Super Mario Maker 2 was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.
Mario is the beating heart of video game culture. Despite chucking turtle shells at aloof Goombas for decades, Nintendo’s mascot platformer remains a core component of gaming memorabilia for a variety of reasons. His series is equal parts accessible and challenging. The controls are likewise tight and precise, stressing the importance of timing jumps and memorizing level design patterns with the weighty emphasis of a crushing Thwomp. The agile yet overweight Italian plumber is an unparalleled piece of gaming iconography, hooking new gamers for generations to come. In other words: The rationale behind Mario’s enduring popularity isn’t Koopa pirate airship science.
However, the Mario franchise also contains a few underappreciated design elements, the most crucial being story and themes. Consisting of repeated renditions of the kidnapped princess trope, the series’s narrative and thematic tone are regularly dismissed by fans as being inessential to the Mario experience, yet the series’s cliched sensibilities imbue the games with a charming aura. As a result, a Mario title without a giant turtle monster entering the Mushroom Kingdom’s aristocracy via a Tywin Lannister-style arranged marriage would remain fun yet feel incomplete.
Super Mario Maker 2 is one such experience. The newest Nintendo Switch exclusive is essentially a Super Mario map editor that’s equipped with Mario’s inherently enjoyable gameplay aesthetic but lacks the heartwarming undertones elevating better Mario games. Without that enchanting narrative heft, Super Mario Maker 2 acts as the de facto Mario-themed virtual Lego set.
Super Mario Maker 2 is a toy, albeit a very good one, delivering the necessary building blocks needed to construct playable Mario levels. Casual and longtime fans alike can experiment with an easy-to-use stage creator, allowing them to build two-dimensional Mario levels, unique challenges, and bizarre contraptions. The customization options are incredibly robust, offering classic Mario stage environments like forests and lava castles, enemies like Piranha Plants and Cheep Cheeps, objects like coins and mushrooms, and boss battles. These creations can then be shared online so friends and randos can play and even compete for a high score and best clear time.
Story Mode lets players learn the ropes. Super Mario Maker 2 ships with roughly 100 levels that vary in difficulty, visuals, and objectives. The core purpose of these stages is to introduce players to the impressive capabilities of the game’s level editor. The stages features a mix-match of ingenious level design involving Yoshi, Bowser Junior’s flying tea cup, and even some Legend of Zelda-style puzzles. On trickier stages, Super Mario Maker 2 allows the player to edit helpful items like the Super Star or a classic Mushroom if you’re stuck. Between the diverse stages and slow introduction of map editing tools, the campaign functions as a solidly entertaining training ground for online play.
However, the actual “story” in Story Mode falters with a subpar tale revolving around building a castle and helping Toadette commit numerous OSHA violations. The story’s inability to delight marginally blunts Super Mario Maker 2’s whimsical nature.
The online mode is undeniably Super Mario Maker 2’s prime-time event. In the online subsection, the menu promotes new and popular user-created stages that are immediately playable, and once completed, players can rate a level’s quality and write comments without profanity or NSFW pictures. When seeking a particular stage, there is a search option that props up levels by particular creators with diverse gameplay styles and multiplayer mayhem.
However, Super Mario Maker 2’s best online feature is the endless mode. Depending on the difficulty selected, endless mode randomizes user-created courses meant to be completed in succession until the player is out of lives and hits the game over screen. The unpredictable stage selection allows endless mode to be a riotous Bullet Bill-style blast, granting Super Mario Maker 2 nearly limitless replayability.
The game’s map customization and campaign mode are unfortunately marked with a few creative blemishes. As for the level editor, Super Mario Maker 2 mostly utilizes old and reused assets, meaning user-created stages can only innovate so much without recreating Mario stages seen during the franchise’s entire lifespan. Additionally, the 32-stage online upload cap is too small for a title attempting to harness a strong online community.
With that said, Super Mario Maker 2 is undoubtedly a fun and aesthetically pleasing Mario experience. On top of the patented platforming expected from a Mario title, Super Mario Maker 2 is a superb custom stage creator with long-term viability and replayability. If Nintendo makes another Super Mario Maker, I at least hope they will give us the tools to create our own storytelling whimsy within the Mushroom Kingdom.