REVIEW: Super Mario Maker 2 Constructs a World Worthy of a Sequel

It was a no-brainer that Super Mario Maker would end up on the Nintendo Switch at some point. Since the Switch's initial reveal in 2016, it was clear the game would feel right at home in the console's library, although many expected a simple port, with portability and a touch screen able to emulate the original's tools at the least, and expand on them in meaningful ways at the most. However, Super Mario Maker 2 does just that and more, with new options, enemies, tools, online functions (sans online co-op with friends, for now), and modes to fill out the sequel.

Still, it's difficult not to miss the quirkiness of the Wii U's GamePad -- and its stylus.

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The first major change noticed when booting up Super Mario Maker 2 is the game's newly added Story Mode, a fun little adventure that introduces players to creation tools in an organic way. This mode won't have you crafting levels from scratch, but it wades into mechanics new and old, like Ghost Houses, puzzle-like courses and twisted takes on classic Mario stages. It also provides a lovely introduction to the game's newest tile set, Super Mario 3D World, which feels extremely weird to play exclusively in 2D, but offers a layer of flexibility the other tile sets do not.

The story is fairly simple, with surprising appearances from the Undo Dog and Reset Rocket as Peach's Castle is wiped from existence, and it's up to you and a team of Toads to rebuild the Mushroom Kingdom. You do so by taking jobs from the Toad Taskmaster, completing courses and earning coins and then using those coins to kick up construction projects. This part feels a bit F2P mobile game-y, but isn't all that egregious. It's perfect for pick-up-and-play sessions, and certainly doesn't ask for real money in exchange for progress.

While the levels in this mode are meant to introduce elements you'll be building with or experiencing in user-created courses, a handful of them put up quite a challenge. Even one of the game's first courses has a "clear condition" that you cannot jump for the entire level. To solve, you have to use enemies, moving blocks and more to your advantage and move along without leaving the ground. It's awfully clever.

Of course, chances are you came to Super Mario Maker 2 for two specific reasons: to create levels and to play created levels. Thankfully, the sequel supports both of those goals in extremely meaningful ways.

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The creation suite has been updated to make things a little more seamless, although some might disagree. The grid-style drag-and-drop of the first game has been simplified to a task bar and wheel-select screens. Need an enemy? Pop open the wheel and drag them to your task bar or directly onto the level planning grid. While the game certainly works without a stylus, having a capacitive stylus on-hand can't hurt. You can also create levels while the console is docked, but the game forces you to use button controls instead of the more obvious pointer controls. This can feel awfully clunky, and is definitely a less-preferable experience to handheld mode.

If you've never created a level in Super Mario Maker before, the game offers a slew of tutorials that serve as proper introductions to every crevice of the creator. For veteran players, it can feel like a slog, but these scenes are easily skippable if you're looking for a lesson on how to do something specific.

And if you're really just here to play some Mario levels, you're in luck. The online suite of Super Mario Maker 2 is much more palate-able than the first game, allowing you to easily see which courses are "hot," popular or new. You can also filter by specific tags, and enter course codes that have been shared from you. But... seriously, Nintendo? It's 2019 and I can't just send a course to my friends list? At least online co-op with friends will be coming in a future patch.

There's also a reprise of the fan-favorite 100-Mario mode, now titled "Endless," where the game curates levels from all of the tile sets to create a custom Mario experience made just for you. Levels can range from auto-play Rube Goldberg-style creations to infinite boss battles or underwater jaunts. This is the mode that will give Super Mario Maker 2 the longest legs unless you're a creator. Thankfully, there also plenty of expert creations already available in the game, including recreations of Sonic the Hedgehog stages and very, very frustrating master courses.

As far as sequels go, Super Mario Maker 2 goes above and beyond its predecessor. It may take a bit of a hit in losing the second-screen experience of the Wii U, but that's about all the game suffers in its transition to the Switch. The level creator tools are inviting and incredibly deep, and the single-player modes built into the game can be tailored for early players and veterans. We're not really sure how they could top this one. Maybe with a Yoshi's Island or Super Mario Bros. 2 tile set. Maybe.

Super Mario Maker 2 is now available on Nintendo Switch. A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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