Thursday 5 November 2015

Super Mario Maker UPDATE! Plus, what we still want to see in the game!

Free update is now live!

Hot on the heels of my Super Mario Maker review (here), I wanted to follow up by taking a more in-depth look at the exact features missing from this fantastic game. From missing animations and power-ups to the inability to create sloped terrain, there are certainly some issues that stop Super Mario Maker from being the true Super Mario Bros creation tool it could be. Some are minor, but others are so glaring that they render the opportunity to recreate most of your favourite Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros levels impossible. But just as I was about to post this article, news spread online of a free update from Nintendo that adds new content and fixes. I will cover these first before continuing! Now today, the patch is up for download (or yesterday if you live in the USA). I will take a quick look at what has been added before looking at the features we would like to see in future updates!

1.2 Update

Mid-level checkpoints : This has been one of the most requested things from fans of the game and I am sure there will be cheers of celebration across the globe as fans rush to add checkpoints to their creations. While I was never too bothered about the lack of checkpoints (there were far more important missing elements, which I will talk about below) I can see how they do help make a more enjoyable experience. Many levels created by users are long and intricate, and it can be very frustrating to die and have to repeat long stretches of the stage. These checkpoints will stop people abandoning a stage after a couple of deaths and give creators much needed completion statistics and, hopefully, stars for their efforts. You can even add two of them in a stage which, I'm sure, will lead to even longer stages to traverse - something I am all for!

Mario's firepower tweaked : Currently, when you place either a mushroom or fire flower in a question mark block, that is the power up you will receive, regardless of whether you're already empowered with that very power-up. Dragging a mushroom onto a fire flower creates a tweaked power-up. Now, whenever Mario hits that block he will receive a mushroom if in small Mario form and a fire flower if already the larger Super Mario, exactly how it works in the original titles. This is a lovely tweak that gives the game a more authentic play style.

Official and Event Courses : Now this is exciting! New to Course World are courses made by Nintendo themselves - with a handy new tab to make finding them a piece of cake! Alongside stages by the masters of level design themselves will be more levels created by Nintendo's business partners. I, personally, am itching to play stages by Nintendo and professional level designers from other companies. New courses will be added regularly, so hopefully these will be both enjoyable to play and inspiring to wannabe designers.

Gnat Attack : A new, more difficult version of the inbuilt mini-game Gnat Attack is included. By shaking a muncher for ages, a huge mecha-gnat appears and takes you to the new game. I have never played Gnat Attack as I have always been busy creating and playing Mario stages, but I will certainly give this new version a try as it looks slightly more interesting from the update trailer.

So, some awesome updates to an already essential title. Watch the trailer below to see the updated features in action :

Future content we'd like to see

It's fantastic that Nintendo continue to listen to their fans and continue to update their popular titles. Games such as Mario Kart 8 and especially Smash Bros U have seen fantastic updates that drastically improve the core experience. Super Mario Maker is yet another example of this and I am sure that there will be many more updates in the near future. So what do we want to see appear in this amazing title? 

1. A proper single player adventure mode

What Super Mario Maker really needs is a campaign mode to play through as, currently, the stages lack any real point. Playing a single level on its own without a larger game world to adventure through makes it feel like a rather hollow experience. Even an original SMB or SMB3 stage by Miyamoto himself would be infinitely less exciting without the prospect of further levels to traverse and an overall objective to accomplish. Without a true single player experience, collecting coins and 1ups is now a rather pointless endeavor and thus takes away the incentive to hit coin blocks, nab coins in hard to reach areas, or seek out secret areas that may hide 1ups. Having an entire world to play through with a limited supply of lives (5 is more than enough, none of this 99 lives bullshit please) would give the player the incentive to seek out coins and lives and thus explore every inch of the stage. We need the ability to chain together a set of levels in order to make a game world. This could be the classic style of 8 stages, with a castle or airship stage at the end, or it could leave it up to the creator to decide the level styles throughout.  Whatever the options available, it would give us far more incentive to return to the game to play, rather than create.

2. Slopes

Super Mario Maker doesn't allow you to create slopes. WTF? I know, right! This seems like the most bizarre omission in the entire software. Without slopes there isn't a chance to create the vast majority of SMB3 and SMW levels. Slopes add much needed variety and spice to a level and also grant you the ability to slide down on your ass, taking out a row of Goombas on the way down, which never loses the fun factor, no matter how many times you do it. Adding the ability to create slopes would make for some far more interesting and entertaining stages to traverse and is an utterly essential addition - come on Nintendo, we are waiting!

3. Placing water and lava tiles whenever you want

Sitting alongside creating slopes as an essential tool for recreating classic stages and producing more interesting level design is the ability to place water and lava within your stage. Being able to create bodies of water to fall in and swim around, or lava pits to jump over in your non-castle stage, would also lend itself to far more interesting levels appearing, not to mention adding fun spots to explore and allowing recreation of classic SMB3 and higher stages. Just check out stage 3 of SMB3 where you slide down the long hill into a pool of water. How much fun is that? Now imagine the possibilities in your own stages - you can create pools and waterfalls to swim through instead of having to use the one sub world allowed to make an entire water based environment to dip (excuse the pun) in and out of using pipes. 

4. Super Mario Bros 2 content

As my least favourite of the original 2D Super Mario Bros games, I am not too heartbroken about Nintendo's decision to not include any content from Super Mario Bros 2, though it would have been nice to have the graphical style at your disposal, along with classic enemies such as Shy Guys and Birdo. I can understand why this game has been left out though, after all, this was not originally a Super Mario Bros sequel at all, but another game entirely. When Super Mario Bros 2 was released it was deemed too similar to the original (very true) and also too difficult (also true) for western gamers, so another game, Doki Doki Panic, was reskinned and tweaked to make it a more palatable game for us puny westerners. It was then released as Super Mario Bros USA in Japan. This is not the only reason it's missing from Super Mario Maker, however, as it plays extremely differently to the other games in the series, which would have made its transition into SMM very difficult. For a start there are 4 playable characters, each with their own speed and jump physics, then there's the whole plucking turnips and items from the ground thing - something that would have been extremely hard to meld with the other games in the series, as well as the dark world doors that you create by throwing a potion on the ground. Yep, I can certainly see why Super Mario Bros 2 is not featured at all. So, out of all of the missing content, this is probably the least likely to appear as DLC, though maybe Nintendo will allow us to use a few of the enemies from the game as a nod to this oddball (but enjoyable) title.

5. Super Mario Allstars visual style

For many gamers, Super Mario Allstars on Super Nintendo would have been their first foray into Super Mario Bros 1 , 2 and 3. This 16-bit graphical reworking of the first 3 games and the missing Japan-only second game (known here as The Lost Levels) is a fantastic way to enjoy classic mario action. As much as I adore the 8-bit visual style of the originals, Allstars is my preferred way to play the classic trilogy these days as I just love the colourful graphics, SNES music and sound effects and the ability to save your progress. Therefore I would love to see Nintendo release DLC that allows you to create Super Mario Bros stages using the improved 16-bit visuals. I am not sure how likely this is, after all, Super Mario Allstars remains inexplicably missing from the Wii U eShop (a cunning ploy to get people to buy the Wii 25th anniversary disk based version, perhaps?), but it would amazing to see this happen!

6. Frog suit, Tanooki Suit, and other missing power-ups and items

While there are quite a few power-ups from the 2D Super Mario series missing, only very few are missed (though your opinion may differ from mine, obviously) and even fewer could be easily implemented into the game. So, what's missing? Well, there's the giant and tiny mushrooms from the New Super Mario Bros games, as well as the ice flower, penguin suit and super acorn. Super Mario World's P-balloon is absent and The Lost Level's poison mushroom is nowhere to be seen. Super Mario Bros 3, the game that features the most power-ups, is missing the tanooki suit, hammer bros suit, frog suit and p-wing. Let's be honest, the power-ups from the NSMB games would be extremely difficult to implement into the other styles, so are quite forgivable for their no-show status - ditto for the P-balloon. The SMB3 powerups could easily be implemented, however, and it's these that would best fit into user created stages. While the tanooki suit is not that big of a deal thanks to the inclusion of the similar raccoon suit, the frog suit is sorely missed - just think how much fun water based stages would be swimming around in this excellent power-up. So, while on paper there are a lot of power-ups missing, the only one that really needs to make an appearance is the frog suit.

7. Missing enemies

In a similar setup to the power-ups, on paper there seem to be a great deal of enemies missing from Super Mario Maker. Some of the most notable omissions include: Chargin' Chuck, Rex, mechakoopas, Koopalings, Pokey, Cheep Chomp, Mini Thwomps, Rotating Cannons, Angry Sun, Blaarg, and the Sumo Bros. While it may be sad to see some of these lovable rogues AWOL, it is easy to see why they are not here. For instance, how would Chargin' Chuck or the Koopalings work in the 8-bit versions? And why the heck would anyone want that bastard sun making a reappearance anyway?? At the end of the day, I feel that every missing enemy has fair reason for being excluded, but maybe Nintendo will surprise us all by making them fit in somehow.

8 . Missing Backgrounds 

An easy one, this. While there are a decent selection of backgrounds available in Super Mario Maker, there are some notable exclusions. So it would be great to see an update that brings the Beach, Night, Forest, Desert and Snow backdrops to the drawing board. I would love to make some tropical stages and it would be interesting to see how they would look in the older games.

9 . Star / Yoshi Coins

Again, I think this would be a very easy feature to implement via an update. The Yoshi coins from SMW and Star Coins from NSMB would make an excellent addition to Super Mario Maker. Even without the ability to create single player worlds, they would provide the incentive to explore user created stages and would inspire the creation of much more intricate levels with more secret areas to encourage players to seek out the elusive coins. 

10. Fix missing or changed animations

OK, so this is a minor gripe, but as a huge fan and continual player of the classic Super Mario Bros games, there are a few animations and changes that kind of grate when player Super Mario Maker. One of the most notable is the animation when you enter a pipe whilst riding Yoshi. In Super Mario World, our intrepid duo turn slightly to face the player when going down a pipe, or duck down to squeeze through a horizontal pipe. In SMM the entire Mario / Yoshi spite shrinks slightly and expands on exiting the pipe. This looks weird and I still haven't been able to get used to it. Other tweaks include the timing of the Piranha Plant when it launches out of pipes, and the precise timing required to launch skywards from a trampoline of music note blocks. These tweaks have clearly been made to make the switch between Mario's various iterations run more smoothly, so can easily be forgiven - they just take a little getting used to. Also, let's see the wind and leaves make a reappearance... and slanted pipes that fire you out like a cannon.. the list goes on!

11. Amiibo characters should be permanent for a stage

It's great unlocking a new 8-bit character each time you complete the 100 Mario Challenge, and also the ability to scan Amiibo in order to get them right away, but there are a couple of drawbacks. Firstly, you can only use these special characters in the original Super Mario Bros, so no 16-bit Fox McCloud riding Yoshi through Bowser's airship (sniff, sob), but that's just being picky. One thing that could be changed, though, is how the special characters work in the levels. You cannot choose to start as a special character, only grab a power up right at the start of the stage. If you get a hit by an enemy you then revert back to tiny Mario and must locate another special mushroom in order to return back to Samus, Slippy, Peach, Dr. Mario, Waluigi, a Goomba or whatever other special character the creator has placed there. What would be far more immersive and enjoyable (especially in stages based on the special character's theme) would be the ability to play the whole stage as that character, with a hit simply changing the sprite's size or something minor. That was you could fully enjoy, say, a Zelda theme level playing as Link the entire way through, without the jarring switch back to Mario (and necessary collection of another special shroom) every time you touch an enemy or hazard.

In conclusion

So, there you have it. Sure, there's a great deal of content missing, but I hope you'll agree that most of it is completely understandable given how Super Mario Maker transitions from different Super Mario Bros titles at the press of an icon. Only a small handful of additions from my list would actually improve on both the software and the stages that emerge from it. The implementation of a world creation option is essential, while slopes and extra terrain options would be nice. The new update clearly shows that Nintendo listen to the fans and so I have high hopes that many of the missing features I have discussed will make their way into the game at some point in the not-too-distant future. Now let's all get back to realising our secret dream of becoming a game designer and be sure to share your thoughts with the wonderful Mario Maker community, star the stages you enjoy and, for heavens sake, stop playing those awful 'automatic' levels! ;-)

Retro Spirit Game's SMM Levels!

Be sure to check out my own SMM creations. Some are focused on classic gameplay - levels you would find in the original SMB & SMB3, while others are recreations of stages from classic games such as DuckTales and Rainbow Islands. I also have a few puzzled themed stages that will make you use your brain (while enjoying a creative setting, such as a prison escape or haunted mansion).

My Wii U username is ActRaiser1980, feel free to add me! 

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