First, one little site update — I just noticed that my Ever Oasis First Impressions article was missing from the Table of Contents page, so that error is now fixed! For anyone who missed out on that great 3DS title pick it up, it’s very very good. But anyway, on to the article.
Yes, I know I haven’t yet done a post on this years’ E3 last month. I should write at least something, but… for now, how about something even more recent: a First Impressions article on this month’s biggest release, Super Mario Maker 12 for the Nintendo Switch.
Super Mario Maker (Wii U / 3DS) was Exceptional!
Super Mario Maker on the Wii U was amazingly fun to play levels in, make levels in, and watch people make or play levels in on the internet. I didn’t have a Wii U when the first game released because I was foolish and didn’t get one until very late, but had a lot of fun watching videos online of people playing it, then I played a fair amount on 3DS once that version released, and on Wii U after I got one. I only published one Mario Maker 1 level on the Wii U, though, and it was just a few months ago so almost no one played it, Mario Maker 1 activity is well down. I’ll probably remake it (with some changes) on the Switch, and make new levels too I hope, but for anyone interested, here’s the level code, presuming it’s still there: 64C7-0000-03DC-1903 The game is the best game on the Wii U and probably the best of the generation. That’s no easy statement, since Splatoon is also exceptional and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while not really my thing, is also very very good, but Mario Maker comes out on top, I think.
As for that 3DS version, while the missing features — no online level trading, no way to type in codes to follow creators or play specific levels, and such — are crippling, the long single player campaign made up for it and made it a great purchase. It’s also a very funway to play random 100 Mario Challenge levels.
But now, the sequel is out! As I said in the title, I’m pretty confident that this will be my game of the year. I certainly can’t think of anything that will challenge it for that; Link’s Awakening is sure to be amazing but isn’t a new game, and nothing else I can think of is really in contention.
When discussing the first game above, I said that the three things I love about it are playing levels, making levels, and watching people play the game online in videos. And while it’s early, I’m already having fun with all three of those things in this fantastic sequel! Well, I haven’t made levels yet though I will, but playing and watching are both fantastic. And i will make levels, particularly once I get a good stylus for my Switch. For playing levels, Mario Maker 2 is like the first game but better. It has almost everything from the first game, but with more visual themes for the four game styles from the first game, a full new game style I will discuss in a later paragraph, and a whole bunch of new things added to the four main styles from the last game. The biggest addition is sloped surfaces, aka slopes, and they are a really nice inclusion. There are also new enemies, several new powerups in various modes, on/off switches which enable and disable blocks, snake blocks which follow a programmable track, the Angry Sun, and more. The new visual themes are also great, there are a full ten now! It’s pretty awesome stuff. As a Game Boy fan, I particularly like the inclusion of the Mario Land 1 Superball powerup, which turns your character grey, plays Mario Land 1-1 music, and gives you the Superball just as it was there, a bouncy ball which picks up items. This items’ use in Mario Maker is pretty obvious and great. The other new powerups are a hammer you can destroy some blocks with and giant pixel Mario.
Other new additions include some theme-specific ones — the new Forest visual theme has water and land, just like it did in Mario World, and you can program how the water raises and lowers. You can do the same for lava in the Castle theme as well. Of course there is new music for the new themes in games which previously did not have those themes, just like the new music from MM1 such as SMB1 Airship music, and it’s great stuff. One other very interesting addition is Night mode. When you go into Night mode, each level theme changes dramatically — the forest’s water turns to poison, another goes into super-low-gravity mode like the Moon level in Mario Land 2, and more. These allow for some fascinating changes to the regular Mario Maker formula. The list of additions is substantial and fantastic. Super Mario Maker 2 is amazing, and Nintendo says that two MILLION levels have already been uploaded, which is pretty amazing. No Mario Maker 1 levels are playable in this version, but there are so many levels that that isn’t an issue. Creators are picking up right where they left off in the first game, and it’s great.
One other major new addition is that you can now make requirements that you’ll need to complete in order to finish a stage. In levels with a finishing requirement, you will NEED to do that thing to finish; if you get to the end of the stage without it, the goal will just be a black outline, you won’t be able to complete the stage until or unless you do that thing. These rules include things such as ‘you must kill all enemies of type X’ to ‘you must get all the red keys’, and more. They make levels a lot harder, and so far I’m not sure what I think of them; they do require you to play levels quite differently, but it’s not something that I’ve ever seen in a 2d Mario game before, and I like being able to finish a level when you manage to get to the end. And given how many people are making extremely difficult levels in Mario Maker, these just allow people to make even HARDER insane ultra-difficult stages, which is sure to frustrate many. Still, it’s an overall positive as an inclusion since it allows for some potentially cool stuff in levels that don’t abuse it.
One other new change adds more playable characters throughout all modes apart for Story mode. This time you can play as not only Mario online and in level creation, but also Luigi, Toad, or Toadette. This is a great addition. It’s too bad that Toadette is now Nintendo’s female character in Mario games and not the Princess or Rosalina as they had before, but it’s better than having no actual female characters as was the case in the first one, even if it does continue Nintendo’s strange, and somewhat inexplicable, love for Toads — also see the 3DS and Wii U Paper Mario games for a lot more of that. Anyway, you choose which character you want in the pause menu, so it’s not set by level creators.
Additionally, on a more neutral node, in the first game all new levels went into the 100 Marios mode, where you had 100 lives to try to beat 15 levels (or 6 levels, in Super Expert difficulty). Well, 100 Marios mode has been replaced with an endless mode, where you have only a few lives and see how far you can get. With only 5 lives at the start instead of 100, getting far is a lot harder this time; yes, you can get extra lives in levels, but it’s tough. I also miss the goal of trying to finish 15 levels and beat the game; instead you now just play until you lose. There are online leaderboards, but still I don’t know that it’s an improvement. On the other hand though, story-wise there is a major improvement here — Mario Maker 1 presented the usual sexist trash of “Bowser kidnapped the princesses, beat these levels to rescue her” at the beginning of each 100 Marios run. This time, though, it is an endless mode, and story-wise it just says ‘Mario is going on a journey’,and off he sets. Oddly, this animation is the same no matter which of the four characters you’re playing as, but they will appear ingame. Gameplay-wise the endless mode is not as fun as 100 Marios mode because you start with a sparse five lives so getting much of anywhere is extremely difficult on the higher settings and also because they changed the algorythm so unplayed levels never appear in endless mode, but more on that later; storyline-wise, Mario Maker 2 is a great improvement over the original as it thankfully ditches the sexist “rescue the princess again” plot of that game. It does make it pretty confusing about why the Princess isn’t playable in this game though, only Toadette. I don’t understand Nintendo’s love for Toads. Oh well.
There is also a multiplayer mode, though I’ve heard very bad things about the online play’s quality. I haven’t tried it for myself yet though, and it’s online only — oddly, unlike NSMBU, this game doesn’t have four player co-op on a single system, so far at least. At least there is a multiplayer mode though, the first one didn’t have anything, so it’s great to see the addition. Also there is a new local two player creation mode option, but it requires Joycons for some bizarre reason. I mean, the game supports the pro controller in creation and regular play, it’s what I use to play the game with single player! Why require both players in the two player creation mode to use joycons? Nintendo does very strange, poorly thought through things sometimes… but again, that they added multiplayer at all is good, it wasn’t in the first game.
The game has a single player story mode as well, and it’s pretty well done. It has about as many levels as the one in the 3DS game, but has a lot higher production values this time, with a world map, stuff to collect, choice about what order you play the levels in, and more. And some amusing conversations are here too, like the ones with Mary O. and Yamamura the pigeon in that game. Yamamura does return in this game in the tutorial mode, check it out if you need help learning how to play and create levels. But in Story mode, you play as Mario, rebuilding the Princess’s castle after Undo Dog accidentally undid it. Each level has a different challenge to overcome, and introduces you to a new element of the design. It’s pretty good, though it’s not what I play Mario Maker for, really; the weird, always mixed in quality fanmade levels are. I also find it a little odd how you have a little bit of 3d control in the hub world, making me want to use the analog stick, but then all levels are of course on a flat plane as all Mario Maker levels are. Why does the hub have that depth, it’s kind of strange. I know some platformers do have 3d hubs with 2.5d levels, and it can work great, but it’s better when both are intended to be controlled with the same thing; that’s not the case here, you really want a d-pad in levels. This is pretty minor though, and Story mode’s great fun. It’s not the same in challenge and length as a NSMB game campaign, but there’s more than enough here to keep you playing for a good while, and hopefully learning about good Mario stage design as well. That tutorial mode has lots more on that line available for anyone who wants it.
So the game is mostly amazing, but it does have a few issues. First, some little touches from the first game, like the skinny Mario and the weird sounds Mario sometimes made while falling into pits are gone. The mostly Nintendo-focused Youtube channel GameXplain did a great video explaining a bunch of the more significant things removed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-Y3vvHvKCk. Some of these things are minor, but others I do miss. One other important thing removed, with one exception, are the numerous costumes that Mario used to be able to wear in the first game which made you appear to be numerous other characters. These only existed in the Super Mario Bros. 1 graphical style, but allowed for a huge variety of character looks to play the game, and for themed levels with the character to match the design of the stage. It was too bad that they were only in the SMB1 style, but still were pretty cool, and they added more costumes over time. That’s all gone here; you can only play as the four characters and nothing else, and you can’t theme a stage for one of the four characters because the player chooses who they are, not the level creator. That’s good — otherwise a lot of levels would surely require everyone to be Mario — but it is worth mentioning. Oh, that one old costume that returns? It’s the giant pixel Mario, which is now a new powerup you can get. It’s a nice addition. It’s too bad that the costumes are gone, but I don’t mind all that much because the restriction to only being able to use them in Mario 1 was quite limiting anyway, they either needed to be in all of the modes or none this time, and they chose none. Oh well.
Additionally, creation is a lot worse than it was before because in my opinion, capacative touch screens are awful compared to reactive for serious gaming purpose. I’ve been saying this for years, but still believe it, and this shows it very clearly! Fingers are horrible for precise touch, so you can’t do much of use with just your hands. So, you’ll need a capacitive stylus that works with the system and allows for precision, which is an additional expense and will have trouble matching the precision of a reactive stylus if they even CAN do that — those awful mushy tips are the worst for precision to say the least! With a good capacitive stylus you can get close to Mario Maker 1’s level of control, but I doubt it’ll ever match it because of the precision limitations of capacitive touch methods. And since the Switch doesn’t come with a stylus or have a place to store a stylus in the system, it’s not nearly as convenient to use either. This is a pretty big limitation. Alternately, you will need to learn the button controls, which I haven’t tried much yet but won’t be as good as direct touch control is. Nintendo put some effort into making button controls that work, with circular item-selection menus which make choosing what you want to place fairly easy, but it’s no match for the speed and precision of a stylus. Considering that creation is half of the game, this is a pretty big problem. The millions of posted stages show that people are overcoming these limitations, but it is a downgrade.
Nintendo’s awful online services are also a problem. Friend codes are a thing in this game, and you can’t bring your Switch friends list, if you have one, into the game; oh no, that would actually make sense, and Nintendo isn’t about making sense when it comes to online anything. So no, you’ve got to trade friends codes outside of the game, and add them manually in Mario Maker. Alternately, if you have a level code you can follow creators that way, but still, they make it a lot harder than it should be. That’s to be expected from Nintendo, but still, it’s annoying. Every player makes a Mario Maker character for online level trading this time too, and unlike Mario Maker 1, this time everyone needs a unique username. Unfortunately, Nintendo has a ten character limit on their usernames, so almost anything reasonably legible was taken immediately. For a game requiring everyone to have a unique username and a large playerbase, you need more than a paltry ten characters for names. There are also horrible lag problems in the simultaneous 4-player multiplayer online mode that are not fixed yet. You can’t save or view replays of good runs within the game, either. Times, yes; replays, no. And Nintendo Online is a paid service?
And last, I’ve referenced this earlier, but in the new endless mode that replaced 100 Marios mode, unplayed levels will never appear this time! Now only levels with a like will. Instead, new levels ONLY go into the New Levels tab in the single-level selection option, so the only ways to get your level played and liked, so it appears in the endless queue, is either to know people who will play your level, beg people online to play your level like everyone else, or hope people play it in the new levels queue, that’s it. I’m sure they were trying to fix the “lots of terrible levels in the 100 Marios mode” problem the first one had sometimes, but this isn’t good either. Also it can take several days for levels to even get into the queue, at the moment… not great. This issue does seem to be getting better, but the basic design of how new levels are handled is not good. I’ve seen the idea of a new levels mode, like the endless mode, but just for new, unplayed/unfinished stages, and that’s a good idea, I think. Having Endless mode start you with only five lives was a mistake as well I think, it’s not nearly enough to get very far. The challenge of seeing whether you could beat 15 stages (or 6 stages, in Super Expert mode) with 100 lives is gone; now I’m lucky to get even a few stages in on Hard. As a result of all this I’ve been playing a lot more single levels from the level browser, often ones from the New (unplayed) Levels tab, instead of lots of 100 Marios mode like I did in the last game. It works well so I don’t mind too much, but it probably is a downgrade overall.
Overall, though, despite some issues, Super Mario Maker 2 is absolutely amazing. I’ve been playing a lot of this game, and for playing levels, it’s everything the first game was but better thanks to all the new stuff! What is here is pretty amazing, and there’s a lot here. It is fantastic that Mario Maker is back and on a more popular system this time, because while the Switch is a lot less perfect for this game than the Wii U was, it’s still fantastic stuff and an all-time great. Mario Maker is one of Nintendo’s best ideas ever and it’s really great that it’s now on the Switch. If I had to choose which of the two games is better overall, right now, I might lean towards the first one because creation is so much better in ways this game can’t match, but it’s close, and that says a lot given the limitations of the capacitive screen. It’s really a case of which is better, better play thanks to all the added options in Mario Maker 2, or better creation thanks to the better screen of Mario Maker 1? Different people will have different opinions there.
Really though, the best answer is ‘they’re both amazing!’. This is an exceptional, must-play game which anyone with a Switch should definitely buy. And it will just get better with time, too, as updates are coming, such as one that will add the ability to play against friends online. I hope to see a second new graphics mode get added eventually as well, in the conspicuously empty space next to 3D World’s; either one of the Game Boy games’ styles or Super Mario Bros. 2 would be perfect additions to this game! They have already added the Superball, so how about the rest of Super Mario Land’s gameplay as a theme, Nintendo? That would be pretty awesome. Regardless, though, this is a game that I, and a lot of other people, will surely be playing on and off for years. It’s outstanding and provides endless hours of incredible fun, and aggravating frustration, as you play the near-endless variety of levels people have created. Seeing what people can create in this game, with its familiar mechanics juxtaposed with levels that may be good and well balanced, or absurdly easy, or absurdly hard to the point of near-impossibility for most, or anything in between, is fascinating and one of the most interesting things in gaming.