Review: Super Mario Maker 2

Introduction

The original Super Mario Maker released back in September 2015, and coincidentally was the game that pushed me to finally grab a Wii U. I remember having a great time with it, both playing and creating levels before the novelty eventually wore off. Back then, I remember feeling half and half on the game. The fun levels were, flat our fun, but a lot of the levels included cheap mechanics like death doors, or were impossibly hard for 99% of the population. Those types of levels have their audience, it’s just not where I’m at.

I found a happy medium playing a lot of the popular courses in the Course World, or playing through those sponsored levels to grab new costumes. I created a bunch of themed levels, including one where you do battle on top of Barad-Dur with the eye of Sauron looming overhead. I submitted some of them to my favorite streamers, and they gave them a go from time to time as well.

All in all, it was a fun experience that offered a substantial amount to a few different audiences. Once the Nintendo Switch came out, I think we all felt that either a port of Super Mario Maker would arrive (considering most of the top Wii U games are now being re-released on the Nintendo Switch) or a new game would be developed. We got our answer at a Nintendo Direct earlier this year, and here we are with Super Mario Maker 2.

 

Story Mode

Introduced in Super Mario Maker 2, is the all new story mode. I know what you’re thinking, and you can all expect the same, deep, thematic storytelling of most previous Mario games. Here, we kick off with builder Mario completing a new castle for Princess Peach. The ‘Undodog’ shortly appears, steps on a rocket tile that launches the castle into outer space. You’re now tasked, with the help of Toadette and Toads, to re-build the castle for Princess Peach.

super-mario-maker-2-review-undodog
The ‘Undodog’ giving Mario and Toadette’s first castle the ol’ Ctrl + Z

The way you do that is by completing levels and collecting coins until you have enough coins to purchase an upgrade. Once you start building an upgrade, you will need to complete more levels, giving Toads time to work their magic and finish off that upgrade.

For selecting levels, you have a job board, with each job consisting of a level that you have the option of completing. You’ll earn coins for completing a level, but there’s also the ‘mini-job’ of collecting as many coins as possible during those levels to compound on top of that level reward.

Story mode really feels like a tutorial more than anything. The first levels you encounter each throw a different level mechanic your way. You’ll tackle on/off switches, the angry sun, the newly introduced Super Mario 3D World, swinging cranes and more.

super-mario-maker-2-review-job-board
Your first glimpse at the job board in story mode.

You’ll also get thrown into the mechanic of ‘clear conditions.’ These can range from ‘Reach the goal without taking damage,’ to ‘Reach the goal after defeating 5 Koopa Troopas,’ to ‘Reach the goal while still holding a Koopa shell.’ and more.

I never felt disinterested in story mode, not because of the objective to complete the castle or the deep lore that I was a part of, but because the levels on the job board were fun, and they didn’t feel like a chore to get through.

I’m a veteran at Mario platformers and put a decent amount of time into the first Mario Maker game, and I even got tripped up a few times on levels that had specific clear conditions. There were a few in particular that failed you for leaving your feet, so no doing the thing Mario is best known for.

The levels weren’t all mushrooms and stars though. On multiple occasions, typically in vertical scrolling sections, I hit lag and Mario became very janky. The job board level “A Place Beyond the Vines” was the greatest offender here. I’m not sure what’s going on, but that’s not a usual thing to find in first party Nintendo games. I did notice later on that this issue also translated into levels in the Course World, so it wasn’t just quarantined to story mode.

One thing I appreciated about story mode, is that you aren’t required to beat all the levels to finish off story mode. Purchasing a castle upgrade typically opens a large number of levels, giving you the option of picking and choosing based on difficulty and mechanics used in game. For example, I really disliked the levels that used the lantern to impede my vision, so I just skipped over them and completely arguably more difficult levels that I felt were more fun.

 

Course World

The beef of Super Mario Maker 2, comes from Course World. There are a few different ways that you can play through levels in Course World…

  • Endless Challenge: Similar to it’s predecessor, you have four difficulties that you can choose from; Easy, Normal, Expert and Super Expert. Once you choose a difficulty, you play through an assorted variety of levels that meet that difficulty until you no longer have any lives left. You still have the option to skip levels that are cheap, or just plain not fun, and you can save your progress to continue another day.

I’m really torn on the Endless Challenge modes, a feeling that I haven’t shook from my experience playing the first game. I can’t play on easy because the levels are largely uninteresting and a haphazard mess; sort of like someone throwing a handful of sprinkles at a cake from twenty feet away. Sure, it will be colorful and delightful because it’s a cake, but it won’t make any sense.

super-mario-maker-2-review-endless-challenge
Endless Challenge will bring you through multiple map screens such as you complete levels.

Normal is more the speed I usually go to because levels are more thought out and complete, but you’ll still encounter a lot of cheap mechanics like death doors. Expert and Super Expert are acquired tastes, and are the best option for those looking for types of challenges, but that’s just not me anymore most of the time.

Nintendo did introduce a ‘level rating system’ in a sense. You can now either select ‘Boo!’ or ‘I like it!’ after going through a level. You can also leave comments in the form of a hand written note (I’m sure nothing bad can come of this), or a stamp. Supposedly, if someone puts something like a death door in a level and gets enough ‘Boo’s!’, Nintendo pulls the level from selection and it goes away. I’m interested to see how this goes the longer the game is out.

super-mario-maker-2-review-level-rating
The built in ‘level rating’ system in Super Mario Maker 2.
  • Courses: Here, you can select lists of Hot, Popular and New courses to play through one at a time. If you’re looking for the cream of the crop that’s been created thus far, this is where you want to be. The most fun I’ve had so far in Super Mario Maker 2, has been sifting through the most popular courses for some real fun and inspired levels. It’s also a great way for you to get ideas for levels of your own that you may want to dive into.

 

Course Maker

Super Mario Maker 2 offers five game styles for you to choose from; Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U and the newly added Super Mario 3D World. Each style offers unique options and mechanics for you to choose from based on what your intention is. Each game style has course themes such as ground, sky, castle and airship as well.

The aforementioned clear conditions are optional here as well, and you’ll find features such as auto-scrolling, rising water/lava levels and the ability to create a vertical instead of horizontal levels as well.

Instead of the list format the original Super Mario Maker offered, we now have wheel selection tools to see all of your building options.

super-mario-maker-2-review-clear conditions
An example of a clear condition that you can set for your level.

The docked controls took me quite awhile to get comfortable using. You use the D-Pad to select items on the left and top of your screen like accessing the wheel selection tool, or doing things like changing the game mode of your level, but then you must select X to go into free hand mode and drop things onto your level. You end up using the D-Pad for selection and the control stick for creation. Even after getting used to it, I definitely would fumble around at times trying to get to where I need to go.

Handheld mode is more self-explanatory. You can use your fingers or stylus to select everything and create what you’re intending to create. I’m not sure which I would consider the better way because I felt I had some issues with holding down on an enemy or item to select different options using handheld mode, when it felt more natural while docked. It’s really going to come down to personal preference here, and how complicated you want to be with your level creations.

 

Other Points

Mystery Mushrooms: For some reason, the mystery mushroom is nowhere to be found in Super Mario Maker 2, and it’s a real shame. For those that didn’t get to play Super Mario Maker, the mystery mushroom allowed your Mario sprite to turn into a variety of other sprites in the levels that you created. This was awesome for making, and playing through, themed levels based on other games. Have a Zelda themed dungeon level, you can give the player a number of different Link sprites to play as via the mystery mushroom. There were roughly 150 costumes in Super Mario Maker for the Wii U, none of which have been translated to its successor.

Co-Op Mode: I was pretty excited for this when it was first announced, but right now, co-op is a bit of a mess. When my wife and I sat down to give it a shot, we went to the Course World…then hit a dead end. After searching around for a few minutes, I eventually just Google’d how to find co-op mode in Super Mario Maker 2. So, you can’t play co-op directly from Course World. Instead, you have to find courses in Course World, download them, head to Coursebot, select the level, then make sure you hit the ‘Play Together’ button on the right hand side.

super-mario-maker-2-review-coop-mode
There is a convoluted way that allows you to play co-op mode in Super Mario Maker 2. Unfortunately for us, this was a bad choice of a level considering the on/off blocks.

Now that we know how to play them, how fun are the courses? Turns out, most of them, not so much with a second person. We played one level that required us to throw Bomb-omb’s into breakable walls to progress. It was hard to stay out of each others way to do what we needed to do. The level in the picture above, had On/Off switches, so we couldn’t get past the first jump because unless you both jump at exactly the same time, the floor is going to disappear because the button gets hit twice.

The potential is there though. I can see that when players have more time to get used to the idea of co-op in Super Mario Maker 2, we’ll eventually see some good stuff that is meant for multiple players.

 

Final Thoughts

Super Mario Maker 2 delivers on  its promise of being a Mario level maker. However, after spending a few dozen hours with the game, it feels more like an expansion pack rather than a new entry to the series. There is an added game mode with Super Mario 3D World that opens up a myriad of new, different options, and there are different creator pieces that you can add to levels, but there’s nothing that screams innovation from the first game.

I felt like the natural progression from the first game was the introduce a ‘World Builder,’ allowing players to create series of levels on a world map (even if this was a minimalist version) and having players upload their worlds for other players to dive into. Maybe Nintendo doesn’t want to go that route because then players get the opportunity to make their own Mario games on Nintendo software, but it would have been something to really talk about and get excited about.

I also felt that the exclusion of mystery mushroom costumes is a real step back for the series. Many players loved creating and playing themed levels, which costumes were a huge part of. While themed levels are still being created, it just feels less exciting with the exclusion of costumes.

I’m still thrilled that Nintendo is open to releasing games like Super Mario Maker 2, and I have hope that they expand a bit more on it in the future. For now, I’m looking forward to the dungeon builder in the remake of Link’s Awakening. Maybe this is the start of Nintendo testing a Zelda Dungeon Maker?

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