Super Mario Maker 2 preview: Pipe dreams made real
It's well worth a (plumber's) crack.
When it comes to buying a new Super Mario Maker game from Nintendo, the proposition is never going to be a "?" block in my mind. My young sons and I lost many a glorious hour on SMM when it first launched on the Wii U in 2015. It's been a very educational experience for them in one sense, but also worrying in another. I've encouraged their artistic creativity; however, with some of the utter death gauntlets I've built for them – and them for me – I've inadvertently taught them the joy of schadenfreude. I can't imagine how this will backfire on me later in life.
For those of you who don't know what SMM is, let's take a running jump into the concept now. Essentially, what Nintendo delivered was an anomaly in an age where publishers are aggressively nickel and diming players with DLC this and micro-transactions that. SMM was an incredibly powerful DIY platformer kit, featuring an impressively wide array of Super Mario art assets/enemies/etc from the best plumber adventures of yesteryear. Level creation was a joy. The community of share-happy game designers was immense. SMM was easily one of the best things going on Wii U.
It was so good, I'd have been perfectly happy with a lazy port to the Nintendo Switch (which isn't a sentence I thought I'd ever type). That said, the Big N has decided to double down with a bona-fide sequel that's bursting with new additions to the formula and the most sought after feature that was lacking in the original – multiplayer.
This time around you can team up with (or sneakily thwart) your friends, both locally and over the Internet. Duking it out with four Joy-Cons controlling Mario, Luigi, Toad and Toadette is utter chaos, and I doubt the four-player foul-play will ever get old. Even my recent two-player hands-on was frenetic. A full quartet at my house is going to be madness.
When you're not at each other's throats in a quest to pilfer coins and nudge your cohorts into bottomless pits, you can build together. In creation mode, two players using the same console can collaborate (or duel pointers) to slap together a level. Once you've made something truly nefarious, it can be attempted in either Co-op (work together to get everybody to the flag) or Versus mode (whoever makes it all the way rightward the fastest wins).
Players of a lazier persuasion can also access the community-created levels through an option entitled Course World. The "Popular" tab will keep you in the sweet spot of the best stuff, or you can be a digital pioneer of sorts by sifting through "New". Even better, Nintendo lets its builders add tags, such as "Puzzle-solving", "Auto Scrolling" or "Multiplayer Versus", so that you can stick to your favourite flavour.
Likewise, you can restrict your window shopping to the mechanics and rule sets of certain Super Mario themes. SMM2 expands these flavours greatly by offering you levels that look like they've been exported straight out of either Super Mario Bros. (1985), Super Mario World (1990), New Super Mario Bros. U (2012) or Super Mario 3D World (2013). Personally speaking, I was a huge fan of reuniting with my beloved lateral jump button and Catsuit power-up from 3D World. I expect a huge swathe of the Nintendo faithful to go gaga over the capes and rideable Yoshis delivered by the utterly adored Super Mario World.
I'm also left mightily impressed with the new Story Mode. Without getting too much into the reasons why, Mario has been tasked into building a castle from scratch (which feels like more of an architect's gig rather than a plumber's, but I digress). The twist: in order to fund construction, you'll need to make a choice of a small pool of unlocked levels, beat them, and then use the coins you've liberated to fund the next set of renovations. I played it for 30 minutes, and its simplicity was matched only by its one-more-go addiction.
I also found it impossible to escape the event horizon of the black hole that was Nintendo's homemade create-a-level. One of the good things about being able to preview this at Nintendo HQ was the chance to see what its employees have been making and sharing with one another. For the record: Ninty's Japanese employees make the most insanely difficult ones – I learned the hard way. Many, many, many times.
That said, some of the European folk were good at lulling me into a false sense of security before they whipped the rug out from under me. For example: I clicked into a level ignominiously called "Kill One Goomba". Upon spawning, I saw a single screen world that had the exit flag right in front of me, ready to whisk me away after I'd dispatched said Goomba. Seeing none, I dived into the only green pipe available. It took me down to hell, my friends. I can't rightly explain the madness that awaited below, nor should I because my therapist said that any attempt at recall would undo a lot of our expensive sessions.
What I can say is that the only way I could beat this task was to enlist the help of some couch co-op friends. You know, the good stuff that we almost never do anymore – swap the controller turn-for-turn multiplayer. For a good 30 minutes it was like I was in 1985 again – without the Flock of Seagulls hairdos. It was awesome.
Super Mario Maker 2 is imminent, people. It will be making its way to Nintendo Switch on 28 June. There's no doubt in my mind that it will be the game purchase gift that will keep on giving, and giving and giving. Get your plumber overalls on and prepare to get all over it.