The first Super Mario Maker took me by surprise a little bit. The Nintendo of the Wii U era wasn’t quite the modern Nintendo yet, eager to let new hands on their most treasured IP and flip them into F2P mobile games and Rabbids crossovers. This Nintendo was still desperately trying to sell people on the merits of their flagging dual-screen home console, and in turn did something I wasn’t expecting. ‘Here’, they said, handing players the keys to their absolute biggest and most important franchise. ‘You make the Mario games now’.
Okay, so maybe it’s not quite so dramatic or poignant as it is in my head, and sure we weren’t making actual games. This was a glorified level editor at best, and a deceptively simple one, but to see the community come together and make hundreds of thousands of unique, creative (and often criminally difficult) levels was something truly great.
Fast forward to now (and skipping over the later 3DS port of the original), and we have Super Mario Maker 2 on the Nintendo Switch. I’m honestly a little surprised again, not that we have yet another Wii U game being given a second chance on the Switch, but that it’s a whole new, numbered sequel. While I’m sure Nintendo would have had some degree of success just rehashing the original with some new content and slapping a ‘Deluxe’ on the end, it’s really great to see not only a commitment to the franchise that nobody expected but an effort to produce a product with real value to fans. Super Mario Maker 2 is more than just more of the same. This time it’s not just about playing with a collection of 2D Mario concepts; it’s about making entirely new ones.
Let’s reign it in for a second though, shall we? No matter if you’re a Maker veteran or a total newbie, I have one recommendation when jumping into Super Mario Maker 2; play through the Story Mode first. Not just because you’ll need to play through it to unlock some cool stuff for creating courses, but because it’s a genuinely fun and creatively inspiring addition to the game. Rather than just present players with a collection of Nintendo-made levels to fill out its content offering, the Story Mode puts an entertaining spin on a Mario story that ties it together beautifully with the concept of level creation.
That’s one way to look at it
Following an accident involving a Reset Rocket that *somebody* left on the ground, a grand castle that Mario was building with some Toad friends is completely erased, and so he’ll need to earn money doing odd jobs to rebuild it bit-by-bit. Those “jobs”, you might have guessed, are a series of levels crafted by Nintendo staff using the game’s own tools. Every level completed awards the coins collected within plus a bonus from whichever character “commissioned” the job. Those coins are then spent on each level and hall of the castle until it’s rebuilt to its former glory. The thing that impressed me the most in this mode is how just charming and witty a story Nintendo were able to craft based on the creative tools. Characters like Undodog and Mr Eraser are far more interesting than an undo and erase button should be, and all of the dialogue is pure, gold standard Nintendo.
The real benefit of playing through Story Mode is experiencing the ready-made levels and the creative genius of the staff. Concepts like riding Dry Koopa shells down lava rivers, bullet-hell style shooting sequences, levels where Mario isn’t allowed to jump and even levels with alternate endings are just the beginning of what’s on offer. There’s around 100 in total of varying difficulties, and if at any point you get stuck on a particularly challenging one old mate Luigi will come along and lend a hand by way of giving you access to a limited set of helpful items to place in the level yourself. Failing that he can even complete the level for you, meaning nobody should get stuck while trying to rebuild the castle. Add on top some extra quest lines to help other characters that reward you with new costumes for your Mii character to wear in Course Maker and this is a fairly substantial, five-ish hour single-player offering.
Alright so now surely it’s time to make some levels of your own right? Hold up a second first and hear me out! Before you dive into Course Maker here’s a tip; check out Yamamura’s Dojo first. The polite pigeon makes a return as the tutorial guide in Super Mario Maker 2, and he’s brought a human friend, Nina, along with him. The second best thing about the game’s tutorials is that they don’t just focus on teaching players how to use the various functions available, they often take the time to explain general game design concepts as well as offer guidance on how to get the creative juices flowing. They’re all hands-off aside from the very first one but they’re quick and compelling enough that it’s its worth just smashing through them before diving in for real. The best thing about the tutorials is Nina and Yamamura. They’re adorable, they have great chemistry and back-and-forth dialogue, and I want to marry them.
Okay, okay. Let’s finally talk about Course Maker. This is where the magic happens. If you’ve played a Mario Maker before you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect; a blank slate Mario levels sits in front of you, and it’s up to you to reach into the available bag of tools to turn it into something amazing. The key difference this time of course is that bag of tools has grown considerably in size. Without rattling of a list of everything that’s new here, some of the more compelling additions include things like seesaws, swinging claws, the aforementioned Dry Koopa shells, and my personal favourite: on/off switches. The result of a lot of the new gadgets is that there’s huge potential here for not just creative interpretations of classic Mario gameplay but whole new ideas and mechanics that have never been seen before. For your own sake though, don’t try and make levels in TV Mode. They look and play fantastic on the telly but trying to make them without use of the touchscreen is a bad time.
The other notable addition is the addition of new themes to the existing game styles like Forest, Desert and Sky as well as a new Super Mario 3D World style. The latter is pretty exciting, putting a 2D spin on elements cribbed from 3D World. One of my favourite things about Maker has always been seeing elements from newer games played out in older ones, and while not every gadget and gizmo crosses over to every theme, it’s just as fun here. The new nighttime variations are also particularly cool, completely transforming your level theme just by dropping in a moon. The only real disappointment with the Course Maker is that there’s still the same restrictive limit on the number of areas and checkpoints you can make. It feels like a missed opportunity to not give people the chance to make longer, more complex courses or even whole worlds. Some might also find the lack of Amiibo support (and thus the Amiibo costumes) troublesome considering how much people loved it in the original(s) but it’s a small loss in comparison to the bigger additions.
Actual image of Managing Editor Zach Jackson’s basement where he makes us work for scraps
Needless to say, with a greatly expanded toolset comes exponentially greater possibilities and though my own creative juices flow more like a leaky tap than a waterfall I absolutely cannot wait to see what the community at large does. Mario Maker 2’s Course World does a great job of making others’ creations easy to browse and search. Once you create your customisable Mii profile you can follow other Makers, save your favourite courses and rate/comment on them. When it comes time to upload your own creations they can be given tags to help people identify and search for specific themes or even gameplay styles, such as speedrun or multiplayer.
Did I mention multiplayer? It’s got that, too. Courses can be played with two-to-four people in either a cooperative style where at least one person finishing the level counts as a win, or competitive where it’s a race to the finish. I’ve already found the Koopa Car to be a great way to leverage that competitive aspect and make levels purely for racing in, though making levels with the chaos of single-screen cooperative Mario gameplay is considerably trickier. Co-op course making is also a thing, and while it’s neat that I can pass a joy-con to a friend and we can make something together, I’ve found that you really need to make sure that person is serious about making something good and not just going to shit all over what you’re trying to do. But maybe your friends are better than mine, who knows?
Super Mario Maker 2 does more than just rehash the same experience with extra stuff. It adds a meaningful and inspiring single player experience on top of a great set of tutorials and welcome new ways to play. It also adds a bunch of extra stuff, all of it substantial enough to radically change the way people create Mario levels and should mean we’ll see some pretty great things come from the Maker community. Whether you’re a player, a creator or anything in-between, Super Mario Maker 2 has you covered.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher