If there was one game designed with the Wii U Gamepad in mind right from the very start and used it to its fullest potential, it was ZombiU. If there were two games that did that, it would be ZombiU and Super Mario Maker. Everything about the feel of the game and the interface screamed that this is a title that is best suited to the Wii U’s unique hardware offerings, to the point that some of us in Nintendo Life Towers were sure that it wouldn’t be making its way to the Switch in a month of Sundays.
Well thankfully, the draw of profit is strong enough that that reality never came to pass, and so despite being such a ‘Wii U-y’ game, Super Mario Maker 2 is indeed on the Switch, and it’s here to stay. The core of the experience appears to be very much the same as it was before, but is that really the case? Yes it is, deal with it.
The first thing long-time Super Mario Maker fans will notice upon booting the game is that this has clearly been built with these fans in mind; as soon as you jump into the Course Maker – which takes all of a few seconds – you’ll be pleased as punch to see that all of the themes, game styles, and objects you’d want to mess around with are right there from the very start. You’d be hard pressed to find a course that someone had created after 200 hours of play that you couldn’t recreate right from the very start.
To do that, however, you’ll need a very good eye. One of the most notable departures from the original is that while you can still download anyone’s course and play it to your heart’s content (even offline!), these are held in a separate location and cannot be edited. At first, this slightly disappointed us; an amazing level with some really unusual ideas can no longer be analysed from the editor and instead, you’ll just have to try and work out what they did or where that Hidden Block is hiding through your own wits and observations.
When we thought about this for a little bit longer though, we realised that while this may be a bit less favourable to those playing the level, it’s massively advantageous for the ol’ creator-types. A big issue with Super Mario Maker was the fact that someone could find a course, download it, change a block or two to make it ‘unique’, and then re-upload it with almost no effort at all – potentially reaping massive benefits and fake internet points that genuinely matter, while the original designer could get naff all.
Taking this even further, you no longer have any basic templates from Nintendo within Coursebot, meaning all courses you design have to be done so from scratch. There are a few pre-made courses that appear on the title screen that you can fiddle with, but getting them to appear as opposed to one of your courses seems to be pure luck. Super Mario Maker on Wii U held your hand and made you work your way up to making big courses, but Super Mario Maker 2 on Switch throws you in the deep end immediately, only offering a pop-up asking if you’d like to learn the basics when you first start. Turn down the offer and you’re on your own, bub.
Or at least you would be if not for a particularly helpful pigeon. Yes, Yamamura returns and is ready to help you learn not only the basics of course making, but also some much more intricate possibilities and even less-tangible ideals, such as making your courses better by treating the player with respect, and play-testing your creations with friends. After all, you’ve made the course, you know it inside-out and back-to-front; you’re probably the worst judge of its difficulty or fun factor.
As seasoned makers ourselves, we weren’t fazed by any of this, but we wonder if younger or less experienced players may be a little bit overwhelmed by the amount on offer to them. Yamamura does a great job easing people in, but you’re required to actually listen to him if you want to learn more, and not everyone is down for that particular flavour of party. Still, the name of the game is Super Mario Maker 2, and the name of that game is experimentation; it’s a big box of LEGO bricks with only one rule: you have to be able to get to the end. It’s bold for Nintendo to choose this option, but we think in the long run it’s for the best, certainly for veterans.
All these paragraphs in and we haven’t even talked about the new inclusions. Well, in a word they’re great. In more than one word: due to the chemistry you can create by combining different objects in interesting ways, they expand the possibilities of what a course can be far beyond the sum of their parts. One of the most obviously potent inclusions is Vertical Sub Areas, which create an entirely different way to play. You can go up. It’s madness.
This combined with the arguably less obviously exciting Scroll Stop means you can create colossal climbing courses capable of causing creators to cry out in cromulent contentedness, preventing the player from peering past the playable parameters with pillars of perennial peat moss. Courses can become so much more varied, and more importantly, they can play far more into the idea that this is an official course created by Nintendo; a quick vertical column of Ground Blocks or Hard Blocks that stretches all the way to the top of the playable space, and the camera just won’t move beyond them. As dull as it sounds, this is probably the biggest sleeper addition to the entire game, and one that we are phenomenally grateful to Nintendo for.
In terms of new objects, there don’t appear to be too many at first, but as stated previously, due to the way objects interact with each other they expand upon the scope of what’s possible to a ludicrous degree. A big one to mention is the addition of Nighttime themes, which not only change the aesthetic of a course, but also change how some things behave. These range from turning the whole screen upside down, to making Mario swim as though he’s underwater, but everything else behaves as though it’s above ground. Madness, but marvellous madness. While there’s all this new stuff thrown in, some of it is locked behind a particular new game style that has been receiving a lot of attention from fans, and not all of it positive.
The new Super Mario 3D World style isn’t lumped in with all the other styles, rather it has its own category, ‘Extra Game Styles’, which will irritate the grammatically-inclined until Nintendo decides to (hopefully) slap another style in there. This is because it isn’t compatible with the other four, and sits on its own with its own style, physics, objects, possibilities, and limitations. There are a lot of objects that are present in the other styles that aren’t here, and at first, we were pretty disappointed with this. No tracks, no Bowser Jr.; it all seemed like a sterilised theme in many ways, but then we dug deeper, and found out it’s not quite as simple as being ‘less’ of a style.
3D World style omits a lot, but it also includes a lot of really different ideas as well, such as track blocks, blinking blocks, a whole swathe of new enemy types, and Cat Mario, which makes up for everything. Whilst we can’t be sure of the decision to make this style so different, after the initial shock of not having vines at our disposal passed, we found that although you have to change your mindset and remember that certain things just won’t work in this style, it only adds things in the long run. If you want to create a track-focused course, you’ve still got four styles to choose from; nothing has been removed. As long as you’re aware of what can and can’t be done in the 3D World style, you’re good to go, and shouldn’t face any issues whatsoever.
Where you might face an issue at first however is editing in TV Mode; creating courses in this style is 100 percent more suited to a touch interface, and at first, the controls in TV Mode seem a little bit counter-intuitive and clunky. After a while though, it’ll start to click, and you’ll realise why they went the way they did with the controls. Although it’s a bit hard to wrap your head around at first, they’re tailored towards a ‘power user’ principle, and once you get them down, you can be just as quick as someone using the touchscreen. And if you really don’t like the TV Mode controls, then just undock the bloody thing and use the touch controls, OK?
But enough about making, what about playing? Course World is back, and it’s pretty much the same as it was before for the most part. There are a few very welcome quality-of-life changes, such as tags and descriptions for uploaded courses – as well as a new ‘Boo’ rating that you can apply to courses that are rubbish – but for the most part, it’s the same tune as before, and it works fine. We’ve no doubt there will still be communities sharing course codes through their own means, but for the quick dip-in-and-out type of play, it’s definitely a series of menus.
You’ll also not be limited to just playing on your own either; one of the most fanfare-appropriate inclusions this time around is multiplayer, and this really does change things up. Competitive multiplayer pits you against up to three other random people online in a race to the finish, Super Smash Bros. style, and it’s an absolute blast. In our playtime there were a few instances where courses where just simply not suitable for multiplayer play in the slightest, and made it so that players could be locked out of progressing any further, but we feel that this is why at the end of each course you’re required to supply a rating, saying if the level was good, meh, or bad from a multiplayer perspective. It’s lightning quick and although it didn’t seem to have much impact on our course pool, we’d like to assume this is because there are less than 100 courses available that people have uploaded due to the game not yet being out; the full release should be better in that regard, we hope.
You can also do co-op play as well, which isn’t competitive and instead encourages you to work together, and it doesn’t really matter who gets to the end first. It’s fun, but nowhere near as much fun as deliberately trying to sabotage someone else by footstooling them into the lava below. This can also be done offline with up to four people on the same console, and although there’s no ranking or acknowledgement that you did it, it’s fun that it’s there, and because courses can be tailored specifically to be multiplayer-focused, it’s a lot more fun than previous Mario multiplayer efforts.
Also new is the Story Mode. Yes, the original did have a series of levels to trek through, but there was little meat on the bones or context to it all, it was just ‘complete course A, proceed to course B’, and was a bit lifeless. This time however, Mario’s got an entire blooming mini overworld to explore, and rebuilding Princess Peach’s castle is the order of the day.
You’ll complete courses that show off what the game is capable of, and it’s no surprise that as these are all made by Nintendo, they’re all spectacularly well designed and immensely enjoyable. The difficulty as it progresses is staggered, and so you won’t necessarily be working towards harder and harder levels, but there’s no reason you have to play every single one of them; in fact, you can flat out ignore about a third of them and still get the castle up to completion if you want. If Super Mario Maker had never existed and they just sent this out as a full game, we doubt many people would bat much of an eyelid, which is pretty generous.
Put in as simple a manner as possible, this is likely to be the last 2D Mario game you’ll need. It’s Super Mario Maker but with more of everything that made the original so phenomenal. Enemies, themes, game styles, gizmos, powerups, the Story Mode having an actual story, multiplayer, the list of additional gubbins is truly massive when you take a step back. There are a few small niggles here and there, but they're overwhelmingly dwarfed by the sheer joy and unbridled freedom that exceeds the original in spades. Realistically this game poses the question as to whether this is the future for 2D Mario as a whole. For any fan of Mario who owns a Switch – heck, for any Switch owner full stop – buying this game is an absolute necessity.