When the original Super Mario Maker released on Wii U way back in 2015, it quickly became one of the most popular games available on the system. It's not hard to see why: the game's simple creation tools lead to a wealth of creative Mario content for its playerbase, ranging from the fascinatingly intricate to the frustratingly difficult. The concept was simple, the execution was clean, and everyone loves Mario games. Make Mario levels in a handful of art styles, let your friends try out your creations, and play levels from around the world.
Last week I had the chance to head over to Nintendo's offices for a few hours of hands-on time with Super Mario Maker 2, the Switch-bound sequel. This is a more feature-rich game than the original, with new creative options, but it's also more complicated to get to grips with, and some elements work in a much less clear-cut manner than the original.
Starting with the obvious, Super Mario Maker 2 features a series of new items and options for level creation, which offer new ideas for how to fill out levels. Pretty much all of the new tools we got to play with were shown off during the recent Super Mario Maker 2 Nintendo Direct, so there wasn't anything new in terms of surprises, but many of these new additions offer interesting utility.
After messing around for quite some time with the new tools, I came across a few noteworthy limitations. The new Dry Bones Shell item allows players to press down to turn invincible, but this can only be used on solid land. If you attempt to use it in the air, you'll simply drop quickly to the ground. This means it cannot be used as a mid-air invincibility item to pass through dangerous obstacles.
Additionally, while levels can be played in co-operative multiplayer, and tagged as such when you're making them, in the build I played you could not designate a level to be exclusively single player, exclusively multiplayer, or set separate start points for different players on a multiplayer course. While the on/off blocks work really nicely, the inability to gate multiplayer players away from each other limits some of what seemed like the most interesting uses of these blocks.
The new custom scroll ability works really well, and allows for a much greater sense of urgency on levels, particularly those with tricky objectives. Similarly, items like the snake blocks are great, with path drawing working as effortlessly as one would hope to control level pacing. Add in the ability to change water and lava heights, and creating urgency in levels has never been so good.
The new swinging claw item feels fun to build up momentum with, but can be a bit tricky to jump into correctly, as its hitbox is a little misleading when compared to its visible sprite.
Probably the most interesting new creation tool is the ability to set custom objectives in levels. Custom objectives for level clearing are populated in a menu as you add enemies, blocks and items to your level, meaning that only level clear conditions that are possible will appear in the options menu. This drastically reduces clutter in the menu, and makes it much easier to quickly find the clear condition you want to set. From levels that need a certain number of collected coins, to levels where you can't land after leaving the ground, these objects were by far the best part of the new game in terms of opening up new types of level creation.
Beyond the above, the most noticeable addition to Super Mario Maker 2 is the addition of the new Super Mario 3D World game style. Creating levels in the 3D world style gives players access to a host of new items and mechanics, but it also comes with some frustrating drawbacks.
As mentioned in the Super Mario Maker 2 Nintendo Direct, if you switch to or from the 3D world art style, you have to scrap your entire level design and start from scratch. Unlike other art styles in the game, 3D World levels have access to a whole host of additional tools for level creation. From Cat Mario to clear transport pipes, all of these new tools are fun to use, but they come at the expense of many of the familiar tools players will be used to having at their disposal.
In the original Super Mario Maker, pretty much every level creation item could be used in any art style. Nintendo went out of its way to make this a priority in the original game, creating brand new sprites for enemies that never appeared in certain games, changing physics to be consistent from one art style to another, and actively making sure that the creation suite is consistent across the board. This was clearly not a priority in the sequel, and as a result, creation can get pretty confusing pretty fast.
For example, spinning circular sawblades are exclusive to the original set of art styles, but clear pipes are exclusive to 3D world levels. Therefore you can't, for example, block off the end of a clear pipe with a saw blade.
This lack of consistency is probably not going to be a long-term deal breaker for the game, but it was something of a frustration in my first few hours. I was constantly searching for tools I knew existed, only to realise they were in the other art style and couldn't be combined the way I wanted. I can somewhat understand not porting some 3D World creation tools, like Cat Mario running up background walls or Banzai Bills approaching the screen, back to a 2D art style, but the fact not every key 2D asset has been ported over to exist in 3D World's art style is frustrating.
I recognise that a lot of additional work would have been required to ensure that level of consistency with such a drastically different art style and set of tools, but it really did stand out as a barrier to easy and seamless creation. You now have to keep in mind which tools can and can't be used together, or risk being unable to finish a level design because you forgot that tool isn't in that mode.
It isn't all bad, though. One of the most substantial additions to Super Mario Maker 2 is a singleplayer story mode, featuring new 2D Mario levels hand crafted by Nintendo. The story mode features Builder Mario tasked with rebuilding Princess Peach's castle, presumably after it has been destroyed by Bowser during some kidnapping attempt. You rebuild the castle by completing Nintendo-made levels using the Mario Maker 2 creation toolset, which help to showcase the kinds of level ideas which are possible within the game. The single player mode is clearly designed to kickstart creative concepts, and it excels at doing that right from the start.
Levels in the singleplayer mode can be played in any order, with their difficulty denoted by how many coins you collect for completing them. The more coins you get, the faster you can rebuild the castle. You can repeat singleplayer levels for more coins if you get stuck, but you'll only collect the coins you grab inside the level – you don't get the end of level coin reward for subsequent repeat clears.
These new single player levels are as polished as you might expect, and a lot of fun to work through, offering value for players who want to focus on well-curated levels right from the start, before players at home have had time to populate the game with their own high-quality content.
After a few hours with Super Mario Maker 2, my big take away is that while you can do more than you could in the original game, with all of its new content undeniably adding to the overall quality of the package, its limitations are frustrating in the light of these improvements.
The new creation tools all add interesting options to the game, and I can already see new level ideas that weren't possible before, but the fact Nintendo didn't go the extra step to ensure consistency across all art styles, the lack of ability to create dedicated single player or multiplayer levels, and the slightly odd hitboxes on the new swinging claw were all minor frustrations. The experience overall was still a positive and enjoyable one but, in moving away from the coherence of the original game's elements, Mario may have made a mistake.