I played a whole lot of Super Mario Maker on the doomed-but-delightful Wii U. Perhaps not as much as VICE’s own Mario Maker king, Patrick, but I made half a dozen courses, played daily for awhile, and even ran a little Youtube series for discovering cool and weird stages. This is all to say I’m going into next month’s sequel with high expectations, and after a 90 minute preview event last week, things look to be on track.
Nintendo offered hands on time with the single player story mode, about thirty minutes to play with the updated create mode, and the remaining time in the chaos of four-player co-op. My overall impression? There’s simply more of everything, and in this way, the progression here feels similar to the massive jump from LittleBigPlanet to LittleBigPlanet 2. Like LBP, the first Super Mario Maker was a brilliant proof of concept, offering the internet a toolset approachable enough to build a big buffet of levels—many terrible, but some brilliant. Mario Maker 2, like LBP 2, has the same emphasis on an expanded toolbox and a hugely improved single player mode.
In story mode, you help to rebuild Peach’s castle by completing “jobs”—beating levels gives you coins you’ll use towards, say, building the foundation back up. It’s a little weird to think of playing an individual Mario stage as a gig—and surely, there will be a thinkpiece there, once the game is out—but my friendly demo folks kept exclaiming that there were over 100 pre-built stages here, all showing off cool new features.
Naturally, the mode serves very much as inspiration for the expanded creation toys, showing off all the new bells and whistles. So many of the stages I played introduced ideas meant to tantalize the Mario Making mind: There is now an on/off switch toggle that can be used for puzzles, there are controllable vehicles, and day/night modes to the available palettes (a change which also introduce new mechanics.)
One stage I played had a rising and ebbing lava tide, requiring some good old reflexes and timing to avoid burning Mario to a crisp. Another had me riding a Bowser floaty in a sort of rapidly scrolling shoot-em-up scheme, where I had to find lines through “bullet hell”-esque waves of enemies across the screen. In yet another, I was given a sort of “armory” of options—a vehicle, armor, and fireflower—and then pitted against three bowsers stacked on top of one another, a clever little nod to RPG mechanics in a simplified Mario package. And some stages hinted at the new conditions mechanic: to beat some levels, you have to collect 100 coins, or, say, kill two koopas. Or never use the jump button.
All of these are a tease, a wink towards just how far you can take any one of these elements in your own creations. Therein lies the best part of Mario Maker, for someone like me: the interplay between inspiration and experimentation. I’ll play a level I enjoyed or found something new to mess with, then try to recreate it or riff on it in my own little levels. I rarely actually published stages in the last game—but I’m hoping to do more of it when 2 rolls around. That “oh shit!” moment when you realize a new mechanic is possible—and start to think about how else it can be used—is pure genius. That’s what’s fun about game design, and Mario Maker has always been great at tapping into that.
The third major pillar here, aside from the story mode and expanded toolset, is the game’s new multiplayer mode. The third section of our demo was all about playing a number of sample stages with three other attendees, New Super Mario Bros.-style, with all four of us trying to get through a course cooperatively... meaning that we mostly worked together, but also trolled each other through the proceedings. Even with strangers, this was extremely fun.
One stage had using Super Mario 3D World’s Cat Mario power-ups, climbing fences to collect 100 coins, all while evil puffer fish tried to eat us. In the chaos of the level, we wound up crossing the finish line prematurely (with only 70-something coins), and it was totally blanked out! We had to go back to the fish room and collect our quarry. So we were looking at some of those new win conditions as well as 4-player functionality, all of it very smooth (though our “cooperation“ was, perhaps, less so).
Really, my only concern is that, to enjoy everything this time around, you’ll need to pay for Nintendo’s online service if you want to share your own designs, download levels from other players, or play multiplayer. To encourage players to hop onto Nintendo Online, the company will be offering a bundle of the game plus 12 months of the service for about $70. (The game alone is the usual $59.99). It’s not that I don’t think that’s a decent price, but it’s pretty clear that, without the online component, you won’t be able to to enjoy Mario Maker 2 to the fullest.
That caveat aside, I’m very excited to dig into the new game and all the weird, wonderful things people will make with it. Folks are still making incredible stages with the original game’s toolset, so I can only expect bigger, wilder things with an expanded palette on June 28th.