Super Mario Maker 2 hands-on preview

Super Mario Maker 2 lets you invite friends to your DIY torture castles

Super Mario Maker 2 has everything the game needs to break out of its niche
Super Mario Maker 2 has everything the game needs to break out of its niche
Super Mario Maker 2 has everything the game needs to break out of its niche

Highs

  • Local/Online Co-op and multiplayer bring group fun
  • Quality of life improvements to Course Builder
  • Story Mode offers a more casual player experience
  • Clear Conditions add more variety and challenge

Lows

  • Wait times on building in Story Mode feel like filler
  • Creating levels on Pro controller doesn't feel great

Super Mario Maker placed the tools of our favorite plumber into the hands of its players, and for the first time ever, gave us the power to create, play, and share our levels. It was a bold move for Nintendo, a company known for holding on tightly to its franchises as if they were little baby Yoshi. Nearly four years after passing Mario’s hammer to its players, Nintendo continues to reap the benefits.

Super Mario Maker retains a fanbase so loyal that Twitch and YouTube creators have made entire careers out of playing their viewers’ creations, often failing miserably at them, but still garnering hundreds of thousands of views. Knowing this, it makes sense we’re getting Super Mario Maker 2. With Story Mode, online and local multiplayer/co-op, and a more robust Course Maker, the sequel tries to broaden the game’s appeal while adding much-wanted features for hardcore fans.

Mario the Hustler

Mario may have ditched his plunger in exchange for an adventure abroad, but Story Mode in Super Mario Maker 2 sees him assume the role of a real hustler. Something terrible has happened to Peach’s castle and, of course, it’s up to Nintendo’s best boy to fix it.

You’re taken to a castle site where you’ll find Taskmaster Toad, Chief Toadette, and the Builder Toads all working on the restoration of the Princess’ castle. The problem is that in order to start rebuilding the castle, the Toads need some coin. Lots of it.

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It’s a premise that struck me as a bit strange. When Nintendo announced that there would be a Story Mode in Super Mario Maker 2, I thought it would be in a more traditional sense, with an overworld Mario could explore and themed levels that set the tone of the story.

Instead, you end up speaking with Taskmaster Toad, who will pull up a board where you’ll find a handful of “Jobs” to complete, each with its own difficulty level and reward. The difficulty is shown using a five-star rating system, with one star being the easiest and five being the hardest. Levels have no direct link to the story, it seems, which was disappointing. They come from strangers with generic names who will pay you to complete them.

Clear Conditions will up the ante as levels become more and more challenging.

The first few Jobs are simple, with a one-star difficulty and a mere 100-coin reward in exchange for completion. The term Jobs is just another word for levels, but the twist is that Super Mario Maker 2 introduces “Clear Conditions.” These are goals that make crossing the finish line in a level the bare minimum. Clear conditions can range from collecting a specific number of coins to killing a certain number of enemies.

This adds what Super Mario Maker 2’s Story Mode needs to keep Jobs interesting, and although I only played through the first few, I can see Clear Conditions upping the ante as levels become more and more challenging. Completion rewards for Jobs can only be collected once, which seems fair considering you can earn more coins by replaying the levels and picking them up the old-fashioned way.

Once you secure the number of coins needed to start the next step in rebuilding the castle, you’ll talk to Chief Toadette, who will take the money from you and start construction. Building a castle takes time, however, and Super Mario Maker 2 wants to make sure you know that. Near the construction site is a timer that uses hammer icons to indicate how long completion will take and how much time is left. Frustratingly, I couldn’t start the next part of the castle if something else was already in progress.

That made me wonder if there’s a potential for microtransactions in Super Mario Maker 2. While nothing shown in the demo indicated that, this is the kind of mechanic I often see in mobile games, like Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp or Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls: Blades. Those games time-gate progress that can be expedited with in-game currency you can buy with real money. It would be uncharacteristic of Nintendo to put microtransactions in its console games, so it’s possible this is just a quirky mechanic meant to lengthen the play time of Super Mario Maker 2’s Story Mode.

Worries of microtransactions aside, the demo we experienced didn’t show anything in the way of an actual story, or the expected structure of a single-player Mario game. While it’s obvious Nintendo wouldn’t want to spoil the intro, all I gathered was the basic premise and structure for Story Mode, which doesn’t feel much like a story at all.

Instead, the single-player mode feels more like a place where casual single players can play levels that aren’t going to have the same absurd difficulty as the ones you’re likely to find in Course World. A noble thing to include, for sure — but maybe give it another name.

Itsa Mario Party

Outside of Super Mario Maker’s Story Mode is the Course Maker and Course World hub. Many players will be familiar with these modes as they make a return from the first game, but this time around, they come bearing new features — and fans will be pleased.

The Course Maker in Super Mario Maker 2 is way easier to use. The overwhelming task of building a level feels much more feasible. The preset bar from Super Mario Maker now displays your most recently used items, which is nice, since I didn’t have to go searching for an item that I just used a few moments ago. You can also hold down on the item and let go to pin it to the bar. Selecting and hanging on an item will reveal all the available customization options for that piece, once again streamlining the creative process. These tweaks should make levels far quicker, and less frustrating, to build.

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Super Mario Maker 2 also replaces the stodgy old navigation with radial menus that display all possible items for each category, a change that is not only easy on the eyes, but far easier to navigate.

The Course Maker in Super Mario Maker 2 is more user-friendly.

Understanding Super Mario Maker 2 Course Creator takes time, especially with the transition to the Nintendo Switch. Creating levels on Switch in handheld mode is easier than on the Pro controller. It makes sense, as the original arrived on the Wii-U and Nintendo 3DS, two systems with handheld touchscreen controls.

There are quite a few more new features, many of which we saw during the Super Mario Maker 2 Nintendo Direct, including the Super Mario 3D game style, day/night mechanics, auto-scrolling, the addition of slopes, and Clear Conditions.

All about those clear conditions

Clear Conditions add an entirely new way to build levels. They’re divided into Actions like reaching the goal without taking damage, Parts like reaching the goal after defeating (x) number of Galoombas, or Status like reach the goal as Super Mario. Clear Conditions are going to be a hit with creators, who will no doubt use them to create clever level designs that feel entirely different from the normal Mario fare.

The biggest game-changer, though, is adding a second player to the creative process. This was alluded to during the intro of the Super Mario Maker 2 Nintendo Direct, where you see Luigi and Mario creating a level together. While I didn’t get to try this new feature out, I think it’s a wonderful way to introduce newcomers to the Course Creator by having someone more skilled at building guiding the way. It’s also a nice addition for parents who want to play with their kids.

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Co-op not only makes its way to the Course Maker, but also to the Course World hub. While you can still enjoy levels as a single player, you can invite up to four other players locally or online to participate. This raises the stakes significantly when you must work together to meet a Clear Condition for a level. During the demo, we spent the most time playing as a group, and it was the most enjoyable part of the entire event.

Four of us were dropped into a castle with a very simple goal: make it to the end. Trying to achieve that, however, was a delightful disaster. With a ton of complicated platforming that left little room for all of us to navigate, and the floor always covered with lava, we found ourselves dying more than we made progress. Luckily, one lone Mario was able to cross the finish line, earning us a win that most of us did not feel proud of. It was chaotic fun, and an experience I’m looking forward to having again.

Super Mario Maker 2 makes the shift from a niche level creator for players that want to be challenged to an experience that offers something for everyone. Yet hardcore fans should be pleased, because the Clear Conditions and other new features make devilish new challenges possible.

I was disappointed in Story Mode, which so far looks like the game’s weak point. Still, I came away with positive vibes. I honestly can’t wait to play it again – only this time, alongside my loved ones. I have a feeling that it will be an even bigger hit than its predecessor when it arrives for Nintendo Switch on June 28.

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