As one of the eldest statesmen of the platforming genre, Mario’s got a bit of a reputation. It’s not that he always plays it safe – look, at this point we have to consider him an outed furry the number of times he’s dressed up as some animal or other – but when Nintendo first announced Super Mario Maker for the Wii U, I’m sure that everyone thought the notoriously protective company would keep the shackles on. That didn’t happen in the slightest. It might not be as wildly flexible as Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet or Dreams, but the community have twisted the tools given to them in so many weird and wonderful directions.
Super Mario Maker 2 takes everything that the original game was and adds even more for people to play around with.
Perhaps the most important change for those playing a Super Mario Maker game for the first time is the single player Story Mode. Compared to the minimalist presentation of the first game, here there’s a little story to wrap around over 100 levels that Nintendo have created and packed into the game itself. Just as Builder Mario, Chief Toadette and a team of coloured builder Toads are putting the finishing touches on a new castle for Princess Peach, it gets destroyed and they have to start all over again. So Mario has to take on jobs and complete levels of all sorts to earn the coin to build a new castle from the foundations up.
It’s a simple premise, but does a huge amount to make playing the singleplayer feel meaningful, and there’s enough quirky little twists and fun appearances from Undodog and the Eraser to put a smile on your face. As before, Nintendo delve into all of the different features available in the game, all of the different styles of side-scrolling Mario and build levels around so many of the possibilities it offers you. You’ll master wall jumping, learn how on/off switches can be used, meet different win conditions, complete levels without jumping, and so, so much more.
If you do run into trouble, Luigi will pop up and ask if you need a helping hand, letting you pause the game, drop a power up on Mario and place some blocks in the level. Run out of all five lives, and you can have Luigi complete the course for you (which happens off screen), or simply back out and pick another of the dozens of levels you’ll have available to you at any one time.
Everything you see in Nintendo’s levels you can create yourself, and mercifully almost everything is unlocked for you from the get go (unlike the original’s daily unlocks). The game’s creation tools might initially look very similar, but they’ve been thoroughly overhauled for the Nintendo Switch. For one thing, you can either create using the touch screen, a la Wii U Gamepad, or pop it in the dock and use a controller. Either way it feels fluid and fairly intuitive as you learn the ropes.
Along the top of the screen are a selection of recently used and pinned building blocks, with everything else hidden away in radial menus via the magnifying glass in the top right corner. The right hand side then has editing tools like Undodog and the Reset Rocket, the left has level settings for the world theme, camera, and win conditions – newly, you can task people with only completing the level after collecting a set number of coins, defeating enemies, having used a power up, and so on.
It’s still intimidating to create a level for the first time, though. I’ve previously only dabbled with the Wii U original, created a handful of levels while reviewing the 3DS rendition, and so coming to the sequel on Switch I was still finding my feet. Really it’s a task for the imagination to cook something up and start trying to make it, but Mario Maker makes it easy to simply plop a few platforms down, add an enemy or two and have it be a passable miniature level. Tap to switch to play mode from wherever you are, leap off a platform into the abyss, reset to create and you have the arc of Mario’s jump that you can take into account. For those that mastered the intricacies of the first game, there’s tons of new items and fun little twists to use – including a neat co-op builder mode for a mash-up level creation session – but this is more an extension of what Super Mario Maker did than a wholesale back-end rewrite like LittleBigPlanet 2.
In a strange little alcove you find the one new theme in the game: Super Mario 3D World… but in 2D! The fantastic semi-isometric Wii U platformer has been distilled into a side-scroller, adding a new visual style with a hint more 2.5D depth to it compared to the flat New Super Mario Bros. theme. It also comes with a ton of new features that break compatibility with the original themes, meaning that you can’t switch to and from it on the fly and will have to learn that Goombas don’t stack anymore, among other things.
Once happy with your creation, you can share it online in Course World. Nintendo now let you have 32 courses uploaded, up from 10, and have added some more discoverability filters alongside the randomised Endless Challenge and sharing Course IDs (now a more manageable 9 characters instead of 16). The nine creator-assigned tags can give a general idea of what you’ll get, but they’re just a bit too broad to be really useful, in my opinion. Oh, and you will need an active Switch Online subscription to get at and share your own content, which still sucks, and the online multiplayer in general.
Considering the madcap shenanigans of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, co-op and online multiplayer sounds like a no-brainer for Super Mario Maker 2, but Nintendo once again show an… eccentricity in this regard. Local co-op can only be found once you’ve downloaded a level to your Course Bot, while ad hoc local multiplayer can only be randomised with the host required to have Switch Online. Then there’s the online multiplayer, which lacks friends functionality at launch (thankfully it’s coming in an update), but also has the bigger problem of just being a bit laggy. Whether multiplayer co-op or versus, you’re always having to contend with the ability to collide and interact with the other players, and so losing even a dash of the responsiveness of the single player is a real shame.
For creators, there’s the learning curve of how to create a good level for multiplayer that the game does little to teach you about, even if you dig into the Yamamura’s Dojo tutorials. You need to ensure that enemies respawn, that if you set a goal to collect coins or defeat an enemy type, that there’s enough of them to go around, and so on. The game will dip into standard levels without a creator assigned multiplayer tag, and so a lot of that simply won’t have been taken into account. It’s an imperfect system, but should be naturally improved as more levels are uploaded.