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Super Mario Maker 2 review: a simple sequel that still manages to exceed expectations

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that Super Mario Maker 2 is good. Just how good it is exceeds expectations, however.

After Splatoon 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Nintendo pretty much has my absolute trust when it comes to bringing the Wii U's finest games over to the Switch with just enough enhancements and additions to call it a fully-fledged sequel. Super Mario Maker 2 is exactly that: it's everything that made Mario Maker great on Nintendo's previous hardware, but on a system that you actually want to play.

Given that Super Mario Maker was a pretty strong case for a purchase all by itself, that already makes this an easy recommendation. Even before talking about the new stuff that's been added, I'd argue it's an easy addition to a list of must-buy games for the Switch. The new stuff is simply a particularly brilliant bonus.

If you're new to Mario Maker the name is hopefully pretty self-explanatory. It approximates the tools Nintendo itself has built for crafting 2D Mario adventures and turns that toolset over to players. You can either get creative building levels of your own design or hop online to Course World where you'll find a practically limitless number of creations from other players ranging from gimmick-driven frolics to nefarious puzzle-like stages. It's brilliant.

Levels can be created in a range of styles - Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. Each is replicated in detail in this engine. Mario's move set, handling and power up suite varies from theme to theme. Some key features missing from the previous game are here this time around including SMB3's Angry Sun enemy and auto-scrolling options. Another new addition is that when the Switch is docked there are half-decent button-based controls for stage building, but they're a compromise at best. The tools are designed for the touch screen, and are even at their absolute best with a stylus rather than a finger. With this in mind the more traditional controls are less a weakness so much as a necessary extra - but I wouldn't recommend people use them.

In other areas Mario Maker 2 embraces the online community that evolved around the previous game. One example of this is level completion objectives; where players had to create sadistic mechanisms to prevent Mario from jumping in the previous game, this time around that appears as a level completion that can be set and controlled alongside other conditions like killing a certain number of enemies or collecting a certain number of coins.

Every level style can now be played in multiplayer, and though that'll currently be restricted to local co-operative sessions or online with strangers, Nintendo has pledged to make online play with friends possible in a post-launch patch. The multiplayer is the same sort of fun over-the-top chaos found in the recent Mario titles, though another thing Nintendo probably needs to add is a tag and filter to mark out stages that are specifically designed to be experienced in multiplayer, as not all are multiplayer friendly.

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Also all-new is a Super Mario 3D World game style. This isn't full 3D as those games are, but instead takes the power ups and design differences showcased in 3D world and translates them over to traditional 2D Mario. So different is this theme that it's the only one siloed off away from the rest of the game entirely - and that fact makes it particularly exciting in terms of the variety it'll be able to add to players' online submissions.

This is the heart of Super Mario Maker, and while before the game is widely released it's difficult to absolutely judge the quality of Course World, the previous game was good enough that it's easy to give it the preliminary thumbs up. There's something here for everyone; the endless flow of new Mario levels from other players is incredibly useful for kids or those who aren't creatively inclined, while the creation tools are in-depth enough to allow a great deal of flexibility for those who are creative. That flexibility benefits everybody, too - it results in a wider variety of high quality levels with lots of different play styles.

Where this sequel is truly expansive is in single-player content beyond just nabbing levels from online, however. Included is a full story mode with over 100 levels, and rather than being strung together in a traditional fashion the presentation and design of these stages is firmly rooted in what Mario Maker is all about. Which is, you know, Making Mario.

The wafer-thin story justification is that Princess Peach's castle has been demolished and you need to build a new one. Peach's Castle is a 2.5D overworld, and you head out on missions by talking to NPCs. Each stage serves two purposes: for one, it helps you to earn coins that can be spent on a new castle. More importantly, each stage broadly serves to demonstrate some clever thing that can be done with the Mario Maker tools in unique stages developed by folks at Nintendo intimately experienced with building Mario stages.

Sometimes these stages are tiny and puzzle-like, beatable within a few seconds once you understand what to do. Others are labyrinthine puzzles or tight tests of your jump timing and beyond - it's all here.

This is where Mario Maker 2 exceeded my expectations. Every time I thought I'd seen the last cute gimmick, another impressive way of combining level elements to create something unique cropped up. Because in many ways this game is about abusing the tools as much as respecting them even the Nintendo-designed levels don't always follow the traditional rules of Mario, often subverting those expectations in ways that'll make you want to pull up the builder and experiment with creating that yourself.

The levels work as a design masterclass that'll get even the most unsure of players ready for creating levels for the wider world to download and experience - and when you think the story is over, with Peach's castle rebuilt, there's still loads to do. For me the castle was built after completing a little over 60 levels, but then 'post-game' things begin to populate: new NPCs adding more levels and even little puzzles in the castle overworld that lead to yet more stages and additional unlocks like outfits for the Mii that represents you in course mode and multiplayer.

It all feels like a lot of content. Iterative sequels are obviously pretty common in video games, but when a game is built around user-generated content it's plainly more difficult to get right. Super Mario Maker 2 nails it, however, mashing together the joy of 2D Mario and the frightening ingenuity of a huge community of players to make for a Switch game we could easily all be playing in a decade. It's difficult to think of a more compelling argument than that.

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