Super Mario Maker 2 is both a worthy sequel and a fantastic entry point for newcomers. Building Mario courses is just as fun as playing them, while the online community will no doubt squeeze every drop of potential out of Nintendo's Mushroom Kingdom.
- Tonnes of new content
- Story Mode works as fun tutorial
- Superb online features
- Easy-to-use interface
- Forced to use touchscreen controls in handheld mode
- Stylus required for precision
- Not quite as much creative freedom as other DIY games
- Review Price: £39.99
- Developer: Nintendo EPD
- Genre: Game creation
- Release date: June 28, 2019
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
With Nintendo handing over the keys to the Mushroom Kingdom, Super Mario Maker 2 gifts you almost every single enemy, item, platform and gizmo featured in over three decades worth of Super Mario side-scrolling action, allowing you to play around with a seemingly unlimited pool of possible combinations.
Of course, this isn’t the first entry to the build-your-own Super Mario saga, with the original Super Mario Maker launching back in 2015 on the Wii U and a port arriving on the 3DS in 2016. But since a lot of people never bothered to buy the under-performing console, and the portable alternative lacked the important online functionality, the Nintendo Switch looks to be the starting point for many wannabe Mario makers.
Those who played the previous instalments won’t be disappointed either – this isn’t just a padded out port disguised as a sequel; a new story mode, abundance of fresh tools and the introduction of the Super Mario 3D World game style make Super Mario Maker 2 a worthy successor.
As soon as you launch Super Mario Maker 2, you’re thrown into ‘Course Maker’ mode. All of your tools run around the edges of the screen with the assets (items, enemies, platforms etc.) on the top, the course’s timeline at the bottom, and loads of features on the left including timer, course theme and game style.
Despite so many options being readily available, the screen never looks cluttered. Everything is easy to access, with just a press on the touchscreen required instead of rummaging through time-consuming menus. Assets are the exception, as they’re stored in eleven separate selection wheels, but you can pin your favourites to the top bar to avoid the hassle.
When using the Switch in handheld mode, you’re forced to use the touchscreen for building, which is disappointing. I’ve got nothing against the touchscreen controls – they work just as well as you could hope for – but I personally prefer using the pinpoint accuracy of the Joy-Cons’ analogue sticks when the Switch is docked, opposed to my clumsy, greasy fingers. The perfect compromise is using a Switch-compatible stylus, but that of course requires an additional purchase. Nintendo is bundling a stylus with special edition games though, which don’t cost much more than the standard version.
The first decision to make is what Game Style you want to play, with the four returning options including Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros U. That said, you’re able to flick between these game styles at any point, so your decision is by no means final. Switching the stage, and all its inhabitants, between pixel art and animated models is surprisingly slick and ridiculously fun, too. Each game style is also accommodated by their wonderful nostalgia-inducing soundtracks.
Since this is a sequel, we also get the luxury of a brand new game style called Super Mario 3D World. Here, the textures look even better, you’re given more assets and enemies to play with and Mario has an extra few skills, including wall-jumping and a forward roll. The unfortunate compromise of having all these big-scale changes is that they are not transferable to the other game styles, so you can’t interchange.
Super Mario 3D World looks to be a favourite with the online community, giving Mario makers exclusive access to the likes of Meowser (Bowser in cat form) for intense boss battles, the Koopa Troopa Car for fun speed trials and the Super Bell item to bestow Mario with feline powers perfect for vertical level designs.
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The next decision to make is what Course Theme you want. These are backgrounds that drastically switch up the vibe of the stage thanks to accompanied soundtracks. There are 10 Course Themes to choose from, including the classic Ground stage, the spooky Ghost House and the grandiose Castle. Mario Maker veterans will also be pleased to know there are four new stages, including Sky, Forest, Desert and Snow.
Themes aren’t solely useful for atmosphere – some also have unique traits. The Forest, for example, features water that can be set to rise and fall throughout the level, which will affect Mario’s movement and cause certain objects to float.
Set the Underground theme to night mode, meanwhile, and the stage will flip so it looks like Mario is standing upside down. I’ve already seen some mind-bending player-created stages that smartly uses this feature, creating the illusion the player can mess with gravity in order to overcome puzzles.
You can also set conditions for your level, which players must complete before being able to jump on the flagpole and clear the course. These conditions range from ‘Reaching the goal without taking damage’ to ‘Collect 200 coins’, and can be really useful for those who’d prefer to create mini game stages rather than a traditional side-scrolling platformer. Sadly you’re limited to one condition per stage, but I understand Nintendo’s concern that any more could make things too complex.
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I really love all of these new features, once again adding to the number of game-changing combinations at your disposal. Admittedly, there’s not quite as much creative freedom here as you get with the likes of LittleBigPlanet. With Super Mario Maker 2, you can’t create NPCs with speech bubbles or create your own enemies or objects from scratch – you’re restricted to the already established library of Super Mario assets. The plus side to this is that it prevents stage creation getting too complicated, which Nintendo clearly earmarked as a priority.
The new Story Mode also helps to prevent the many stage-building possibilities in Super Mario Maker 2 from becoming overwhelming. Every one of the hundred-or-so bite-size stages effectively acts like a mini tutorial, focusing on a specific item or game mechanic so players can get a full understanding of how they function while also providing inspiration in the process.
But while Nintendo is pushing creativity even more so than it would with standard Super Mario levels, the stages found in Super Mario Maker 2 are very short and don’t feel fleshed out – think of them more as multiple servings of tapas rather than a full Mushroom Kingdom main course with all the trimmings.
Nintendo even provides context to all of these missions, as Mario attempts to amass a collection of coins to fund repairs for Princess Peach’s castle after a troublesome pooch inadvertently destroys it. The narrative here is even more barebones than a typical Nintendo story, but it does add helpings of charm and chuckles thanks to the cutesy cast of characters.
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Story Mode certainly isn’t the main showpiece of Super Mario Marker 2 though; it’s the online community that’s truly the heartbeat of this game. Via Course World you can upload your levels to the online community, and also view and play stages built by other makers from all across the globe.
The interface for Course World is pleasant to look at and easy to navigate, with all the levels arranged via tabs for ‘popular’, ‘trending’ and ‘new’. You also get a ‘Detailed Search’ option, which can filter courses by Game Style, Course Theme, difficulty, tags and even region. This will be really useful for those craving for a specific level design once the server becomes crowded with countless courses. You can also download levels to your Switch so you can play community-made courses offline at a later date, really making the most out of the Switch’s portable powers.
When hovering over a level, you get a lot of handy information including upvotes, clear rate and a short description written by the creator. Those who have played the level can also leave comments and tags, while the world-record holder for each stage will also be proudly displayed, giving speed-runners an even greater incentive to have a go. Small details such as these really help to give life to the community, and I’m really excited to see this grow further.
Such in-depth information isn’t solely useful for picking what stage to play, but it also offers valuable feedback for your own course. The first Super Mario stage I uploaded only had a 5.47% clear percentage out of 73 attempts. I could even go into my stage and see the ‘Failure Points’ which highlight the most common locations of deaths. With so much information at hand, I was able to tweak my stage to make it more fun and accessible. I learned a lot through this process, and undoubtedly improved my novice game design skills
You’ll be rewarded with Maker Points when other players rate and leave comments on your course too, which can be spent on customising your avatar with clothes and accessories. These avatars are essentially Miis, but it’s quite fun to dress them up in a Bowser Jr. hat or Banzai Bill T-shirt, and then show them off to the online community like a badge of honour.
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Another great online feature in Super Mario Maker 2 is Endless Challenge. Here you pick a difficulty – ranging from Easy to Super Expert – and then play community-created stages one after another until your lives run out. Right now, with limited players online pre-launch, I noticed a few duplicate stages in my 26-game run, but I’m sure this won’t be an issue once more people start playing following the game’s official release.
And finally there are multiplayer options. In Multiplayer Co-op, you can work together with up to three other random online players to try and complete a course. If just one person on the team passes the finish line, everyone is counted a winner.
Multiplayer Versus, meanwhile, snubs such teamwork in favour of a race through the Mushroom Kingdom. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to test these online multiplayer features as much as I’d like due to the limited number of active players on the server. We’ll make sure to test them more extensively once the game officially launches.
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I was able to play the Super Mario Maker 2 multiplayer with local players though, but every player requires their own Nintendo Switch console, game and Switch Online Subscription. It’s dead easy to connect, with one player creating a room and up to three others jumping in. After picking a difficulty level you’re all immediately thrown into a community-created course for a race to the flag, and as soon as that contest is over, you’re hurled into another race on a different course.
Racing with your friends through the wacky Mushroom Kingdom stages was surprisingly fun and tense, with every Goomba collision or spike-pit fall detrimental to your chances of glory. Sadly, we didn’t encounter any co-op levels, so I’m led to believe you can only play versus mode with local friends. It’s also disappointing players can’t choose between the four available characters – Mario, Luigi, Toad and Toadette – so there’s little you can do if you’re lumbered with the green plumber.
If your pals are more into creating platformers than playing them, you can invite one friend to help build your Super Mario stages in the Course Maker mode. For obvious reasons, you won’t be able to use the touchscreen, so you’ll both have to settle for one Joy-Con each which is the clumsiest control method of all. To prevent things getting too chaotic, Nintendo restricts the second player’s access to all the screen-bordering tool bars, but still allows them to select assets, drop them into the stage and erase them if required.
This co-op creation mode is a nice extra feature to have, but it’s a little too clumsy and chaotic to be genuinely useful for serious constructors. I think this mode is more suited for children playing along with adults. This way, younglings don’t need to get bogged down with the more complex elements, and can instead let their imagination run wild – even if that means hurling hundreds of Bowsers, Bonzai Bills and Piranha Plants onto the stage. Drag and drop experimentation is all what Super Mario Maker 2 is about after all.
Super Mario Maker 2 could easily just have been a simple port for the Switch, but Nintendo has instead loaded it with additional content and features. The new course themes, items and power-ups result in a ridiculous range of combinations that wouldn’t have been possible without this sequel, and should no doubt entice owners of previous Mario Maker titles.
Stage creation without a stylus can be a little clumsy on the Switch, and there isn’t quite as much creative freedom as there is with other game makers such as LittleBigPlanet, but this is still easily the best Mario Maker yet and an excellent entry point for the series thanks to the new story mode.
Of course, success depends on the productivity of the online community, but Nintendo looks to have provided all the necessary tools and features for this sequel to reach its skyscraper potential.