Nintendo offer a new chance to create your own Super Mario levels but if you don’t want to do that they’ve got plenty of their own as well.
When the original Super Mario Maker was first announced for the Wii U in 2014 we dismissed it as a cheap piece of filler, something cooked up quickly by Nintendo to pack out their console’s worryingly empty release schedules. But that’s not how fans looked at it. It was an instant hit and millions found just as much pleasure creating their own Super Mario levels as playing them. Which means the sequel is now highly anticipated by everyone that’s ever fancied themselves as the next Shigeru Miyamoto.
Despite its popularity the original Super Mario Maker was a flawed product in many ways. Although it allowed you to build 2D levels based on Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U the tools it offered were very limited, with many options and items that appeared in the regular games being left out. It was also disappointingly reticent about actually teaching you anything, instead doing little more than throwing an editor at you and hoping you get on with it.
The sequel addresses both these points, as well as the elephant in the room: what if you don’t want to, or just aren’t very good at, making your own levels? The solution to that problem is over 100 Nintendo-made levels that represent the best 2D Mario action since the SNES era.
We actually preferred Super Mario Maker For 3DS, when it was released in 2016, since we initially had little interest in creating our own levels and were drawn to the fact that it had more and better Nintendo-made stages than the Wii U. Unfortunately, that version messed up the online support, so it wasn’t as good for level creation, but one of Super Mario Maker 2’s key advantages is that it offers the best of both worlds.
If you have zero interest in creating your own stages then there’s a substantial story campaign here, that revolves around completing levels in order to help rebuild Princess Peach’s castle. The structure is very simple, as you run around collecting level requests from different characters, but it’s all very charming and, importantly, the quality of the level design is excellent.
Although there are over 100 stages in total, each one, especially at the beginning, tends to highlight a specific item, enemy, or gameplay concept. Many of the early ones focus on new features for the sequel, including the ability to create levels with slopes, on/off switches, the angry sun from Super Mario Bros., and swinging claws. There are also new world themes – sky, forest, desert, and snow – and a mountain of other objects from various Mario games. Although oddly amiibo support for adding non-Mario characters to the game has been removed, which seems a shame.
In an attempt to do something new and interesting with the existing Mario toolset the majority of stages tend to be more puzzle-orientated than simple speed runs. There’s some extremely clever use of basic Mario physics and already established enemies, as you hunt for keys in haunted Boo mansions and make use of new features such as changing gravity and being able to create specific rules – such as losing an underwater stage if you swim out of the water.
The difficulty curve is very well judged, as you work through the stages, and while there are some purposefully fiendish examples (an early one where you’re not allowed to jump is a real killer) Nintendo has resisted the urge to make everything super hard and only aimed at existing fans.
Instead, they’ve left that job to the players themselves and while the real servers weren’t live pre-launch they were still filled with journos and testers creating diabolically difficult stages to challenge each other – as well as a smattering of more sane and enjoyable ones.
Player-made levels can be downloaded or streamed, with everyone able to vote on their quality and difficulty. Or you can play a random sequence of them in Endless mode until your lives run out. There’s a huge amount of content in Super Mario Maker 2 from day one but once the servers fill up with everyone else’s creations you’ll never want for a new 2D Mario level in your life.
Although it’s not hard to imagine Mario Maker being expanded into a more general game editor – perhaps something that can let you make Zelda and Metroid style levels as well – in terms of its, admittedly narrow, remit it gets almost everything right. The tutorials are much better and more in-depth than the original, teaching you not only how to use the game but the basics of level design and player psychology.
However, making anything in handheld mode is a bit of a faff without a capacitive stylus for the touchscreen, as curiously the game doesn’t want you to use the Joy-Cons when they’re attached to the console. Nintendo has already seen sense about the online co-op mode though and while you can’t choose to play with friends at launch (to ensure the leaderboards are kept fair, allegedly) a patch will be released shortly to amend that.
The only other disappointment is the way Super Mario 3D World is handled, as it’s the only new art style and yet while the real game uses a mix of 2.5D and isometric 3D levels in Super Mario Maker 2 it’s all just 2D gameplay. The graphics are slightly better than Super Mario Bros. U but not so much that it justifies the fact that levels designed as a 3D World stage aren’t compatible with any of the others (where usually you can switch styles and change the graphics but maintain the level layout).
We’d love to see Mario Maker expanded so that it encompasses other styles of gameplay, and even 3D graphics, but even as it is now it’s remarkable how much variety can be wrung out of seemingly simple items and mechanics. This is a far more entertaining package than any of the New Super Mario Bros. games and in the future, thanks to millions other players sharing their own creations, it’s only going to get better.
Super Mario Maker 2
In Short: Not just one of the most versatile 2D game creation tools on consoles but the best collection of new Super Mario courses since the 90s.
Pros: A highly flexible, and mostly easy to use, course creator that allows enormous variety in stage and gameplay design. Excellent Nintendo-made levels, useful tutorials, and charming presentation.
Cons: The interface can be rather obscure, especially in handheld mode, and the introduction of Super Mario 3D World stages is underwhelming.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Release Date: 28th June 2019
Age Rating: 3
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