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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Super Mario Maker.

Transcript Edit

So here, presumably, is how the conversation went down: 

"Hi, kids!" 

"Hi, uncle who works at Nintendo!" 

"Do you like Mario?"

"Sure do!"

"Have you ever wanted to make your own Mario levels and play a theoretically infinite number of community-created ones?"

"More than wanted to, Uncle Nintendo! Fan-created ROM hacks and tribute games have existed almost as long as the games themselves."

"We know! And now you can take them all away and smash them to pieces with a cease-and-desist letter on the end of a two-by-four, 'cos now you can do pretty much the same thing with Super Mario Maker. It's considerably less versatile and creatively fulfilling, but here is the good part: it makes us a hell of a lot more money. Say thank you." 

"Thank you, Uncle Nintendo."

"Now I think we both know you have better ways of showing gratitude than that, kids."

But then, this is Nintendo's pattern, isn't it? They did the same thing with Let's Play videos. "You know that thing the fans do out of love for our product? That's ours now. And we're gonna turn the screws until all that love turns into money because goodwill is nice and all, but it's not gonna wax the Lamborghini."

Still, they're not running a fucking charity, guys; someone has to pay for all those unsold Luigi amiibos. But I still find it alarming how quickly the Mario franchise has devolved ever since it peaked with Mario Galaxy. It ran back to 2D with the increasingly ironically-named New Super Mario Brothers series. And despite a brief attempt to patch up the thing they had with 3D gameplay in the make-or-break second honeymoon that was Super Mario 3D World, the divorce has been finalized and Mario has now devolved to the point where they can't even be arsed to design levels for it anymore. 

And whatever Super Mario Maker's individual merits, you can't deny that this is something you only do when there's bugger-all left that can be done with the franchise. Very rarely is the colour-it-yourself Jurassic World activity book considered as big a release as the original film. And that's what Super Mario Maker is: it's a great, big, brightly-coloured smile through clenched teeth and a cheerful cry of, "Well, if you're so clever, you fucking do it."

If Nintendo's scheme was to make us appreciate the stranglehold they have on their intellectual property by showing us the landslide of soiled nappies that results when they loosen their grip for a second, then it almost worked. But the level editor they provided isn't that flexible, so it's more like an asshole dad batting his nine-year-old's pitch into next door's garden and very slowly going for the home run. "Oh, couldn't you make a level as good as us with precisely the same parameters we had about twenty years ago? Better leave it to the grown-ups then."  

Perhaps I could make something more impressive if the building mode started with more assets unlocked than two kinds of Stickle Bricks and a baby harp seal. I know when you're selling a creativity tool to a general audience that could get distracted by an ant spunking into a tin bath on the other side of a house, you don't wanna throw shit like path-finding AI at them in lesson one. But if you trust us with a Goomba, one might assume we could muddle our way through jumpy fish as well. This isn't about player training though, is it? Only through time and repeated sessions does more stuff unlock, not unlike with Splatoon's two-levels-at-a-time thing. I guess paying money isn't enough of a pledge of loyalty for Nintendo anymore, and the technology doesn't yet support ritualistic fingertip removal

I do wish we could've been permitted a bit more creativity with the cosmetics. Maybe I want to do a fiery lava level with a sunny, green meadow in the background, as some kind of David Lynch-style visual metaphor for the rot behind society's innocent facade. Furthermore, cosmetic trees and rocks and shit seem to get added randomly without our input. And it would have been nice to be able to consciously put down a weeping willow to represent the jet of spunk coming out of the big willy I made out of bouncy music-note blocks. But I suppose if it's creative fulfillment you're after, you just make your own game from scratch or write a book or bite the tip of your finger open and scrawl patterns all over the walls of your cell in your own blood. Look at me, everyone, it took me four paragraphs to draw the conclusion that Super Mario Maker is just for making Mario levels. You can make them based on Super Mario Brothers 1 and 3 on the NES, Super Mario World on the SNES or New Super Mario Brothers of no fixed abode. Here's a brief summary of the crucial differences between those four seminal titles: [pause] That was it. It's just cosmetic, really, and that makes me come over all introspective:

Mario went to a Land, a World, a Galaxy; he's golfed, karted, partied and, erm, sharted. We even had him teach you typing once, 'cause when you hear his faintly racist Italian gibberish, you quite naturally think that here's a guy that needs to share the secret of his communication skills. And now you can see how far his journey took him: to exactly the same fucking place he started, just with volumetric lighting and more than one background colour. 

But enough philosophy, let's get back to drawing cocks with blocks. Fun though it is to force an entire legion of Koopa Troopas to march in the form of the word 'minge', the creativity toy is a two-way street. A double penetration if you will. And without players it's just 'minge' marching into the void. But playing Super Mario Maker is not what I'd call fulfilling. Obviously, I immediately looked to the highest-rated user levels of all time because Yahtzee fucking Croshaw won't be fobbed off with any old tat. But most of the top five were novelty levels where you don't move and just get shunted to the exit through an elaborate Heath Robinson machine like a turd in the Birmingham canal system. 

You see, relying on the public for game-selling content is always inevitably like relying on a Super Soaker full of raw sewage to paint your living room. And the general audience likes novelty more than they like their ability to fucking breathe in and out. A novelty level may distract if viewed as a five-minute YouTube video on the day that all other forms of entertainment inexplicably caught fire, but it's not what I disinfected the largely unused Wii U controller for. 

So I turned to random levels, most of which fall into one of three categories: 

  • a level with ten million of something, 
  • the kind of obnoxious difficulty a Roald Dahl villain would come up with,
  • or ten million of something being obnoxiously difficult.

Maybe you could stick to entering level codes from your mates, an experience reminiscent of all that Wii Friend Code bullshit, in that it brings to gaming all the rip-snorting fun of ordering plane tickets online. Perhaps we should stick to novelty levels after all, since that's what Super Mario Maker is: a novelty. Hope you liked 2D Mario platformers while they lasted, 'cause now we've stripped them down to their guts and thrown all the bits out to the crowd. Maybe you can extract one more fleeting laugh from them by sticking them out through your trouser zippers and yelling, "Look everyone, I've caught gonorrhea!" 

Addenda Edit

  • Temperamental artist type: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Rest assured I did my research on this one: the Luigi amiibo is at time of writing fetching the lowest price on eBay
  • Fake it 'til you make it
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2

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