Ever since Mario rescued that damsel from Donkey Kong three decades ago, he's done some pretty amazing things. He's a master of golf, tennis and auto racing. He can turn into a raccoon, cat or penguin. He's even explored outer space.
All that may not be enough to prepare him for what his fans are going to put him through in "Super Mario Maker" (Nintendo, for the Wii U, $59.99). They're ready to torture the poor guy with all the Koopas they can muster, take him on wild roller-coaster rides, even turn him into Sonic the Hedgehog or Samus from "Metroid."
These are just a few of the fan creations I've seen now that Nintendo has given them the power to build their own versions of Mario's Mushroom Kingdom. And if you're one of the legions of admirers who has dreamed of designing new challenges for the lovable plumber, now's your chance.
The level creation tools are remarkably streamlined and intuitive. You're dropped right into the iconic World 1-1 from 1985's "Super Mario Bros.," but it's unfinished. "Super Mario Maker" gives you all the objects you need — blocks, pipes, coins, power-ups and enemies — then shows you how to complete the design via a simple click-and-drag interface.
Then it's up to you to build your own worlds. At first, "Maker" limits you to devices found in the original "SMB," but as you gain experience, you can assemble a library of game design elements from across the franchise's history. If you want to create a level crammed with Goombas, Bullet Bills, Chain Chomps, Boos and other villains, buckle up. If you want something less stressful, you can edit out all the bad guys and construct a Yoshi-riding, coin-collecting paradise.
After that, it's time to upload your level. While you're waiting for other players to check out your creation, you can download theirs.
Nintendo is giving a great deal of responsibility to its fans, and whether "Super Mario Maker" becomes a classic depends on their creativity. So far, I haven't seen anything that matches the brilliance of the great challenges created in-house by Nintendo's designers, but there's definitely some inspiration at work.
Some of the most popular levels require you to do nothing other than stand still while the designer takes you on a tour of all the game's wacky devices. Other designers seem so determined to overload their levels with peril that only the most patient players will raise the flag at the end. And still others find one specific gimmick that, if you miss it, leaves you stuck in a dead end. That's more frustrating than amusing.
Over time, we'll see if the cream rises to the top. Meanwhile, the gauntlet has been thrown and anyone with the time and ambition to create a good video game has all the tools he or she needs. Three-and-a-half stars out of four.