I'll admit, I'm far more interested in exploring the insane creations of the Mario Maker community than putting together my own levels. (It didn't help knowing that anything I made would be wiped ahead of the game's release.) But after spending a few hours crafting a Super Mario World and Mario 3 entries, I've come to appreciate the building process as a form of zen meditation.
You start with a fairly blank slate: Just choose the style of Mario game (sadly, there's no Mario 2), pick a level theme and you're free to proceed however you'd like. Do you want to make something welcoming for new players, or do you want to challenge seasoned fans? Maybe you just want to troll players with insane platforming requirements. It's entirely up to you. If you're plum out of ideas, there are also some helpful tutorials to guide you through early stage development.
Thankfully, the Switch is a far better device for actually building Mario levels than the Wii U or 3DS. Mostly, that's because it has a capacitive touchscreen display, so choosing options and moving items around the stage is more like swiping your fingers on your phone. Both the previous consoles required styli for their sluggish resistive touchscreens. Nintendo also optimized the level editor: The top bar now dynamically includes your most recent item selections (you can also pin them there for safe keeping). Once you've placed an item on your stage, you can also hold down for additional options (for example, adding wings to keep a mushroom afloat).
Nintendo also did a surprisingly good job of adapting the level editor to the Switch's controllers, something you'll need to use whenever the console is docked to your TV. I was able to put together most of a Mario World stage with the Pro Controller, and while it wasn't as seamless as using the touchscreen, it was still easier than I expected.
As I put that level together, I was instantly thrown back to all the hours I spent playing Super Mario World on the SNES. I threw a Magikoopa up front to keep players on their toes, added a cape feather above a mini-tornado (which itself was right next to a ravenous chain chomp) and set up a runway and coin path to fly to the rest of the stage. For a challenge, I dropped in Bowser Jr. and added a clear condition to defeat him to complete the stage. That's a new feature in Mario Maker 2, and it's bound to be contentious. Clear conditions have a way of turning seemingly simple stages into brain melters (I'm still haunted by a level with a single hidden coin that I couldn't find).
This time around, Nintendo also added Super Mario 3D World to the level types, which introduces a slew of new enemies (a Banzai Bill that shoots towards the camera!) and power-ups (the cat suit!). Unlike the other stage types, you can't easily switch your custom level into 3D World mode, it's just too different from the rest of Nintendo's library. And to be honest, I've got a lot less affection for this game type. I've got nothing against the 3D World games, it's just that my love for sprite-based Mario platformers runs too deep.
The game also adds a few multiplayer options: You can create stages with a friend and have up to four players run through levels. I didn't get a chance to test those out for this review, unfortunately. But I did have a blast joining up with three other journalists during my preview of the game -- none of us knew each other, but running and jumping together through a Mario level was an instant ice breaker.
Super Mario Maker 2 hits all of my nostalgia points, so I'm probably too biased to judge it fairly. Like many children of the '80s, I grew up with Mario. I vividly remember the day I learned you could warp through pipes (and just how confused my parents were when five-year-old me tried to explain it). When compared with the endless possibilities of a modern 3D game like Minecraft, how can something focused on creating 2D platforming levels seem anything but quaint? And yet, Mario Maker 2 still feels like another Nintendo classic.