My first experience with the Mario Maker franchise was honestly disastrous. I didn't have a Wii U at the time so it was with the 3DS version that released in 2016. I hated it. I didn't get it. I wasn't interested in creating levels, and why would I want to play bad Mario levels when I could be playing literally anything else (including good Mario levels actually developed by Nintendo)?
Playing the Wii U version years later reconciled me with the concept. I had a go at creating levels, looked into the community a bit more and I started to see the appeal. It was still riddled with frustrations though -- the primary one being how complicated it was to find anything, whether that was a creator or a specific level. So it wasn't until Super Mario Maker 2 released this June that I truly realised how good this franchise, and its community, are.
For full disclosure, I mostly played games from 2018 this year, with God of War and Assassin's Creed Odyssey battling at the top of my GOTY list. Also to be frank Baldur's Gate on Switch is probably my real game of the year, but turns out it's somehow less relevant to talk about a game from 1998 here.
So finding a game of 2019 to write about was surprisingly difficult. However, Super Mario Maker 2 soon became the obvious choice as it's the game I kept coming back to all year, clocking in over 100 hours. It's just everything the original Mario Maker could (and should) have been.
First, the introduction of a story mode added much needed structure and accessibility to the franchise. It's a story mode by name only -- do not expect any compelling narrative here, it is a Mario game after all. However, what it does really well is introduce the player to a myriad of features that were added to this new entry, by offering some truly phenomenal levels. You could buy Super Mario Maker 2 and play the story mode's 100 levels without bothering with the game's creation tools, and it'd still be a great experience. But you'd be missing out on some incredible gameplay elsewhere.
The list of new features in Super Mario Maker 2 is so long I'd need an article just for that, but highlights include the introduction of the Mario 3D World universe, which adds some depth to the series (no pun intended), the on/off switches that the entire community has embraced so massively, but also vertical levels, custom scrolling, clear conditions, new themes, new power ups, more NPC and enemies, and much more.
All of that makes for an absolute dream if you're into hardcore platforming. Playing Mario Maker 2 is spending a lot of time looking at community-created content and at these classic Mario mechanics that we all know (and for some of us love) and thinking: how in the hell has no one at Nintendo done this with it before? The Super Mario Maker community is a fantastic bunch of creative, hardcore platformer players, romhackers, speedrunners and Kaizo level makers, and it's making the levels Nintendo will never be able to make if it wants the franchise to remain accessible. Having a community pushing the boundaries of such an iconic franchise and redefining it is an incredibly exciting thought to me.
I used to have literally zero interest in watching random people play video games on YouTube, but watching Mario Maker streamers and speedrunners such as Grand PooBear, BarbarousKing, CarlSagan42 and Ryukahr, to only name a few, is just a masterclass in creativity and platforming -- and absolutely great entertainment.
It's a community that also has its own language and in-game symbols to indicate gameplay elements. This universal, easy to understand language came together organically and was reinforced by popular streamers. Slate made a pretty good job at explaining some of these in this article. I'm always impressed by the ability that games have to bring people together and for them to immediately find ways to communicate -- Super Mario Maker 2 demonstrates just that.
"Having a community pushing the boundaries of such an iconic franchise and redefining it is an incredibly exciting thought to me"
But it's not just all about speedrunning and hardcore platforming, even though it's where Super Mario Maker 2 shines -- it's also just a lot of fun. Nintendo introduced tags to make it easier to find the content you want, including the aptly named 'Short & Sweet' tag that lets you find moderately difficult levels. Filter the search with 'Popular Content' and you'll find an endless source of good, enjoyable Mario levels, covering everything from chill platforming with coins to find, to puzzling and escape games. Tags may sound like a small thing but it's ultimately a significant improvement.
Super Mario Maker 2's multiplayer elements are also incredibly fun, and the recent addition of the Ninji Speedruns, that let the entire community race against each other on a level that changes weekly, shows a real understanding of the Mario Maker community from Nintendo.
There are improvements to be made in the way Nintendo addresses its community, with several instances of levels by prominent streamers being deleted for no apparent reason. But for better or worse, Super Mario Maker 2 is actually a good example of Nintendo getting to grips with online play and communities, when it's something it doesn't always facilitate -- the original Mario Maker was a painful example of that.
Nintendo has delivered important updates since launch -- not just small things but actual game changing patches. It provided the much awaited online multiplayer with friends and recently added the Zelda universe to the game, which is everything the dungeon maker tool in Link's Awakening should have been. It changes Mario Maker's mechanics, its gameplay, its music, and much more, and just doubles the amount of fun you can have playing and creating in Super Mario Maker 2.
Overall, anything that encourages creativity is always a big win with me (there's a reason Media Molecule was in our People of the Year list) and Super Mario Maker 2 ultimately opens doors to a wide collection of people who want to create video games. So, yes, once in a blue moon, that's going to be a level by a nine-year old who just filled the entire map with enemies and it's going to be unplayable. But it's a small price to pay as Nintendo has now given the community the tools to focus on the incredible creativity available at every single corner in Super Mario Maker 2.