Super Mario Maker was a noteworthy title in that it managed to be extremely popular and culturally relevant despite being on a console considered to be a high-profile “failure”.
Now Nintendo has well and truly picked itself up, dusted itself off and raised a hearty middle finger to its competition with the Switch, many people would have doubtless been happy with a simple port of the original Super Mario Maker, opening up the possibilities that package offered to a whole new audience.
But what Nintendo has actually given us is something much, much greater. Let’s dive in and see what Super Mario Maker 2 brings to the creators’ table.
For those who haven’t been gaming for quite as long as I have, know that for quite some time — at least up until the ’80s and early ’90s — video games typically didn’t ship with modding tools as they often do today. Instead, the (often commercial) release of a “construction set” for a series tended to mark the end of that particular franchise’s shelf life; developer and publisher alike had decided that it was time to move on, and thus handed over the “keys” to the community to see what they could create, with official blessings.
In many ways, the original Super Mario Maker felt like this kind of “fond farewell” to a particular series — in this case, 2D Super Mario games. While there was a small amount of single-player content included, the focus was very much on the online experience, allowing players to create and upload their own courses or take on a practically endless series of challenges constructed by the community. It was Nintendo saying “right, we’ve done what we can (or at least what we want to) with 2D Super Mario; now let’s see what you can do.”
The reason I bring this up is that while Super Mario Maker 2 is first and foremost a means of constructing and playing customer Super Mario levels in a variety of styles, there is now also a substantial single-player component in the mix, suggesting that perhaps Nintendo perhaps weren’t quite as done with 2D Super Mario as they thought they were.
This single-player component, known as Story Mode, sees Mario, Toadette and a series of variously coloured Toads attempting to recreate Princess Peach’s castle after Undodog — the mascot who represents the “Undo” function in the course maker mode — accidentally destroys it. In order to accomplish this, you must play through a series of levels in order to attain coin rewards, which can subsequently be spent on various building projects.
Each project takes a set period of time to complete, represented by a number of hammers; each time you successfully complete another job, one of these hammers will light up until the project is finished, and you’ll continue to earn coins as you do so. As you progress in the overall task, you’ll also come across various other characters — most of whom are, like Undodog, actually interface elements from the course maker — who will present you with various tasks. Sometimes these will reward you with coins, but more often than not they will unlock new costumes for your Maker profile online, allowing you to express yourself as you see fit.
One nice aspect of Story Mode is that, like many other recent Super Mario games, Nintendo has incorporated an accessibility system for those who find particular levels too challenging. Rather than simply making the level easier by making Mario invincible or providing him with a particular power-up, however, here you have the option to use a lightweight version of the course maker tool to add certain elements to the level. You can drop in extra power-ups or draw in blocks to make tricky platforming sections easier — and if you’re still struggling after that, you can just call in Luigi to come and complete the level for you without penalty.
Story Mode has two main functions in the grand scheme of the complete Super Mario Maker 2 package. Firstly, it’s quite simply an excellent Super Mario game featuring over a hundred separate stages to enjoy — and the unique twist of incorporating stylistic elements from the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Mario 3D World.
While you can quite easily blast through the entirety of Story Mode in a couple of days — note that there’s more to play after you finish the core task of reconstructing Peach’s castle — it is a solid and immensely satisfying game in its own right, and is well worth playing through even if you have no intention of engaging with the rest of Super Mario Maker 2.
Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, however, Story Mode provides a fantastic source of inspiration; over the course of those 100+ levels, you’ll see a wide variety of different types, ranging from conventional platforming affairs to strongly puzzle-based, adventure-style levels. You’ll see possible uses of pretty much every available part in the game demonstrated, along with all the different game styles, visual themes, sound effects and ways to tweak the experience. By the time you reach the end, I defy you not to come out with at least a few interesting ideas.
Particular highlights of the Story Mode levels include those that require you to accomplish specific objectives besides simply reaching the end of the course. The stages that prohibit you from landing again after leaving the ground for the first time (usually accomplished by simply not jumping) are especially interesting, and late in the game there’s one that requires you to complete a series of single-screen puzzle rooms by transporting a heavy stone and making use of it in different ways.
In many cases, the Story Mode levels provide experiences that are a little different from what you might typically expect to see in a 2D Super Mario game, but that’s part of the beauty of Super Mario Maker. Despite including a number of “retro” game styles alongside the more modern New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Mario 3D World aesthetics, the package as a whole is not simply trying to recreate these experiences as they were back in the day. Rather, it provides a rather enjoyable means of asking and answering intriguing “what if?” questions, typically breaking through the boundaries and restrictions of those old games in the process.
The “retro” aspect of Super Mario Maker 2 is perhaps best thought of in terms of the “enhanced retro” angle that a number of modern independent game developers take these days: it captures the overall aesthetic of what you would like to remember these games looking and playing like, while simultaneously incorporating modern conveniences and technological aspects that simply wouldn’t have been possible on the older hardware.
Wonder what Super Mario Bros. 3 might be like with physics-based puzzles that incorporate smoothly rotating seesaw objects? You can fiddle around with that idea to your heart’s content here. Ever pondered how the original incarnation of Super Mario would be able to handle the puzzle-based challenges of a Ghost House? Got it covered. Found yourself wishing that Super Mario World had more spectacular pyrotechnics to highlight particularly noteworthy achievements in a level? Go nuts!
Experimenting with all these aspects — and the possibilities that the two more modern game styles offer, too — is where the Course Maker comes in. Unlike the original Super Mario Maker, there’s no waiting period to unlock everything — you’re provided with everything you need to make levels right from the start. It’s worth noting that Super Mario Maker 2 still doesn’t include absolutely everything from its source material in terms of available parts, so it’s still impossible to simply recreate those old games in their entirety — but why would you want to, when there are so many more interesting things that you could do?
Since the move to Switch means that the game can no longer rely on every player having access to a touchscreen-based device with which to control the experience, the level editor might initially feel slightly less intuitive to seasoned veterans of the Wii U original, but after a period of acclimatisation, you’ll feel right at home — and in the meantime, you can always play the game in handheld mode and use the touchscreen with your finger or a capacitive touchscreen-compatible stylus, anyway.
Navigating around your level is done with the analogue stick, which allows you to place a selected part, move Mario for testing purposes or change the settings for a particular part. Tapping the D-pad in one of the four directions, meanwhile, switches to the menu mode, allowing you to select from available parts at the top of the screen, level settings on the left, system settings on the right and course navigation at the bottom.
Selecting parts is now done via a pleasingly intuitive and fluid radial menu system that works excellently with the analogue stick, and the last few parts you’ve used are stored in a “hotbar” at the top of the screen for easy recall if required. Many parts have options that can be set by pressing and holding on them once you’ve placed them; this can alter all manner of things depending on the part in question. You can attach wings to most things to make them float, for example, while pipes that spew out items can have their spawn rate adjusted.
Some of the most significant additions to the course maker don’t involve parts at all, but rather affect the way you structure and design your level.
Firstly, you can force the screen to stop scrolling by creating a screen-height vertical wall, allowing you to create a series of single-screen rooms — or prevent the level from scrolling until you’ve found a way to create a passageway onwards. And secondly, the “sub-area” for your level — essentially a second whole level canvas which can be accessed by using a Warp Pipe — can be set to vertical rather than horizontal orientation, allowing for tower climbs and perilous descents rather than the more conventional left-to-right formula.
Super Mario Maker 2 allows you to jump right in and just start fiddling around with all its tools right from the get-go if you’re a confident creator or someone who prefers to learn by doing. But particular praise should be given to “Yamamura’s Dojo”, a comprehensive tutorial section that builds on the tips and lessons available in the Wii U and 3DS versions of the original Super Mario Maker.
In Yamamura’s Dojo, the eponymous pigeon (and master Super Mario level maker, named after veteran Nintendo level designer Yasuhisa Yamamura) offers the player and his sidekick Nina a series of demonstrations that cover everything from the basics of actually using the software to more abstract concepts such as treating the player fairly, using clever design to gradually introduce skills and techniques the player will require to succeed at your course, and adjusting difficulty in various ways.
There’s a lot of content to go through here, divided into three distinct strata based on your experience level, and much of it is very insightful and helpful to aspiring level designers. While the majority of the lessons are non-interactive, they are presented in an extremely entertaining manner; Yamamura is depicted as a long-suffering but ultimately patient and helpful teacher, while Nina is shown to be impulsive, passionate and distinctly sassy. The characterisation incorporated into the writing of these sequences turn what could easily have been a mountain of dry, boring tutorials into something that is very entertaining to dip into when you want to get some new ideas or suggestions on how to make your own work better.
Once you’ve made a course, you can save it to your personal “Coursebot” and/or upload it online. You’re limited to having 32 levels uploaded at any one time — presumably to prevent spamming of low-quality levels — but you can take down a level and replace it with another one from your offline collection at any time if you so desire. Levels can have a title, a short text description and up to two tags to explain what sort of experience they offer. These tie in to the Course World function where all the uploaded courses end up — more on that in just a moment.
When you want to move beyond the Story Mode and into user-generated content, you have several ways to play. First up, you have the Endless Challenge, which replaces the 100 Mario Challenge from the original game. Here, you choose a difficulty — Easy, Normal, Expert or Super Expert — and begin with a set number of lives with which to complete as many levels as you possibly can, with your highest “score” (in terms of levels completed) being recorded. The difficulty is calculated based on the online clear rate of the levels; those with lower successful clear rates will find themselves in the upper difficulty tiers, while those which have been cleared by a greater proportion of those who have played them will filter into the Easy and Normal categories.
Progress for each difficulty in Endless Challenge is tracked separately, and you can jump out and back in at any time. This is good, because I found Easy to be a bit too easy, typically allowing me to gain lives at a greater rate than I was losing them, meaning the experience would theoretically go on forever. Obviously your mileage in this regard will vary according to your own personal Super Mario skills!
If you’re looking for something more specific or just a one-off challenge, that’s where Course World comes in. Here, you can browse through new, popular and “hot” (whatever that means) levels and play or download them at your leisure. There’s also a detailed search option that allows you to filter results by specific tags, makers and various other criteria, and it’s possible to “follow” creators you find who become particular favourites.
The detailed search option is particularly helpful if you’re looking for specific types of levels — there are tags available for levels based around “Auto-Mario” (where player input is minimal and the level largely plays itself) and “Music” (where note blocks are used in creative ways to automatically play pieces of music as the player passes) as well as experiences that are more puzzle-centric or specifically designed for multiplayer.
Talking of multiplayer, you can play this in two ways: co-op, which simply sees up to four players taking on a level at the same time (with the group voting on what difficulty of course they want, similar to Endless Challenge), or competitive, in which up to four players compete to reach the end of a randomly picked online level first. The competitive mode offers a simple ranking system where your rating rises if you attain first place, and falls to varying degrees otherwise.
Multiplayer is rather variable at the time of writing, with your experience being largely dependent on which member of your four-person party has the worst Internet connection. Sometimes it will be perfectly smooth, others it’ll be slow-motion, running at half the speed of the game under normal circumstances.
There’s also the fact that I simply don’t find multiplayer Mario very fun; I found the New Super Mario Bros. games and Super Mario 3D World to be chaotic and frustrating any time I’ve attempted them in local multiplayer, and the same is very much true here. Highly technical or puzzle-based 2D platformers like this don’t really lend themselves well to competitive multiplayer from a structural perspective, and in co-op people just tend to get in one another’s way rather than helping each other out. As such, the variable performance of multiplayer (and, for that matter, the much-maligned absence of the option to play with friends, which is apparently getting patched in later) doesn’t particularly bother me personally; multiplayer is emphatically not why I’m here.
Weak multiplayer aside, Super Mario Maker 2 is a spectacular follow-up to one of the Wii U’s most interesting releases. While there are a few curious omissions from the previous version — most notably the various character costumes that could be unlocked either through Amiibo or accomplishing tasks in the game — there is limitless potential in this package, and its release on Switch means it’ll have a much broader audience than its predecessor, meaning more creative and exciting levels for everyone to enjoy, potentially in perpetuity.
If you like Super Mario — or platformers in general — you’d be a fool to miss out on Super Mario Maker 2, even if you have no intention of ever creating your own levels. Between the substantial Story Mode and the endless creativity of the community, there’s an insane amount of fun to be had here — and who knows, you might even find yourself scratching a creative itch you didn’t know you had in the first place!
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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