Super Mario Maker proved to be a revelation. Providing players with intuitive tools to create their own levels in the Mushroom Kingdom, they broke the boundaries of Nintendo’s own level design ethos while pushing the limits – and oftentimes breaking the limits – of what was possible within the game’s toolset. Long after the Wii U died, the Super Mario Maker community seemingly held onto Nintendo’s ill-fated console longer than anyone else.
As mind-expanding as that first game proved to be, it wasn’t without fault. Limitations within the tools made it impossible to recreate every facet of the 2D Super Mario experience, such as sloped hills among others. Finding good levels proved to be a chore due to the game’s poor filtering options. For players who simply wanted more Nintendo-created levels, they were gated behind a clunky 10 Mario Challenge mode that essentially made it impossible to experience them all without having to play repeats. Super Mario Maker 2 aims to not only address the issues of the first, but expand the scope of what players can create within the Mushroom Kingdom.
Just like the last game, the main menu is split into two primary options: Make and Play. If you head into make, you’ll be dropped into the level creator to create a new project or continue a previous work. Though I did not spend too much time in the previous game’s level editor, it was incredibly intuitive to use thanks to solid menu design and the ability to create with the Wii U GamePad.
If you’re playing Super Mario Maker 2 in handheld mode, it’s a very similar experience. Simply use the touchscreen on the console itself to click and drag your way to completion. When in docked mode, you’re forced to control everything with a controller. This is not as user-friendly, as you’ll constantly juggle between the analog stick for making edits to the world, while using the d-pad to navigate between menu options. Having spent a bit of time between both, I don’t ever want to build in docked mode. That said, I should look into buying a stylus for ease of use.
In spite of their surface-level similarities, there are a host of new upgrades to the editor that greatly expand your possibilities. The addition of slopes is just the beginning. Though there are too many additions to mention, I’ll key in on a few big ones. Custom scrolling allows you to control the angle and speed at which the camera pans around your level for a more finely-tuned scrolling experience. Adding the ability to create levels with custom win conditions is a massive upgrade. While players are still required to cross the goal, custom win conditions allow you to require players to complete an objective first. Whether it’s collect X amount of coins, cross the line with Y item, or don’t touch the ground once you jump, the level design possibilities open up up in a huge way.
The biggest update of all is a brand new game style. Super Mario 3D World is a selectable theme, but it’s not just a skin like the others. Instead, its a unique style with different power-ups, enemies, techniques, and more. While it’s a shame that designs from the previous styles won’t seamlessly cross over, the game gives players a significantly different playground to play with.
Speaking of, it’s worth noting that the Extra Style(s) menu is in plural, even though only one extra style is currently available. Doesn’t guarantee that more styles are coming, but there’s a pretty good shot that at least one more is on the way. I hope this means we see Super Mario Bros. 2 as a style someday!
With so many new possibilities, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. If you’re in need of inspiration, definitely give the new Story Mode a shot. As a replacement to the clunky 10 Mario Challenge from the original, Super Mario Maker 2 contains a story mode with over 100 levels to enjoy.
Instead of aimlessly running through a random mix of levels, Mario is on a mission to help gather enough money to pay for the creation of a new castle. While these levels aren’t as fully-formed as those found in a traditional Super Mario game, they do a tremendous job of demonstrating creative ways of using all of the game’s new tools. Furthermore, having just a bit more context around why Mario is running through these levels goes a long way to providing players with a sense of accomplishment after each successful completion.
Where the original game lost me was in its Course World. As someone who wanted to play quality user-generated content, I felt like it was really hard to find that stuff with the game’s tools. If anything, it was better to follow websites, YouTube, or Twitter for codes to levels that are generating buzz in the community.
This time, you get more control within the game. A tag system is in place to allow players to sort levels by such criteria as auto-scroll, multiplayer versus, music, puzzle-solving, and more. Also, I felt like the game did a better job of serving up levels within the endless challenges based on difficulty. I have no interest in playing the extremely difficult or trolly levels, but I had a much better time finding levels on the lower end of the difficulty scale.
Going above and beyond the scope of the original game is the inclusion of multiplayer. Conceptually, it’s great to have the ability to share these experiences with friends. In practice, there are some weird quirks that prevent these improvements from reaching their full potential.
When creating a level, you and a friend can each take one Joy-Con half and build together. Having the option is a plus, but it’s maddening that split Joy-Cons are the only control options available in this mode. If I had to use controllers, I’d much prefer the form-factor of two Pro Controllers.
Multiplayer was a surprise inclusion to me when it was revealed leading up to the game’s release. As of writing, you can play levels with friends locally, or play against strangers online in competitive or co-op modes. Some will always find the experience of multiplayer Super Mario to be overly chaotic, but there’s absolutely a charm to being in that world with other players.
Nintendo didn’t go all the way with its multiplayer support on this front, either. For example, it’s not easy to build levels that require multiple players to beat. You can sort of work around this by making two distinct paths where the multiplayer path only opens up if more than one player is present. My brother recommended checking out the level 8CJ-376-MXF, which is a Nintendo-made level that uses this workaround. Native support for levels only beatable in multiplayer would have been appreciated.
Unfortunately, as you would expect from a Nintendo game with online play, its online performance is not the greatest. Maybe it’s a matter of matchmaking, but many of the online matches I played were laggy. It’s really disappointing to see how hit-and-miss this is, especially as Super Mario games rely so heavily on split-second timing.
If there were an option to play with friends whose distance you can account for, it would at least be a more consistent experience, good or bad. However, Nintendo did not include online play with friends, which is baffling. Thankfully, Nintendo has stated that online play with friends is coming in a future update. Can’t add that feature in soon enough! And while Nintendo is at it, can they please make online play more stable?
There’s enough to nitpick at that prevent Super Mario Maker 2 from reaching its full potential. But when you assess the game in its entirety, it goes to incredible lengths to provide level creators and players with a robust package while nailing many of them. All of the new tools greatly expand the scope of what players can make, while players will have a better time working through Nintendo’s own levels and those made by the community. For the few still hanging onto their Wii U for Super Mario Maker, you can finally let go and enjoy the significantly-improved sequel.
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