Mario Maker has been covered on the site before and, unsurprisingly, it was very well received. It was a polished, level building toybox of Mario level building blocks, which has been updated to include so much more than what was originally released. What’s not to like about that? While there are some changes, Mario Maker 3DS is basically the same thing just on the 3DS; it’s not wholly remarkable in any way besides being Mario Maker. I am curious about why they chose to release it on the 3DS now, of all times, but I’ll get to that later. Really, for the moment, all you need to know is that it’s a slightly stripped-down, less fun version of Mario Maker for the Wii U.
This screenshot is already far more creative than most things I made in this game.
Regarding how Mario Maker plays, there’s virtually no difference between the 3DS version and the console version, beyond a few minor interface alterations. Just like the console version, there’s not exactly a story to be had here, it’s just not that kind of Mario game. It still tries to introduce you to the game’s main draw of building your own level in a similar way, but you’re given the choice of just skipping right past this. Unlike the console version, you don’t unlock course elements over time by making more and more levels, but instead by passing each world in the Super Mario Challenge. Instead of taking on a series of levels with only ten lives, Mario takes on 100 levels, across 18 worlds, with however many lives the player can gather while passing each one. The course elements are rewards for passing each world, and this is kind of an issue for me.
The levels themselves are enjoyable to play, at least at first, making prominent use of the level elements that you’ll soon pick up when you’re done with the world. The levels are often short, but difficult, and the only connecting theme between each level is the level elements in use. I’ve spoken before in other reviews of Mario titles for the need of a connecting theme in groups of levels; indeed, this is important for any platformer title. Without one, the levels seem aimless, playing through them feels pointless, and only a title with exceptional gameplay could pull off this kind of design. Mario Maker isn’t a Mario game in the traditional sense, however. Its main draw is the ability to make your own levels. Having to slog through literally one hundred levels just to get all the tools to enjoy the main draw of the game was nearly enough to kill my interest in playing this entirely.
I could see where they were intending to go with it, but were several kilometers off the mark.
Some course elements that were available in the console version by being shaken once selected have also been gated off behind completion requirements in the Super Mario Challenge. Other changes extend to which course elements are available at all, which is to say that some have been taken out. You can no longer have Big Mario, despite there still being super-sized versions of enemies present in this release. The Mystery Mushrooms have also been taken out, being replaced with Weird Mushrooms, which turn Mario into a slightly taller, and very lanky version of his Super form. Also removed are the Gnat Attack mini-game, custom sound effect recording, and the 10 Mario Challenge.
None of these removals make much sense to me, as they take with them a decent portion of Mario Maker’s appeal, while gaining nothing for having done so. Big Mario has appeared in DS titles before, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be available in this version, and the absence of the Mystery Mushrooms is just plain weird. Previously, Mystery Mushroom forms were unlocked by using Amiibo’s (which the 3DS has the capacity to scan), completing the 100 Mario Challenge on particular difficulties, completing event courses, or beating minigames. Given that the Super Mario Challenge has two sub-objectives per level, it would have made sense to tie in these forms to their completion, rather than take them out completely. As it stands, your reward for completing those objectives is just a sense of self-satisfaction (if, indeed, you derive any from doing them all.)
Honestly, Nintendo, I’m not mad, just disappointed and very perplexed. Mostly disappointed, though.
While you can still play courses that have been made on the Wii U (which clearly shows that none of these changes are about technical limitations), any course featuring the above items aren’t available. Course ID’s for those levels won’t work, they won’t show up in the course browser, and there doesn’t really seem to be a good reason as to why. The game isn’t all bad, and actually makes some excellent design decisions, which is why everything above just doesn’t make sense. All game styles (Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros 3, New Super Mario Bros., and Super Mario World) are available from the start, for instance. So are the course themes, such as the Airship, Ghost House, and Underwater levels.
While unlocking course elements through the Super Mario Challenge is a pain, you actually start out with more of the toolkit than you do in the console version. You can still upload levels online, but you can also share them via Local Play, and even collaborate on levels via Local Play with others who have the game. These are really solid ideas that, on their own, improve the experience of Mario Maker. It just feels like when they were porting things across, whoever was in charge was all like, “Woah, slow down there, we can’t have the players having too much fun. Let’s take a bunch of this stuff out, just in case we accidentally improve the game as a whole.”
Mario Maker is an excellent concept that, in my opinion, suffers from a few issues in execution on both platforms. For the Wii U, the way course elements unlocked felt like a drag, having to play the waiting game before you could play the game you actually wanted to. The way they’ve addressed this in the 3DS version is technically faster but feels like a complete slog just to unlock everything. Some features have been taken out when they could easily have been left in, and there are a lot of missed opportunities with what they did introduce. If you’re the kind of person that only owns a 3DS, and never plans to buy a Nintendo console (weirdo), then Mario Maker 3DS is still worth picking up just to experience the game. Otherwise, I’d recommend waiting for the inevitable Switch release, when Nintendo will no doubt take a second swing at making some improvements.