Mario: The Mickey Mouse of gaming, the pioneer of the home console, and the hero of platforming. He’s the go-to when people think of video games—or plumbers, for that matter. He’s been featured in over 200 games since his 1985 debut (1981 debut, if we count Jumpman in Donkey Kong). Super Mario Maker 2, which hits the Nintendo Switch Friday, is the ultimate celebration of the red-clad plumber’s history and his Makers. And it’s been a long time coming.
Nintendo always had an affinity for customizable, DIY gameplay, whether it was letting you figure out how to write “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Mario Paint, construct a paintbrush-wielding elephant out of cardboard with the Labo, or even build stages that none of your friends agreed to play on in the Smash Bros. series. Hell, Nintendo even turned half its characters into yarn. The fathers of Mario—Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, and composer Koji Kondo—always had a knack for keeping the fun in gaming. While so many other companies focused on the look of games or the technical marvel of a title, Nintendo made a Yoshi out of yarn and a controller out of stiff paper—and it consistently kicked the competition’s ass. And Mario himself, the lovable, corporate fat cat of the gaming universe with a firm grip on kart racers, party games, and sports games since the ’90s, became ground zero for Nintendo’s crafty nature.
Miyamoto and Tezuka have explained that in the early days, Mario levels were designed on graph paper. They then upgraded their internal tools to digital software to create the levels. Fans had wanted some version of a Mario builder to try their hand at digitally designing levels since 1992’s Mario Paint, but they were answered with radio silence from Nintendo. So when Little Big Planet, a game that centered around players creating and sharing their own levels, launched in 2008 on PlayStation 3, many tried to recreate classic Mario levels within it.
In a 2009 interview, Miyamoto was asked if he had thought about putting out a level creator from the Mario team, due to the extensive interest shown in mimicking Mario levels through Little Big Planet. Miyamoto responded, “This is something that I have interest in exploring, and Mario levels are well suited for it.”
Then came the disastrous miracle that was the Wii U console. Tezuka later revealed in an interview that his team had been having a lot of fun with level design tools on the Wii U GamePad and pitched the feature for a new Mario Paint title. That didn’t exactly pan out: What would have been Mario Paint U actually became the first Super Mario Maker, which was announced in 2014. Its trailer started with the first section from the original Super Mario Bros., a level that all of us had memorized by this point. But after leaping over the first green pipe, Mario came across a much taller green pipe, and a hand appeared with a stylus and tool bar to shrink the pipe. You were in.
When it was finally released in September 2015, the reception for Super Mario Maker couldn’t have been better. With YouTubers like Jirard Khalil (The Completionist) and Ross O’Donovan (RubberNinja and Game Grumps) creating top-of-the-line levels and sharing codes with viewers, Super Mario Maker had a booming community and creativity aspect that few games have ever achieved. It was an absolute slam dunk, but on a failure of a system. (Super Mario Maker later came out with a port on 3DS.)
Then, in 2017, the Nintendo Switch burst onto the market, marking a huge improvement from the black sheep Wii U. Fans clamored for a brand new iteration of Mario Maker for the handy handheld. Finally, they’re getting it.
Super Mario Maker 2 checks off a wishlist of new features, including slopes, new visual game styles, and 3D world mode, and it has empty slots that make it seem like more is coming. There’s multiplayer building, and co-op and versus (both local and online). It even features new arrangements from Kondo, who brought us all that iconic Mario music but has only composed here and there since the early 2000s. Switch owners now vastly outnumber Wii U owners back in the day, so the community promises to be more vibrant than ever. After playing through small portions of the building and multiplayer modes, it’s safe to say this is going to be a hit.
While building still works better in handheld mode, new short cuts and a menu upgrade from the Wii U title allow for faster work. The new multiplayer modes and online search functionality (it’s somewhat fixed) really drive home how much closer this game is to being a perfect package than the already fantastic first iteration. Multiplayer is hectic in a good way, and the online leader boards and points system for playing and creating keep it competitive, regardless of your forte. A few missteps—like not being able to play online co-op versus with friends, only random players—will be fixed in later updates.
The game is an absolute celebration of everything Mario and Nintendo has stood for in gaming: creativity in the hands of the player. Whether you’re here to make cute artistic levels or devilish hellscapes with a 0.001-percent clear rate, Super Mario Maker 2 supplies you with what you need to get it done.