We played Super Mario Maker 2 for a while, checking out the story, the course creator, multiplayer, and more.
After spending an hour with Super Mario Maker 2 at a press event last week, I’m as excited as ever for the upcoming Switch game. Like its 2015 Wii U predecessor, Maker 2 is focused on playing, creating, and sharing, and the tweaks to those three directives make them shine even more.
My hands-on time started with the story mode, which you can start up right when you boot up. Part of the development goals for the sequel was to knock down the barriers of getting you into the section of your choosing as soon as possible. The tale begins with Peach’s castle getting knocked down (in an opening cutscene I wasn’t able to see). As Builder Mario, you have to work with Chief Toadette and a variety of other NPCs ranging from other Toads to Mr. Eraser and Undodog to build the castle back up. It’s sort of a nonlinear adventure across the 100 Nintendo-created stages you journey through.
To clarify that, here’s how I progressed through the short demo that appears to be a near-final version of the game. The first level will always be the same: a short-and-sweet, goomba-heavy course. Beating that gives you enough coins to start laying the castle foundation. After that, three levels unlock and you have to play at least two of them to finish building the foundation. From there, more levels open up that you can play in any order. You have to build up coins, earned in the levels themselves and via level completion, to then funnel that money into different parts of the castle. After the foundation is laid, you have the choice between the Main Hall, the East Hall, and the West Hall. More levels are unlocked as you build different areas.
The story mode seems like a playful jaunt that shows off some of the tools—early stages focused on new ideas, such as the 3D World theme and the angry sun—while giving more of a stable component to the primarily user-generated content experience. The light interactions with building the castle are cute, and as always the writing is extremely charming. I don’t know how exactly Undodog fits into the story, but I look forward to seeing the good Mario Paint pup in action.
After playing the story, I dove headfirst into creation. The majority of tools are available at the start, though the Nintendo representatives were cagey as to what was being locked at the beginning. My guess is it’ll be some brand new elements, like how the night versions of course themes are accessed by changing the angry sun to a happy moon.
The most divergent aspect from the Wii U original is the control method. You have two core options: buttons or touch screen. The button option is daunting at first, with shortcuts aplenty. I struggled a lot figuring out how to interact with everything, but I can see that, with practice, controlling creation with buttons might be my preferred option. For an example of the weirdness, when moving the hand cursor around the stage, if you want to go get a new item or switch your theme, your instinct might be to just move the cursor to the sides of the screen where those menus reside. That just scrolls the stage as you get close to the sides, though. You actually have to use the D-pad to switch to the menus at the top and sides of the screen. That said, the radial menus, where the items are almost always nestled, are great. It’s intuitive to move through them and find the right item or enemy.
Conversely, the touch screen isn’t the immediate solution if you don’t like buttons. Without a stylus, it’s a little clumsy to accurately place blocks and items. If you have a capacitive stylus, playing handheld and using the touch screen is probably ideal. With a fat finger? Maybe not so much. I have mild concerns that the barrier for entry in creation could be a big bummer, but hopefully they click with a little more time.
During my brief time with the creator, I ventured to toy with the custom objectives that let you set alternative goals, such as defeating a certain number of a given enemy type, collecting a certain number of coins, or doing things like “don’t touch the ground after leaving it.” Much like it’s a challenge to complete those objectives, it’s tough to implement them into your design. You can check out our video footage for my attempt at a “don’t touch the ground after leaving it” course. I’m looking forward to cracking the potential of these objectives and hope that Nintendo either has a lot included or will add more variants in updates.
A helpful addition for both regular play and the creator is the fact that each game style’s controls are readily accessible in the menu at all times so you can see what they do. It’s especially helpful for the new 3D World variant since that’s never been in 2D before. The Nintendo representative explained this as a good resource for those who might have missed out a game style in the past. I know looking at the 3D World controls started spinning the wheels of creation. The cat suit could lead to some masterpieces.
I also spent time with Course World, the online level-sharing component of the game. It was populated by internal Nintendo levels for the purposes of the demo so it could show off the new additions, but I got to play around with the search tools, that drill down through tags, themes, and more. It’s definitely a fuller, rounder searching experience than on Wii U.
Lastly, I got to play some riotous local multiplayer. It’s a little weird because it appears that for levels where there’s a side objective, you have to work together even if it’s a competitive-focused level. But ultimately that didn’t matter. Multiplayer is an absolute giggly blast. I always enjoyed the playful trolling that happened whenever I played New Super Mario Bros. Wii or U with others, and it’s awesome that they turned that trolling into the main focus. I look forward to many silly 2D Mario slap fights with friends through whatever silly multiplayer levels I make and whatever else comes out through the online Course World. Thankfully, you can save Course World levels offline for all your rooftop party needs.
If you want to play with friends, you’ll have to meet up with them in person. While you can play Super Mario Maker 2’s four-player co-op and competitive multiplayer online, you can only do so through global matchmaking with random players. It’s a colossal bummer that kneecaps what, at least locally, will be a really funny mode. I guess competitive leaderboards are nice, but I’d much rather just screw around with friends than get very serious about the game where I fight for a bell power-up with a friend so one of us can transform into a cat.
With tons of new ways to play and a variety of fresh creative additions, Super Mario Maker 2 looks more promising than ever. I am eagerly awaiting its June 28 release so I can get down to making goofy levels, exploring the Nintendo-made levels in the story, and seeing what crazy delights people all over the world make online. Some things might harsh my buzz, chiefly concerns over control inputs and online multiplayer, but nothing holds this blast of creativity down for long.