Fancy graphics are fine, but all gamers know in their hearts that nothing will ever top the drama of Final Fantasy VII or the pure physicality of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playboy’s Retro Gaming articles look at why we love the classics and give you your nostalgia fix.
Conversations during E3 inevitably fall back on one incredibly obvious question: “Seen anything good so far?” The Electronic Entertainment Expo is the biggest gaming convention of the year, so there should be plenty here to light my fire. But I didn’t have a definitive answer to that question until I stopped by the Nintendo booth.
I’ll always be susceptible to the nostalgia brought on by Nintendo’s charms, but playing games like I did as a young'un is next to impossible these days. My average gaming session is a few quick matches in Destiny in between pulling into the driveway and walking the dogs at night.
The closest I’ve come in recent memory to recapturing that old feeling was when a couple of friends hung out late into the night a few weeks ago. We got high and designed custom Super Smash Bros. for Wii U levels until we’d perfectly replicated Hyrule Castle from the original N64 game. Defying logic and the needs of our bodies, we played until 5am—just like the good old days.
It’s that hazy memory that has me so excited—and so worried—about Super Mario Maker.
Specifically, I’m excited about the freedom the game gives you to create an absolutely insane breadth of Mario levels, using aesthetics, objects, enemies, scenery, and physics from four generations of the plumber’s hijinks. And I’m worried about how much time I’m going to spend doing this.
The demo version of Super Mario Maker Nintendo is showing off at E3 has a slew of custom levels designed internally by Nintendo’s own developers. Some are simple, like a level that replicates course 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros. until halfway through, when it throws you an invincibility star and lets you wreak havoc on a helpless army of goombas and bloopers. Other are ridiculously complex, like a giant Rube Goldberg machine that plays itself to completion without you needing to even touch the controller.
Featuring the game during the weekend’s Nintendo World Championships was the best possible move Nintendo could have made. I had the event on in the background at home, and it didn’t really catch my interest until the Nintendo champs-in-making moved on to Super Mario Maker. After that I was hooked. Watch the video below and know that the levels just got crazier and crazier as they kept playing.
The map editor in the latest Super Smash Bros. game is severely limited, and you can’t create anything nearly as dynamic as the game’s actual levels with it. In Super Mario Maker, on the other hand, I’m pretty sure I could recreate every course from Super Mario World—with the graphics of the more modern New Super Mario Bros. maybe, or backward, or with a Yoshi in every level, or in adorable retro 8-bit form.
That’s one of the best things about Super Mario Maker: you can insert many of the elements from the various Mario aesthetics into the engine of the others, and Nintendo’s made custom versions of enemies and objects that fit with each. So you can throw foes into the original Super Mario Bros. that hadn’t been created yet when the game came out, or you can drop them into the 3D-looking world of New Super Mario Bros. for more modern levels.
Super Mario Maker even makes good use of the Wii U’s GamePad, the tablet-like controller that few games have really taken advantage of. The touchscreen is perfect for drawing in items, filling question mark blocks with power-ups and traps, and dragging terrain around to make the craziest creations possible.
I’m not doing it justice, and I hate to resort to a cliché, but the possibilities in Super Mario Maker are literally endless.
STRAIGHT ON ‘TIL MORNING
Some elements need ironing out still. It’s unclear how we’ll be able to share our creations, though Nintendo did explain that you’ll have to beat your own level before anyone else is allowed to play it.
Knowing Nintendo and how protective they tend to be of their online spaces, it wouldn’t be surprising if they only let you share levels with friends, for fear (justified, granted) of levels made entirely of dicks being voted to the top of any wider online sharing system they might include. Disappointing, but not surprising.
But given how no one at the Nintendo booth this week could give me a straight answer on that, I have a feeling they’re still figuring it out.
Nintendo’s vision of the perfect multiplayer experience has always been sitting on a couch with your friends and having fun as you compete or cooperate. Super Mario Maker won’t have multiplayer like other recent Mario games, but for anyone who’s as vulnerable to Nintendo’s nostalgia machine as I am, Super Mario Maker will be the ultimate pass-and-play game.
You’ll design something devious, a friend will conquer and add to it, you’ll pass it back and forth, and the next thing you know it’ll be morning.
This article was amended as more facts about the game became available.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games but mostly concerned with maxing his Destiny characters. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.