Nintendo / Nintendo EPD
Let me just make something clear so you know where I stand before going into this review: I’m very much a left-brained person.
For those unaware of the concept, it’s said that people who are more creative and artistic tend to use the right side of their brain more, whereas those who are more analytical and logical favour the left side.
Most of the time games are perfectly suited to both left and right-brained people: you’re given a task and can reach the goal using whatever logical or creative means you see fit.
Every now and then, however, you get a game that mainly appeals to right-brained, artistic types, where most of the fun is achieved through making your own creations. You know the type, games like LittleBigPlanet, Minecraft and Super Mario Maker.
For left-brained folk like me, these games are not a cavalcade of possibilities: instead, they more often result in staring blankly at an empty canvas with no bright ideas on how to fill it. For us, these games live or die not by their creation tools, but by everything else they offer (usually user-created content).
With that in mind, then, this review of Super Mario Maker 2 is going to do something a little different. You can already find plenty of reviews of the game on other sites, most of which will presumably have dedicated a hefty chunk to the creation tools.
From a completely blind approach – I never read other reviews before writing my own – I see that my long-time pal and former CVG editor Andy Robinson has reviewed the game over at VGC, so based on his track record I’m going to confidently assume that’s where you should go for a ‘proper’ review of the game, creation mode and all.
Instead, I’m going to look at the game from the point of view of someone who has no interest in the creativity element, and just wants an infinite supply of Mario stages to play. If that’s you, welcome aboard.
Super Mario Maker 2 has two main modes for imagination-free knobs like me: Story Mode and Endless Challenge. The former is designed to give you an initial hit of joy, the latter is there to make sure you stay hooked.
Story Mode opens with Peach’s Castle being blown up, and a bunch of sheepish-looking builder Toads realising they have to rebuild it from scratch. They can’t do it without the necessary funds, though.
Enter Mario, who agrees to take on a steady stream of ‘jobs’ (i.e. stages) to help pay for the work. Every completed stage comes with a coin reward (the size depends on that level’s difficulty), and you also get to keep any of the coins you collected along the way to help top up your funds.
When it comes to ‘normal’ Mario games, I’ve often explained that what makes so many of them so entertaining is that literally every stage introduces a new mechanic, obstacle or enemy that you haven’t yet encountered on your journey.
If you were to take, say, New Super Mario Bros U and go through it level by level, writing down anything new you see, you’d realise that you’d be able to come up with something for every single stage.
Given the general mania involved in Super Mario Maker 2’s course design tools, it’s fair to say that the Story Mode here takes that concept to a ridiculous degree.
One minute you’re hopping aboard a tricked-up fire version of Bowser Jr’s clown car and using it to spit fireballs at enemies shoot ‘em up style, the next you’re trying to navigate an obstacle course that fails you as soon as you leave the ground (which is harder than it sounds, given that you suddenly have to unlearn decades of muscle memory making Mario jump).
It’s clear that the main reason for such madcappery is inspiration: Nintendo is essentially chucking a bumload of weird and wonderful ideas at you in the hope that some of them will make you think “hmmm, imagine if I made a level that does what this stage does, but then I changed it so that…”, and thereby send you whistling off to the creation screen.
But, again, ain’t nobody here got time for that: this is a review aimed at non-creative people, and that’s okay. Even if these 100 or so Nintendo-created levels don’t spark inspiration in your mind, they’ll certainly spark joy in your soul. Okay, that’s maybe a bit more Marie Kondo than Koji Kondo but they’re bloody good fun, is what I’m saying.
While the act of building the castle is a fairly wafer-thin ‘plot’ to justify playing these levels, it’s made infinitely more entertaining by the brilliant writing, complete with loads of terrible jokes, daft wordplay and some extra characters who are almost certain to become future cult heroes (wait until you meet the frog).
These additional NPCs also have their own extra side-quest stages for you to take on, meaning there’s even more in Story Mode than the main helping of courses. In all, decent Mario players will have the entire mode (NPCs and all) beaten in 4-5 hours, but it’s a great time while it lasts.
Once you’ve played your way through Nintendo’s in-house stages, it’s time to see what the community can come up with. The best way to do this is by embracing the random nature of the Endless Challenge.
This has you choosing one of four difficulty levels, after which you’re handed three lives and chucked into a series of randomly chosen user-created stages, a series that never ends until you run out of lives (though you can still earn 1-Ups by collecting coins or hoping the creator was nice enough to add one).
Naturally, how entertaining you’ll find this can depend fairly heavily on which levels you’re handed, but by and large there’s always that slightly exhilarating feeling that comes with the gamble of knowing that your next stage could be a hidden gem that blows your mind, or an absolute wank of a level that eats your lives like jelly beans.
Oddly, the thing that makes it truly compelling is something so simple: a global ranking. As you continue to clear stage after stage, you’ll be informed after each where your streak now stands against the rest of the world.
It’s a completely ridiculous thing to care about given the random nature of it all, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t emotionally invested in getting as high up the rankings as I could. I reached 12th, incidentally, but that was on a media server rather than the final retail one, so presumably I won’t get anywhere near that when the game launches.
If you aren’t so keen on the anarchic idea of letting fate decide your Mario stages for you, there’s Course World. This is a database of every user-created course uploaded to the game’s servers, and can be browsed in all manner of ways.
If you have a specific code for a certain stage, you can pop it in here and play it. Alternatively, you can view the hottest current stages, or search for stages by things like difficulty, theme, style and region.
There’s also a tagging system, which lets you search by specific types of stage: puzzle-solving ones, autoscrollers, speedrunners, ‘short and sweet’ and the like.
Want to find extra difficult music-themed Super Mario 3D World stages set in the snow and created by Japanese players? That’s really specific, you should chill out a bit. Regardless, you can search for it anyway.
Chances are you’ll eventually find something, too. If the original Super Mario Maker is anything to go by you’re never going to run out of stages to find and play. Within the first eight months of the first Mario Maker launching, a total of 8 million levels had been uploaded. Considering no fucker bought a Wii U, that’s pretty good going and bodes well for the Switch version.
Ultimately, if you have no interest in the game’s creativity tools, your mileage with Super Mario Maker 2 will vary depending on how happy you are just playing random Mario levels for the sake of playing Mario.
The Story Mode is genuinely brilliant and should ensure your first four or five hours with the game are a delight, while the Endless Challenge – basic an idea though it may be – offers just enough of an incentive to keep working your way through random stages with the aim of beating your streak and making your way higher up the leaderboard.
If (like me) you aren’t a creative person, you may have been concerned that the ‘Maker’ in the title means this isn’t a game you’re going to get a lot out of. However, if (also like me) you’re the sort of person who in the past would happily pick up a GBA or DS or Switch and just play some 2D Mario purely because the simple act of playing a Mario game gives you pleasure, then don’t be alarmed by the title.
You may not have any interest in being a Super Mario Maker, but as long as you take pleasure in being a Super Mario Player you’re going to have a great time here.
Super Mario Maker 2 is out now on Switch. You can buy a physical version from Amazon UK for £39.99, or a limited edition version for £49.99 that comes with a year of Nintendo Switch Online (which is needed to upload and download levels).
In order that I could write this review, I received a digital copy of the game from the publisher. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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