For years, Mario fans sat and appreciated Nintendo's efforts, each new game bringing with it a degree of charm and unique brilliance. Between new power ups, new levels, or even just a fresh appearance on a new console, fans watched, waited, anticipated, and enjoyed—but the fans wanted more. They wanted to break the shackles of Nintendo's design principles, they wanted to torture others with horrible ideas, they wanted to do it for themselves, and with the release of Mario Maker on the Wii U, they did all that and more. The Switch's popularity ever-prominent, and a slurry of the Wii U's greatest titles finding themselves ported for the wider audience, it was only a matter of time until the level creation toolkit received the same treatment; not as a port, but as a sequel.
There's a deceptively impressive amount added to the original experience. It's easy to break it down to a single player story mode and a few new parts, but there's just so much depth to each individual element. Starting with course parts, you now have on/off switches, blocks, tracks, and conveyor belts that can be toggled using them, snake blocks, swinging claws, seesaws, Banzai Bills, icicles, twisters, angry suns, less angry moons, Dry Bones shells to ride in, the ever-pitiful Boom Boom, and finally after almost four years of waiting, the much-anticipated slopes! It's a good amount to rattle off in a list, but that's not to speak of the options and creativity each part provides both in tandem with one another and existing parts. Seesaws can be made into catapults, swinging claws can carry drop all manner of hell onto an unsuspecting Mario, twisters can be made to block entry to pipes, and the moon essentially doubles the amount of course themes at your disposal. The same joy and unparalleled creativity of the first game is here in full force, now with more to play and interact with.
On top of these parts, you also get four new course themes and an entirely new game style. Each addition feels justified in creating an ultimate Mario package; icicles feel at home in the snow theme, twisters and angry suns in the desert, with the forest being unique with its customisable water level, and the sky being something I'm more surprised wasn't in the first game. While most of these are functionally identical, it's at night they truly come into their own. With a simple toggle in the menu, each theme can be switched over to its associated night theme, meaning each of the ten available options has a visually stunning counterpart for a total of 20 themes. What makes these stand out is, quite unsurprisingly for a Mario game, their individual gimmicks. In the forest, the water turns to poison, in the sky, gravity is lessened, in the castle, Mario swims like in a water level, with the caveat that the enemies walk as if they're on land. With each one, there are a myriad of new possibilities to explore and discover, each item, block, enemy, and gizmo taking on fantastic and unexpected properties.
The new game style, a 2D take on the yet-to-be-ported Wii U classic Super Mario 3D World, is every bit brilliant and unique as the other additions; perhaps even more so, with you being locked into the style after starting your course. If you want to change style later you'll have to start from scratch, contrary to the flexibility of the other four styles. Is there a good reason for this? It's hard to say. At a fundamental level, the 3DW theme is different. Mario has a completely different set of mobility options, you can stand on Thwomps, you have interaction happening between the foreground and background, really hammering home this is a three dimensional game superimposed onto a two dimensional space. You also have a good set of new parts, many of which originating from the original 3D World game. Each enemy stands out for their properties: Skipsqueaks try to jump with Mario, Hop-Chops act like trampolines when jumped on, Ant Troopers are bouncy, Stingbys can fly through other objects to chase Mario. Clear pipes are the standout new part for the style, giving you means of fast passage from one area to another, but also allowing enemies and items to travel in a way not previously possible. As a whole, it's fantastic fun, but it's not without fault.
While it's easy to look at what makes the 3DW style unique as a reason for it being so standalone, you can look at any one of the other four styles in a similar light. Each one has its own signature movement options, unique powerups, and specific object interactions. What makes them so different to 3DW is how everything matches up. In Mario Bros 3 you have the boot and the raccoon suit, which parallels to Yoshi and the cape in Mario World. While enemies may act differently, they're still present throughout the four styles, and if they're not, there's something in its place. Levels may not play the same way after switching style, but they can be adapted. With 3DW, you not only have added content with no parallels, but also content that simply isn't present. You lose so much that at first you find yourself fighting with the game to get what you want.
Check it out if you have the game!
The first level I made with the retail version revolved around being able to stand on a Thwomp to cross lava; it was made in the 3DW style. I wanted to create obstacles and challenges that had to be beaten for the Thwomp to be able to progress, and in turn, allow for your own progression, the limitation being that I needed the Thwomp to wait for Mario to complete a section. My first thought was to add a one-way gate, meaning you could move through it, but it'd stop the Thwomp from being able to return to its original position. Sadly, there are no one-way gates. My next thought was an on/off block, and again, no dice, despite the presence of the on/off switch itself. Again and again I ran into small problems and irritations from just how much wasn't there. It was undeniably frustrating, and when getting started with the game, it's something that took time to adjust to. Moving past this initial barrier however was almost liberating. It forced me into the mindset of recognising limitations and being creative in working around them, something I feel is greatly in the spirit of the game. To a lesser extent, it's something you can feel in the other styles. With so many different interactions to consider, it's easy to expect something to work one way and it simply not. This cycle of expectation, realisation, and improvisation became my fundamental work ethic and drove me into far more creative and satisfying solutions. To be clear, I still would prefer if many of the missing elements were present in the 3DW style, but their absence isn't as much of a limiting factor as I initially thought it would be. For each missing part, there's ten workarounds, ten brilliantly odd things to be noticed about the new things, ten things you never knew because you never had to know them. It could have been better, there could have been more, but it's not as though your options are so narrow as for these to be a necessity.
The 3DW style isn't the alone in lacking certain parts however, both Amiibo costumes and fan-favourite 'weird Mario' missing in action. To some extent, I can understand the lack of Amiibo costumes, or at least a good number of them. With so many of them featuring characters from other games, real-life celebrities, and even branded cars, there would be an incredible amount of paperwork and hoops to jump through to even come close to matching the variety the first game had by the end. Even with this in mind though, I am sad to see there be nothing left here. Even replacing the vast catalogue of options with one or two choice Marios would have been nice, if only for the unique property of having small Mario's hitbox with the ability to break blocks. It isn't the worst thing they could have done, but the lack of Jumpu Girl will be a hit for many. Weird Mario is an abomination and deserved to be cut.
With the timed delivery of new parts scrapped for this game, it's easy to be overwhelmed when you first start playing. Though Nintendo provide a really thorough and handy set of tutorials to assist in good level design, they also included a far more natural way of introducing ideas and new elements with the game's story mode. As stories go, it's as barebones as you might expect it to be: the castle is completed, a misplaced reset rocket happens to be launched, and Mario has to collect coins to rebuild the castle bit by bit. It isn't much to go on, but it's both charming in its presentation and ample in setting up a satisfying gameplay loop. Beat levels to collect coins, start building a new part of the castle with those coins, beat levels to progress in building, rinse and repeat with new levels. This mode had me hooked from the start in the same way a free to play game hooks me. It has each individual element: you pay for an upgrade, you wait for it to be completed, you get more content when finished to then upgrade more. The basic formula is the same, but where a free to play game would have you wait time or pay money, Mario Maker 2 has you play levels, with each upgrade requiring a different amount of levels beaten before completion. It amused me where it really shouldn't have that a game nowadays is designed in a way as to encourage you to play, in oppose to monopolising monotony. It's what you'd expect of a first party Nintendo game, but the parallels to me are what makes it so addicting. That you can see it come together visually in the castle being built is just a bonus.
There is one thing of special note in the story mode, this being levels that you aren't able to make yourself. Though most of what you play is entirely recreatable, you come across a few that you simply don't have the tools for. One level for example had a clear condition of you holding a heavy stone as you reach the goal, this stone limiting Mario's trademark jumping and being a general inconvenience; another you had to escort a Toad to the goal. It's entirely possible these are things that'll be added in future updates just as the Wii U release saw additional content, but with them being some of the less fun levels on offer, I'm certainly in no rush to see them.
In Mario Maker 2, you have three sources of online interaction, all found in the Course World menu: Courses, Network Play, and Endless Challenge. In the Courses screen, you can find the hottest new uploads, look at what's currently popular, or even search for something in particular. Thanks to the game's new tagging system, you're able to find exactly what you want with incredibly little effort. With options available to filter levels based on style, theme, difficulty, region, and tag, and then sort them by either clear rate or popularity, there should always be something to play. Whether you enjoy puzzles, speedruns, or for some sick reason, underwater autoscrollers, Mario Maker 2 has you covered.
If you just want to play without worrying too much about the type of level you're playing, the Endless Challenge has you covered. Replacing the original game's 100 Mario Challenge, Endless sees you start with a limited number of lives to work through as many levels as you can for a high score. In the lower difficulties, this becomes a test of endurance, with it being incredibly easy to build up 99 lives and never run out. As you look to the harder expert and super expert however, it becomes a little more of a challenge. For those chasing the top spots, strategic skipping and life conservation become essential, on top of a certain expected skill level. While the 100 Mario Challenge was fun, Endless has me far more engaged than the original game ever did. Being somebody who frequents level on the normal difficulty, the 100 Mario Challenge felt entirely too unrewarding. I already knew I could beat 16 levels with 100 lives, there's no unexpected victory, the only motivation being the now-absent Amiibo costumes. With Endless, I fell into the 'just one more' mentality. I know I'll likely never see the top of the leaderboard, but I find some fun in seeing my high score go up and finding fun and creative levels along the way.
Perhaps my most mixed feelings of the game lurk within the Network Play options. With both coop and versus modes available against random users (playing with friends coming at a later date), the game again opens up to an unreal number of possibilities. Playing against other people is brilliant fun, just as long as the game isn't running at the framerate of a Powerpoint presentation. With four players and a traditionally-Nintendo P2P online infrastructure, your experience will be as good as the people you're playing with. At times, scoring those victory points was a case of sticking out the lag and waiting for the problem player to drop out. Other times, I've had completely fluid four player madness. If you can accept the good with the bad, you'll have a great time. We can hope things will improve, but if you're considering buying the game, you should expect things to stay as they are for the foreseeable future.
My favourite level so far! Check it out if you have the game!
Coop is strange to me. Four people limited only to premade messages have to work towards a common goal of beating a level. If you die, you can respawn either from a checkpoint or by a remaining player in a bubble, just like the New Super Mario Bros multiplayer. I feel the enjoyment of this mode really comes down to the level you get; some are great with other people, and others not so much. When in versus, levels not designed for multiplayer become a brawl for who can work through these incompatibilities, but with other people you're trying to support, it ends up feeling a little awkward. This amplified by the lack of proper communication, I almost wish Nintendo's Switch Online app got a Mario Maker update. Almost. I can see the coop being far more fun once support for playing with friends is added, but as it is right now, it's just kind of alright. If you crave human interaction without all the frivolous troubles of actual interaction, perhaps there's a niche here for you.
Making the Switch
While the game may be fantastic in many ways, the transition from Wii U to Switch isn't necessarily an easy one. Dropping the resistive touch screen of the Wii U gamepad in favour of the Switch's capacitive screen in handheld mode, or no touch screen at all when docked, is something that will undeniably require a period of adjustment. Where anybody could jump into the Wii U version with no prior experience or knowledge, you'll at first be stumbling in the dark if somebody passes you the Joy Con for some coop making; the instant intuitiveness of the Wii U gamepad just isn't possible to recreate. To assist in this transition, Nintendo have made a good number of quality of life changes.
First, tiles are larger when making, with the option for both a zoomed in and zoomed out view when desired. This change is entirely logical when you lack the precision of the gamepad's touch screen, sausage fingering four tiles at once being an ever-present possibility. Following this, the entire making process feels streamlined: no more shaking enemies for alternatives, now simply having to hold down on them. Again, when considering the game had to account for controllers being used for making, shaking enemies would've just ended up being an awkward mess. With everything clearly presented on a neat menu, you can see everything possible and access them easily. The menus containing course parts are separated into categories, with each category being composed of a number of rings, each ring having a number of parts. It's delightful for docked play, being able to select the desired part in an instant, but a part of me yearns for the original game's menu and the way it had everything shown at once. As it is now, it feels like I'm always having to look for a specific part, in oppose to having the menu open with all the options visible and a freak idea coming to me. It's something some will prefer to the original, and something others won't, but given the number of play styles they had to account for, I'd say they did a good job. That being said, if you're planning on making in this game, I'd definitely recommend picking up a stylus. If you're not fortunate enough to be in Europe or Japan where Nintendo shipped out their own, you can find them on Amazon from a number of retailers. While it still isn't quite as good as using the gamepad, it's a definite improvement in comfort and precision. I picked up this one for less than £10 and it's done me well.
All in all, Mario Maker 2 is a fantastic game for both creators and players. With new tools, new game modes, and an eternal source of content (assuming your Nintendo Switch Online subscription is live), this is a game that will keep you occupied for as long as you want to play Mario. For the uncreative among us, I encourage you to check this out, you don't need to be a maker to enjoy everything that is made.