A Reminder to Make Games Fun for Everyone
Masahiro Sakurai reminds us that anyone can enjoy the pleasure of creating games
Super Mario Maker 2 is a game I got on launch day and did honestly enjoy. Still, I only really played it on Normal, and very short-lived Expert runs or levels cherry-picked from the game's own Billboard listing of levels with higher player-decided rankings. This should have clicked faster with me; it was a game about making games with level design in mind.
Suppose you were to ask me to describe the game's most significant utility. I would argue that it allows anyone, even a child, to make a level that involves Mario doing something as basic as jumping on a single enemy. It can also give someone who is technically inclined a more accessible way to make something more complex without using an intimidating program like Lunar Magic. Used for the powers of good, you could create something that is a homage to your childhood or make something genuinely hellish for a capable gamer to play at a higher difficulty level or even in a competitive speed-running environment.
The fact that Super Mario Maker had a large global community surprised me. In terms of the Mario franchise, I would definitely classify it as the most niche in the franchise in recent years because it's Nintendo allowing you to be weird with their treasured IP. When Nintendo decided to discontinue support and servers for the original Wii U release on March 31st, 2021, a stand-out game for a deservedly unloved clunky console, level creators rushed back to use the original one last time. You can see everyone's last level and that it would be missed.
Super Mario Maker for the Wii U was entirely removed from the Nintendo e-shop on January 12th, 2021. The only way you can play it now (if you don't already own it) is to have a physical copy and track down old Creator Codes on a console and company not known for their online capabilities. I managed to get the last two I could find in Massachusetts (yes, two) because the first one I bought I made the mistake of not checking to find the disc had a fracture.
My rabbit hole with Mario Maker started almost two years ago when a former friend linked me to a Twitch streamer by the name of Aurateur. He is a prominent level creator and player and probably one of the only streamers that still consistently plays it, going live with it six nights a week since the original was released 7-years-ago.
My friend at the time likely sent me the link for the reasons you will notice immediately - he allows audio torture through non-stop text-to-speech donations while playing endless Super Expert. I would need help and a whole other piece to describe his stream's lore or dadaism or why someone would give Twitch and Aurateur $300 to make a robot lady spew nonsense. He deserves that money, by the way. He is known for grinding levels for hours while a symphony of nonsense gets blasted into his ears.
Through his Twitch channel and the use of auto-hosting other creators in this community, who then raid others, my Twitch subscription list is "Oops! All Mario Maker!". It's a game that relies on the consumer to make the content, thus making those who stream it unpaid QA testers. Many of these people also have complicated relationships with the game that set the trajectory of their full-time streaming careers - creators and streamers GrandPooBear most notably, had levels removed without much of an explanation. I've seen BarbarousKing, another prominent creator that has essentially moved on to Super Mario World romhacks and other platformers for streaming has valid grievances and more or less has abandoned it.
These players were better at Mario game mechanics and knowing how to cause glitching and mechanics than some of the developers on Nintendo's payroll. A lot of them lost countless hours of work because some made levels so difficult it would take them fifteen-plus hours to clear their own creation, a requirement to have your level uploaded by deeming that it is playable. This isn't to say that some don't opt for an easier route to uploading using a hidden "Dev Exit". This is often in the form of a hidden block containing something like a vine that can bring them to a door or pipe leading to a goal pole and a much easier clear.
There is a dedicated community that genuinely does still enjoy this game, even if it can be soul-crushing, and I recently met a bunch of them. I went to Twitchcon and watched the Super Mario Maker Speedrun World Record Charity run event over 3 days. I got to have the experience of watching esports while sitting next to Aurateur at one point. In hindsight, it was surreal. This was someone I respected and had been terrified to submit levels to or co-op with, and we are generally both monotone and potentially hard to read at a parasocial fest in a post-lockdown world.
With Mario Maker on the mind, a niche gaming topic for a lauded franchise, it's been interesting to watch maybe an hour of someone playing and understandably having a hard time and then watching Masahiro Sakurai's new Youtube channel called Masahiro Sakurai on Creating Games. Sakurai, the creator of the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. IP, has a positive approach to game design that he says is niche content that might only interest game developers but is for everyone. He also focuses on what he considers the classics to use as explanations, and that makes sense because many of those titles are the building blocks of other franchises. I'm not a game developer, but I've been enjoying watching Sakurai explain concepts with an enthusiastic approach. His mission statement is literally "Make Games More Fun."
Maybe you're angry with Sakurai because he didn't send an invitation to your favorite neglected Nintendo character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Maybe you're like me, someone who loves Nintendo and throws them money but has been disappointed with them for releasing full-priced titles that have enough DLC waves you start to wonder if they even considered the game a final product. Whatever your take is on Sakurai, the guy is still fun and clearly wants to explain his passion.
His channel is a better companion piece to something like Mario Maker 2 than its own "Story Mode," which, in theory, should be showing and teaching you how to make levels under the guise of a Story Mode. From what I've gathered by asking people, many players have the same problem I have. They need a lot of help making something they feel proud of sharing.
My own experience with game creation tells a similar story. My high school degree depended on making an RPG in RPG Maker, then writing engaging dialogue, a dry technical guide, and an engaging manual. It was my senior year project and it had to be done to graduate. Though I knew it wasn't great, I also should have given myself some leeway for being seventeen years old. How I could have benefited from Sakurai's channel back then!
I'm hoping for a third installment in the Mario Maker franchise and for some people to glean something from Sakurai and posthumously through Satoru Iwata: We *should* be having fun. Fun is subjective to everyone, but it's hard to argue that the levels I watch streamers play don't remotely look fun, even from a high-difficulty standpoint. Putting Mario in a Frog Suit with the added mechanic of wind and terrain modifiers like ice blocks with a pixel-perfect spike jump doesn't even sound fun when you read it out loud - it sounds like a headache.
You can make a fun, difficult level, and still be creative. My example would be the maker, streamer, and real-life music composer that goes by com_poser. He was the only creator name I recognized pre-Twitch, and that's because he makes music levels, and video game music theory fascinates me. He let me, a random newbie with no clout, ask him a question while he was streaming, and he showed a Sakurai level of enthusiasm in giving me a lesson in how to execute making one.
The average audience for Mario Maker can be people looking for intentional misery with the same maturity as my nieces who kept yelling at me on Thanksgiving 2019 to play the viral "1-1 but with a twist" that is just a pile of evading too many fire bars. They are actual kids and have an excuse for wanting to watch their aunt repeatedly fail at an intentional troll level. One of my nieces is more like me with her dedication. I hope she ends up wanting something like the labor of love that is Metroid Mike's Super World in Mario Maker 2. Metroid Mike has called this Super Mario Bros 5, a fan-made game within Mario Maker with the source material respected and ultimately fun.
This game is highly committed to its community and honestly relies a lot on streamers continuing to make it something that can be a significant event for Games Done Quick. I'm not trying to police anyone, and fun is subjective, and you might like troll levels; I'm just asking you to consider approaching it as something you'd want a real-life friend to enjoy or, in the case of most streamers, someone you admire that you want to continue doing this content for you. I might never be capable of playing this on Super Expert. I'm okay with that, and to an extent, I think a lot of games should be approached from a "Normal" or intended difficulty standpoint for actual reviews. If you want to make a challenging level, it can still be fun and enjoyable for others to play.
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