By Mike O’Brien | ★★★✰✰
Super Mario Maker 2 is a meta delight that’s all about creating, sharing, and playing Mario levels for all to enjoy. It’s a brilliant experience that turns game development into a game itself, allowing players to tinker with elements, styles, and themes from just about every mainline 2D Mario game since the NES’ original Super Mario Bros. Chock-full of charm, splendour, and the gratifying pride of making fun for others, Mario Maker 2 has Nintendo written all over it… for better or worse.
Starting with the ‘better’, Mario Maker 2 is a superior expansion of the first game in every way. It’s borderline impossible to list all the improvements here, but additions like sloped terrain for smoother travel, vertical sub-levels, new contraptions like the ‘on/off switch’, and an all-new style in Super Mario 3D World are stand-out evolutions. It’s difficult to think of anything the first game did better, and that’s a telling sign of a stellar sequel.
Like many others, I was sceptical about designing levels on the Switch. The original Mario Maker took full advantage of the Wii U’s hardware, with level creation taking place on the tablet’s touchscreen and level testing on the TV. With the Switch’s docked mode taking the touchscreen out of the equation, I couldn’t imagine how Nintendo could possibly make level creation intuitive on a controller. That said – and this is apparently a controversial opinion – this is Mario Maker 2’s greatest achievement. Making levels in docked mode isn’t quite as efficient as it is in on the touchscreen, but it feels great with a pro controller. Despite the slightly slower pace, familiarising myself with the various shortcuts quickly dispelled any concerns I had about clunky creation. After a long day at work, I daresay I prefer it to handheld creation. Whatever your method, creation is a joy for all, even the least creative among us. At the very least, Mario Maker 2 will leave you with a profound appreciation for the in-house design team at Nintendo, as you’ll discover that making a legitimately well-designed level is even more challenging than beating one. Fortunately, there’s a dojo for learning level design within the game, which is led by a pigeon for some reason. Even if you decide to skip the philosophy primer, toying around with the legion of bells and whistles without any real sense of direction can quickly materialise into something fun and playable.
It helps that creation has been immensely streamlined across the board. Elements are now separated into categories, such as ‘enemies’, ‘terrain’, ‘gizmos’, and so on. It makes for an easier time finding desired your bits and pieces than staring glumly at the original Mario Maker’s massive list of everything ever. What’s more, these categories are more abundant than ever. With more room to work with and far more elements, the scope of possibility in Mario Maker 2 is phenomenal. I’ve seen everything from a fully-functional remake of Downfall to a fascinating journey through time in a Majora’s Mask-themed level. That said, I can’t shake the feeling that elements are less universally interactive than they were in the first game, which does detract from the ‘anything is possible’ philosophy that made the franchise so initially exciting. The new features are a net positive for sure, and there’s little that was possible in the original Mario Maker that isn’t now, but it’s a shame these new features lack congruity. This issue is particularly clear in the new Super Mario 3D World style, which not only feels barebones in general, but also lacks compatibility with numerous basic elements available in the other styles. Given all the movement options available in 3D World, it’s a shame the theme’s potential is limited so harshly by its lack of content.
This, however, is far from the worst implementation of a new feature in Mario Maker 2. Nintendo may be your lovely grandad who’s always bringing new toys for your childlike mirth. But he’s also your grandad who, despite having twenty Internet Explorer toolbars and twice as many viruses, insists that his AOL account is a testament to his technological literacy. Nintendo is an insular company governed mostly by bipedal fossils who still hit up Blockbuster and read magazines, and nothing shows that quite like Mario Maker 2’s unmitigatedly disastrous multiplayer. The act of uploading your levels to the internet and seeing others love (or suffer) them it is an absolute joy, and playing through popular courses that fit your search criteria is fine enough, if a little clunky. But that’s where competence ends for grandad. Multiplayer is utterly dreadful, both locally and online. Both online and wireless multiplayer, even with players in the same room, have unplayable latency. You get little to no choice in which levels you play, and the game makes no effort to give you courses designed for multiplayer. Local multiplayer at least gives you the option of choosing the levels you play, but even that is a functional travesty. It was apparently too much for Nintendo to add a ‘play multiplayer’ button next to each level, because instead you have to download every course you want to play manually, exit the menu, then enter the coursebot menu, then hit ‘play together’ on the course and sync up the controllers, for every single course you want to play. It’s such a hassle that I’ll be shocked if anyone bothers with this feature.
Many of the basic issues plaguing the first game are also present. It’s possible for multiple elements to occupy the same space at the same time; for instance, a semi-solid platform may lay behind a goomba, which may share a space with a coin. To alter or move any of these space-sharing elements, you have to move them all individually. If Nintendo just implemented a layer system – and let’s face it, a maximum of three layers is hardly too complicated for anyone – none of this would be an issue. The multigrab feature only lets you select a paltry amount of blocks/elements as well, so god forbid you have to move significant portions of your level. Oh, and multigrab picks everything in across all layers as well, so the semi-solid platform you probably didn’t want to move at all is coming along for the ride. The game is littered with these seemingly small and situational problems that add up to a deeply frustrating experience. Why is there an animation showing me how many lives I have every time I die in Endless Challenge? I know how many lives I had! Just let me get back into the game! If it’s a choice between cute animations or an instant retry function akin to Celeste or Super Meat Boy then, well, it’s wouldn’t be a choice at all.
If it seems like I’m giving Mario Maker 2 a particularly hard time, it’s because this routine has become a saddening bore, having lived it ten times or more. It’s the same old story: Nintendo makes a fantastic game that ends up bottlenecked: not by a lack of development time, or a lack of resources, but Nintendo’s own conscious insularity. But don’t let my frustration dissuade you from picking up Super Mario Maker 2. It’s already my most played game of this year. Making levels is an absolute delight and playing them is… occasionally delightful, given you’ll wade through abysmal courses made by sadists and children. But at the very least, using the ‘boo’ feature to crush their dreams gives this bitter codger enough satisfaction to survive this amazing game’s glaring issues.