If there’s one thing that still gives the Wii U life, it’s the excellent Super Mario Maker. That’s all about to come to an end now though, at least if our time with Super Mario Maker 2 is any sort of authority. The user-created colossus is making its way to Switch, and if you hadn’t quite gathered from the previous sentence and obligatory headline, we’ve actually played the little sucker. So, does it build upon the previous game’s efforts? I mean, it obviously does, but just pretend for a moment.
The first thing we had a go at was Story Mode. In this you’re tasked with rebuilding Princess Peach’s castle - which has been mysteriously deleted - by completing levels, earning coins, and getting the nearby Toads to do all the hard work. The levels we played were from right at the start of the game, so they weren’t especially challenging on the whole, but they were all very well designed and enjoyable, as you’d expect coming from the mighty creators of the entire IP.
If you’re expecting this to be a typical mainline Mario romp however, expect something else, because instead this is really a showcase of how you can use all the elements that the game has to offer. They’re Mario Maker levels, and as such expect a level of craziness and lateral thinking that you won’t really find in Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3.
Despite most of them being a borderline cakewalk, one of the later levels we tried was anything but. Using the new clear conditions function we were forced to make our way through the entire course without the ability to jump. We could jump once, absolutely, but the moment you hit the ground, you have to start over. What’s nice though is that you weren’t immediately kicked out, instead the game lets you explore as much as you like, but the flagpole won’t be there to greet you at the end.
The size of the Story Mode is unclear, we were able to rebuild 7% of the castle in our short time, but there are several screens' worth of empty space to the left and to the right of it, so there’s clearly more here than meets the eye, we just don’t quite know exactly what will fill the void just yet.
After Story Mode we dove into the real meat of the experience, the Course Maker. In handheld mode the whole level creation schtick is almost the same as it was on the Wii U, with a few tweaks here and there in the form of quality of life improvements. Instead of having to shake an enemy to reveal its alternate form, you can now just tap it, and a sub-menu will appear with all the modifiers you could possibly want for Christmas. Slap a Super Mushroom on, tie a parachute to it; the world is your oyster, and it’s now that much easier to use. As for TV mode, the interface is perfectly functional, but it’s not hugely intuitive. The controls are efficient for sure, but there’s going to be a distinct learning curve as you get your head around it all.
As for all the new inclusions, the biggest ones are probably some of the least exciting-sounding to some. Scroll Stop allows you to finally create rooms where the screen will stop scrolling if there is a full line of blocks to stop it, but it’s unclear at the moment which blocks will trigger this effect. More exciting still are the Vertical Sub-Areas, which allow the creation of giant, sprawling levels that go up or down instead of sidey-side. We’re not exaggerating either, Vertical Sub-Areas can stretch as high as 168 blocks by our count, and can be two screens wide as well, meaning you can daisy-chain two vertical areas together to get some serious height going, and Scroll Stop means you’ll never see the bit you’ve just completed either.
The most obvious star of the show is the Super Mario 3D World game style; from Cat Mario to Glass Pipes, it’s all here, and it’s all gorgeous. All the characters behave just as you’d expect Mario to in 3D World as well, because yes, you can choose whichever character you want in single player as well, wahoo! But yes, Mario’s moveset is almost untouched from 3D World, bar a few small control changes. For example long jumping is now assigned to the shoulder buttons alone, meaning if you’re expecting to crouch and then press the jump button, you’d be pressing one button too many.
Compared to all the other styles, 3D World is absolutely the most interesting visually, and really highlights just how dated New Super Mario Bros. U looks in comparison. With all its unique elements it’s fairly clear as to why it’s not compatible with other styles, which is disappointing but even so we’re happy to make that sacrifice for such a faithful representation of the Cat Mario game.
But all of those are subtle tweaks on stuff we’ve already done in the first Super Mario Maker, so what about this new-fangled multiple player mode everyone’s muttering about? Multiplayer is the jewel in Super Mario Maker 2’s presumed crown.
Co-op is very similar to previous efforts to bring multiplayer to 2D Mario games, but something about having the courses as standalone levels makes it a lot more fun in some bizarre manner. Perhaps it’s because there’s not just one person desperate to progress the game further to play a different level at long last, or perhaps it’s the promise of a virtually infinite number of courses to play that makes it so appealing. We’re not sure, we’ll have to give it a stronger go in the full game. The nice thing is that you can do this all on one machine as well, offline! It’s something we were certain would be included but nevertheless we’re happy to be able to confirm it.
As for competitive multiplayer, well that’s where things start getting serious. If the idea of four people feverishly trying to be the first to get to the end of a course doesn’t sound like the tastiest little number you can think of, believe us when we say that you’ll change your tune as soon as you play it. Tactics and dynamics that would never ever come into play solo suddenly take centre stage as you attempt to sabotage your opponents, take the reigns, or just sit back and let them do all the hard work, then swoop in to take the prize. We sadly only played a handful of levels like this, but we can say with confidence that this will be the defining factor that separates Super Mario Maker 1 from Super Mario Maker 2.
All in all our time with Super Mario Maker 2 was short, but unbelievably sweet. It’s just about everything we could want from a sequel so far, and with the promise of even more to be revealed in the future, we’ll be collectively licking the footage we took trying to get that taste back in our mouths until we get our hands on the final, full product.
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How is this sequel shaping up for you? It's out in exactly a month on 28th June, so there's not long to wait to delve into all its lovely secrets. Share your excitement and/or reservations below.