Video games have always been something that I have enjoyed. I remember my first time playing video games on my parents’ Atari 2600 in our our old house’s basement. I had a blast, but it wasn’t until I was given my very first console, the NES back in the late 80s, when my love of gaming really hit it’s stride. The first game most of us remember playing and learning with, was Super Mario Bros. There was something special about the simple controls, yet pinpoint precision handling that turned a generation of gamers into lifelong Nintendo fans. Somewhere in the past 25 years or so, we have lost the simple mechanics of the older games in favor of games existing on a 3D plane with dual stick controls on a controller. For a young gamer, this can be difficult. My son is only two and while we don’t allow him to play a lot of games, I do like to let him have a go here and there with games on the WiiU. These games are usually more colorful and much more family friendly (not counting Bayonetta 2 of course) and Nintendo has been known to release smartly designed games which can be enjoyed by all family members. When I first learned about Super Mario Maker, Nintendo’s make your own Mario level style game, I was skeptical. I had already played a ton of Mario games in the past and I didn’t really see a need to make more of the same. It wasn’t until we got closer to release and the levels of creativity that are possible within the game truly opened my eyes to the possibilities of using this game to teach my son how to play video games.
Mario Maker isn’t a game you can just sit your son down in front of and let them play. You could, of course, but your child will most likely end up on some hard level designed by some masochist who doesn’t want to give joy to the players but headaches. Stay away from the community levels for the time being – we’ll get to that later. If you really want to give your child the best experience they can have in Mario Maker, especially when they are are just starting out, build them a level. Mario Maker is unique in that it allows you to build Mario levels using the designs of Super Mario Bros., Mario 3, and the newer aesthetics of the New Super Mario Bros (I know, I wish 2 was in there as well). The level designer is the star of the Mario Maker show, so sit down and take some time to learn it’s intricacies. For my son, I chose to build a level without any pitfalls, and with just a very long straight path with some blocks he could jump onto. As he mastered this, I would throw in bigger pillars he would have to jump over with a little more finesse. You’d be surprised how well kids take to new challenges, and before you know it, you’ll be throwing in a goomba here and there to mix things up.
The creation tools are pretty vast, and for the first couple weeks, I highly doubt you’ll be using anything outside of just blocks to walk on and some blocks to create obstacles to jump over. My main goal with my son was to get him to be able to navigate from one side of the screen to the other, hitting jumps when required, not just at random, and reaching the flag at the end of the level. The music cues and celebratory animations after reaching the flag acted as a driving force for my son in subsequent runs of other levels. He knew that hitting that flag was the goal of this endeavor, so he always moved his character to the right side of the screen. I found that items that were constant and predetermined were the best to use in levels while enemies with random movements or sudden changes in behavior (like the chain chomp in the screenshot above) were too advanced and unpredictable for my son to navigate around. This will come in due time, but for the early goings, keep it simple.
There is a ton of gameplay available within this software. I already detailed the create a level that you should begin with, but if your child is older or masters everything you created, you can set them free in the Mario challenges. Basically, you’ll have a set number of lives to complete random levels from the community. These levels are all created by members of the community, so they can range in difficulty. Usually Nintendo will start you out with easy ones (which they determine by completion rate of other players and deaths in the level) and then move you up through the ranks. There is also a very good feature implemented that allows you to skip a level if it’s too difficult or downright broken. With user created levels, that’s always a possibility, even though users have to complete their own level in order to update it. This is where I found myself spending most of my time in Super Mario Maker when I wasn’t building simple levels for my son. My son also liked to watch me play this as there is usually a lot happening on screen and it can be exciting to watch.
Super Mario Maker is one heck of a game, even without using it as a tool for a young budding gamer to learn. There is enough here to keep you busy for hours with the content creation alone. It’s basically a way for the community to make to an endless stream of Mario levels for others to consume. There isn’t any story or plot points, but let’s be honest, you’re not playing Mario for the story. If you have a young gamer in your house who loves watching you play and you want to introduce them to something they can manage on their own, Super Mario Maker and it’s custom levels is tailor made for this. If you own a Wii U, you should already own this as it’s required gaming, and your kids will absolutely love it.