There is no denying that Super Mario Maker 2 succeeds in not just paying homage to what is perhaps the greatest gaming franchise of all time, but also to the fans who have been witnesses to its unlikely run of sustained greatness
No formula, as good as it may be, is entirely foolproof. Some, however, have shown such astounding consistency that they threaten to qualify for that achievement. In the gaming universe, there is probably not a better example of that level of reliability than the one seen in the Super Mario franchise; more specifically, in the titles that are a part of its traditional sidescrolling platforming sub-series. Starting with Super Mario Bros. back in 1985 and extending all the way to the 21st century via the New Super Mario Bros. brand, most of the pieces that make it up have not only worked towards defining a genre and expanding its boundaries, but also been responsible for a few of the industry’s most notable and widely known moments.
As a way to celebrate that impressive history, Super Mario Maker was released for the Nintendo Wii U in 2015. And, taking full advantage of the touch screen of the console’s GamePad, it gifted fans – for the first time ever – with the opportunity to step in as level designers to put together courses of their own based on the elements and visual assets of four unique installments of the franchise: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. U. Supported by an online platform where players could share their creations as well as play and give feedback to those of their peers, the company essentially developed a nearly endless Super Mario quest; an effort whose main components – the levels – could organically regenerate almost infinitely for as long as users had great ideas.
Despite the inherent greatness of the concept, which – much like the excellence of the Super Mario saga – could look like a guarantee from a certain distance, Super Mario Maker had to navigate through a few considerable obstacles in order to succeed. First of all, given the franchise’s capacity to lure in all kinds of people, making stages had to be fun and simple while also allowing for a good magnitude of complex possibilities and combinations that would be there for a more experienced audience to tackle. Moreover, by bestowing upon their fans the responsibility of assembling almost all of the game’s content, much of the quality of the package would be dependent on average folks sitting outside Nintendo’s headquarters, a prospect that had to be somewhat worrying for a usually protective company.
As far as the first risk goes, Super Mario Maker was an astonishing success, for it is hard to imagine how Nintendo could have deployed a stage-design tool that was more intuitive, efficient, and powerful, even if it did leave a few interesting capabilities out of its scope. When it comes to the second matter, though, the game did not overcome it completely unscathed, because, as it turns out, the level-creation prowess and talent that have powered the Mario series through its long life are not exactly easy to find or develop. And although, in a good way, that reality made Super Mario Maker fans realize how hard it is to reach that excellence, it also caused its servers to be filled with too many lackluster efforts that ended up outnumbering a fantastic – yet inferior – quantity of pieces that were worthy of loud applause, generating a title whose content was ultimately irregular and forcing gamers to find ways to filer it.
Due to the inevitably uncontrollable nature of a game that is so dependent on the wishes and whims of millions of people, Super Mario Maker 2 could not possibly hope to address all the issues presented by its predecessor; and indeed, the title still suffers from a heavy load of levels that are either uninteresting or downright bad. However, it does do pretty much everything that is within its reach to make the experience it provides be better to those who love to create, to those who like to just sit and play, and to those who enjoy doing a little bit of both activities.
In relation to the making, the essential features of the creation tool are basically the same. The available elements, whose behavior can sometimes be altered, are grouped into four categories: enemies, which include a few dozens of foes from all across the series and that can have winged, giant or even parachuting versions deployed; items, such as coins and power-ups; terrain, from standard ground to semi-solid platforms, bridges, and a wide assortment of blocks; and gizmos, a pleasantly generic set that embraces doors, pipes, checkpoints, trampolines, vines, canons, keys, seesaws, icicles, lifts, tracks, and more. With one command, gamers can place any of those on the screen to start giving life to the project that is in their heads, and – once again – helpful commands for selecting multiple objects, copying and pasting, undoing actions, reseting the whole course, or simply testing it quickly are at players’ disposal and add great smoothness to the process.
Given the Nintendo Switch can be played while either docked and connected to the TV or undocked via its built-in touch screen, it is worth noting that the experience of constructing stages in the two setups is very different. If the game is being displayed on the television set, users will be forced to use the Joy-Con’s buttons to select assets from the menu and place them on the level, and the analog sticks to both move around the screen and navigate through tools and elements. Meanwhile, if the system is undocked, the touch functionality becomes available and all actions, therefore, are one or more taps away. It goes without saying that the former configuration is far more cumbersome than the latter, as it is sometimes easy to get lost in the combination of buttons that have to be used for some advanced commands; as such, even if Nintendo did do a lot of work towards making designing levels with the controller as comfortable as possible, there is no denying that the creation tool only reaches its maximum quality when the system is not docked.
Despite that easily avoidable downgrade, Super Mario Maker 2 has, in level design capabilities, far more power than its predecessor, expanding on it in a large and in a small scale. In terms of minor details, one can point to the new assets it presents, like rotten mushrooms, twisters, icicles, seesaws, swinging claws, snake blocks, the On/Off Switch, and the ability to create slopes; as well as to the enemies it adds, such as Boom Boom, the Angry Sun, and Banzai Bills. Regarding major alterations, though, the list of novelties is even thicker, significantly opening the range of gameplay opportunities that amateur designers can explore.
For starters, Super Mario 3D World has been added as a game style, and packed in it players will encounter various unique – and therefore fresh – elements, including the Cat Mario power-up, trees, Ant Troopers, Meowser, and much more. Concomitantly, and also contributing to magnifying the potential visual variations at hand, a whopping four themes have been added, meaning that in addition to creating levels based on the Ground, Underground, Underwater, Ghost House, Airship, and Castle scenarios, it is also possible to construct stages of the Snow, Desert, Forest, and Sky types. Furthermore, custom-scrolling, which allows stages to scroll at changing speeds, is available; vertical sub-areas can be created; clear conditions, like collecting a specified amount of coins, killing a certain number of enemies, or even reaching the goal without taking damage or jumping can be set; and all themes can be used in their daytime or nighttime format, with the second option executing wild changes according to the scenario, such as strong winds hitting the desert, the level turning upside-down in the underground theme, or water becoming poison in the forest.
It is so much flexibility that even the most dedicated creators of Super Mario Maker 2 will not be able to touch it all, and the courses built with those tools can be uploaded to online servers provided that their makers themselves prove their creations are beatable. On that virtual platform, which can only be accessed if one has a signature to Nintendo’s online services, stages can be tackled in a number of ways. In Endless Challenge, a mode that is available in four ranges of difficulty, gamers start with a specific amount of lives and must clear randomly selected courses – whose challenge level is measured by their clear rate – until they run out continues; in Network Play, it is possible to face stages either in a cooperative format or in a free-for-all manner, where the winner is the first to reach the flag; finally, there is the option to find and play courses individually, whether it is by using the portal’s search engine or checking leaderboards that keep track of popular stages and creators.
Regardless of the path they choose in order to experience the title’s almost infinite content, players are bound to have fun in spite of minor shortcomings. Endless Challenge can sometimes be a bit of a mixed bag due to its random nature, for as its selection algorithm uses the whole pool of uploaded courses, it is likely one will bump both into excellent and dreadful levels; however, not only is it possible to skip stages without any sort of penalty, but there is great incentive for gamers to strive for a high score – measured by the number of courses cleared before the hero drops dead – given Super Mario Maker 2 offers rewards in the form of medals and leaderboards. Meanwhile, Network Play does suffer from a bit of lag and also from the fact, occasionally, the four-person group will be put on courses that are not exactly suitable for multiplayer; still, the ensuing chaos is mostly amusing.
As for playing stages individually, Super Mario Maker 2 shows Nintendo took very satisfying measures into making it easier for gamers to locate the types of levels they want to try. The leaderboards list popular creators and courses, as well as stages that got hot recently and those that are new to the database. At the same time, the search engine allows players to filter levels by difficulty, region, game style, theme, and – most importantly – tag. That final component is, in particular, crucial to the package. By letting creators file their courses into categories such as Standard, Multiplayer Versus, Auto-Mario, Music, Speedrun, and Puzzle-Solving, the game lets one customize their own experience; therefore, those who want more traditional takes on the Super Mario formula can have just that, while folks seeking the thrill of speed-running or the passive amusement of music and automatic stages are able to do the same.
Underlining those essential elements are a series of components that turn the online portion of Super Mario Maker 2 into a bit of a social network dedicated to the playing and sharing of platforming courses. Gamers can customize their avatars with pieces of clothing earned through the achievement of a myriad of goals related to both creating and playing; display medals that celebrate reaching high scores in Endless Challenge or multiplayer, being the first to beat a level, or getting world records; like, boo, or comment on stages they have played; follow their favorite makers; view all sorts of stats regarding uploaded courses; and take a look at lists that maintain the stages they have played, liked, beaten, and those where the gamer holds world records. Although small, those details add a lot of life to the community aspect of Super Mario Maker 2 and also work towards inviting gamers to keep coming back for more.
As a final and greatly welcome touch to the game, Nintendo decided to pack a full-fledged single-player mode into it. Involving an amusingly simple storyline that has Mario and a group of Toads building Peach’s Castle only to have it blown up by a reckless dog, the adventure sees the plumber engaging in a series of jobs – which are nothing more than levels – that will help him earn money to reconstruct the building. And besides being pleasantly thick, as it contains more than ninety stages available from a charming and explorable little hub with a few neat secrets, that quest is also expertly designed.
Its most notable feature, however, comes in the tone exhibited by the courses, because although they do have the quality one would expect out of a product made by professional level-makers, the mechanics around which they are centered, their visual presentation, their limitations, and their architecture all carry the wacky and unpretentious spirit of the best user-created stages. They are unafraid to put Mario in ridiculous situations that would just not be seen in a normal entry of the franchise, like having to reach the goal by carrying a heavy stone that restricts his jumping, facing enemy dispositions that do not make any visual sense, and engaging in puzzles that abandon neat presentation in favor of sheer ingenuity. As such, they feel appropriate to the setting in which they are found and also thoroughly unique even to players who have gone through all of the hero’s sidescrolling adventures.
Super Mario Maker 2 is, then, a game that embraces each and every kind of player who has an appreciation for the franchise it celebrates. It holds enjoyment to those who love Nintendo’s magical touch for coming up with some great platforming; it contains excitement and challenge to the ones that like to perform speed runs or have their game-playing skills tested to their utter limit by ridiculously tough stages; it brings joy to audiences who find amusement in watching the gimmicks of automatic and musical courses unfold; and it has content to folks who want to experience what fellow gamers who like to wear their Shigeru Miyamoto hats will come up with. And that goodness comes in piles that are virtually endless.
Although immensely entertaining for both the camps who lean towards playing or creating, the game comes off as particularly spectacular to fans who like to do a bit of the two. In that context, Super Mario Maker 2 is capable of orchestrating an infinite loop of excellence, for one activity inevitably feeds into the other, as creation leads to curiosity about what others are up to and going through some platforming fatally gives way to new level-design ideas. As a consequence, even if a few punctual improvements could have been made, there is no denying that the game succeeds in not just paying homage to what is perhaps the greatest gaming franchise of all time, but also to the fans who have been witnesses to its unlikely run of sustained greatness.