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Did Super Mario Maker Steal the Show at E3?

The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, kicked off yesterday with a surprise hit: The 2015 Nintendo World Championships.  I have to admit, this event was WAY better than I expected!  While the qualifiers lacked polish, including some locations seemingly under-prepared, the final event featured great play-by-play hosts, a surprise roster of games, high drama, a psyched-up crowd, and then just as we were settling in for the final round between John Numbers and Cosmo…the real show began.

When the soon-to-be-released Super Mario Maker was announced as the final game, I was excited to see it but really had no idea how this would be made into a competition. Would the players design levels against each other? Nintendo didn’t disappoint, though, announcing that the players had to make it through 4 specially pre-designed stages made for the competition, AND THEY WERE DEVILISH INDEED.

The next half-hour featured the most hilarious, dramatic game streaming since Bananasaurus Rex completed his Spelunky eggplant runTimes a hundred.

Here’s the scenario: Cosmo, a well-known speed-runner, and John Numbers were competing in the first NWC in 25 years.  A competition inspired by the Wizard and renowned for the priceless game carts that came out of it in 1990. It’s why we know who Thor Aackerlund and Jeff Hansen are. They were playing a game that was familiar to them, but levels nobody had ever seen or played before.  In front of thousands of people in the audience and online.  With first place comes glory, with second place comes a lifetime of regret and second-guessing.

What followed was Nintendo magic. (The final competition starts at 3:34:00.)

The Competition

Let’s be honest here. Cosmo was no match for John Numbers.  Yes, Cosmo did win the second round with some luck, but John Numbers was clearly the dominant Mario player.  There were even moments where I was convinced Cosmo had never played Mario before:

  • 3:34:01 – Right off the bat, Cosmo doesn’t even try for the mushroom and also has a moment of trouble simply jumping on to the first pipe.
  • 3:35:27 – Why is he doing these jumps without holding down the speed button?  Most Mario players never let go of this button at all, let alone when you need it in a spot like here in a timed competition.
  • 3:36:26 – What is Cosmo even attempting in this minute-long sequence?  Does he think the rotating saw is a warp zone?  The hosts were absolutely perplexed.  This seemed more like lost nerves than Mario skill, but it was a very odd moment. (Contrast this with 3:42:42 when John Numbers instinctively gets it.)
  • 3:51:47 – After a good first try through, Cosmo suddenly seems scared of the opening fireballs instead of simply using the same strategy he did the first time (fly over it).  He dies 3 times, eliciting awwwww‘s from the crowd. (Amazingly, Cosmo gets his only win this round anyway.)
  • 4:09:07 – The fateful demise of Cosmo.  Unable to grasp the wall-jump, any chance of winning was gone just about immediately.  It was a skill he just didn’t know and couldn’t develop under pressure.

It’s disappointing that this final round flop was spoiled by an unprepared Cosmo who had no shot against the obviously superior John Numbers.  If only it’d been closer it would have been a great capper on the event!  By the way, was anyone else thinking Super Meat Boy here?

It’s unfair to say Cosmo “choked.”  It’s a high-pressure event, sure, but I don’t know what kind of Mario player Cosmo was coming in to this.  Surely he’d played it before as Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 are classics, but he’s clearly in his 20’s and these games aren’t from his generation. Obviously, he grew up on N64 as he’s a famous Ocarina of Time speed-runner and gamers tend to get stuck on what they grew up with.

Still, what an incredible 30 minutes of gaming. I can’t imagine what ran through John Numbers’s mind as Shigeru Miyamoto was handing him his trophy and signed 3DS — well, aside from the urge to utter awkward responses and throw the host off a bit.  Both will be cherished by him the rest of his life. (Unless he puts them on eBay, of course.)

Super Mario Maker

What nobody expected in the lead up to all this is how much Super Mario Maker would steal the show at NWC, let alone E3.  (In case you’re wondering, Nintendo renamed Mario Maker to Super Mario Maker yesterday.) When all is said and done, I predict that NWC and Super Mario Maker will still be the lasting memory of the whole event.  What we saw was true gaming.  We saw gaming for what it’s all about, the thrill of competing against our peers.  It wasn’t a professional Smash Bros. or Halo competition with players who train on those games for hours a day to master every subtle aspect that will give them an edge. The games were randomized and it came down to raw instincts, ability, and experience to adapt to something new. For a few hours, we were all kids again, with a whole crowd going crazy over old games like Legend of Zelda and Balloon Fight!

And then Super Mario Maker came along and made everybody want to buy it.

The idea of Super Mario Maker has always been fantastic. Since its announcement, the imagination of gamers has fired trying to devise levels they’d like to make for it.  You can make levels for most of the Mario games, and each game style has its own possibilities.  While we’ve seen custom levels recently, these tools aren’t accessible to the masses.  Super Mario Maker will be the first time the design idea you had a kid can be made real.

On Sunday, our most devilish aspirations were confirmed as possible and there will be millions of new levels made by Nintendo fans by year’s end.

What will be the biggest announcement in E3?  Nobody knows.  But despite Fallout 4, Doom, or maybe a Zelda teaser…I think the ultimate winner is Mario Maker.

And who woulda thunk that a day ago?

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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