Ever since the release of the monumental Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1985, there has been an endless desire for more 2D Mario titles. As of late, Nintendo has been working on the Super Mario Maker series as a way to either appease the fans or to completely phase out the need to develop a brand new 2D Mario game. With the Super Mario Maker titles, there seems to be less and less reason to really want another entry to the New Super Mario Bros. series. One way or another, Nintendo delivers another quality title that allows creative players to design the Mario level of their dreams, while at the same time, appealing to 2D platforming fans with user-generated content. The real question is whether or not the game manages to fully satisfy both the players and the designers.
The new story mode does indeed contain a story. It’s mostly centered on teaching building mechanics and helping the toads rebuild Peach’s destroyed castle. With Toadette at the helm of management, the construction crew needs all the help they can get. The writing definitely takes a comical, jokey tone, but there’s something wrong when the token female character is highlighted to be a terrible manager. Admittedly, it should be no surprise as most Nintendo games tend to do a bad job at portraying female characters and Super Mario Maker 2 is no exception.
Beyond the light dialogue focusing on giving a little character to the crew, the story mode provides flavor text in its quest descriptions. The quest structure further highlights how the game deviates from an adventure, resulting in a more chore-oriented experience. There’s a laundry list of quests to do in order to obtain enough coins to fully construct Peach’s castle. Regardless, there is little incentive to really play the story mode besides seeing what the engine is capable of on a base level as well as scoring the unlockables.
The core issue is that the story mode failed to spark any joy of play as the level design is a massive disappointment. I expected tight levels that potentially rivaled those of past titles. What I got was a barrage of mediocre levels that focused more on highlighting what can be made. In the ideal situation, the levels would have the design sensibilities that inspire creativity and polish, while showcasing exactly what the system is capable of. As it is here, the story mode’s levels feel like hobbled together gimmicky experiences that often ended up being tedious, shallow, or just plain annoying. The lack of cohesion makes the story come off as disjointed as there’s a shortage of level-based collectibles, worthwhile secrets, or absolutely anything that compelled me to explore the levels in depth.
Along with the ever-present and archaic life system, story mode is a chore of an experience that presents and teaches the game’s new features without incorporating good design lessons along the way. Levels never reach a real satisfying degree of depth and an avid Mario player is still better off playing a mainline title. At a surface level, one would expect Super Mario Maker series to supplant the main 2D titles, but in reality, levels and story mode lack the sense of being on a journey with exciting collectibles and branching levels. By the halfway mark, I was already tired of levels and could not believe how bland and unoriginal the areas ended up being. It was difficult to even find a single level that I genuinely enjoyed playing as the design seemed too occupied with throwing whatever worked into each level without considering if it would actually be fun to play.
After slogging through the tedious story mode, I dove into making levels. Optimal building experience is achieved with the portable mode of the Switch due to the touch screen capability. Super Mario Maker 2’s creation mode is probably one of the most easily accessible introductions to level design available. Designing levels feels easy and intuitive despite the sheer amount of customization options that feel a bit overwhelming at times. It’s honestly quite impressive just how unique levels can get in the hands of a capable creator.
Sadly, levels are just that, single levels. You never get a fully fleshed out experience with the user-created content and that’s a real shame. Ideally, allowing creators to design journeys with hub worlds, boss levels, secret pathways, etc would be the real next step. All the mechanics in the world won’t surpass the impact of creating or experiencing an entire adventure. As it is now, we can appreciate individual levels, but fully thought out, cohesive experiences like Super Mario World cannot be created until Nintendo ups their creation system’s capabilities.
Super Mario Maker 2 builds upon the original in very basic ways. The game adds an impressive array of new mechanics that allow creators more freedom to design. With the addition of the painfully tedious, gimmick-driven story mode, the developers teach players just how annoying the new features can be. Regardless, designing levels has never been more convenient and the vast sea of user-created content is bound to provide endless enjoyment. Overall, Super Mario Maker 2 is a solid release that is highly recommended and successfully manages to mostly satisfy both creators and players, despite the game’s various issues and shortcomings.