Review: Super Mario Maker

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I know that the site has been focused on other things lately, but I wanted to take a step to the side for a moment to provide my review of Nintendo’s latest sandbox craze; Super Mario Maker. So what is this title? Is it a toolkit, a game, or both? The answer: both – and it is glorious. If you listened to the RetroSensei Podcast before the hiatus started, you’ll know how excited I was for this title. I’m happy to say I have not been disappointed. Super Mario Maker is really a fresh and exciting release from Nintendo, and one I hope that opens the door for other “designer-type” games in the future.

To start with, the way the game is handled is quite clever. Upon first loading the disc, you are brought to tutorial of sorts. Essentially, you are plopped in front of the famous World 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros and told to play the game as you normally would. However, after a few moments you reach a part of the level that hasn’t been finished. The game then guides you through the process of completing the level so that it can be conquered.

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When first starting out, you only have access to a limited amount of objects/assets, but as you continue to build and use the tools provided to you, you will eventually receive “deliveries” that essentially unlock more and more things to play with. The more you build, the faster you’ll unlock things. But no matter what, you’ll have everything unlocked after seven-consecutive days of playing.

You can design levels in a number of “Super Mario” styles. There’s the classic look and feel of the original Super Mario Bros. There’s also tools to design levels in the art-style of Super Mario 3 and Super Mario Wii U. To an extent, once you choose a look and feel, the level is locked to that style, but it is possible to incorporate certain elements from one style to the other. This makes for a very diverse palette of game options.

Once you have designed a level, you can save it or even upload to Nintendo’s servers so that other players can give it a go. However, in order to share the level, you first have to demonstrate the ability to complete it yourself. This serves as sort of a check-point to let other players know that any-given level is indeed winnable. Using Nintendo’s Miiverse service, you are able to “like” and comment on certain levels. This really provides a community feel to the game that is absent from many games available on Nintendo’s various platforms.

When it comes to player-created content, some of the levels that are out there are absolutely mind-blowing. The possibilities that exist here are really nearly limitless. This has led to some pretty ingenious content. But as expected, there’s also a fair share of silly and pointless content out there as well.

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When enjoying player-created content, there’s a number of ways to do it. If you have a friend who designs, or if you know the “code word” to a specific level, you can plug it in and play that way. Alternately, there are also lists of ranked levels that you can browse. But if you want to randomize things a bit, you can always take the 10-Mario or 100-Mario challenge. These “challenge” options gives you a bank of lives, either ten or one-hundred, and put you in front of random player-created levels. Successfully completing the challenge rewards you with special power-up that you cannot unlock through other means.

That brings me to another topic. Super Mario Maker does include Amiibo support. Amiibos are something I’ve actually not talked much about on this blog yet. Amiibos are small plastic little figurines embedded with a NFC chip. These figures can be scanned into certain games to unlock special content. In many games, these unlocks are often trivial. But Super Mario Maker has really done a nice job with Amiibo integration. When scanning an Amiibo, you unlock a special costume-based power-up that can be inserted into the level you are designing. For example, scanning a Link or Princess Zelda Amiibo will allow you to load a special mushroom that, when activated, will turn the player into either Link or Zelda. This has no advantages outside of being simply cosmetic, but it can end up being really quite fun and entertaining.

All in all, when it comes to this game – you’ll get out of it what you put in. My whole family has enjoyed this title. It’s a common occurrence in my household to try to make the trickiest, most punishing levels possible. Then sit and watch as the others try to plow their way through.  My youngest son is a HUGE fan of tossing Bullet Bills on top of bouncy Note Blocks and giggling with delight as his mother tries to navigate the endless sea of heat-seeking bullets. In the near future, I will post some codes for some of the personally created levels for those of you that might want to give them a try.

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Difficulty: Variable–  Mastering the actual process of designing a level in Super Mario Maker is simple. If you can hold a stylus and point, you can build levels in Super Mario Maker. Building a GOOD level, well that’s entirely up to your own artistic vision and abilities. When playing player-created content you’ll often come across many cake-walk levels or short, playful proof-of-concept style stages. But, beware. There are PLENTY if torturous and downright difficult levels out there as well. Luckily, Nintendo does give you the option to skip certain levels altogether if they are too difficult.

Story: There really no story here aside from the standard “rescue the princess” trope. But really, Super Mario Maker is a sandbox, not an actual story-driven game.

Originality: Sandbox style games are not new. But typically, these user-created style games are restricted to the PC platform. Nintendo has finally found a way to give a complete toolkit to fans in a way that has never been seen before on home consoles. This is mostly possible due to the design on Wii U touchpad itself. It is my hope that we soon see other similar games from both Nintendo and other developers. Who wouldn’t want a Zelda Dungeon Maker??

Soundtrack: The soundtrack for Mario Maker contains familiar Mario tunes. But the game itself is filled with cute little touches that actually made me smile. When designing a level, the background music is subtle. But, placing a brick or object treats you to a little “pop” noise that is actually harmonized with the background music. This is a really neat little effect that’s difficult to explain in writing. But it’s another example of the type of thoughtfulness and quality that fans have come to expect from Nintendo.

Fun: I can say without a doubt that this game is one of the best purchases I’ve made for the Wii U. Perhaps even one of the best games I’ve encountered all year. It is truly fun for the whole family.

Graphics: The graphics vary here, but do so by design. You can create levels in an 8-bit Nintendo style or take advantage of the Wii U’s modern graphics and build a Super Mario Wii U level that is as gorgeous as anything else from the current generation.

Playcontrol: Building content with the Stylus and Wii U pad is a cinch. It feels natural and is easy to master. When playing through your levels, you can use optional game pads if you choose, but to be honest the Wii U gamepad also serves just fine for this purpose. I had no play control issues at all.

Mature Content: None. However, with any user-created content there is always the possibility that another player may create something questionable. But Nintendo does a pretty good job of policing this.

Value:  $60 is a lot of money for a game. But, these days that seems to be the standard for a current generation release. Regardless, considering the endless sea of content available online, this game, even at full price is well worth the money. I have no regrets whatsoever for spending my $60 on this title.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This game represents the best of what makes Nintendo great. It is a bold step for any developer to release a title like this. Not only did Nintendo do that, but they succeeded. There are hours and hours of fun to be found here already. Not to mention the future patches that Nintendo has promised that will only add more options in the future.

Available on: Wii U

Review: Super Mario Bros 3

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Oh, Super Mario 3. How I longed to get my hands on this game. I first encountered this title at an arcade machine in a Japanese shopping mall and immediately became re-obsessed (Is that even a word?). It was Mario as I’d never seen him before. For some reason, I remember being completely enthralled with the Raccoon power-up. But alas, I did not get to spend the time I wanted with the machine before being torn away by my parents.

A few months later, the game was officially unveiled to the western audience thanks two a 2 hour long Nintendo commercial– err motion picture called The Wizard. I cannot described how excited I was to finally get my hands on this game.

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Mario 3 was the game to have at the time. It represented Nintendo at their finest. Everything that was loved and cherished by Mario fans was cranked up a notch with this this title. Exotic locales, strange and quirky power ups. The new overhead map system, complete with secret areas was a new and welcome touch. It was and still is a magical title.

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Playing through this game again as part of  the Mario 25th anniversary collection reminded what a classic title this was. This cartridge is a fine example of the what the original NES was capable of. Its hard to say this, because the first two entries in the series are classics in their own right, but if you had to choose one of the original 8-bit Mario titles as best representative of the original trilogy, I’d have to give this one the honor.

Difficulty: Medium– Probably the most difficult of the original trilogy (not counting Lost Levels). Some of those floating ship levels can be a real pain. But nothing too difficult without a little practice.

Story: Same old basic plot, but with a few new twists. But hey, it’s Mario.

Originality: While it’s obvious to see the progression of the series, there’s enough original ideas here to really make the game shine on it’s own. The mini games, map system, and diverse levels really make this game a breath of fresh air for the series.

Soundtrack: More fun, silly tunes! A classic soundtrack. Nothing else to say.

Fun: This is a great buddy game. The two player system makes for a lot of fun more so than in SMB 1. The color level design and quirky enemies add a lot of fun to this game.

Graphics: This is pretty much the original 8 bit Nintendo at it’s best. Nothing was on par with this at the time it was released.

Playcontrol : By this stage in it’s development, Nintendo had perfected the control scheme. On the original hardware, it’s a nearly flawless execution. The Virtual Console versions suffers many of the same issues that often come up with VC games. You’re playing on a control not originally designed for the game. There are some minor quirks, but nothing too bad.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 Stars –  If somehow you’ve missed this title. You owe it to yourself to check it out. This is classic Mario at it’s prime.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Review: Super Mario Bros. 2

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I still remember the day I got my first issue of Nintendo Power magazine. Not only was it MY first issue, but it was also THE first issue. Featured on the front cover was a colorful clay sculpture of Mario and the words “Super Mario Bros. 2”. I had never been more excited.

When I finally got my hands on the game, I was a bit perplexed. Something didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Little did I know at the time, but our Super Mario 2 was actually another game changed up and turned into a sequel for American audiences. (Well, actually it was a Mario game, turned into another game, turned BACK into a Mario game… but that’s another story..) Instead of Gombas and Koopas, there were little midgets wearing masks, and strange bird-ladies shooting eggs out of their noses…  HUH? Also, jumping on an enemy does not kill them. WHAT?! We we not in the Mushroom Kingdom anymore, that much is for certain….

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Once again, for the sake of this playthrough, I chose to play the All-Stars version of the game, due to the improved graphics. In Mario 2, you get to choose your character at the beginning of every level. You can pick from Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Princess Toadstool. Each character has their own advantages. So the common strategy for me is to choose whichever person is best suited for the level you’re about to play.

This time playing through, I actually found the game to be a lot more likable than I remember as a kid. This was another one of those games that everybody and their grandmother had, so I had played through it countless times and eventually it got quite boring. I guess all the years away from ithave done some good, because I actually had a blast playing it again.

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I was pleased with my ability to remember many of the secret rooms and power-ups even after all these years. One ability I seem to have lost with time, however, is the bonus game at the end of each level. In Mario 2, after each level is completed, you get to spend any coins that you’ve earned on a slot machine style mini-game that rewards extra lives. Back in the day I had a knack for scoring triple cherries almost every time, thus earning a ton of 1ups. It seems I have lost my touch.

In an odd turn of events, this title does not feature Bowser, instead the final boss is an evil frog wizard known as Wart. Upon completion of the title, you discover that the whole thing was dream created by a sleeping Mario. Well gee… that always seemed a like a cop-out to me. However, looking back and knowing now a bit about the actual game that was changed to become Super Mario 2, I am able to forgive this silliness.

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Difficulty: Medium –  Overall, I find this game to be much easier than the first two titles in the series. Most the really tough spots don’t manifest until the later levels. Some of the boss fights are tricky, especially when you have to catch projectiles in mid-air and toss them at the monsters.

Story: Completely different than the original, Mario finds a door that takes him to a strange land filled with odd creatures. No rescuing the princess this time! Still sparse on the plot line, but definitely fresher than we’ve seen in the series.

Originality: I have to give this title a pretty good score here. This is very different from it’s predecessors. It’s quirky and fun, and was unlike anything us Mario fans were expecting at the time.

Soundtrack: Fun, silly tunes! Who could forget that opening theme for world 1-1? Good stuff here.

Fun:  I find this game to be one I recommend often for family game nights. It’s just right children around age 8+. My family has a lot of fun passing the controller back and forth between levels and turns. Despite the challenge in later levels, it never gets exceeding frustrating.

Graphics: Colorful, fun. An improvement over the original in terms of graphics. Again, this is based on the game at the time of release. I apply the same rating to both the original 8bit and the 16bit remake.

Playcontrol: The Wii version of the games suffers the same issues as many NES platformers do. Sometimes the controls feel a bit laggy, or imprecise. However, it seems to be a bit better than Super Mario or The Lost Levels. No sure why.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 Stars –  Another classic from my youth. It doesn’t matter which version you might play. This is a must have for any video game collection.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Review: Super Mario Bros – The Lost Levels

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Continuing on with my Super Mario series playthrough brings me to the next installment in the series, Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels.  This title was released in Japan as Super Mario Bros 2 – For Super Players, is was the original sequel to SMB with a much higher degree of difficulty.

This game, is hardcore beyond all human reasoning. It works the same as the original Super Mario Bros, with the option of playing either Mario or Luigi (Luigi has different jump physics). Except the levels are extremely, and sometimes almost laughably difficult. There are pits the span 1/4 of the level. You can only make it across by bouncing off the backs of flying turtles, only to find an arm of fireballs waiting for you on the other side. One of more popular features of the game is the poisonous mushroom, a trap disguised as a power up. Touching it will weaken Super Mario, or kill regular Mario. There are also trampolines that will launch Mario completely off of the screen leaving the player to guess where he might land. It is sheer terror, but in a good way.

I did it once, back in 2003, and I said I would never do it again. But, yesterday, I played through this title all the way to the end, and I did it without warping. World 1-9, and A-D. If you’ve ever played this title, you’ll probably agree that that is quite a feat.

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The game was rejected by Nintendo of America due to high degree of difficulty and didn’t see a release in the US until the Super Mario All-Stars collection. That being said, the All-Stars version is actually EASIER than the original 8-bit release. In the original release, you must play through the games a total of EIGHT TIMES to unlock the secret levels. In the re-release, playing through it once without warping is enough. The JP audience also had the slap in the face on starting back on the first level of whichever world you are in if you use a “continue”. The updated version allows to continue on the same level in which you die. If you are a Mario fan, and you have the patience, I do recommend playing through this title at least once in your life. There’s a lot of cute easter egg type of content in the game is you have the willingness to play all the way through.

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Other than the ramped up difficulty, and the new challenges listed above, it’s very similar to the original classic. After clearing this game, I felt like I could handle just about anything Nintendo could throw at me.

Difficulty: ExtremeThis game makes the original SMB look like a cake walk. I’m not exaggerating this one bit. As far as twitch/platformers go, this is probably the most difficult I have ever played.

Story: The exact same plot as the original. But If you look at this as an extension of the first title, it’s easy to forgive.

Originality: While this title really doesn’t bring anything original to the series, it’ intention was to be nothing more than a challenge for people who fancied themselves to be SMB experts. While many aspects of the game are the same, there are several new twists and tricks that will throw many veteran players off.

Soundtrack: Identical soundtrack to the first release, but classic tunes nonetheless.

Fun: This game is so difficult that after a certain point, playing it is almost a chore. Many points in the game make you ask yourself “Why am I doing this? This is not fun.” However, finally finishing the game, does seem to make it all worth it. Again, it is what it is, an extreme challenge.

Graphics: Both 8bit and 16bit versions were pretty much state of the art at the time of release. The original NES version actually offers a slight improvement over the original.

Playcontrol : The Wii version of the games suffers the same issues as many NES platformers do on the virtual console; sometimes the controls feel a bit laggy, or imprecise.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 Stars – This is a classic title, and I do recommend it to any Mario fan. However, due to the extreme level of difficulty and the lack of any real innovation, I cannot rate it as high as the original SMB. This is not a title for a the casual player. Young children will more than likely be turned off by it. But if you’re wanting to prove to the world that you are a Mario Master, than look no further.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

 

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Review: Super Mario Bros.

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Working on this blog and waxing nostalgic about old games really got me hankering to play some. So tonight I decided to have a little quality time with my son by breaking out some old school Mario. A couple years ago, I picked up the Mario 25th anniversary disc on Wii. This is essentially nothing more than Super Mario All-Stars on a disc, but having the updated version or the first four Mario games all in one collection is a really a great value. If you can still find a copy, I definitely recommend it.

Re-living this old classic was a lot of fun. My son and I played old-fashioned 2 player mode for an hour or more. I’m proud to admit, I still remember all the old tips and tricks, hidden blocks, etc. I’ve still got it!

Playing this classic again, gave me a brilliant idea: a playthrough/review of the entire Mario series. Why not? It could be fun… So after everyone went to bed, I settled back down in my armchair with the lights down low, slid the disc in the Wii and started my journey.

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Before I begin, I’d like to note that while I do have the actual 8-bit virtual-console version, I decided to go ahead and go with the All-Stars update. Simply for the better graphics and upgraded audio. Since the gameplay is exactly the same, I don’t feel like I’m really compromising the experience.

I decided to play through the entire game without warping and I’m glad I did. I forgot just how quirky and comfortable many of the levels were. Giant colorful toadstools, flying fish, sneaky swimming squids… I almost forgot how grumpy some of the later levels could be. Remember the little “mazes” in some of the later castles? I’m referring the levels where you must travel in a certain pattern (bottom of the screen, or top of the screen) in order to progress, otherwise the level just continues with no end until the timer runs out. Good stuff.

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Sitting down and playing through this title again was a lot of fun, and I’m very glad I did it. Despite the age of the game, there’s still something satisfying about finally rescuing the princess and getting that kiss on the cheek.

Below is my breakdown of the game. Please understand it is simply my opinion.

Difficulty: Hard – Some levels can be quite challenging even today, but tricks and enemy placement stays the same. There’s nothing that you cannot overcome after several attempts and using good memorization.

Story: Little to no real story. Evil King Koopa kidnaps princess. Mario to the rescue… On the other hand, do we really need much of a story?

Originality: At the time of release there was nothing like it. Imaginative worlds, fresh ideas for the time.

Soundtrack: Despite the limited resources of the NES and SNES, the music in this game is timeless. SMB contains what is arguably some of the most recognizable game tunes around.

Fun: I had a BLAST playing this with my son. The game is a bit dated nowadays, but that does not detract from it in any way.

Graphics: This is true for both the NES version and SNES. At the time of release everything about this game looked state of the art. Today, both versions still carry the cartoon vibe extremely well.

Playcontrol: Perfect on the original version. The Wii version of the games suffers a bit in the play control area. The classic controller and classic controller pro are great, but the cross pad and control stick feel a little loose. I had several character deaths that were the direct result of the control not responding the way they would have on the original hardware. It’s not horrid, but it is noticeable.

Overall Rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console, eShop

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Retro Flashback: Super Mario Bros.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, my love for gaming went mainstream on the Chrismas morning I unwrapped my first Nintendo Entertainment Sysem. I received two games that morning, Super Mario Bros. and Metroid.

Anyone who owned an NES in the 80s and 90s had a copy of Super Mario. It came with 90% of the systems. It was an instant ice breaker for kids my age. It didn’t matter who you were, you knew how to play SMB. You could sit down Indian-style next to a complete stranger and instantly begin bonding.

Everything about SMB was fascinating to a young kid such as myself. Chicken turtles, man-eating plants, smiling clouds, a plumber that can “spit” fireballs. It was just mind blowing at the time. There was nothing else like it.

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When I look back now, I can really appreciate just how much of a game-changer this title was. The wizards at Nintendo exhibited sheer genius. Not only in design, but also in marketing. I read once that sometime in the late 90s, a poll was conducted and it found that more children worldwide recognised Mario than recognised Mickey Mouse. I believe it. The marketing machine was in full swing as a result of it’s popularity: There were cartoons, breakfast cereals, toys, etc. Not only did this game spawn a plethora of sequels, but it has been re-released over and over. (I personally have bought this game no less than 5 times).

I have owned this title on the NES, I bought the enhanced remake (Super Mario All Stars) for the SNES, I purchased it again for the Gameboy Color, again on the Wii virtual console, and yet again, with the Wii Mario Anniversary edition. Nintendo got my money time and time again, all on one single game.

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When my oldest son approached me one morning at the age of four and said “Daddy, I think I would like try playing one of your video games now.” The first thing I grabbed for him was Super Mario.

Here’s to a classic title that has truly withstood the test of time. I plan to introduce a segment in the blog where I play through old classics and offer a “Rero Review”. I imagine that this title may be the first. Stay Tuned!

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