Little Thunder is five. Her favorite thing in the world is Mario. Little Thunder's not her real name, of course. Little Thunder has many nicknames, Little Thunder being one of them. It's the only one she doesn't recognize. I use it only online, to refer to her in the third person. I fancy it captures something of her innateness, what with her being rather … assertive … for her size.
Regardless, Mario is, as I believe the internet puts it, very much her "jam" these days. That's not so much Mario the plumber, but the whole nebulous Mario universe from the Mushroom Kingdom to, via her journeys aboard the Odyssey, the vibrant streets of New Donk City and the snaking pistes of Shiveria. Not to mention the princesses. Try as we might to challenge gender stereotypes, Princesses Peach, Daisy and Rosalina remain solid favorites.
When she's not playing Mario, she's watching it on YouTube (under strict supervision, lest autoplay lead her into dark territory), and when she's not watching it on YouTube, it's all she wants to talk about.
"Daddy, what don't you like about Cascade Kingdom?" is the sort of thing she'll ask over dinner, even though she asked me the exact same question two days ago. Which she knows full well. She's looking for consistency in my answers, thereby gauging whether my allegiance to the Marioverse is equal to her own. It isn't, but – Lakitu knows – I do try.
So it was not without internal dialog that I considered introducing her to Super Mario Maker 2. She happened upon the original on her voyages in YouTubeLand, and was immediately smitten by the idea of making her own Mario levels – which is of course the premise of the Super Mario Maker games.
So, I casually mentioned a new one was coming out, reasoning that it didn't mean more Mario time, but better, more creative Mario time. (Reading and outdoors time remains non-negotiable). Plus I wanted to play it. "Really?!" she cried – there was no backing out.
It's only a week since its release, but Super Mario Maker 2 is a game-changer in the House of Thunder. We haven't touched the story mode – the part of the game that leads you through 100 Nintendo-created courses. Nor have we touched the online aspects of the game, which typically involve sharing devious course designs to challenge Mario fanatics around the world.
Those segments of the game are doubtless a hoot, but all we've done so far is design courses for each other – and it's been wonderful: an entirely new way for us to play together. Oddly, it feels even more connected than the simultaneous multiplayer racing of Super Mario Kart 8 (which she enjoys thanks to the merciful inclusion of smart steering, which prevents her plunging off the track). Though we have a riot with Mario Kart, it lacks that creative aspect. With Super Mario Maker 2, it feels like we're making little gifts for one another, which has transformed our screen time together from fun to special.
After school each day there's the excitement of trying a new bite-sized piece of Daddy-designed Mario content. "Is it easy?" is the first question. I reassure her it is. Super Mario Maker 2 is perfect, because I can design courses just for her. It's not just about making them easier than official Mario fare. Defeating (or jumping over) enemies is boring compared to the thrill of exploration and problem-solving, which are two major facets of Super Mario Maker 2. I make sure her courses are easy to finish, but with delightful surprises along the way.
And then she'll ask to make a "really tricky" course for me. When it comes to course design, LT's modus operandi is simple: more is more, especially when it comes to baddies. Goombas, bob-ombs, car-driving koopas – you name it, she's piled them on top of each other. But to her credit, as chaotic as her approach to design may be, she's yet to build an impossible course.
Neither has she discovered that you can move the end-of-course goal pole yet, and as a result, her courses are short, shambolic explosions of innocent creativity. I love to play them.
But she'll figure that out, and various other aspects of course creation, in time. It's testament to Nintendo design that she's picked up course creation with next to no guidance from me. She does have the benefit of some (read: far too much) experience with iPhones and iPads, and the norms of touchscreen UI design. But even so: Nintendo has literally made course design child's play.
I've merely tickled the periphery of what's possible with course creation, but between warp pipes, hidden blocks, doors, climbable vines and switches which make different color blocks appear and disappear – the scope for secrets and puzzle-solving is vast.
Nintendo legend and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto will always be a hero to me, but a 5-year old has taught me there's a new way to play Mario.
Product page: Super Mario Maker 2
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