When I reviewed the first in 2015, I lamented that the game didn’t debut years earlier as a Wii U console launch title.
No other game before or since so easily showed off the benefits of that 2012 system’s tablet controller and online community features. And though the Wii U’s retail life fizzled shortly after ’s release, a dedicated community of makers and players kept their aging consoles plugged in, carefully pushing the game’s course-making systems as far as they could go with truly inventive and imaginative levels.
This week, Nintendo is finally bringing a sequel to a platform with a healthy future ahead of it, rebuilding the game for a Switch tablet that can also be played on the go. The long-awaited sequel brings enough new features and quality-of-life improvements to justify the impending permanent loss of literally millions of levels created for the first game. But the package is still missing some key features that have me worried about how easy it will be to discover quality levels after launch.
Break the lock
Those who remember the ridiculous nine-day process to unlock ’s course creation tools will be happy to know that in the sequel, nearly everything is unlocked right from the start. Playing through Story Mode only provides two esoteric new items for use in levels, as well as a variety of cosmetic outfits to dress up your “creator avatar.”
One of the biggest additions in is an offline Story Mode. Seemingly inspired by the similar (and excellent) course collection in the wholly offline , Story Mode here comprises over 120 pre-built courses, all made with the game’s construction set.
In this, Story Mode acts as an extended tutorial not just on individual building parts, but on how to build those parts into a course. Most of these courses aren’t long, and most aren’t all that challenging for those with some Mario experience, but they’re built with the kind of guided care and internal thematic consistency that you don’t reliably find when playing random online levels. Spending a few hours working through them is great inspiration for your own course construction efforts.
Let’s get building
I won’t belabor things by listing every single new course-building feature added for . You can read about them (and watch a video explanation from Nintendo) over here.
The most impactful change might be the option to add secondary requirements that must be met before a player can finish a course. Examples include: collecting a certain number of coins; defeating a certain number of specific enemies; carrying a specific item or special power to the finish; or even forcing Mario to never leave the ground.
In the original , course makers could approximate some of these sub-goals by using existing tools in clever ways (especially after a post-launch update added features like keys and checkpoints). Still, in the sequel it’s much easier to craft courses where simply getting to the end isn’t the only goal. Forcing players to find hidden coins in out-of-the-way areas or kill large groups of enemies spread throughout a course (rather than just avoiding them) can now be a requirement, not just a fun “extra” challenge for ambitious players.
Grab your tools
While the first made great use of the Wii U’s touchscreen and stylus, building courses with buttons and analog sticks feels pretty natural with the Switch in docked mode. Switch between the d-pad, which lets you navigate menu selections around the border, and the analog stick, which lets you move and place course objects.
Using the touchscreen to place objects in handheld mode was a different matter. I found my fat fingers kept getting in the way of seeing what I was doing, and Nintendo doesn’t let “portable mode” players use the Joy-Cons’ buttons. You might want to invest in a Switch-compatible stylus if you’re planning to do a lot of course-building on the go.
There’s also a two-player course-building option in docked mode, but it forces each player to use a single Joy-Con and limits how much the second player can do directly. It’s more a cute novelty than a collaborative work solution.
Then there’s ’s entirely new course theme, a 2D take on the look and style of . This theme feels familiar and strange in equal measure, with 3D objects and enemies crammed sometimes awkwardly into a side-scrolling mode. Mario’s physics and new moves (like a 2D long jump and a hard-to-read, cat-suit-powered wall climb) take some getting used to here. I kept expecting things to feel more like despite persistent differences.
Still, I was enamored with this course theme’s new creation options, including clear pipes (which can send Mario and enemies twisting to a new location), blinking blocks (which flip on and off on a set timer), and an ! block (which grows a temporary path as you hit it repeatedly). I was the least interested in the Koopa Car, which sends Mario moving unstoppably in a single direction and seems most useful for courses that mostly play themselves.
None of these new “3D World” objects can be used in the returning 2D game styles, which is a bit of a shame for those who want some visual and control variety. But the existing styles also get some new course-making tools that range from cute to transformative. Some, like On/Off switches (which toggle entire sets of blocks or paths when hit), can change courses significantly in response to player action. Others, like the Angry Sun, seem a bit one-note. Still others, like sloped surfaces, feel like they should have been part of the series all along.
New background types add a welcome bit of visual variety, but the accompanying gameplay tweaks in “night mode” are more of a mixed bag. The slow, high-flying jumps found in new low-gravity courses are great for creating a more languorous feeling, but courses that play out upside-down are just more annoying versions of those where gravity points downward. The shifting winds in the desert also seemed more frustrating than transformative, while the limited visibility in a Ghost House adds a nice claustrophobic feeling that can also help hide the wider course design.