Playing the first Super Mario Maker made me realize that I took Nintendo’s approach to 2D Super Mario level design for granted. Contrasted against most of the user-generated levels I played, Nintendo’s approach across multiple Super Mario games showcases a high level of creativity, polish, accessibility, and restraint. It’s great that players are given the tools to create whatever they want, but it turns out that I mainly want more of Nintendo’s secret sauce.
Unfortunately, the Nintendo-made levels were poorly packaged as part of the 10 Mario Challenge. In it, you’re tasked with beating as many levels as you can with only 10 lives. However, unless you beat the entire challenge in one sitting, you’re likely to have to repeat levels before experiencing all of Nintendo’s content. Furthermore, the lack of connective tissue between levels made it difficult to get invested in Mario’s travels. At the very least, prior games sort of gave you the sense of working towards saving Princess Peach. With Super Mario Maker, you were just served levels at random that you’re running through for the sake of it.
Seemingly aware of the first game’s issues with regards to the presentation of Nintendo-made content, Super Mario Maker 2 takes a very different approach. Thus far, it’s made a huge difference in the way I consume and enjoy the game.
This time, the 10 Mario Challenge has been replaced with a dedicated Story Mode. While Princess Peach is just fine, her castle certainly isn’t after the events of the introduction. A silly construction accident completely destroys the freshly-built castle. With no money to rebuild the castle, Mario takes on a series of jobs in order to pay for the creation of a new castle.
These jobs are Nintendo-made levels that are presented in the same way as user-created ones. Cheeky user names are associated with each, along with written descriptions that read as if they were written by players. It’s a really clever way of getting players familiarized with how you access user-created levels.
Having said that, there’s more to it than just picking levels off of the menu. All of your interactions in the overworld are filled with tongue-in-cheek dialogue that harkens back to the days of Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario. On top of that, the overworld starts to open up, giving you opportunities to interact with new characters and find secrets. It’s not quite the same as a traditional Super Mario campaign, but it finds a really neat balance between providing players with a sense of progression while also acting as a gateway to the community-made levels.
Best of all, for players like me who love Nintendo-made levels, the ones I’ve played so far have been excellent! Using the same tools that players are given access to, Nintendo uses their time to demonstrate a number of new possibilities thanks to the game’s new features, such as slopes, on/off switches, custom scrolling, and much more. Even though Nintendo gets really kooky with some of these level designs, they still possess a level of polish that I’ve grown to love. That combination of craziness and polish makes this a real treat.
Some of these levels are surprisingly difficult. Whether they require you to make tricky jumps or solve intricate puzzles in ways that don’t traditionally occur in a Super Mario game, I found myself dying quite a bit on the harder levels. Unlike more recent entries in the series, you don’t get access to a super suit that will allow you to blaze through. Instead, you get the ability to edit the levels by adding blocks or other helpful tiles to simplify your journey. Though I actively avoided using it, it’s a great alternative that allows players to work through tougher levels while also getting familiarized with the level creation tools.
I’m about 30% into the game’s content based on the on-screen tracker, but continuing to chip away at it continues to be my top gaming priority. Still too early for me to say if these levels alone are enough to justify the purchase of Super Mario Marker 2, but with over 100 Nintendo-created levels to experience, I’m excited to play more!
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