Nintendo is continuing its “do over” tour this week with the release of Super Mario Maker 2. After the Wii U fizzled out, the company has struck gold with the Switch. And that’s giving Nintendo a second chance to release Wii U games (and their sequels) on its more successful followup.
That strategy has worked so far with releases like Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but it has also felt like a cheap way for Nintendo to fill out the Switch’s release schedule. Super Mario Maker 2 definitely feels like another one of those, but it has more than enough extra content to justify its existence.
Super Mario Maker 2’s new features include a story mode with 100 levels, an Endless Challenge mode, and the Super Mario 3D World style. On top of that, Nintendo has done the work to transfer the excellent creation experience to the Switch.
If you loved the first one, your affection shouldn’t wane. And if you’re one of the millions of Switch owners that never owned a Wii U, well — I’m ecstatic that you’ll get to experience Super Mario Maker for the first time.
What you’ll like
Friendly making tools
The core of Super Mario Maker is the Creator Mode. “Maker” is in the name for a reason. The first game proves that players want to build their own stages and that plenty of people want to play those creations.
All of that was possible because the creation tools were both powerful and easy to use. That’s still the case in Super Mario Maker 2.
You can build anything by just dragging and dropping. You can see Mario’s trail through the world during your last test run, and that enables you to build around the game’s physics. The big improvements this time include a series of radial menus for all of the items. This makes it easier to find and select exactly what you want.
The most challenging thing about creating a stage now is using a controller when in docked mode. With Wii U, you always had a tablet. Switch doesn’t work that way. To solve this, Nintendo enables you to use a GamePad. As you might have guessed, this is far less efficient than a touchscreen.
Unless you’re a streamer, just build in handheld mode.
The new stuff is really fresh
Beyond the building, I’m finding the game has a lot of new stuff that keeps drawing me back. The Endless Challenge is really satisfying. In the last game, Nintendo included a 100-Mario Challenge that tasked you with beating a certain number of levels before getting a game over. In Endless Challenge, you start with a handful of lives, and you need to beat as many levels as possible before getting a game over. I’ve already put around 10 hours into this mode, and I can see myself playing it consistently for the rest of the year.
Endless Challenge is especially fun because it’s about setting a high score. That makes the game feel a bit more like a head-to-head competition with other players. And I find that is compelling me to keep playing.
I’m also digging a lot of the new items and especially the Mario 3D World stages. Super Mario Maker 2 still has the same level styles as the last game. You can use Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, or New Super Mario Bros. — but now you can also choose from 3D World. I find that the art looks pretty similar to New Super Mario Bros., but it behaves significantly different. You can climb trees, turn into Cat Mario, and even drive in a kart.
For anyone who played a lot of Super Mario Maker 1, 3D World stages make the sequel feel truly different.
And then you have the online modes. You can play cooperatively or competitively. I’ve only had a small taste of this, but as far as I can tell, it works. But you can’t partner with friends. Hopefully, Nintendo changes that soon.
It’s a great ‘competitive’ game
The right way to play Super Mario Maker 2 is with at least one other person. Super Mario Maker 2 isn’t just a creative tool or a platformer — it’s a hardcore head-to-head battler. Because while you can have fun playing Endless Challenge in isolation, the real magic of Mario Maker is in exchanging levels with friends.
I love building stages. But it is so much better to create something specifically to confound and annoy someone else. That’s what takes Super Mario Maker 2 from a great game to one of the best of all time.
Having someone to share Mario Maker with is like having a pen pal. You make something for them, send it to them, and then you wait to hear what they think about it. Maybe they make something for you, or maybe you build something new based on their feedback to challenge them even more next time.
OK. Maybe it’s like having an evil pen pal. But almost no other game captures this feeling. It’s special, and we’re lucky to have it.
What you won’t like
Leaderboards don’t have a ‘Friends’ option
Nintendo still seems so confused by online, and that makes the connected aspects of Super Mario Maker 2 feel awkward. I struggled for days to find the leaderboards for the Endless Challenge. But even now, I can’t find a leaderboard that only shows you your friends. You can sort by region, and that’s it.
This is so frustrating. Nintendo must know that, by definition, only a small handful of people are going to end up at the top of the global leaderboard. And yet this game is likely going to have millions of players. Those people, including myself, are going to want to compete against my friends alone. And yet I don’t see anyway of easily sorting the leaderboards to see how I stack up compared to my friends.
Story mode feels like a lengthy tutorial at times
My only other major issue with Mario Maker 2 is Story Mode. Nintendo included 100 original levels in a story campaign, and I’m just finding it boring. The issue is that the company is clearly using this mode to show the new features for building. And while I appreciate that, the levels end up losing my interest.
The problem is that each level focuses too heavily on one or two concepts or items. Because of that you lose the progression of a typical Mario game where you learn skills that stack and build on one another. Instead of coming to stages where you need to string multiple ideas together, you’re only using the kart or you’re only flying around in Bowser’s clown vehicle.
It’s a bummer, and I wouldn’t buy this game to just play the Nintendo stages offline.
Super Mario Maker was an ideal game for me. And I fell hard for it because I started exchanging levels with a reviewer from The Netherlands named Noie Hoek. Noie’s levels drove me mad and to the edge of my abilities, but I couldn’t get enough. Super Mario Maker 2 enables even more people to experience that battle between creator and player, and I can’t wait to see Switch community embrace it.
And sure, I don’t love the Story Mode, and Nintendo needs to fix its online matchmaking and leaderboards to work better for friends. But the stuff that has to work does. You can build levels really easily with the touch controls. You can exchange them with friends. And you can easily find everything you’re looking for.
So as long as the war between me and Noie can rage on, I’m going to keep loving Super Mario Maker 2.
Super Mario Maker 2 is out June 28 for the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo provided us with a copy for the purpose of this review.