Gamestudio is the latest game from Nintendo that allows you to make your own video games. Like Mario Maker, it inspires players to take existing game ideas and make something new out of them. Unlike Mario Maker, it is also an educational tool. One that teaches players of all ages the basics of programming and doesn’t shy away from complexity. This results in a fun and instructive title that leaves you wanting more.
For the most part, the game consists of seven lessons that together form one long tutorial. Here you will meet the editor and the ‘fairies’ Bob and Alice who will guide you through all the steps in a light-hearted way. The real stars are the Nodon, which I already told you about in my preview. These creatures, each representing a function, provide the game with color, joke, bicker with each other and more. It adds a lot of charm to Gamestudio and sometimes helps you through the tougher parts
Once in the editor, the Nodons are also your best friends. For example, if you want to be able to jump, you summon a B button Nodon and draw a line from him to your character. A cute sound or a witty statement from the Nodon confirms that you are doing well. That sounds childishly simple and in the beginning it is. Don’t be fooled by this quiet start, because in the later games you have a whole network of lines and Nodons on the screen and you will occasionally break your brain.
Sense of progression
Fortunately, while following the seven lessons, the challenge and complexity are gradually increased, with the type of game constantly changing. That can vary from a point and click-like mystery game to a real 3D platformer. It’s all logically built, never takes too long and more importantly, gives a nice feeling of progression. Because you’re working on a different genre every time and the lyrics are full of funny jokes, it doesn’t feel like work for a moment.
It is not the case that you make super elaborate games. Each game is divided into six to ten steps. Often they are short segments that teach you certain concepts, such as setting up a 3D camera, programming a puzzle or even building a primitive AI. That eventually produces a prototype, with Nintendo encouraging you to expand it further later.
Although the cheerful design might suggest otherwise, programming in Gamestudio remains a complex activity. Especially during the later lessons with many mathematical concepts, you have to pay close attention. The number of Nodons and lines on your screen grows considerably and it becomes more difficult to see at a glance what your game looks like. Not least because you can now switch between a Y and a Z axis, which also requires a certain spatial awareness.
To check whether you actually understand what you are doing, you will receive a handful of checkpoint challenges after every completed game that test your newly acquired skills. These are short logic puzzles in which you have to solve a situation via the programming screen with only a limited number of tools. They offer variety and form a good contrast with the lessons, which mainly pre-empt things. It enhances the educational character of the game and after all the lessons and puzzles it actually feels like you have followed an extensive course.
At least until you see the credits. In this, all the Nodons have their say, including the Nodons that were not featured and it was quite intimidating to see how many there were. To get to know them, the game contains some extra puzzles and a Nodonpedia, but with only dry text, the latter is not very inviting. The Nodons are presented here in a purely mechanical way. Handy, but it’s a bit in line with the rest of the playful presentation.
After completing the tutorial you will unlock some extra difficult checkpoints, but otherwise you are mainly dependent on your own creativity in the Free Programming mode. As a platform fan, I immediately started working with my own 3D platformer and it did not disappoint. I haven’t come across the limit on the number of Nodons yet and you can make levels quite large in both height and width. It is even possible to link several ‘games’ together to make a larger game. Very cool.
What is unfortunately disappointing are the customization options. Beforehand, I thought it would be really cool to draw my own characters and make them come to life. And while this is technically possible, the execution is disappointing. It is not possible to create custom textures. Instead, you paste a self-made 2D drawing on an already existing shape or figure. Want to run through 2D platform levels with your own Yoshi? Then you will see at most a static image of the dino moving through the level. In 3D it’s even worse and more like failed origami. The number of choices in backgrounds and materials for your game world is also very limited.
A final point of criticism is the lack of more extensive online options. You can upload levels, but to download them from others you need to enter codes. There is no in-game browser to quickly start a game or, for example, to rank on ‘most popular racing games’. This raises the threshold to try out games from others, although enthusiasts on social media will undoubtedly have already started groups. It’s not ideal anyway.
Gamestudio clearly focuses on the educational aspect of programming and learning game design. Thanks to the varied lessons and charming presentation, it certainly succeeds and the low price of 30 euros is the icing on the cake. It’s just a shame that Nintendo hasn’t gone one step further with the customization options and online options.