For a certain type of person, the core idea behind Super Mario Maker describes their perfect game. Nintendo designed an easy-to-use level editor and basically let players have at it, leading to an explosion in creativity and community that not even the Wii U's relative unpopularity could stifle. Moving to Super Mario Maker 2 on the Switch, then, seemingly had the potential to make user-made Mario into an even bigger phenomenon. The consensus at USgamer is that it doesn't feel like it has.
Released a year ago yesterday, Super Mario Maker 2 reviewed well here and at many other publications. The sequel has already outsold the original by over a million copies. It serves as the main streaming game for several folks with tens of thousands of subscribers. Its two big updates both added features and functionality that the community, by and large, seem to enjoy. In all those terms, Super Mario Maker 2 has been a success.
If it doesn't feel like Super Mario Maker 2 is as big a deal as its predecessor, then, it's worth not only interrogating why that might be—the missed opportunities and potential improvements it could still benefit from—but to talk to the streamers who continue to be entertained by it. Even though Super Mario Maker 2 has seen its "final major update," these folks will likely keep at it for a long time. Who better to weigh in on what Super Mario Maker 2 does and doesn't get right?
Sizing Up Its Success As a Sequel
Ahead of Super Mario Maker 2's unveiling early last year, lots of Mario Maker fans were hoping for a port to the Switch, with a proper sequel being a pipedream scenario. When it was indeed confirmed to be a sequel, expectations were immediately raised. In the end though, Mario Maker 2 didn't quite match the highest hopes of its fanbase.
Just a month before its release, word that Super Mario Maker 2 wouldn't include the option of online play with friends caused a stir in the community. Here was a sequel delivering the highly requested addition of multiplayer, a boon to its tight knit streaming community, but then it would only allow for matchmade games. It was a stumbling point, and a bit of a sign of things to come.
When it was released a few weeks later, USG Reviews Editor Mike Williams gave Super Mario Maker 2 a solid score, but also said that it amounted to "two steps forward against the one step back." One streamer I spoke to echoes this sentiment.
"As someone who played the original Super Mario Maker for over 7500 hours and built a career streaming it, I was extremely excited for the sequel," says Aurateur, who has been streaming since late 2015 and now has over 140,000 followers on Twitch. "Overall, I'd say it met my high expectations, but in typical Nintendo fashion, there were some odd changes that didn't sit well with the community. Super Mario Maker 2 is clearly the better Mario Maker experience, but I'd say, at launch at least, it felt like two steps forward, one step back."
The odd changes that Aurateur refers to include the decision to swap the 100-Mario Challenge for the Endless Mario Challenge, the elimination of any way to edit someone else's level, the omission of Amiibo costumes, and some tweaks or removals of oft-used movement and level creation tricks. Perhaps the most unfortunate change was Nintendo's decision to not create a level bookmarking website for the sequel.
Still, Aurateur says, Mario Maker 2 had enough new content to be regarded as a worthy follow-up, even with the somewhat controversial changes. "A brand new Mario version [3D World], a new versus mode, a new story mode, tons of new course parts, level themes, clear conditions, and nighttime mechanics—I think Nintendo exceeded the expectations of the entire community with the amount of new content," he says.
"I played a lot of Mario Maker 1," says Feen a.k.a. thedragonfeeney, who streams to an audience of over 82,000 Twitch followers. "That was my quote unquote stream game, and when I found out about Super Mario Maker 2 on the Direct back in February 2019, it was... I cried. I cried, I was so excited for it. [...] There's a whole new theme in Super Mario Maker 2 that is incredible, in my opinion. I feel that it is a good, true sequel, and that there's enough differences between 1 and 2 to make it proper, or make it feel proper at least."
Ryukahr, who has 168,000 Twitch followers, and is also known for speedrunning Mario ROM hacks, says that the sequel gave "level creators [...] a much bigger kit to work with when designing levels," which alone was enough to "completely transform the game." Indeed, just the additions like sloping terrain and the Mario 3D World theme with its mechanics opened up Mario Maker 2 to design possibilities far beyond that of the first game.
The Highs and Lows of Mario Maker-dom
Ahead of the sequel's release, it seemed like Nintendo might also be more proactive in communicating with and supporting the Mario Maker community this time around. A few weeks before the game launched, Nintendo hosted a Super Mario Maker 2 Invitational. Also prior to launch, Nintendo announced plans to add the ability to play multiplayer with friends. It seemed like Nintendo was listening to the Mario Maker community more actively.
It took until October to get that multiplayer patch, though. Super Mario Maker 2 also went through a high-profile repeat of a troubling problem the first Mario Maker had: levels getting unilaterally deleted. Popular streamer GrandPOOBear had his level deleted for no discernible reason and with no means for appeal, a repeat of what Nintendo had done to all of his levels in the original back in 2016. Deletions have continued to vex streamers and community members since, often leaving folks with little to no idea of why their level was removed in the first place.
For some, especially those who focus on play more than creation, it's a minor issue, and for bigger Mario Maker streamers accustomed to Nintendo's behavior, it may just be something that has to be lived with. But the longstanding level deletion issue is illustrative of how Nintendo has generally operated not just with respect to Mario Maker players, but all the online communities that have sprung up around its games. Some receive more content updates and fixes than others, but Nintendo by and large doesn't engage in the kind of back and forth with its communities that helps other online titles thrive, especially those focused on user-created content. "Nintendo still doesn't do much in the realm of community support," says Ryukahr. "There's no ongoing dialogue between them and the game's player base."
Feen says that the Invitational was a big moment for her and the handful of other other streamers involved, adding that Nintendo of Canada invited her to participate in an event for Mario Day this year. "Other than that, I don't think there's been any change," she says, beyond a bit more social media activity for Mario Maker 2 compared to the original.
"Nintendo has never been great about working directly with their communities, whether it's Mario Maker, Smash, Pokemon," says Aurateur. "On that front, Nintendo does what Nintendo wants, and we live with the results."
Despite that, the community has generally done an excellent job with Super Mario Maker 2, even if Nintendo doesn't always champion it. It's not just the inventive and inspired levels that are made, but the way that the community comes together. A large group including Feen, Ryukhar, Aurateur, GrandPOOBear, and Kaizo-wizard Panga got together for a thrilling Mario Maker 2 relay race at AGDQ earlier this year, a great showcase for their collective talent and expertise during gaming's most widely loved charity event. They've also gotten together for their own Mario Masters Colosseum streams, raising hundreds of thousands for the organization Direct Relief.
To Nintendo's credit, the free content updates it did release for Super Mario Maker 2 haven't been lacking in substance. The December update added the Master Sword power-up, which immediately opened up potential for all kinds of new Link-centric adventuring and puzzling. The more recent update that added Super Worlds also included Super Mario Bros. 2's Mushroom, Frog Suit, Super Acorn, Boomerang Flower, and P-Balloon, plus a host of 3D World-only wearables. All of those add lots of design potential, and although it's limited and lacks any way of sorting the offerings, the Super World system at least makes it possible to group levels together like in a real 2D Mario game, secrets and all.
Especially in light of all that, it might seem all the more disappointing that Super Mario Maker 2 won't get any more big updates. While it's par for the course with Nintendo, the last year of updates and community activity has, if anything, shown that there's so much more that could be done with Mario Maker 2.
The Biggest Problem Is That There Can Always Be More For Makers
In Feen's estimation, her community is still pretty happy with Mario Maker 2 thanks to the consistent stream of quality levels. "There's a lot of new stuff that comes up every day—like, there's something new every day in Mario Maker 2, and it keeps it fresh and exciting," she says. "I think that really helps with keeping the community content with the game."
Elements like the World Maker, Mario Bros. 2 items, and Link power-ups have likewise been invigorating for the community, leading to upticks in coverage and viewership. They suggest that a steadier stream of Nintendo updates would likely help keep interest in Mario Maker 2 at reasonable levels, even if it'll never quite reach the heights the first game saw. "While I know that fans still love the game, it's also clear that it doesn't have the same level of excitement that it had when the franchise was brand new," Ryukahr says. "At this point, there's pretty much nothing we haven't seen already. New content helps alleviate this temporarily, but ultimately things return to business as usual pretty quickly."
Ryukahr and Aurateur both have features they'd like to see implemented in the game: bringing back editing other people's levels, improved multiplayer functionality, even particular items and power-ups. The list goes on, but again, even little quality of life improvements don't seem like they're in the cards for Mario Maker 2 at this point.
If Super Mario Maker 2 is "finished" in Nintendo's eyes, then at least it has a healthy, active community behind it on a platform that's doing far better than the Wii U did. It would have been a shame to see Mario Maker slowly languish on a dead platform. Now, at least, it's practically guaranteed at least a few more years of happy players so long as Nintendo doesn't make moves to hinder it. Also, part of the joy of Mario Maker comes from seeing what people can do to transcend its apparent limitations. Continually adding more might never hurt the community, but it could also end up not doing much to nurture it. Maybe a lack of flashy updates will mean some folks won't dive back in, but I see new, interesting levels pop up on Reddit every day. Thousands continue to watch streamers like Ryukahr, Aurateur, and Feen on Twitch.
"In my community alone, there's been a lot more people saying 'hey, I got Super Mario Maker 2 because of you,'" says Feen.
Mario Maker 2 might not have caught on as much as it could've or should've, but it's making lots of people happy just the way it is. In that light, while there's surely more to be done—world sharing, better multiplayer, adding that wall-running slope from Super Mario World—it's also worth appreciating the excitement and creativity that's already there.