I’ve spent most of the past week playing Super Mario Maker 2. That’s a good thing because Super Mario Maker was my game of the year in 2015 (and GamesBeat’s overall that year). I’ll review it next week, but we can start digging into it now before its June 28 release.
Super Mario Maker 2 is a lot like the first game with a ton of extras. The highlights include Story Mode with 100 Nintendo-created levels, a plethora of new items and gimmicks for the editor, and some new visual styles and tweaks.
I’ve split my time between creating stages, the story mode, and playing other people’s levels. But I think the best way to discuss Mario Maker 2 is through the lens of using the editor. I’ve made two levels so far, and here’s what I’ve learned about that experience.
You don’t need a stylus
I had some concerns about building levels in Super Mario Maker 2. Nintendo designed the first game specifically for the Wii U, which is a system where you always had a tablet in your hands. The Switch is totally a tablet, but you can also dock it and use a controller. Wii U also included a stylus. And despite what Steve Jobs said, a stylus is definitely better than a finger for creation apps.
But after building a level in Super Mario Maker 2 in handheld mode, I’ve found that you don’t need a stylus. Nintendo has done a lot of work to ensure that placing blocks and enemies into the world is easy. Making adjustments is also simple. A stylus is probably still more accurate, but I never felt clumsy using my finger. Everything plopped down exactly where I wanted it.
This is important to me because even if a stylus is better, I don’t want to keep track of it. Switch doesn’t have a convenient little holster. I have kids who pick up everything I put down, so any loose stylus would end up in a toilet or hidden in the basement of a doll house.
I will make levels all the time, and I’m going to use my finger in 100-percent of those situations.
A controller can work, but it’s not ideal
Nintendo has improved gamepad controls for its level editor, but I wouldn’t call it great. Doing anything creative with a controller is a pain. It is acceptable in this case, but that’s the best you can expect.
A lot of the improvements come from relying on shortcuts. Nintendo also introduced a radial-menu system for selecting the item you want to work with. At any time, you can press the Y button on the controller, and that brings up your entire catalog of usable components. You can then flip between items, enemies, gizmos, and more using the right stick. The left stick, meanwhile, enables you to select which item you want on each specific radial menu.
And it works. I bet some people, specifically streamers, will use a controller to create stages. Maybe Nintendo will release a mouse peripheral for people who want to create while docked. The company seems to even know that trying to stream creation is not great because it uses a special Switch dev unit that can output video in handheld mode during its broadcasts.
You can also use the Joy-Con, Switch’s removable mini-gamepads, to make levels. That supports motion control. I haven’t actually done that yet, but I’m going to mess around with it soon to report back in time for the review.
Story Mode is a great way to learn
Finally, the Story Mode was not what I was expecting. Nintendo said it created 100 original levels, and I was expecting this to feel like the newest 2D Mario. That’s not exactly right. Instead, you get dozens of levels built around specific mechanics and items that you can use in the editor mode.
The levels feel more like challenges than a traditional Mario platformer. That’s not inherently bad, it’s just different than what I was anticipating. And this mode has actually done a lot to show me what is possible in the editor.
One stage, for example, has a win condition where you must avoid the swinging claws. This means that you can only finish the stage if you avoid the many grabber devices waiting for you throughout the level. After that experience, I want to build on the concept in my own levels.
That said, I’m not sure if everything that shows up in Story Mode is in the editor. For example, I played a couple of stages where you have to rescue Toad by carrying him to the end. If that’s an option in the editor, I can’t find it.
Other things to look forward to
My big takeaway so far is that Super Mario Maker 2 is the upgrade that I wanted on Switch. We’ll see if that holds up.
The basics are all here, but it also has some fun writing and characters. The editor icons like the Undodog and Mr. Eraser, which started life on Mario Paint, all have their own storylines and missions in the Story Mode. And I’m really enjoying the weird writing for these characters.
I’m also still really happy with how inventive user levels are. Most of them have a couple of novel ideas, and more often than not they leave me pleasantly surprised.
I’ll have more to say about all of this in the review soon. Until then, I’m gonna keep building.