In the wave of recent nostalgic releases, Super Mario Maker 1UP’s the watered-down sequels and reboots.
I remember the NES controller hierarchy. As the middle cousin of 12, my gameplay opportunities would be few and far whenever we all gathered around the two-player NES console in my grandma’s basement. The game was Super Mario Brothers 3 and the oldest had the first go at the controllers – at least, the plugged in controllers. The third unplugged controller would often go to the youngest and highest tattle-risk. Positive group reinforcement was the only thing keeping that kid from discovering that the tangled mess in front of the television led to just two controllers slots. I remember the sublime mixture of anger and relief when I discovered the dirty trick.
I also remember pressing down on white boxes, world teleportation flutes and Tanooki Suits, but give me three notes from the theme song and my mind heads straight to my grandma’s basement. There is an overwhelming wave of nostalgia.
Our culture is obsessed with nostalgia. Right now, companies and executives are chasing the “90’s kids!” as they Skip-It their way into the “key demo.” The examples of this are all around us. Dumb and Dumber released a sequel within the last year, Jurassic Park is back, Nickelodeon is launching something called “splat” and Jimmy Fallon will do a Saved by the Bell or Good Burger reunion every other week. Making adults feel as if they are kids again – even for 30 fleeting minutes – pulls at their emotions in a way nothing else can. What’s easier: creating a new product or playing “remember when” to a college undergrad with a Power Rangers backpack? Marketers would sell 100% pure, uncut pillow forts if they could.
Because it works! People buy these products, crappy sequels and half-assed reboots. Scream: The TV Series has a much to do with the original Scream films as the Wayans Brothers do. The brand is all that matters to these people, and even if the Internet will scream about how these new things will “ruin their childhood,” there is rarely a downside to trying. Worst-case scenario, the idea bombs and you reach right back into the limitless pool of 1990’s entertainment for another rehash. Best-case scenario? You make a billion dollars and jump start a trilogy. It is not going to stop anytime soon.
Although I wouldn’t say that Super Mario Maker is a full nostalgia grab, the game does channel many of the sights and sounds of a twenty- or thirtysomething’s youth. There are a handful of pre-packed Mario levels, but the premise is centered on user creation. Anyone can create a level and anyone can put that level online. You can go the traditional route, find your inner Nintendo designer and unleash a killer level 4-3. However, that is rarely where people head. I have played levels resembling side-scrolling shooters, levels requiring 20 perfect hops for completion and levels that play themselves. People love making those.
The 100 Mario Challenge is where the game truly shines. You have 16 user-created levels spanning three difficulties and 100 lives to complete them. It’s surprisingly frustrating (I still have not finished this mode on “expert”), but it is impossible not to get caught up in childhood memories. One moment, I’m playing Super Mario World in my whitey tighties on Christmas morning and the next I’m on the bus, halfway to middle school, playing New Super Mario Bros. Those thoughts might only last seconds – and 100 deaths later the very adult me is throwing the controller towards the other end of the couch and going for a walk – but they are there.
The constant barrage of death may be the best part of the game. The levels are as hard as Super Mario 3 levels were for me as a six-year-old. And just like back then, there is no strategy guy or “How-To.” You may die 62 times by an absolutely perplexing level and then never play it again; never find it again. It can be unsatisfying, but I have not felt that type of mystery for a game in a long time.
Nintendo has glazed Mario Maker with a myriad of new power-ups from its roster of video game creations. You can play as Sonic, Pikachu, Pacman or dozens of others from the Nintendo catalog. There are levels based off of Legend of Zelda and Splatoon, re-creations of Donkey Kong, or ridiculous homages to World 1-1- but with spikes and Wilhelm screams. Think of a Nintendo regular and they are probably in the game.
Super Mario Maker is a great exhibition and a worthwhile toy box, but there’s room for improvement. The game is one-player and lacks all of the world motifs from previous games. Give me a sand world with the attacking sun or an ice world with sliding penguins and it would almost be too much. Hopefully, these are downloadable sometime down the road.
Or we can wait for the inevitable nostalgia flood that will be Super Mario Maker 2. And buy that too.