Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. Here Gavin discusses how Super Mario Maker 2 is giving him mixed emotions...
The Nintendo first party flavour of the month may well be Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but due to my hitting ebay to plug a DSi XL-shaped gap in my console collection, it’ll be a while before I catch up with that one. Instead, I’m busying myself with Super Mario Maker 2 in my small pockets of free time. In many ways it is the perfect game – a wonderful refinement of the original Wii U release which throws in a raft of new mechanics, a brilliant Story Mode and polishes everything to within an inch of its life.
I know all this and appreciate it, but I can’t help feeling there’s so much more Nintendo’s leaving on the table; more potential left untapped. No, I’m not just talking about throwing in amiibo support or Super Mario Bros. 2 as a Game Style (although, obviously that’d be a game-changer in a very literal sense). Amidst all the improvements this sequel offers, there are still so many directions it could go in - so many new experiences it could bake into the base game - that my glass is left half full.
In some ways, it seems Nintendo led with its biggest addition to the game from the very start of the reveal trailer – slopes. I use them unthinkingly in practically every level I make and they work perfectly. Looking back at some of our hopes and dreams for the game following its announcement in February, though, and we find very few of them materialised. We got multiplayer, yes (although the lag while playing online at the time of writing is perplexing and disappointing in equal measure) and Toad and Toadette are playable characters. However, new Game Styles (beyond Super Mario 3D World), gravity zones, worlds and maps, text boxes and music creation tools aren’t a part of this sequel. Yet, at least - everyone expects another style to arrive with a future update but as things stand, I can’t build worlds or craft the Mario mixtape I was dreaming of.
On top of that, things we took for granted are confusingly absent. Amiibo support via Mystery Mushrooms seemed like a given, but they're AWOL. I was sure the online ‘bookmark’ website that the original Super Mario Maker eventually got to facilitate sharing over social networks would be baked in this time and I simply assumed Mario Maker 2 would have an equivalent system from the off. But no - we’re once again navigating the laborious, typo-filled world of alphanumeric codes that have plagued Nintendo’s online endeavours since the very beginning. What, pray, is the point of having a Friends List on Switch if it isn’t integrated into first party games?
For all the myriad tweaks and additions to the editor itself, the omissions elsewhere are confounding. There should be a social ‘share’ icon attached to every single course which immediately tweets out my masterpiece when I tap on it (and everything I make is a masterpiece, I’ll have you know). I should be able to click a URL in a tweet and have that level immediately download to my Switch. Nintendo could do this – it has done this in the past – and the fact it's missing splits me right down the middle on the entire game. It's simultaneously the best thing I've played all year and the most disappointing.
What's the point(er)?
The interface itself is another example of genius and ‘WTF’ colliding at the speed of light. Before it was announced, I had argued that a Switch port of Mario Maker could exist simply by not being editable in docked mode - you could handcraft your courses in handheld mode and share them with the room when you wanted to. Nintendo decided to make a control scheme for the TV screen, though, and as input methods go, it's about as good as you could hope. The touchscreen will always offer the quicker, most flexible way to craft your courses, but the button input option isn't an awful compromise.
However, sliding the Joy-Con onto the Switch in handheld mode immediately (and inexplicably) locks out the buttons, leaving the touchscreen as your only option. Why? If the developers wanted to prevent accidental input, why not throw a toggle in the options menu? After going to such lengths to craft a workable control scheme, locking players out of it feels like tacit acknowledgement that ‘yep, the Joy-Con controls are awkward – don’t use them unless you have to’.
For a company that’s usually so on-point when it comes to nailing controls and 'the feel' of input, building with Joy-Con is uncharacteristically clumsy, not to mention unnecessary when there’s a forgotten alternative. Why are we not using the Joy-Con as a pointer? Nintendo made pointer controls second nature for the whole family with the Wii - considering how it apes touch input, it seems like a no-brainer for a game which constantly asks you to pick things up and drop them on a grid. Surely it's more intuitive than conventional button input, especially with two players? A gyro-based pointer needs frequent re-centring (unlike the Wii’s IR equivalent), but it's still a mystery to me why such a natural fit would be tossed out.
Pinning hopes to patches
Many of us are no doubt hoping for a deluge of additions with upcoming updates or potential DLC, and the template of the original suggests there’s plenty of evolution ahead. Nintendo did confirm (following an outcry) that online play against your friends is coming in a future update, so that's something. It’s frustrating, though, to see the ball being dropped in areas I hadn’t imagined would be an issue. The game succeeds spectacularly in many areas - the Story Mode is a triumph, the radial menus integrate perfectly with the editor and the new items and elements are all fantastic. On top of this, the Mario Maker community continues to delight and surprise with its ingenuity and inventiveness. It’s genuinely humbling to play something so incredible that I have no idea how it was accomplished, despite having worked with identical tools.
It’s a brilliant game, then, but there’s so much potential left on the table. Perhaps that has more to do with the size of the table than Nintendo’s unwillingness to serve me more, but at the current pace it feels like I might be waiting until Super Mario Maker 4 or 5 to see something as ambitious as a World Map builder (or something as simple as Friends List integration). I’ve written before about how 'the Nintendo difference’ increasingly feels like a coin toss between some inexplicable omission that flies in the face of common sense or a stroke of idiosyncratic genius that only Nintendo would come up with. In some ways Mario Maker 2 is that idea in paradoxical game form; hopelessly disappointing and utterly brilliant all at once.
Are you still playing Super Mario Maker 2, or have you moved on to other games? What do you think of Nintendo's control solutions for the Switch version? Are there things missing which you expected to see, or expect to come in future updates? Feel free to share your thoughts on the game's joys and cons below, and remember that you can try out our developer-made courses and share your own levels with the NL community by uploading them to our very own Super Mario Maker 2 Course database.