Super Mario Maker 2 is coming on June 28, the latest in a growing line of Wii U games to get repurposed (and in this case, substantially enhanced) for Switch. I was a bit apprehensive about how Mario Maker would handle the move, since it was originally designed for a resistive touchscreen and the Switch has a capacitive one. Turns out it works without issue, but only if you buy yourself a nice stylus.
The first Mario Maker was probably the closest thing the Wii U had to a killer app. Nintendo used its decades of design know-how to build a creation tool that was as fun as playing a game, a perfect product for the Twitch era. The Switch version took a bit longer than I expected to get here, but it has some major new features, like a story mode, four-person multiplayer, and online play. And the core creation tool has been improved as well, with some redesigns due to the fact that it now supports both the touchscreen and the controller for making your levels.
The Story Mode is probably what you’re most interested in, if you’re more of a player than a maker. It’s little more than a collection of about 100 levels, loosely tied together with a small 3D hub area. Princess Peach’s castle gets destroyed (I won’t say how because the revelation is too funny), and you have to rebuild it by taking on “jobs,” aka Mario levels. Earn coins and hand them to construction crew chief Toadette and you’ll be able to rebuild more of the castle, which opens up new jobs, et cetera.
Although it’s all over in about five hours or so, Story Mode is a good introduction to the sorts of things you can do in Mario Maker, sort of a stealth tutorial. The different levels showcase different parts that you can use, but more importantly, they show different ideas for how those parts might be put together to make an unexpected challenge.
As a group, the courses in Story Mode also seem to be a little bit, how do I say this, meaner than your average Mario course. Some of the death traps in these courses feel like a gauntlet of “Gotcha!” moments that would be out of place in, say, New Super Mario Bros. Then again, if you look at the levels that users created on the Wii U, most of those are pretty much torture-porn abattoirs, so perhaps the team at Nintendo is just going with the flow here.
Otherwise, if you’re more of a Super Mario player than a Super Mario maker, you have a few different options for finding player-made courses to try. You can just jump into Course World and see what Nintendo’s algorithm serves up in the “Hot,” “Popular,” and “New” categories. You can filter the search in a few different ways, like only looking for courses with a Super Mario Bros. 3 theme, for example, or only looking for automatically-scrolling courses. If you want to play a specific level you found on the internet, or all the levels from a specific creator, you can do that by entering a code.
There’s also Endless mode, which strings together a bunch of random levels, lets you carry over a maximum of three 1ups from each level, and challenges you to survive as long as you can. This doesn’t seem to have changed at all from the first game. [Correction, 1:11 p.m. ET: Whoops! The previous game’s mode was called 100 Mario Challenge and gave you 100 lives to finish a finite number of levels.] You can also play levels cooperatively or competitively online, although I wasn’t able to try this since only a few people are currently playing Mario Maker 2 in advance of its release date. (While the game currently doesn’t support playing online with friends, Nintendo said at E3 that it would add this feature after launch.)
While there are a few significant upgrades to the creation tool, the biggest reworking is that you can now create using a controller instead of the touch screen. Why? Well, believe it or not, some people use their Switch on the television, and you’d have a hard time getting at the touchscreen while it’s sitting in the dock.
Here’s the basic breakdown of controller-based Mario making: Using the analog stick moves a cursor around the gameplay area, which is bordered by icon bars with all the tools you will use. If you want to access those, you just tap the D-pad up, left, or right to snap into those menus. Once you pick the thing you want to do, you shift back to the left analog to place it.
It’s got a bit of a learning curve, but generally it’s a lot less painful than I thought it was going to be. I think the most annoying thing is picking out a new part to place. While you have a sort of bookmarks bar at the top of the screen with recently-used items (which you can optionally pin in place), to get into the whole bag of tricks you have to press Up, scroll over to a magnifying glass with Right, scan through a series of radial menus with the L and R buttons, then use the analog stick to pick the item you want once you find the radial menu that contains it.
Either way, this does not affect me in the slightest, as there was no way I wasn’t going to use the touchscreen for creating courses. I was so sure of this that I even went out and bought a nice capacitive stylus before I even had the review code. I bought this one from Digiroot, mostly because it was “Amazon’s Choice” and not too expensive should I simply need to throw it in the trash.
Fortunately, it worked out quite well. It’s got one of those big mesh pads on one end and a thinner rotating nib on the other. The big mesh pad was precise enough to work accurately inside Mario Maker’s relatively chunky gridlines. And I’m very glad it did, because as near as I can figure, if you want to create levels in Switch’s handheld mode, you must use the touchscreen. Once you snap the Joy-Cons onto the system, the only way to access the icons is via touch. And so if you want to create in handheld mode (which you probably do) and don’t own a capacitive stylus, you’re going to be smearing up the Switch screen with your finger, and it’s going to be gross.
For my first course, I decided I should probably make something in one of the most popular game genres.
“Shlooter” would combine both shooting and looting, and also sounds like nails on a chalkboard to some people, so my Nintendo-approved torture device would begin its work before they even played the level.
It would also let me explore some of the new features in the level creator, such as being able to customize the speed and the direction of the level’s auto-scrolling, as well as being able to set “clear conditions” for finishing levels. As a combination of shooter and looter, you’d have to defeat enemies but also collect enough coins to finish the level.
The first Mario Maker did some cute things like having you drag a mushroom onto an enemy to make them giant, or drag wings onto them to make them fly, or shake them to turn them into a different variation of themselves. This is cute the first time and extremely annoying every time thereafter, so I’m glad that there’s now a menu when you click on enemies that lets you do all this stuff with a single tap.
My shoot-looter was going to be set in low-gravity space, another new feature, and feature flying enemies that you’d have to shoot down with a Clown Copter. I joke about wanting to make a torture device, but in actuality I wanted to make this level challenging but fair. Ideally I’d be ramping up the difficulty bit by bit as a shmup level would, with increasingly difficult waves of enemies. The coins would start out easy to pick up, but become more perilous to snag later.
One of the brilliant bits of Mario Maker’s design was the ease of switching between playing and editing, testing and testing segments while you were building them to get them just right. One major change I made was to my boss battle. I initially wanted you to fight against a Mushroom-powered Mega Bowser, but it just wasn’t fun—he took up so much screen real estate that he just crowded Mario out. I switched back to Small (or “Doug”) Bowser and that turned out to be a much better boss fight.
Another setting that I tweaked during testing was the custom-scroll feature. Select this and you’ll see a dotted line on the screen that indicates the direction the level will automatically scroll. But you can tap that line to add more inflection points, then drag them around to adjust the direction of the scrolling. The game will automatically chain all these points together. If you add pipes or doors, it’ll show you how the level will scroll if you enter through one of those, too.
I used this sparingly in Shlooter, leaving the easier first half of the level as a simple side-scroller but choosing to angle the second half diagonally upwards to (hopefully) create a mounting sense of tension. (I also discovered that when I made the level scroll just a bit faster than it was designed for, I turned my easy level into a hellscape.)
I’d hoped to actually hide coins inside of enemies for that pure loot-shoot experience, but this turned out to not be possible. I had to settle for having you loot Bowser’s corpse to get a key to open a door to get you to the finish line. I also added a convenient suicide hole for those players who got to Bowser without the requisite number of coins. This wasn’t strictly necessary, but I thought maybe some people would appreciate the reference to Lost Levels.
When you’re ready to save or upload your course, Mario Maker 2 still auto-generates a preview thumbnail from wherever your cursor is hovering, so I made sure to carve out a separate piece of the level just to design my “title screen.”
Once this is shrunken to thumbnail size, hardly anybody’s going to see that the dot in the exclamation point is a Cheep-Cheep, but I know it’s there.
Another very good new addition is that you can write a small (75-character) description of your course, in which you can flesh out the meaning of the title, give hints, or whatever else you can do in one-quarter of a tweet.
Like the first game, you have to beat a level yourself before you can upload it. Unlike the first game, you can do this at any time—if you finish a level after you save it, you won’t have to finish it again before you upload. Once you play some stages online, you can like them, dislike them, or leave a comment either in the form of a pre-made image or one you draw yourself.
We’ll go deeper into Super Mario Maker 2 in our full review later this month. For now, I feel safe saying that things are shaping up very well.