As you're probably already aware after reading our review, Super Mario Maker 2 is an essential addition to your Switch library. It builds on the brilliant foundation of the original with more themes, more elements, more options, more of everything. The blank canvas it provides to create any kind of Mario level imaginable is really quite something.
If there’s a drawback to that canvas and the wealth of tools at your disposal, it’s that it can be a little overwhelming, especially to new players who missed the original. Super Mario Maker on Wii U held your hand and doled out objects and tools over time (admittedly, a little too slowly) giving you space to experiment and get familiar with everything in your inventory.
The sequel throws the lot at you from the very beginning – fabulous for veterans, but new players faced with a vast array of options may feel a little lost after tinkering with a few boxes and seeing how many goombas they can stack on top of each other. Choice overload can lead to paralysis - "Where do I start?!"
We remember this feeling and one of the most helpful (and rewarding) tricks we came up with was to return to the classics. Yep, just as an artist learns by copying the masters, we fired up some 2D levels from the past and set about recreating parts of them to learn the basics and find out what made them tick. The toolset soon became familiar and we began experimenting, putting our own spin on things and, above all, having fun.
Rediscovering old stages from a fresh perspective was one of the great joys of the first game, and we’d encourage anybody feeling overwhelmed by Mario Maker 2’s potential to go back to the source before creating your own magnum opus. While it's not possible to recreate each of these with 100% accuracy, discovering workarounds and substitutes to create certain effects is half the fun.
So, here are a handful of 2D Mario levels to study for inspiration if you’re getting just started with Super Mario Maker 2…
Super Mario Bros. – World 1-2
Conventional wisdom might dictate starting with World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros., but - let’s face it – even the most casual Mario fans have probably had their fill of that. By all means, start at the beginning (it’s a classic for a reason!), but we’d recommend taking a look at the second level for a change.
As an underground stage, there are plenty of blocks to fill in to get you accustomed to the basic interface and you also get to play with moving platforms and deal with enemies in closer quarters. If you’re feeling adventurous you could also add in a little ‘hidden’ warp pipe area at the end, too.
Super Mario Bros. 3 – World 1-2
Again, 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. 3 is a textbook tutorial level that’s well worth checking out, but it’s 1-2 which will enable you to flex some new muscles. You see, it wasn’t possible to replicate the second level of this seminal game in the original Mario Maker because the Wii U game didn’t have slopes. Nintendo has corrected this in the sequel, so this stage gives you the perfect opportunity to experiment with gradients and sliding down them into enemies. You can also play with P-Switches and Note blocks (remember to put a Star in the third one!).
Super Mario Bros. 3 – World 3-6
Oh no, it’s a dreaded auto scroll level! While falling to the bottom of the screen will result in your doom, this is a relatively sedate level as long as you don’t rush. It’s perfect for testing the distance and height Mario can jump when walking and sprinting and it’ll introduce you to Donut blocks, throwable Ice blocks and flying Koopa Troopas.
Auto scroll levels have a bad reputation, but there’s no reason they can’t be as great as any other. This level is perfect for testing, tweaking and testing again to find frequent fail points and make adjustments for a more forgiving experience - there's nothing to stop you extending platforms or even adding a safety net at the bottom of the screen. Alternatively, turn the speed up to max and watch your playtesters sweat! Vertical and variable scrolling levels are also possible in Super Mario Maker 2, but let’s nail the horizontal basics first, hmm?
Super Mario World – #5 Roy’s Castle
While recreating this entire level is probably a little ambitious, it’ll give you a good taste of the Snake Block, Lava Bubbles and the Castle skin in general. The Snake blocks (green as standard, and blue ones are faster) follow a path that you set. The section with falling spikes is also a handy tutorial in hazard avoidance.
Roy’s Castle will also give you a look at a Boss battle and how to incorporate one into your level. You may not be able to use poor old Roy, but there are plenty of enemies to choose from – Boom Boom is a decent substitute.
New Super Mario Bros. U (Deluxe) – Sparkling Waters 5 (Dragoneel’s Undersea Grotto)
Certain elements of this level aren't possible in Mario Maker 2 (the pursuing Dragoneel itself, for example), but it’s still a great lesson in creating an underwater gauntlet to test players’ swimming abilities. Balancing the positions and frequency of Cheep Cheeps, power-ups and respite areas makes all the difference between a challenging underwater stage that’s rewarding to tap through or a nightmare that players simply want to escape from.
It’ll also give you the opportunity to play about with Scroll Stop, new for Mario Maker 2. Scroll Stop is a feature whereby the camera won’t move beyond a solid column of Ground blocks or Hard blocks – a small touch, but one which makes the beginnings and ends of different sections look more ‘professional’ than they did before.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels – Any level, really
A good cautionary tale in not making courses too tough. The Lost Levels was designed for veterans who know the original game inside out and it can be hugely fun to go up against. That said, it’s not for the faint-hearted and it really picks up where 8-4 of Super Mario Bros. left off. For players starting out with Super Mario Maker 2, it provides a good guide on how to craft tricky courses, but The Lost Levels arguably lack the trademark balance and the ebb-and-flow you'll find in more typical Mario games.
Obviously, there’s pleasure to be had in triumphing over adversity, and perhaps you’re purposefully designing some fiendish gauntlet for a friend or relative to run. Certainly, think about your audience while fashioning your creations, but a good level requires a nice balance of carrot and stick; The Lost Levels are nearly all stick with a carrot of completion at the end.
Still, the odd poison mushroom can be hilarious.
Once you’ve looked at these you should have a solid grounding in the basic toolset of Super Mario Maker 2. Obviously there are dozens of classic levels to choose from, but the above selection should give you a good taste of the potential for incredible new creations. Master the basics and you can start thinking about breaking the rules and experimenting with your own ideas.
There's also the Super Mario 3D World theme, of course, which has its own objects and ideas to play with, plus the Story mode to play through, so you can take a break from the hard graft of level design and set about rebuilding Peach's Castle for further inspiration. Have fun!
Have you ever come up against 'course creator's block'? Have you got any other suggestions for good levels to inspire and get the creative juices flowing. Share your ideas with a comment below.