It's impossible to play Super Mario Maker 2 without having a huge smile on your face. It's a total deconstruction of what makes Nintendo's 2D platforming franchise so special. You're just a plumber, standing on a stage, hoping to make it to the goal intact. The real hook, of course, is that you can take everything you've learned from Mario games over the years and craft your own levels, with the freedom to make them as simple or thumb-numbingly complex as you'd like. And if you're just in the mood to play, you've got a practically endless supply of levels from Nintendo and the online community to feed on. There's no doubt Super Mario Maker 2 banks heavily on nostalgia, but it's also a way for both old and new players to truly grasp the power of 2D platformers.
Gallery: Super Mario Maker 2 | 35 Photos
Gallery: Super Mario Maker 2 | 35 Photos
The original Super Mario Maker debuted on the ill-fated Wii U in 2015, and it also made an appearance on the 3DS (with the sad omission of online support). As I noted in my preview of Mario Maker 2, the Switch is a far better console home for the series. You can play the game anywhere -- which is particularly helpful while building stages -- and then easily throw it on your TV for some big screen action. I would have been satisfied if Nintendo just brought the last entry over to the Switch when the system launched and called it a day. But given it's been so long, a full-fledged sequel made more sense.
The biggest change? There's finally a story mode, in addition to the core level creation and online community. Nintendo doesn't really break any new narrative ground -- the story just has you rebuilding Peach's Castle by playing through levels and earning coins -- but it's still a fun diversion when you don't feel like building stages. Even though the game is leaning on a pretty basic adventure game mechanic, it was enough to keep me consistently playing late into the night (just 150 more coins and I'll finally complete the West Tower!). It helps that most of the stages in story mode are well designed, and they often serve as inspirations for your own levels.
Still, I wish Nintendo pushed a bit harder with the story mode. There's no world map to speak of, you're mainly just running around Peach's Castle. There aren't really many surprises either -- you'll find a few warp pipes and extra coins, but that's about it. I figure Nintendo wanted to focus more energy on the level building aspects of Mario Maker 2, but I would have liked to see something bolder, like the single player World of Light mode in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Then again, you might not even notice how threadbare the story mode is as you're diving into all the levels being created by the Mario Maker community. The game does a solid job of surfacing new and popular entries, which you can play almost instantly or download to your system to edit (think of it like the Mario equivalent of a web browser's View Source option). There's also a new endless mode, which throws stage after stage at you until you run out of lives. It sounds simple, but in practice it's genuinely exciting because you never know what sort of level you'll get. One might force you stay in the air after your first jump, while another has you driving cars through piles of enemies on your way to the goal.
Super Mario Maker 2's longevity will depend on its online community. And even though I was testing the game out on a private media server, I still stumbled into some ingenious creations (as well as a few truly infuriating ones). I'd wager we'll see some truly wild stuff once everyone can jump aboard Mario Maker 2. The original game managed to attract a dedicated following of creators on the Wii U -- now that Nintendo has a wildly popular console again and a full-fledged online network, that community can only get stronger.
Naturally, you'll need to subscribe to the Switch's online service to take full advantage of the game, but Nintendo is at least offering a year-long subscription with the $70 Mario Maker 2 bundle. (Typically, Switch Online costs $20 a year, or $4 a month.) Nintendo hasn't done a great job of selling the benefits of Switch Online so far, but I'd bet this game will encourage hesitant players to sign up. Otherwise, you're locked out of some of its most compelling features.