If you had to pick just one game that every single Switch owner absolutely needs to own, this would be it.
In spite of the Wii U’s short and troubled life cycle, the doomed console did enjoy a few unequivocal successes- Super Mario Maker was surely one of them. Combining the timeless charm and the balance between mechanical depth and accessibility of Nintendo’s 2D Super Mario games with the genius idea of giving players the tools from all those titles to create their own Mario courses, Super Mario Maker quickly became a shining gem in the Wii U’s library. A port or a sequel on the wildly more successful Switch was an inevitability, and now that Super Mario Maker 2 is finally here, I can say without reservations that it was well worth the wait- and then some.
Developing a game that is based, first and foremost, around giving players the tools to create their own content can be a tricky business. Freely handing out a plethora of tools is what you’d think would be the top order for such a game, and while that would be preferable for the more creative types, for many other players, that can just as easily lead to a confusing and daunting deluge of choices. Mario Maker 2, just like its predecessor, sidesteps that problem by smartly balancing its vast and extensive creation toolset with the kind of accessibility that only Nintendo games can nail.
"Mario Maker 2, just like its predecessor, smartly balances its vast and extensive creation toolset with the kind of accessibility that only Nintendo games can nail."
Creating levels is easy and intuitive, and even someone with little to no experience with Mario Maker can come up with a basic platforming course very quickly and easily. As you play more and learn the ropes and constantly tinker with the many, many tools at your disposal, you learn new things. Ideas start forming in your head about how you can use everything in various ways- maybe you can combine a fast vertical scrolling level with horizontally moving Thwomps, and maybe add rising lava to give it some extra heat? Perhaps you can fill up an entire course with a maze of interconnected pipes and puzzles around Power-Ups to create a Metroidvania level in Super Mario form? Or maybe you can combine the low gravity of nighttime with an obstacle course of spikes, seesaws, and gigantic flying Goombas.
For those that want more direct lessons in how to use Super Mario Maker 2’s creation tools in increasingly creative ways, there’s Yamamura’s Dojo to dive into, which sees a pigeon – the aforementioned Yamamura – giving you lessons on everything from the basics – like how to place stuff – to the intermediate stuff – like how to make a good water-based level – to the more advanced, philosophical side of designing levels – like what even makes for good and inventive level design, or what defines properly balanced and fair difficulty. It’s a great way to progressively learn new things about how best to leverage Mario Maker 2’s vast customization options- essentially a crash course in level design by Nintendo themselves, the masters of level design.
The ease with which you can create courses is also bolstered by the game’s UI. Let’s get one thing out of the way right now- Super Mario Maker 2 was simply never going to have a UI as good as its Wii U counterpart. The Wii U game was designed specifically around its Gamepad, and being able to make things on its touch screen while seeing the fruits of your work on your TV. With that functionality no longer available to Nintendo, they had to make adjustments to ensure Mario Maker works on a Switch- and they’ve done a great job of it. Much of that is down to the overhauled UI, which does a great job of organizing the game’s plethora of options very neatly and crisply and making them all easily accessible.
"Creating levels is easy and intuitive, and even someone with little to no experience with Mario Maker can come up with a basic platforming course very quickly and easily. As you play more and learn the ropes and constantly tinker with the many, many tools at your disposal, you learn new things"
Using the touch screen is still the best way to play. Though the Switch, having no stylus of its own, relies on you using your fingers – a much clumsier input method, in all honesty – Mario Maker 2 doesn’t really suffer because of it. When your Switch is docked, you’re obviously restricted to using buttons. For what it is, it’s been handled pretty well – there’s only so much anyone could have done with making such a game work using buttons as an input method – but compared to the touch screen, it still feels a bit too finicky and cluttered. It works, but things don’t feel as quick and easy as they should- and when you’re scrolling through options as vast as what’s available in Mario Maker 2, “quick and easy” should be the name of the game.
And they really are vast. Mario Maker 2 takes the already extensive toolset that its predecessor offered, and adds multiple new things on top, including everything from new course themes, to a new game style, to options for placing and creating new things, such as On/Off switches, Banzai Bills, Twisters, Seesaws, Swinging Claws, Snake Blocks, slopes, and so, so much more. Working within the limitations and what can work in a Mario game and using those tools to creatively bypass those limitations was the biggest draw of Mario Maker, and in providing even greater options than ever before, Mario Maker 2 allows you to play around within those limitations even more. I’ve already spent hours and hours playing around with the nearly infinite permutations and combinations, creating and thinking up puzzles, platforming gauntlets, themed courses, and what have you- and I’m sure this is just the beginning.
There’s even a completely new game style to create levels with, as I mentioned. Mario Maker 2 allows you to create 2D versions of Super Mario 3D World levels- these function very differently from all the other game styles, offering their own mechanics, enemies, objects, and items. Visually, the Super Mario 3D World style looks great- levels are slightly tilted, giving a 3D effect to all the in-game assets, and though the levels themselves are, of course, strictly 2D sidescrollers, the visual effect they achieve is great. In terms of creating, using 3D World’s unique elements to make courses – such as enemies like Fire Bros or Charvaargh, or objects like Clear Pipes, Blinking Blocks, and Track Blocks, or, of course, the Cat Suit Power-Up – is a ton of fun.
"Working within the limitations and what can work in a Mario game and using those tools to creatively bypass those limitations was the biggest draw of Mario Maker, and in providing even greater options than ever before, Mario Maker 2 allows you to play around within those limitations even more."
That said, I did find 3D World to be a bit more limited in the tools it offers than the other styles. That’s partly down to the fact that some elements from the other styles aren’t available in the 3D World style- but also because many elements found in Super Mario 3D World itself haven’t found their way into Super Mario Maker 2. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of options at your disposal here, and it’s by no means barebones- not even close. It just feels a bit restrictive as compared to, say, the Super Mario World style.
But enough about the creation aspect- because Super Mario Maker 2 is as much about sharing levels as it is about creating them. And thankfully, social features have seen some much needed improvements. For starters, discoverability of levels is much more finely-tuned. You can now see levels across three broad categories – Hot, Popular, and New – but you can also narrow down your searches. You can search for levels based on difficulty, style, or select upto two descriptive tags (such as puzzle-solving, autoscroll, themed, speedrun, and the like), all of which makes it much easier to find a level you’ll enjoy. There’s also an Endless Challenge option, which hands you a total of five lives and randomly pulls user-generated levels for you to clear. After playing through a level, you can also leave behind some basic feedback- such as whether or not you liked a level, or any comments you may want to put down.
There’s still room for improvement here though. Nintendo can still introduce some tiny little things that may not seem like much in isolation, but, put together, can improve the social aspects of the game even further. Things such as integration of friends lists, or followed creators acting like subscriptions that notify you of whenever they upload a new course, or being able to search for levels using their names rather than codes, would certainly make the social side of Mario Maker 2 much better. As of writing this review, the game also allows players to upload a maximum of 32 levels, which seems like a number that one can run out of pretty quickly. Hopefully Nintendo ups that cap with a patch in the future.
"Super Mario Maker 2 is as much about sharing levels as it is about creating them, and thankfully, social features have seen some much needed improvements."
If you’re not the type that has much interest in creating your own levels and just want to play through 2D Mario courses – without running the risk of chancing across poorly made user-generated ones – Super Mario Maker 2 also has a very meaty story mode for you to dive into. Thanks to a costly mistake made by Undodog involving a Reset Rocket, Princess Peach’s castle has been destroyed. It now falls to Mario and his crew of Toads to conjure up enough money to be able to rebuild it from scratch- money that you get by completing levels. This entails 100 courses designed by Nintendo themselves- and they’re as excellent as you’d expect, exhibiting genius level design and finely tuned platforming action.
You can easily complete the story mode without playing through each and every one of them, but considering how excellent they are, I personally wouldn’t recommend it. Really, Nintendo could have easily just packaged and sold the story mode by itself as a new 2D Mario game, and no one would have batted an eye- it’s that good, and that meaty. On top of just being impressive displays of solid level design, however, the courses in Mario Maker 2’s story mode also act as passive tutorials for how you can use the tools on offer while creating levels of your own. Playing through story mode’s courses will certainly give you countless ideas for how to best make use of Swinging Claws, or Clear Pipes, or vertical scrolling, and a whole, whole lot more.
There’s also a suite of multiplayer options, offering everything from competitive races through player-made courses against three other players to be the first to get to the finish line, to even building levels co-operatively. Co-op building can be a lot of fun, but as you’d imagine, it can also be a bit chaotic, while multiplayer is devilishly enjoyable. Sabotaging other players and watching them fall to their deaths as all four of you compete to be the one to finish the course is about as fun as it sounds, and it really helps that Mario Maker 2 allows you to not only design levels specifically around that aspect, but also to tag and search for them. Multiplayer does have some limitations, in that right now you can’t play with your friends and can only matchmake with randoms, but Nintendo has promised that this will be fixed with an upcoming update.
"Nintendo could have easily just packaged and sold the story mode by itself as a new 2D Mario game, and no one would have batted an eye- it’s that good, and that meaty."
There’s just so much to do in Super Mario Maker 2. People often say about certain games that they offer infinite content and endless replayability, but here, that’s truer than it is in most other cases. Regardless of whether you’re looking to create your own deathtraps and ingenious courses, or are just looking to enjoy the courses created by others – Nintendo included – there really is infinite content for you here. The fact that it’s all so well-designed and easy to use, but also offers a ton of depth, makes it that much better. There’s no two ways about it- if you own a Switch, you need to own Super Mario Maker 2 as well.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
A vast array of creation tools; Instantly accessible and very easy to grasp; Neat and intuitive UI; Lots of new creation options have been added to an already extensive toolset; 3D World style looks visually excellent; Improvements made to search functions make it easier to find levels you'd like; Multiplayer is a ton of fun; Story mode is meaty and full of excellently designed levels; Yamamura's Dojo serves as a great way to learn the ropes; Literally endless content on offer.
Creating levels doesn't work as well when playing in docked mode; 3D World style feels a bit more limited as compared to the others; Social features could do with some improvements.
There's no two ways about it- if you own a Switch, you need to own Super Mario Maker 2 as well.