Super Mario Maker handed players a plethora of tools and let them have at it; Super Mario Maker 2 hands players many more tools, but wants you to think about how and why you’re using them. The original Mario Maker was Nintendo’s attempt at allowing players to create the equivalent of Super Mario World ROM hacks, full of devilishly difficult design choices that would never appear in an actual Nintendo game. But its sequel asks you to be sympathetic of your players, guiding you through principles of level design that offer a peek behind the curtain of a company that has remained at the forefront of the industry for over 35 years. For a long-time Nintendo fan like me, it’s a dream come true.
Super Mario Maker 2 gently nudges creators — referred to as ‘Makers’ — in the direction Nintendo believes good level designers should take. The in-game tutorial is led by two new characters, Nina and a talking pigeon called Yamamura, who guide players through a number of short videos providing simple but stirring explanations of level design. Not only do these tutorials serve to guide Makers through the fundamentals — laying down terrain, throwing a few Goombas here and there — but more importantly they explain what makes a good level.
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Many of these tutorials feel like a direct response to the impossibly difficult user-created levels that dominated the original game. “Humans are imperfect beings,” Yamamura explains in the tutorial ‘Forgiving Player Mistakes.’ “They’re going to make mistakes when playing through your course. When they make mistakes, it’s your duty as a Maker to give them a second chance.”
I admit that in the first game, I often found my creations devolving into mindless efforts to annoy other players. Giant Thwomps placed at the spawn and unnecessarily tight jumps were par for the course. However, in Super Mario Maker 2, I felt encouraged to sit back and think on each and every item and enemy placement.
One particular tutorial asks players to focus on a central theme, such as creating a house made out of blocks that serves as a “gang hideout” for Goombas. It was this spark of creativity that inspired me to second-guess my decision to stuff my levels with every enemy type, as I instead focused on developing one specific idea for each. In one level, I created a sprawling beanstalk complete with oversized enemies marching along its vines; in another, I emulated Mega Man‘s boss stages, complete with specific powerups to tackle specific foes.
Super Mario Maker 2 doesn’t just provide you with the tools to create whatever you want. It offers you the guidance to use those tools to create something you can be proud of, and in a way that’s both accessible and informative for audiences across various age ranges and experience levels. For those of us who are firmly stood on the outside looking in when it comes to game development, it’s basically like watching a magic trick being revealed to you by a particularly affable magician.
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But just because Nintendo clearly wants players to think carefully in regards to which items they use, that doesn’t mean that Super Mario Maker 2 isn’t loaded with toys to tinker with. Its creation suite boasts a number of different themes based on Mario games, from Super Mario Bros to Super Mario World, with more modern efforts such as New Super Mario Bros and even a side-scrolling rendition of Super Mario 3D World making an appearance.
Each has its own gadgets and gizmos to be played with, while many can also be customized. For instance, a Hammer Bro can be enlarged with a mushroom powerup before being given a set of wings, while there are a variety of switches and blocks that can be experimented with. The ON/OFF switch is already a favorite among the community, offering an easy way to transform levels into elaborate puzzles, while more eccentric additions such as a Koopa Car and Cat Bowser (?!?!) can liven up any stage.
The latter two additions appear exclusively in the 3D World theme, which certainly looks the part in its transition to 2.5D, but underwhelms compared to the wide variety of trinkets available in every other theme. Super Mario World continues to be the highlight, both in terms of the tools it offers and its overall appearance, though there’s plenty to admire about each of them.
But new tools aren’t the only things that have been added in this sequel. Despite its course maker mode offering hours upon hours of replayability, Nintendo has also added a fully-fledged story mode with 100 pre-built levels to play through. These levels range in difficulty from one to four stars, with the more challenging stages earning players more coins, which are used to rebuild the recently destroyed Peach’s Castle.
It’s here that Nintendo runs riot with its own creation suite, free to experiment in a way that wouldn’t necessarily be possible in regular Mario games. Win conditions such as not being allowed to jump are introduced, the difficulty is dialed all the way up in some, and though these levels look like Mario games made by Nintendo, they feel very different.
This story mode could be a side-scrolling Mario game in its own right, but that it’s an added bonus in an already robust package makes it that much sweeter. Between playing through Nintendo’s courses, other player’s levels, and creating your own, you can invest hours into any of Mario Maker 2‘s modes without scratching the surface of its others.
Super Mario Maker 2 Review | Nintendo (not so) Online
But not all of Super Mario Maker 2‘s new additions are so sweet. Its co-op mode is a welcome extra but has been added without the same level of care as its story mode, with multiplayer feeling like an afterthought. Experiencing some of these madcap levels with up to 4 players can be fun, but in general, online play is messy.
Despite Nintendo now selling a paid online service, I still had to create a separate Friend ID for other players to find me, and I wasn’t able to just look at their Mario Maker 2 profiles due to them already being on my Nintendo Online friends list. You can currently only play alongside strangers online, though there is the option to connect to nearby Switch owners. Nintendo has said online play with friends will be added in a future patch.
Players can choose to take on one another in Multiplayer Versus or go for a more laid-back approach with Multiplayer Co-op, but Connectivity issues are abundant, with lag spikes occurring frequently. I was often faced with such significant slowdown that levels became unplayable, and while it’s enjoyable when it works, there are too many problems to make it anything other than a cumbersome distraction.
Super Mario Maker 2 Review | The final verdict
But considering the extensive number of things to do elsewhere, Super Mario Maker 2‘s underwhelming online multiplayer hardly drags the experience down. Though the Switch might not make course-building as simple as it was with the Wii U Gamepad and stylus, Nintendo has done an excellent job of making its systems as intuitive as possible with the Switch hardware.
Within no time, I was flicking through terrain and items with ease in order to craft my expansive, elaborate levels. This is arguably the most accessible level editor ever featured in a game, allowing players of any experience level to have a shot at crafting a compelling course, as evidenced by its diverse user-created stages.
Super Mario Maker 2 is a joyous celebration of the intricacies that go into designing the perfect level. It’s a game where you can invest hours creating and playtesting one short section of one small level, or decide to do away with creation altogether in favor of playing through its ever-growing number of courses. Despite recurring technical problems that have become synonymous with Nintendo games, Super Mario Maker 2 is still an essential Switch purchase, building upon the groundwork laid by its predecessor and adding so much more.