Other than the original Splatoon, it’s safe to say that Super Mario Maker was the Wii U’s killer first-party game. It was the best reason to own the console, and its shtick, though not entirely novel, offered a new vantage point from which players could view the genius of the Super Mario formula.
Super Mario Maker 2 isn’t exactly that for the Switch, but how could it be? Within the console’s first year, Nintendo launched two of its best first-party titles of all time in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, as well as Splatoon 2 and the underappreciated Arms. In a sense, Super Mario Maker 2 is closer to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, or Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, in that it gives players who skipped the Wii U a second chance at experiencing that dead console’s highlights. That also means that, as far as sequels go, Super Mario Maker 2 isn’t all that ambitious, but its few added bells and whistles, plus a couple of new modes, will at least help to ease the pain of having to pay for Switch Online to take advantage of the game’s best features.
Like the original, Super Mario Maker 2 is a tale of two games. You can either make Super Mario levels or play them. While both halves have received updates and improvements, it’s surprising that a game with “Maker” in the title seems so much more predisposed towards those who would rather experience the courses than create them.
One of the biggest additions to Super Mario Maker 2 is its Story Mode. Taking its place just below Course Maker but, oddly, above Course World on the game’s main pullout menu, Story Mode is clearly held in high esteem in Nintendo’s estimate of what this game is. Offering players 100 new levels created by Nintendo developers, Story Mode is essentially a classic 2D Mario game, though it isn’t as straightforward. Instead of saving Peach from Bowser, Mario must rebuild the princess’s castle after Undodog accidentally “resets” it. To do this, Mario needs to earn coins to help pay for the renovation, and the plucky plumber does that by beating levels and, occasionally, rescuing a wayward toad.
As far as narratives go, it’s borderline refreshing that Super Mario Maker 2’s Story Mode doesn’t revolve around rescuing the princess. It’s a small detail but one that reveals the fact that not every 2D Mario game needs to be so cut and dried. The Story Mode isn’t as thematically tight or as evenly paced in terms of difficulty as a standard 2D Mario title, but it’s still a chance to experience the creativity and ingenuity of Nintendo’s top level-designing minds. Functionally, for the makers out there, Story Mode’s mostly short levels act as a course-building mood board, with all the new tools and gadgets on display.
But that’s also the first place where Super Mario Maker 2 shows a lack of inventiveness. It seems like a missed opportunity, in a game that’s all about creating Mario levels, that the Story Mode revolves around playing the game, rather than making your own courses. There is a tutorial section called Yamamura’s Dojo where a cartoon woman and a cartoon pigeon talk about the different tools and design decisions required to make a good Mario level, and while these lessons are generally clear, concise, and fairly comprehensive, they don’t actually let you go hands on with the learning process. Nintendo could have definitely made a story mode that let you play through and make your own levels, giving you more tools as you went along. Instead, you’re actively playing other people’s courses, and while that’s fine and good, it’s basically just a more controlled version of Course World.
Without a more interactive tutorial system, newer players might feel a bit lost when they first jump into Super Mario Maker 2’s extensive Course Maker. Thankfully, the basics of building a course are easy enough to learn, and actually adding pieces translates a lot better to the Switch than I had anticipated—given that the original Mario Maker’s interface was designed specifically for the Wii U and the 3DS, both of which include a stylus for easy and accurate navigation of the touchscreen. Building levels on the Switch’s touchscreen isn’t bad, but using your finger can definitely result in some backtracking and missed spots, depending on the width of your digits. Thankfully, using actual controllers, whether it’s the Joy-Cons or the Pro Controller, is much easier than I’d anticipated. It can be a little awkward at first, and you might find yourself tripping over the interface, but it won’t take long before you’re flying through the menus and placing blocks, tracks, and slopes exactly where you want them to be.
The tools at your disposal build upon the first Mario Maker’s solid foundation, and there are some really neat additions in the sequel. For a lifelong Mario player, the new level themes and accompanying musical tracks (composed by Koji Kondo himself) will be a sensory treat, and the addition of Super Mario 3D World’s style and moveset open up new possibilities for level design, even if these tools and moves are specifically limited to 3D World’s art style. In fact, there are a lot of new tools in general that allow players to make more authentic feeling Mario levels, like rising water or lava, autoscrolling, and slopes. New gizmos like the swinging claw, seesaw, and on-off switch open up even more possibilities. Again, the sheer number of options and opportunities might be overwhelming to new players, but Mario Maker veterans are sure to be pleased.
Do these tools make Mario Maker 2 feel like a true sequel? Not exactly. Allowing players to craft 3D levels, at least in the more linear vein of 3D World’s levels, would have achieved that. Instead, Mario Maker 2’s additions give it the “Deluxe” feel, but for many fans of the original that will be enough—for now, at least. Even in what it does offer, Nintendo still hasn’t addressed certain issues that plagued the first game. Being able to sync up, say, cannons that aren’t on screen is still impossible, yet again requiring compromises and workarounds. Now that NIntendo seems more open to updating and fixing its games with this Switch generation, there’s hope that the developer will continue to listen to community feedback when it comes to these sorts of small oversights, but it’s too early to tell.
The other half of the game, Course World, functions pretty much exactly as it did in the first game, with the one exception being that it requires a Switch Online subscription. Obviously, this is the new world we live in now, where Nintendo charges to play its games online, and you can’t fault them for wanting to cover their server costs. How it will affect the amount of user-created content on offer is still unclear, but that is a factor you’ll need to consider when making the decision to purchase Mario Maker 2.
The newest addition to the game’s online components are its multiplayer offerings. You can design and play courses for up to four players in both a cooperative and competitive setting. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to test out the online multiplayer yet, as it’s not yet open to the public, but since Nintendo stated that it will be adding the ability to matchmake with friends post-launch, multiplayer seems like another nice but unnecessary addition. At the very least, you can bring Mario Maker 2 to parties and torture your friends in new ways.
Co-op also extends to Course Maker, where two players can build and test levels together. In concept, this is brilliant, letting players add and subtract elements to a level without having to pass the controller. In practice, co-op building is mostly serviceable, and each player only needs a single Joy-Con, so you don’t even need to buy a new controller. There are some inelegant hiccups to its design, like the fact that when player one goes into the menus it pauses the game for player two as well. On the whole, however, it’s a fun addition to the game’s formula, if not completely revolutionary.
Like the other Wii U titles that have since made their way to Nintendo’s successor, Super Mario Maker 2 is a welcome addition the Switch’s library, giving players a second chance to experience an awesome collection of building tools and user-created levels. But, in that way, it does feel more like an expanded, deluxe edition of the original. Of course, as with the first game, Mario Maker 2’s true value will only expand over time, as more players pile onto the servers and continuously offer up new courses at which you can delight or rage. Hopefully, the requirement of having a Switch Online subscription won’t limit the infinite amount of content that the game can offer.
Super Mario Maker 2 will please both dedicated level-builders and newcomers. Story Mode gives players a nice pu-pu platter of professionally made Mario levels, and the inclusion of 3D World’s suite of tools and moves offer even the most seasoned veterans more with which to experiment. But in terms of pure scope and ambition, Super Mario Maker 2 more closely resembles the “Deluxe” Wii U re-releases that have become staples of the Switch’s library. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the formula is so exhaustive already. Just don’t go in expecting a true evolution of the series—and get that Switch Online subscription ready.
E - Everyone
|Super Mario Maker 2 is available on Switch. Primary version played was for Switch. Product was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Michael Goroff has written and edited for EGM since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter @gogogoroff.