By the time I confronted three Bowsers standing in the way of my goal, I already knew Super Mario Maker for 3DS was something special.

The title’s Mario Challenge — a collection of 100-plus levels designed by Nintendo that lets players unlock course elements — is genius in the way it takes a long-time Mario fan’s expectations of a 2D Mario level and twists them around.

The challenge also includes inherent re-play value by providing side objectives for players to earn medals and unlock further Nintendo-designed levels. If a Mario game included these levels and nothing else, it would be worth a purchase.

Of course, Mario Maker includes much more than Nintendo-designed levels. After all, it’s got “Mario Maker” in the title. The 3DS version is similar in many ways to the Wii U version, aside from the ability to transform 8-bit Mario into other Nintendo characters and the sharing features that stand out for the home console edition.

Nintendo made a smart decision in releasing this title on 3DS, considering there are something like 50 million more of the handheld consoles in the wild than Wii U consoles. Many of these owners — including myself — have been itching to create Mario courses on-the-go.

The creation tools in Mario Maker are easier to work with than any level creator I’ve worked with. Part of this surely has to do with the game being 2D, as opposed to the 3D worlds of a Disney Infinity, but it’s also because the tools are well defined and you can drag and drop what you want to use on the lower touch screen. It’s intuitive, fun and easy — not that I’ve made any truly exceptional levels yet.

Of course, if I wanted to share my levels with the wider population, I don’t have any avenue to do so with the 3DS version of Mario Maker. This is where this version of the game’s faults lie. There is an intrinsic lack of motivation to make super in-depth levels when you aren’t able to share them with others in any way at all — and, yes, there is Street Pass and the ability to share levels locally with other friends. But if you aren’t travelling much and don’t have friends who happen to have both a 3DS and this game, then this method doesn’t do any good.

There is also no way to search for specific Mario Maker courses from the Wii U game. While you can play other creators’ courses, they are selected by Nintendo rather than you. This is also a bummer, as I’ve spent time perusing courses online that I wanted to try out. Finally, players also don’t have any way to rate the courses they’re playing — this would allow the player to see whether a course is worth trying before they boot it up.

Those negatives, for me, are relatively minor in my enjoyment of the overall game. If you have a child in the house who also plays games — or a significant other — then the joy of creating courses for each other adds a lot to the experience. My 7-year-old has created many levels for me already, and is getting better each time. I’ve also been able to build super easy levels for her 3-year-old sister, while adding some enemies for the oldest to conquer. This is a great way to introduce gaming to kids on a level they can understand.

The other modes of gameplay — 100 Mario Challenge and Recommended Courses — allow for an almost endless supply of Mario levels to play. The Challenge pulls levels from the Wii U community that are arranged by difficulty, and you are given 100 lives to try to beat them. So far, I haven’t had much trouble getting through the 16 required levels, but I haven’t tried the two hardest difficulties yet.

With the Recommended Courses, Nintendo chooses 12 levels for you to choose from. The variety is awesome, even if you have no way to know whether a level is even completable before diving in. Most of the levels have been fine so far, but I have also run into a few clunkers. The game also allows you to download levels for offline play for if you’re traveling.

Taken as a total package, Super Mario Maker for 3DS is an awesome 2D Mario game. It allows for great variety in level construction and in visuals, as the levels switch between the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. U, as well as the various level styles.

Out of the box, you have more than 100 Nintendo-crafted levels that make you think differently about what a Mario level can look like. The medal challenges provide instant replay value. And, as long as you are connected to the Internet, your level choice becomes nearly endless. The level creation tools are amazing, and it’s a lot of fun to create them especially if you have someone local to share them with.

Score

Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS is a great game, and possibly the best 2D Mario available on the system. The creative mentality seems to unlock the developers from holding true to past level designs, and allows creators to toy with the varied elements of a Mario level to really create something special. The course creator is intuitive and fun to use, even if the lack of online sharing cuts off some of the impetus to create. This is absolutely a must-have 3DS game, especially if you haven’t had the chance to play its home console big brother.