The original Super Mario Maker, which released on Wii U back in 2015, was a bolt from the blue, a rare example of Nintendo allowing their fan-base to tinker with the very building blocks of the Mushroom Kingdom to create their own Mario levels. It offered a robust toolset which allowed for players to experiment to their hearts’ desires, and the Wii U’s touch screen and stylus meant enjoyable levels could be created in a matter of minutes.
Given the level of success, almost in spite of the underperforming console on which it appeared, a sequel was inevitable, and Super Mario Maker 2 was released in June 2019 to almost unanimous praise.
Most of the tools from the original title return here with a number of additions. As before, levels are constructed on a grid, and a wide variety of blocks, enemies, pipes and obstacles can be placed wherever you want them (within reason). It’s really easy to build a level which closely resembles those seen in classic titles, but it’s simultaneously entirely possible to create terrifying gauntlets, Rube Goldberg machines or even use note blocks to create a musical box-like recreation of the latest Ariana Grande single.
Once again, levels you create can be released into the wild, and players can either like, dislike and comment on your creations (although I don’t believe a creator can see the dislikes, this is presumably just to prevent poor levels from being put into rotation). Super Mario Maker 2 offers statistics around how many of the players who took on your level managed to finish it, and you can even see where they failed so you can make things more forgiving (or punishing) in future creations.
It’s incredibly gratifying to receive a notification that someone has played and enjoyed your levels, especially given that the tools on offer this time around allow you to express even more individuality in terms of level design.
The maker controls feel a bit less fun and a bit more fiddly this time around, and the loss of the dedicated Wii U touch screen/stylus predictably means either wrestling with using your controller as to move a mouse pointer (never loads of fun) or trying to work in handheld mode on a slightly over-crowded screen.
That being said, once you become aware of the limitations creating soon starts to feel intuitive, and Nintendo has crammed a lot of new functionality into the user interface. I favour handheld mode, so I bought a cheap stylus and got to work.
A huge addition to the tools available in Super Mario Maker 2 is Clear Conditions. Clear Conditions enable a maker to give players a mission which must be cleared before the course can be completed. This could be a requirement to collect a certain number of coins, defeat a certain number of enemies or even complete a course without leaving the ground.
Another deceptively small addition this time around is the ability to create slopes, as featured heavily in Super Nintendo classic Super Mario World. Adding in slopes sounds like a minor change (and let’s face it, they should have been there in the first game), but it allows makers to create levels with a greater emphasis on momentum and for Mario to arse-slide his way through hapless enemies.
For the first time levels can also be put together in co-op mode, which will doubtless be a massive addition for parents of creatively-minded children, who might not have the level design skills to put together something great on their own. Co-op creating involves each player taking a joy-con, adding to the confusion but also the fun.
Super Mario Maker 2 sees the introduction of the Super Mario 3D World theme, which has been confusingly flattened into two dimensions. This theme offers a suite of new enemies and obstacles to place in your levels, with the caveat being that anything you create in this mode can not be carried over to the other game styles.
There are also additional level themes available in all game styles this time around, with desert, sky, forest and snow settings making an appearance, along with the ability to switch any theme into night mode, which adds crazy modifiers such as zero gravity or rising and falling poisoned water.
Sadly gone are the costumes from the first game, which were power-ups that enabled Mario to cosplay as a huge variety of Nintendo characters. These costumes further increased the charm and immersion of levels themed around other Nintendo titles, and seeing characters who have only ever appeared in polygonal forms, such as the squid kids from Splatoon, rendered as 8-bit sprites was a joy.
Furthermore, some desirable features are still missing, and it would have been nice if Nintendo had allowed players to string levels together into worlds so they could make their own Mario games with a sense of progression.
Nevertheless, the improved toolset this time around has already led to the creation of an absolutely massive cache of fantastic courses, with even top indie developers such Matt Thorson of Celeste fame getting in on the action. The value represented by this unending stream of top quality Super Mario levels can’t be overstated.
Creators have worked around the limitations of the engine to make truly surprising creations, such as recreation of pong, a working calculator (which can work out minus values!) and even a first person adventure. Nintendo forces the player to complete their level before they can upload it, meaning the vast majority of levels can in theory be finished by any player (even if some of them are fiendishly difficult or devious).
Furthermore you can choose to attempt a gauntlet of levels at a difficulty of your choice to see how many levels you can through with a limited number of lives. Simply put, even if you have zero interest in creating your own levels, Super Mario Maker 2 will keep you busy for a long, long time.
Super Mario Maker 2 also improves over its predecessor in terms of single-player content, with there being a fully-fledged story mode revolving around re-building a recently erased Princess Peach’s castle. The plot is bare-bones even by Mario standards, so don’t expect to be gripped by thrilling twists and turns, but it’s nice to see Nintendo slap an extra coat of paint on an already pretty feature-complete package.
The on-going construction serves as a motivation for completing each level, with rewards being doled out to the player in the form of coins which can then be used to build Peach’s palace back to its former glory. The real joy here is the creativity and ingenuity Nintendo have applied in the courses they have created. Each level serves to demonstrate a new mechanic, and in turn provides inspiration which a creatively-blocked Maker can take over to the level creation mode.
The level design in Super Mario Maker 2 stands in sharp contrast to that of recent New Super Mario Brothers titles, which feel a bit bland in comparison.
Unfortunately, the newly introduced online mode is less than stellar, and playing with others can sometimes see the gameplay stuttering to a halt. Whether this is due to faulty net code or a hardware issue with the Switch is hard to say at this point, but I will be giving the online play a body swerve until these issues are fixed.
Furthermore, some levels are clearly not designed with multiple players in mind, for example in instances where a certain power-up is required to pass an obstacle and one player grabs them all. Another black mark is that playing with friends is currently not possible, apparently due to Nintendo wishing to preserve the integrity of the online rankings, although following uproar from players an update has been promised to rectify this.
Each style of Mario game is lovingly recreated, with even brand new items and enemies being carefully drawn to match the art style of the original games. The single-player story mode features 3D visuals, although the hub area is pretty small and there isn’t much to explore beyond the castle exterior and a couple of secret areas. The menu design is a little confusing, and it should be easier to find and follow creators, not to mention that for a game entirely revolving around courses calling one of modes “Course World” maybe wasn’t the best idea.
Super Mario Maker 2 sees the return of Koji Kondo, composer of the original Super Mario Bros music. Kondo has created new versions of the original tunes for each of the new themes and the new pieces are pretty good on the whole, even though they merely reiterate on what has gone before. The remixed versions of classic themes which serve as a back-drop to the Maker mode are fantastic, with a jazz rift creeping in on a number of the tunes. Sound effects are indistinguishable from those feature in the other games, and are as charming as you remember.
Super Mario Maker 2 excels in terms of value for money, and if you love Super Mario titles you will have entertainment for years to come. The only downside is that other fairly substantial Super Mario games now seem like paltry offerings in comparison.
Super Mario Maker 2 is similar to other Nintendo titles in that it offers a level of creativity not seen elsewhere in the gaming industry but also misses the mark in a few areas which other developers more than often get right. In particular, the online play is brilliant in concept but lacking in execution, which is more of an issue now Nintendo is charging Switch owners to play over their network.
That being said, Super Mario Maker 2 succeeds where the likes of Little Big Planet or Dreams have failed in offering creators a rigid framework on which to build their creations, something even a child can have fun with. The options are less varied, but nothing can be truly be broken and very few levels are painful to play.
Super Mario Maker 2 is absolutely essential for Nintendo Switch owners and another jewel in the crown of what is shaping up to be Nintendo’s best console. I give it the Thumb Culture gold award, since I didn’t have any stars or coins lying around.
This article was written by Philip Brook