Welcome to the end of the decade; the end of the 2010s; Al at Decade’s End. This is a miniseries where I celebrate the past ten years in video games, starting by talking about my favourite games from each year, and ending with the end-of-year extravaganza for 2019! The games I talk about here might not necessarily be the best of the decade, but they sure left the best impressions on me for one reason or another. And so, without any more delay, we begin our look at 2015!
2015 was a wild year, both personally and in gaming. In my personal life I met people that would become extremely important to me, I began preparations to move out of my parent’s house, and I got rid of my beater car and financed a much better car. The games industry also saw historic moments such as the dramatic and ethically questionable split between Konami and famed director Hideo Kojima. On top of that, there were a huge number of high-profile games releases. There were AAA games such as the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid V, The Witcher 3, and Bloodborne, along with an unassuming indie game called Undertale that would go on to reach near-legendary status in the years to follow. The game that impressed me the most however, is something that until 2015 I would never have expected Nintendo to put out. The game I’ve chosen to talk about as my top game of 2015 is Super Mario Maker.
I’m not entirely sure that what Super Mario Maker offered was something the casual player ever asked for, but not only did it catch on with gamers like the most contagious of diseases, it also served to legitimize what I think is one of the coolest niches in video games: fan-created Super Mario levels. Super Mario Maker is essentially a toolkit that people can use to create their own levels in their choice of style between the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. Mario Maker also offered the ability to upload and share the levels they created online for everyone else to find and attempt to complete. The toolkit provided by Mario Maker allows for an enormous amount of flexibility and creativity while having a simple and easy to understand user interface. Anyone can create a stage in Mario Maker thanks to the simplicity of the creation tools. Some of the stages created in Mario Maker are extremely difficult; up there with some of the hardest, most unfair and frustrating Super Mario World hacked levels. If it’s possible to create these ridiculous levels in Mario Maker, then what’s to stop some immature jerk from flooding the online database with tons of unfairly difficult stages? That question leads into one of my favourite things about Super Mario Maker, creators have to be able to actually finish the level themselves before the level is allowed to be published online.
The creation mode in Mario Maker is without a doubt the best usage of the hulking Wii U gamepad that Nintendo could have ever come up with. Levels are built using a combination of the Wii U gamepad touch screen and the stylus, mostly with the drag-and-drop method, and it works great. There’s also a variety of ways to find and play levels. You’re able to go through lists of new and popular levels, you can use individual level codes if you want to play a specific level that someone has suggested, or you can try your luck in the 10 Mario and 100 Mario challenges. These two challenges have you play through and finish a set of courses with the chosen number of lives. Then there’s the insane variety of courses that’s all thanks to the power of human creativity. You have levels that take on a more traditional Mario level design in terms of structure and difficulty, and then you also have the real difficult and frustrating levels I mentioned before. These levels have been dubbed by the community as “Kaizo” levels, named after the infamous Super Mario World ROM hack named Kaizo Mario World. However, Kaizo stages are still in the “normal” range of stages. There are many levels in Mario Maker that completely break the game into a different genre. Two examples that come to mind right away are the bullet hell shoot-em-up levels and the “don’t touch any buttons” levels. The shoot-em-ups are relatively self-explanatory; you fly in a vehicle and avoid endless projectiles while shooting fireballs at enemies, but the second example is mind-blowing the first time you see it. These extremely intricate levels are constructed in such a way that you’re guaranteed to finish them without hitting a single button. These are just a few of the crazy ways that people pushed the envelope in Mario Maker, and continue to do so in the sequel on the Switch.
Super Mario Maker is one of the coolest experiences to come out of the past decade, and it has really opened the door for people to show off their boundless creativity, and the skills to match. That’s also why Mario Maker was my clear winner over games like The Witcher 3 and Bloodborne. Mario Maker’s toolkit was by no means perfect, and the sharing system left much to be desired, but it stands to reason that this would all be improved in Super Mario Maker 2, right?