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The good and bad about Nintendo's super-portable Super Mario Maker 3DS

Making your own Mario levels on the go is awesome... but you can't share much with others.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read

So, the Mini NES is sold out. The Nintendo Switch doesn't arrive till next year. What do you do to get your Nintendo fix until then?

Nintendo's Super Mario Maker has arrived on the Nintendo 3DS, offering a big dose of make-your-own-Mario-to-go. It's fun, but it isn't exactly the home run it could have been... because it's missing something important. Sharing.

Super Mario Maker debuted on the Wii U last year, offering tons of make-your-own smart lesson in the basics of game design. My son loves it to death. The 3DS version bottles that up in a mini portable version, but it doesn't cross-sync with the Wii U game. And it doesn't even allow you to upload your own levels.


Making your own crazy Mario-levels-to-go is easy.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What's great

Unleashing Nintendo's best game properties to masses of dedicated fans to tweak and edit new worlds is a brilliant idea, and Super Mario Maker -- when it arrived last year on the Wii U -- was a master stroke. But it was a great game on a system few people own. The Nintendo 3DS is in far more hands, and the tiny handheld style of the system is a much more perfect match for what Super Mario Maker is: a tiny retro building set. It's a construction kit to make any type of Super Mario level you like. It's the perfect game for a wait in an airport, or while away for the holidays.

It's also a collection of quirky Super Mario levels, spanning four different game styles: Super Mario Bros (NES), Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World (SNES) and New Super Mario Bros, in case you're too lazy to create.

It takes time to learn how to make great levels, but a series of tutorial levels (guided by a funky pigeon) introduce the many customization modes and controls, and even discuss some basic ideas of level design. Learning to make levels becomes easy, and levels can be play-tested instantly to tweak where platforms or your fiery traps are hidden.


Lots of community-made Wii U levels can be played, but they're not all great.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Nintendo includes 100 levels to play in Super Mario Challenge, a sort of Mario remix. But there's also a far deeper Course World, which taps into hundreds of user-made levels from the Wii U version of Super Mario Maker. These levels can be downloaded to play offline -- or, to edit and tweak to make your own variations. A "100 Mario Challenge" mode randomly pulls online levels and lets you try them one by one and try to beat them. The Course World modes, however, require Wi-Fi (and a software update from the Nintendo eShop).

The game mostly uses the stylus, and makes great use of the 3DS/2DS touchscreen while letting the top screen be a place where the game can be played and tested. It's a perfect fit, and most of the game feels expertly ported over. As far as graphics and interface go, nothing is lost.


100 Nintendo-made levels come included, in case you're not feeling creative and just want to play.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What's annoying

But there are drawbacks, and they're big.

This could have been the ultimate Nintendo 3DS game, a way to build infinite levels and share those infinite levels with others. But the 3DS game lacks the Wii U version's best feature: its ability to upload levels to share with others.

And because of that, it also lacks the great community feel of the Wii U Super Mario Maker, where you can make your own creations, share, and check back later to see whether that level you've poured 8-bit sweat into has become a viral hit.

You can share with friends locally, or over the 3DS' near-range StreetPass feature. But that's nowhere near the same thing. Also, you can't build levels on the 3DS and share them on the Wii U, even if you own both games. They don't connect with each other, which is baffling.


A pigeon explains what to do (of course).

Sarah Tew/CNET

That could be a deal-killer for many. If you're serious about making your own Mario worlds Minecraft-style, stay with the Wii U version... or hold out and see if next year's Nintendo Switch has a Mario Maker game that will work in portable or TV-connected mode (it would be a good idea, but Nintendo doesn't always make the logical choices).

But, as a celebration of Mario games, and a retro toy with a ton of replay value, this is still a really fun game to have in your 3DS. And, well, my 8-year-old son would have a field day with it. I almost forgive it for not playing nice with the Wii U at all. But no, I don't. This game should have been designed to dovetail with the Wi U version. Welcome to Nintendo: the best games, and the weirdest decisions.