Super Mario Maker felt perfect for the WiiU. The wonderfully creative side of Nintendo shone through in almost every aspect of the game and it suited the WiiU’s set up in every way. Unfortunately, due to the WiiU’s dismal sales, not very many people got to play it. And while a version of the game made its way to the 3DS – the port left a lot to be desired. Happily, the concept has now found its way onto the Switch. And while it never feels quite at home as it did on the WiiU, Super Mario Maker 2 succeeds by keeping what worked from the original and making a number of substantial additions to freshen things up.
Re-building the castle on the hill
Instead of jumping straight into making your own levels, you’ll likely start off by first trying the new Story Mode. The narrative is light: tasking Mario with rebuilding the recently destroyed castle of his beloved princess. While you’d be forgiven for thinking the Koopa King is to blame, this time around the construction catastrophe is thanks to Undo-Dog – a lovable and (usually) rather useful undo button that takes canine form. In order to rebuild the castle, Mario needs to complete a series of Nintendo-designed levels of varying difficulty. The harder the level, the more coins you have and the more you finance the construction bill.
The Story Mode is a pretty robust (over 100 levels) if somewhat disconnected single-player experience.
I had half expected the Story Mode to just be a basic ‘how-to’ level-making tutorial. While partially fulfilling that role, the Story Mode is also a pretty robust (over 100 levels) full(ish) single-player experience. The themed-world design of traditional Super Mario games is lacking, though, and each level is a standalone entity, disconnected from the next. And so it never feels like it reaches the heights of a ‘proper’ Mario platformer.
Despite this, the cute/cringy humour, diverse mechanics and the sheer number of levels still make for a pretty impressive package. The levels are really well designed and really do well demonstrating what good levels should look like and how new features should be used. Occasionally it became a bit of slog but by the end of it I did feel better equipped to make my own level. Plus, there were some real stand-out levels – like the ‘Toad Roundup’ courses – that really felt like the old Gameboy Advance game Mario vs Donkey Kong. And it’s always great to have those kinds of callbacks.
Do you wanna build a block man?
Despite the substantial offline single-player experience provided by the Story Mode, obviously, the biggest chunk of SMM2‘s appeal lies in the playing and creating original courses. On the creation side of things the Course Maker looks and feels very similar to its WiiU predecessor. Due to the lack of the ideal dual-screen set-up, the Switch sequel has seen some UI changes. Creating a course still functions on a grid-based, drag-and-drop system but now items are arranged in several radial palettes based on purpose: terrain, enemies, gizmos and so forth. Most recently used items are displayed in a row on the top of the screen and you can also choose to pin any item you plan to use up there too. Other functions like game style, course theme, autoscroll speeds, zoom and ‘Undo’ are accessed from columns on the right and left sides of the screen or in some cases via shortcut buttons.
Designing when your Switch is docked is cumbersome, but in handheld mode (using the touchscreen) designing levels is a lot of fun and super relaxing.
In handheld mode using the touchscreen meant that these changes work pretty well. There were a few occasions where a stylus would’ve helped for some added precision though, which people with bigger hands may find essential. That being said, I generally found creating levels a lot of fun, super relaxing and easy enough to do even just using my own short squat fingers. Designing the course is a great background activity; watching a few episodes of my favourite series on a second screen while making a level on my Switch was really enjoyable. In docked mode, the situation is very different. Becoming fluent in flicking from moving around the course, to the radial pallets and then to other shortcuts and back again without a touchscreen takes a lot of practice. And although actually playing levels using the joy-cons or a pro controller is great, designing in this way is cumbersome at best. I found myself designing almost exclusively in handheld mode.
Despite the fact that so many of the original elements from SMM have made their way into SMM2, there’s a heck of a lot of new stuff to use when creating new levels: There’s the new Super Mario 3D World style, the availability of Luigi, Toad and Toadette as playable characters, the ability to create with a friend (think Joy-Cons and lots of coordination) and new desert and snow themes. I found these particularly cool using the original Super Mario Bros. style as it’s great to think that a 30+-year-old game is getting ‘new’ content. Along with these, there is a range of new items, gizmos and enemies (and even slopes) that can be included. Playing around with new combinations of these is a lot of fun.
The new ability to alter a level from day to night time is really cool. In night mode, not only do the visuals look different but music and even mechanics change too. Having things like light and gravity altered brings so many more design options and for a fan like me, all the new music is a fantastic little extra. The ability to set ‘complete conditions’ (like a pre-determined number of coins, or completing a level as Super Mario) adds yet another fun layer to your level design. Saving and uploading levels is a simple process – although this time around you’ll have to tag and provide a short description for each of your levels. It’s a bit of a pain that I’m happy to endure as it helps with finding and playing good levels later on.
There is so much added content – and several new features really improve the quality and complexity of levels you can create.
To aid in your quest to become a better course creator, the wonderfully weird pigeon master, Yamamura, is back. This time his ‘dojo’ provides a tutorial series offering 45 short ‘Maker Lessons’ (divided into Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced sections). The videos do take some time to get through but are well worth checking out.
If you build it… they will play
Several people that enjoyed the original SMM never designed courses. For them, the SMM experience was really about playing an almost endless supply of levels. Happily, Nintendo has put a lot of focus into that part of the sequel too. In the Course World section, not only can you check leaderboards, customise your Mii Maker avatar and access personal preferences, but you are also able to search for courses based on what’s new or popular or according to specific filters. These filters range from defining what style, difficulty or region you prefer as well as include in-game tags like ‘autorun’ or ‘puzzle-solving’. I’m hoping in the future we’ll also be able to tag some levels as “Evil Troll of Death” but for now, at least it does let you have some control over what you play.
Searching for (and avoiding) certain levels is a lot easier now – although they still need a troll level tag…
If, on the other hand, you just feel like playing a series of created levels, the “Endless Challenge” mode lets you tackle a random selection based on four difficulties: Easy, Normal, Expert and Super Expert. The more levels you complete before losing all your lives the higher you rank. After trying all of these out, I found that Easy levels vary from one-screen sprint fests to simple run jump challenges that are simple enough to complete. Normal levels pose a bigger challenge and, depending on how well they are designed, can vary from wonderfully clever to frustrating but doable. Once you hit the Expert and Super Expert challenges, however, be ready for irritation and death.
The single most exciting new feature though is Network Play. Here you can either set up a room for other players that have a Switch and the game for a local game (something I could not test for this review) or play online with people around the world in 2-4-player Co-op or Versus matches. (Note: At the time of review you could not search specifically for friends (which makes absolutely no sense!) but Nintendo has already announced that there is a fix coming to sort out this issue).
The online multiplayer is a stand out feature – it is enormously fun and wonderfully addictive. I strongly suspect this will be the most popular feature of the game… Let’s just hope it works here in SA.
As I was lucky enough to review this game prior to its official launch, finding players online was a bit of a challenge. Despite this, on two nights I was able to find some other local reviewers and try out the online multiplayer. For most of the time, our connection was good. And with a stable connection, the Online Multiplayer (and especially the Versus mode) is simply fantastic. Not only does it bring a whole new layer of strategy and competitiveness to the platforming genre, when levels are well designed it’s addictive and I couldn’t wait to play again and again. Unfortunately, if one player has a bad connection – which will, unfortunately, be a very real possibility for us here in SA, the entire game becomes laggy and unplayable. We’ll only know for sure how well it works (particularly here in SA) once the game officially launches. However, if it works I strongly suspect this will be the most popular feature of the game, ensure it’s longevity and on its own reason enough to own the game. So here’s hoping…
A Mario Maker worthy of its title
SMM2 is a special game. It’s a substantial single-player experience. It’s a fun and creative level design tool. And if all goes according to plan – it’s not only a source of endless Mario levels but also promises to have a truly special online multiplayer component that’ll keep you coming back to the game again and again. And by the looks of it, Nintendo may add even more content in the future. Sure, it probably doesn’t sit as comfortably on the Switch as its predecessor sat on the WiiU. However, whether you’re a player, a creator or somewhere in between; Whether you’re looking for something to relax to or something that will get those competitive juices flowing, I’m pretty confident you’ll find something to love and if that’s not a reason to add to your collection, I’m not sure what is.