How Super Mario Maker 2 shows that we’ve hit peak Mario

Super Mario Maker 2 is an incredible fusion of almost everything that makes Mario so great. It’s the ultimate Mario game but where do we go from here? We are at the point where we’re fan-fictioning a whole universe, making a collage from the known parts into levels we can share online as long as we have the patience to see them through. Nintendo is full of gifted developers but is it possible to return to the more linear games when this much freedom has been offered?

Super Mario Maker 2: The Mario-est Mario to ever Mario

Super Mario Maker 2 Scroll Stop

It’s no surprise that Super Mario Maker 2 is so widely popular, but it does make it easy to wonder what’s next. By blending design elements from the original productions such as Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario World, and even Super Mario 3D World, you can enjoy a compendium of the best Mario has to offer in Mario Maker 2. This even extends to the tunes as the must was composed in part by Koji Kondo, which creates a soundtrack that seeks to foster a near-boundless sense of nostalgia. Playing a mash-up of the greatest hits of the universe is great fun, but contains notes of a swan song to the series in its 2D form.

ALSO: The best Super Mario Maker 2 levels made by actual game developers

Customizable levels push the casual players into the role of creator. The ability to plant villains, design courses, and fundamentally shape another gamer’s experience of the Mario-verse is pretty powerful. The jump from a passive role to an active one is startling but pleasant, but worryingly so. Players and critics alike are embroiled in the competitive, creative process more intensely than ever before.

The friendly playability of Mario is also joined in this outing by utter freedom of expression and this added freedom will probably make it difficult to return to the relatively “restrained” regular installments. Creative muscles are being well and truly stretched online, and prime levels are being shared and exchanged widely that utilize our Mario skills while also offering a layer of unparalleled experimentation. Is it likely that players will be happy with a straight playthrough after this? Or has Nintendo made the choice here to craft the ultimate Mario and bring Mario in this form to its creative conclusion?

A Link to the (possible) future

breath of the wild sequel

There are, of course, no limitations to the story options for the Mario-verse. It is entirely possible that the natural next move for Mario reaching into its fourth decade is to go the way of Zelda. Maybe it’s time to re-release Mario into an open-world scenario, and get a bit darker and more Breath of the Wild about the whole thing. Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario 3D World have made forays into this theme, but without as bold of a commitment. Admittedly, The Legend of Zelda was able to rely on the hero’s journey story and the fully formed fantasy landscape of Hyrule in all of its iterations. It could conceivably be trickier for Mario to make the same leap successfully.

In opening up their world in such a visible, large-scale manner, it’s quite possible that Nintendo has given us too much power. With great power comes great responsibility, and holding the reins of the universe in our hands can possibly numb us to more creatively controlled Mario experiences. Developers made the choice to give us the tools of creation this time around. It would almost feel like a step backwards to go to anything else, having experienced this level of freedom and creativity. Breath of the Wild, however, provides a perfect example of how another angle can be found after platform has gone as far as possible and provided a new lease on life to a series that might be seen to have hit its peak.

There are even some other routes the series could take that are or are close to 2D. Super Princess Peach stole our DS-playing hearts back in 2005 and Luigi’s Mansion spawned a successful series that spawned in 2001. Even Yoshi has been on our minds since 1990, and Mario Kart has been the soundtrack of arcades since 1992. We’ve had the chance to explore every possible combo of narratives in the work so far. We’ve had the Princess rescue the plumber, the brother take matters into his own hands, and “Wah” villains abound. All of these elements have separately pushed the series forward and even though these aren’t as free, they are different.

But those spin-offs probably won’t scratch the same itch that a regular 2D Mario game scratches. It will be interesting to see how Nintendo navigates the waters following its smash success with this title, given the rave reviews it has received. Multiplayer, online sharing, and a simple, effective story mode have made this one a triple threat. Nintendo is talented and will likely always find a way to surprise us. It’s Nintendo, after all. But it might be tricky to return to a diet of plain coins and Goombas after this one.