The Day Nintendo Killed Super Mario Maker


As a game that combines two of my passions - Mario and level editing - Super Mario Maker quickly became my obsession. I bought the game despite not even owning a Wii U (my housemate has one), and for a while it was all I played. I was checking my star count twice a day. I had level ideas coming out of my ears. I even bought a capture card so I could make videos of my levels.

To date these 24 videos combined have 655 views and the capture card cost me £138.31, which means each view has cost me 21p. This sounds like a terrible deal, but I didn't care - I was enjoying the game, and I thought I would continue to enjoy it for a long time.

I was wrong.

The Update

On 9th March 2016, Nintendo released an update which added some really cool new features, such as locked doors, and pink coins that turn into keys when you collect them all. I was seriously hyped for the update, and to this day I think Nintendo did a really good job with the new content.

However, Nintendo also made a small undocumented change which - for me - ruined the game completely. They prevented players from being able to star, comment, or set the world record on courses created on the same Wii U. This sounds like a fairly innocuous change - sensible, even, to prevent players cheating by starring their own courses using a different account. It may sound like I'm overreacting, but let me explain why this change had such a big impact for me.

The Ritual

Remember when I said that I was playing the game on my housemate's Wii U? Well, we had a bit of a ritual when it came to Super Mario Maker: one of us would make a level, then the other would play it, try to beat it, and try to get the world record.

This was a huge factor in my enjoyment of the game. One day my housemate and I stayed up til way past midnight while I watched him try to set the world record on Goomba Factory. We would put in-jokes in our levels, we would troll each other, we would watch and laugh as the other person fell into our traps. Our levels were always designed with the other person in mind, and this was what made the game so enjoyable.

Goomba Factory World Record

I defy anyone to beat this record.

Suddenly, with the update, our ritual was broken. We could still play each other's levels, but we could no longer comment on them, set the world record, or give each other stars (I mention this last because, while receiving stars is satisfying, I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea and think that this is all about stars; it's not). Playing each other's levels suddenly became a lot less satisfying now that there was nothing to be gained; working hard to clear a level seems pointless when completing it does not even leave a shred of evidence. And as the incentive for playing each other's level died, so did the incentive for making levels. The enjoyment quickly drained out of the game.

The Letter

I know a lot of families on Reddit had similar complaints about this change, since a family will typically only have one Wii U between them (obviously). A few people kicked up a fuss for a while, but they were quickly dismissed by people who seemed to think this change was a good idea - people who, funnily enough, weren't affected by it themselves.

Shortly after the update, I wrote a letter to Nintendo, explaining why I objected to this change and pleading for them to revert it. I never received a response.

Letter to Nintendo

What about cheaters?

The whole purpose of this change seems to be to combat cheaters, that is, people who seek to boost their own star count using multiple accounts.

I have 2 main arguments against this:

  1. Who cares?
    All this trouble, just to prevent a few anomalous stars? What does it matter? The starring system is so broken anyway. Worst case scenario, cheaters who boost their star count in this way will, through considerable effort, be able to upload a few extra levels. So what?
  2. It's like DRM
    I object to this change for the same reason I object to DRM: it punishes legitimate users in an attempt to counter cheaters (pirates). If I am a legitimate user, I don't want to have to jump through hoops in order to play a game I have bought (e.g. online registration). Similarly, this change actually worsens the experience of the game for legitimate users in an attempt to combat cheating.

But you cheated!

I was met with this accusation when I raised my complaints on Reddit shortly after the update. The starring system is supposed to be unbiased, so weren't my housemate and I abusing the system by starring each other's levels?

Firstly, I would like to point out that there are no well-defined criteria for when levels should be starred. The concept of stars is never really explained in the game. Instead, players have created their own criteria which range from "star only the best of the best" to "star all levels that aren't terrible". Using this second criteria, I feel perfectly justified in all of the stars I have given to my housemate.

Secondly, the system is never going to be unbiased. People will always be more inclined to star levels made by their favourite creators, or their friends. All this change does is punish users who don't have their own Wii U - which is obviously ridiculous, since no family is going to buy more than one console. The ability to create multiple accounts is a feature of the Wii-U that is actually being throttled by this update.

If you made it this far then thank you for putting up with my ranting, and I hope that I made my points clear. Moreover, I hope that perhaps one day Nintendo will revert this change, and thus resurrect this game for me once more.

Published 2016/05/28