Super Mario Maker 2 Review — Building Off a Strong Foundation
Super Mario Maker 2 is the game that keeps on giving, while leaving enough room to build in the future--despite a few places for improvement.
In the latest slew of critically acclaimed Wii U games to get a “faux remake” sequel onto the ever-popular Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Maker 2 is making quite the impression. The original game arguably had the longest legs of any other Wii U title out there, with stories of players still flocking to the original to clear out their upload backlog before servers opened. And similar to other Nintendo Switch remaster-sequels, Super Mario Maker 2 feels like a welcome addition that just can’t manage to drive the extra yards to a Chargin’ Chuck touchdown.
If you haven’t heard of Super Mario Maker 2, you must be entirely divorced from the gaming sphere. While on the surface it is making less of an impact than the original, it’s dominated the channels and streams of content creators and influencers as people race to find who is the best (and worst) Super Mario player on the planet. Hell, always the icon, Arby’s is even drumming up promotion for the title with their own dedicated level:
— Arby's (@Arbys) July 8, 2019
And while Nintendo could easily re-release the same formula to a happy audience, I’m glad to see that the development team did listen to some (but not all) criticisms of the original and suggestions from the fanbase. Though a lot of these changes (like the additions of ramps or even Cat Mario) may be lost on the more touch-and-go players of the original, the loyal fanbase has made itemized lists of each mechanical change, new location, and tweak that has been added. Even better, nearly all of these changes create some amazing diversity in levels that were entirely impossible in previous iterations of Super Mario Maker.
But not all changes to the formula are for the better. Super Mario Maker 2 has limited creators to a 32 level upload limit, which seems like a step to counteract the mounds of hot garbage that tends to clog up the Course World algorithm. The equation sounds good in your head: less levels, less trash. That’s all well and good, until you realize this is an artificial cap on all creators — many people in the dedicated community go on to make hundreds of levels. Along with the removal of the ability to edit downloaded courses (why?), Nintendo has (at least initially) made a less friendly environment for the group of core Super Mario Maker 2 gamers who will be sticking around after the launch of the next flagship Nintendo Switch game.
While this is a pretty substantial loss, and hopefully one patched after the post-launch hoopla, the addition of a formal campaign does wonders to adding value to Super Mario Maker 2. I likely sunk a solid 7 or 8 hours into that mode alone, where we got to see some professional level designers really testing the limits of creative design, unhindered by thematic or stylistic necessities of proper 2D Super Mario titles. Add in a healthy dose of humor and literal “world building” and you get a pretty robust mode, that is likely the best of the bunch. There is nothing that Super Mario Maker 2 does better than highlight the polish and talent of the actual Nintendo employees.
However, that’s not to say that some levels within Course World are anything short of breathtaking. Once you have navigated around the gimmicky auto-Mario, troll, and music levels, there are some really amazing creations in the bunch that the algorithm is (notably better at) highlighting. Take for an example “Super Metroid Mario” (XDS-MBB-PXF) which is an unbelievably solid recreation of a Metroid game–right down to losing all your abilities in the beginning. If you are looking for some just great levels without a theme, there are more than a few. For instance, “The Key in the Basement” (LFC-M2Y-K79) is just about the right balance of being a challenge, but not locking out people without expert skillsets.
There are a lot of amateur (and professional) game designers playing Super Mario Maker 2, and they are the ones that make the game worth playing. The course creator mode will slowly acclimate most people to getting better, but even the game seems to want you to do some product-testing of your levels before uploading to Course World. Even better, Course Maker is a ton of fun to play with even on its own. Too many “sandboxes” in gaming miss the mark on what a sandbox is: not just a place to create, but also a place to have fun doing it. While navigating the intricate options and menus may take a couple of hours getting used to, you will quickly find that creating levels are often more fun than actually playing others’.
Last but not least are a few quality of life gripes that I still have about Super Mario Maker 2 that carry over from the original; course ID’s have always felt like the more palatable uncle to “friend codes” and I wish there was a better option to search for courses. I’m slightly surprised that Nintendo chose not to introduce a way for level creators to craft “Worlds,” which has been a pretty hotly requested feature since the original launch. Multiplayer principally feels like an afterthought, which is kind of a shame (though ultimately not a major loss).
And all of this griping aside, Super Mario Maker 2 is still one of the best places to enjoy user-generated content in 2019 and, more importantly, among the best Nintendo Switch pickups. There are a few stumbles that I foresee getting fixed with future updates and DLC, but Super Mario Maker 2 feels like a celebration of everything Super Mario. While the vanilla version of the game is going to lock out end-game players without a patch, the introduction of a Story Mode does a lot to create a broader appeal to all skill levels–not just people looking for auto-run Mario levels or impossibly difficult troll levels.
Super Mario Maker 2 may make a weaker impression than the game-changing original, but it breaks out the gate with far fewer problems and with much more skill level appeal. Though it misses the mark in some highly-requested QoL improvements, it adds much more in value, diversity, and replayability. Super Mario Maker 2 is the game that keeps on giving, while leaving enough room to build in the future.