The original Super Mario Maker was a true marvel when it launched back in 2015. It offered a seemingly infinite and constantly surprising pool of user-created levels, where one minute you could be witnessing platforming design perfection courtesy of the creative mind of a gamer over in North America and the next a level that even functions as a working calculator. Of course, this is but one half of the Super Mario Maker experience, the other allowing gamers to live out their childhood dream and create their very own playgrounds for the portly plumber to tackle. Whether they were ambitious projects or merely chaotic messes, the process was always rewarding and plenty of fun.
Fast-forward to 2019 and Super Mario Maker 2 looks to bring that same addictive create and share experience over to Nintendo Switch whilst also giving the player even more tools and features to mess around with – some relatively small and others that I can see leading to some truly awesome creations when gamers get their hands on them.
So what exactly is new then with this ‘build-it-yourself’ Mario sequel? For starters, Super Mario Maker 2 adds a bunch of new elements to its toolset that range from the terrain-based such as slopes to enemy types that include the nasty Angry Sun and Boom Boom. The new additions to what Nintendo has called the “gizmo” section are easily my favorite though, offering perhaps the most potential when it comes to level design and include the likes of Snake Blocks, Seesaws and ON/OFF Switches.
It’s not just the selection of objects that have been expanded though; levels themselves have also seen some interesting flourishes. Level themes have now doubled in number offering more variety with desert, ice, sky, and forest now included. Each of these can also be switched over to nighttime, a change that’s not purely an aesthetic one but can also alter how the level itself plays. The Underground theme, for example, will literally flip everything upside-down while the Ghost House puts a spotlight on Mario with his surroundings much darker and harder to see.
Beyond that, you can now create vertical levels as well as include water or lava that rises and lowers. You can even create a pathway for your scrolling stages to follow altering both direction and speed as you go. Clear conditions are another big addition that allows you to set a challenge within your level that needs to be completed in order to reveal the end goal. These range from taking out a certain number of enemies or grabbing coins to some tougher ones like never having Mario leave the ground or carrying a shell with you to the end. There’s a surprising number of conditions available and can turn even a fairly standard level into something more exciting. Suffice to say I can’t wait to see what far more creative minds have in store here. There are plenty more tweaks and additions like these to be found in Super Mario Maker 2 most of them smart and some truly unexpected.
As far as creating stages go the toolset feels just as intuitive and enjoyable to use as it did in the original. Elements are split into groups and now selected using a giant radial wheel (as opposed to the original’s table of five rows) with a line of the most recently used ones within easy reach at the top of the screen. A concern for many (myself included) was how the game would work on the Switch device. It should come as no surprise but playing docked with a traditional controller is not the best way to build in Super Mario Maker 2.
Even with some clever button-based shortcuts and the new radial interface, I found myself making more mistakes and generally taking longer to get things done. Using the touchscreen however, is a far better solution whether you’re using a stylus or even your finger (yes this works great too believe it or not). One control method that’s impossible to recommend though is using a single Joy-Con on its side in two player. It’s neat that it’s a feature but one that really needs Pro Controller support to even be worth your time.
Unlike the first game, Super Mario Maker 2 includes a single player story mode. In it, Undodog – the rascal that he is – has managed to completely erase Peach’s castle leaving it up to Mario, Toadette and a team of Toads to rebuild it. The way you go about doing this is by completing ‘jobs’ (essentially Nintendo-made levels) to earn coins that gradually fund the construction of each section of the castle. ‘Jobs’ range in difficulty with the harder ones yielding more gold (Luigi will also pop up to lend a hand if you’re struggling) with more unlocking as you start to rebuild.
You’re free to move about Peach’s home and its surroundings discovering secrets and talking to other characters between levels. Really though it’s just a means to find more ‘jobs’ or get some extra coin meaning the rewards are rarely exciting. Overall it’s a relatively simple experience but one that’s presented well and offering a wide selection of inventive and oftentimes tough levels. If nothing else story mode acts as a great introduction to the game’s newest bells and whistles and a great means to simply jump into the action without worrying about needing to create.
Another huge addition to the game is the new fifth style this time using the Super Mario 3D World engine. It’s great seeing the 2013 Wii U gem realized in 2D especially since it comes with its own set of toys unique to this style including Koopa Troopa cars, spiked blocks, Meowser, Blinking Blocks, the Super Bell power-up and more. The way Mario and crew handle also feels different even adding the long jump to their moveset. It’s both refreshing and great fun getting acquainted with these features.
Unfortunately, this style is independent of the original four meaning any work done using the 3D World option cannot be transferred over and vice versa. It feels a little strange having it segregated off especially when one of the original game’s strengths was how everything worked together seamlessly. It’s also disappointing to see a number of items missing in the 3D World style such as the Angry Sun, Grinder and even tracks. Super Mario Maker has never been shy about reworking enemies and objects in styles they were never originally a part of so to see a good handful absent feels like a missed opportunity.
Still, these choices don’t stop Super Mario 3D World being any less fun to create or play in. Plus with Nintendo now adding a style that stands alone this opens the door for other unique designs such as Super Mario Bros. 2 with its turnip-throwing and distinctive cast of enemies.
The online functionality has seen some big improvements since the last Super Mario Maker. One that immediately stands out is the ability to search and filter levels based on their type or what tags other players have attached. So if you hate anything involving swimming, only want to play in the Super Mario World style or are after some truly devilish challenges then you can easily find the levels for you. Uploading and downloading works pretty much the same as it has done before with players now sporting their own profile complete with stats and Mii avatar.
The 100 Mario Challenge returns once again this time slightly tweaked. Instead of a finite number of user-made levels to make your way through, the player is trying to complete as many as possible before exhausting all their 1-ups. The high score element will keep you coming back but it doesn’t feel quite as exciting as the unlocking of a new Mystery Mushroom outfit the first game offered.
Luigi, Toad, and Toadette can join in on the fun in multiplayer both locally and online, the latter offering competitive and cooperative play. What makes the online more interesting is the fact you no longer have to share a screen meaning players are free to dash ahead and leave their rivals behind. In local play, any level can be downloaded for some four-player action but as you can imagine not every user-created level may have multiplayer in mind making the end result somewhat mixed. Still, it can be great fun simply testing out levels with friends, even the bad ones.
As much fun as I had playing Super Mario Maker 2, it is a game littered with oddities. The much-criticized lack of online play with friends for example – which Nintendo has since said will follow in a post-launch update – still puzzles. Handheld mode meanwhile locks creation to touch screen controls only, a limitation that sure might be forcing you to use the better option but remains a strange one nonetheless. Amiibo functionality has been completely removed with the costume-changing Mystery Mushroom also completely absent – a real shame especially since it’s what truly helped make the original Super Mario Bros. stand out. Even if it were just Nintendo-owned IP costumes that returned it’s a better alternative to simply removing the power-up altogether.
It’s funny every time I try to finalize this review I remember an exciting feature I’d forgotten to mention and have to go back. That’s the kind of game Super Mario Maker 2 is though. It’s a game that builds on the original in a number of smart ways introducing a wealth of new features, entertaining modes and appreciated improvements. It’s a perfect fit for the Switch and a game where the best is yet to come. I for one cannot wait to see what the creative minds out there come up with over the coming months.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo