Much of the allure of the original Super Mario Maker stemmed from the seemingly endless possibilities it afforded, even if that didn't turn out to be quite true. Robust as that game's course editor may have been, it didn't allow players to create certain basic Mario elements, such as sloped terrain, and some of the series' most iconic enemies were notably missing from its toolbox. Even so, the title proved to be a critical and commercial success, and for its Switch follow-up, Super Mario Maker 2, Nintendo has taken the foundation laid down by the original and embellished it in nearly every conceivable way.
We recently had a chance to attend a Super Mario Maker 2 demo event, where we were able to go hands-on with the game and sample some of the new features Nintendo has introduced. Like its predecessor, the centerpiece of Super Mario Maker 2 is the course editor, which features a wealth of tools with which to build your own Mario levels. Along with the full suite of course parts from the original game, Super Mario Maker 2 offers a variety of new customization options, from new course themes and stage hazards to a greater array of enemies and items. All of the features so conspicuously missing from the first title are present and accounted for here, along with a plethora of other tools you may not have even thought of but which now seem indispensable, such as the ability to customize the trajectory of autoscrolling levels.
One of the most profound new features in Super Mario Maker 2 is the option to impose clear conditions--goals that players must meet before they can complete the level. These can run the gamut from collecting a certain number of coins to more specific objectives, such as defeating a particular enemy or reaching the flagpole without taking damage. The game offers a staggering number of clear conditions to choose from, opening up a whole new dimension of design possibilities; you can, for instance, build a course that must be cleared without jumping, completely upending the traditional rules of the series.
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As in the original Super Mario Maker, you can design your stages in the style of several different Mario games: the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U, and the newly added Super Mario 3D World. The latter boasts its own unique assortment of enemies and tools that makes it distinct from the other game styles, and switching to it from one of the other options while in the course editor will cause the entire level to reset. Between all of the different themes, items, and clear conditions, there's a mind-reeling array of customization options at your disposal in Super Mario Maker 2, but the process of building stages is remarkably intuitive, thanks to the ease with which you can lay down course parts and immediately test out your creation.
As with the first game, you can edit your stages using either a controller or the Switch's touch screen. However, whereas the Wii U GamePad's built-in display allowed you to use the latter method whether you played on the television or in Off-TV mode, you can only use the Switch's touch screen when playing the console undocked. If you play the game on a television, you'll have no choice but to build levels using Joy-Cons or a Switch Pro controller, neither of which feels well-suited. Placing terrain and objects with the control stick is much more cumbersome than doing so by tapping on the touch screen, so if you're interested in Super Mario Maker 2, you'll want to pick up a Switch-compatible stylus to have the best experience.
Fortunately, Nintendo has implemented a handful of quality-of-life improvements to the course editor that somewhat help mitigate the control issues. This time around, you no longer need to shake enemies or combine them with certain items in order to change their forms; you can simply tap on them and select their different permutations from the menu. As fun as it was to manually discover all of the possible item and enemy combinations in the first game, this change helps streamline the building process. Moreover, tools are now grouped into categories that you navigate using radial menus. The top toolbar is also automatically populated with the tools you most frequently use, and you can pin specific parts to the bar for easy access.
Beyond all of the new toys in the course editor, another significant addition in Super Mario Maker 2 is Story mode, which boasts more than 100 pre-made levels fashioned by Nintendo's designers. Unlike a traditional Mario platformer, Story mode doesn't whisk you through eight themed worlds on a quest to rescue Princess Peach; rather, it tasks you with rebuilding the princess's castle, which involves amassing coins by taking on "jobs" from bulletin boards and other characters. Each of these jobs comes in the form of a different level, and completing them rewards you with the coinage necessary to fund the reconstruction process. It's not a proper Mario adventure, but it does offer a more structured way to experience the game's pre-made levels than the original Mario Maker did, and the courses we've sampled are as clever as you'd expect from Nintendo.
Rounding out the new features is multiplayer. Whereas the original Super Mario Maker was a decidedly solitary experience (unless you passed the controller around to others gathered in the same room), Super Mario Maker 2 gives you the option not only to build courses with a nearby player, but to play any of the game's stages in Co-Op or Versus modes, either locally or online. As in New Super Mario Bros. U, up to four players can tackle a course simultaneously, which quickly devolves into a chaotic fight for survival as each person vies to avoid stage hazards and accidentally--or intentionally--knocks each other into pits and enemies. That you can play any stage in multiplayer adds yet another dimension to the experience, making Super Mario Maker 2 as much a party game as it is a level editor.
How well the multiplayer experience holds up online remains to be seen, but between all of the new features and tools Nintendo has introduced, Super Mario Maker 2 certainly has the potential to be, if not quite endless, then certainly one of the most compelling time sinks in the Switch's library. The game launches on June 28, and as with other online-enabled titles for the console, you'll need to have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to take advantage of its online features. However, Nintendo is offering a bundle that includes a 12-month membership with a copy of the game for $70, saving you $10 over the regular cost of an individual 12-month subscription. You can read more details about the bundle in our Super Mario Maker 2 pre-order guide.