By my count there were two significant problems with 2015’s Super Mario Maker, which was less a game than an astoundingly accessible game creation tool that allowed players to quickly design and share their own side-scrolling Mario levels.
The first wasn’t the game’s fault. It arrived on Wii U, Nintendo’s worst performing platform (it sold less than 14 million units worldwide), meaning it never really had a chance to reach the broad audience it deserved.
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The second was more concerning over the long term. In giving players the keys to the Mushroom Kingdom, Nintendo sort of stole its own magic. What need do players have of future side-scrolling Mario adventures — a staple of Nintendo’s game library for decades — when they have access to essentially limitless player-designed levels in one game?
An argument can be made that Super Mario Maker is actually elegant proof of the genius of Nintendo’s gamesmiths. The immeasurable majority of courses created and shared by the game’s community didn’t hold a candle to even the dullest of levels found in the most middling Mario platformers. Most were decidedly amateurish. A few were clever works of art but not much fun to play. Some were sadistically hard and, consequently, also not much fun. Only a tiny handful were on par with what we find in the best Super Mario games, balancing challenge, creativity and artistic design.
Still, giving players the ability to monkey around with the inner workings of Nintendo’s most iconic property can’t help but leech a bit of the thrill and mystery of the franchise, potentially making any future side-scrolling Mario games just a bit less special. Which, perhaps, is why instead of seeing a brand new 2D Super Mario platformer on Switch we’re instead being given a sequel to Super Mario Maker in Super Mario Maker 2.
Make no mistake; Super Mario Maker 2 is an essential Mario experience. It contains endless hours of fun for fans of the iconic plumber, including: a lengthy story mode filled with Nintendo-made courses that act, more or less, as both tutorial and inspiration for what you can make yourself; a level editor that provides players with even more items, themes and tools to create the Mario courses of their wildest dreams; and a smartly designed and moderated community that makes it easy to find, share and provide feedback on your favourite levels.
In other words, it’s exactly what a sequel to Super Mario Maker ought to be. And it easily solves the first of the two problems experienced by its predecessor simply by being released for Switch, a staggeringly successful console that has amassed a 35 million-plus user base in just two years. The potential audience for this game is huge.
As for the second problem, I’m not sure you can ever put Mario’s magic back in the box once you’ve let it out. With millions of Mario fans making and sharing their own levels, the need for a classic Super Mario game now seems less than it once was.
And while Super Mario Maker 2 does indeed have its own story mode — Mario is tasked to rebuild a castle by earning coins completing levels for Toads and other Mushroom Kingdom folk — filled with courses crafted by Nintendo’s expert game makers, it’s quite unlike what we’ve experienced in past Mario platformers. These levels are clearly designed to make us think about how to make our own levels rather than deliver the sort of flowing, satisfying play found in Mario’s best games. Some deliver lessons so short that they can literally be completed in just a few seconds.
But my reason for playing Super Mario Maker 2 isn’t to work through its only so-so Nintendo-made levels (though I have), or even to find and experience the handful of brilliant levels the community will eventually produce (which I will). It will be to satisfy my urge to invent. Struck by the same inspiration that leads me to occasionally pick up a pencil and begin drawing or sit down and start writing a story, I’ll hop into the editor and begin designing a course. I’ll spend a couple of hours fussing over every detail, testing and retesting it before publishing, and come away gratified that I have created rather than consumed.
And I have no delusions about my abilities as a level designer. Much like my drawings and stories, I’ll make these courses without expecting them to ever be seen by more than a few people. (If my experience with the original Super Mario Maker taught me anything, it’s that getting your levels noticed and elevated within the community is perhaps the game’s hardest challenge.)
No, my makings will be mostly just to please me. And in that, at least, Super Mario Maker 2 does share something in common with the many Super Mario games that inspired it: In the end, I played those for no other reason than personal satisfaction as well.