The first Mario Maker was one of the main reasons that I wanted a Wii U. When I finally got around to playing it, I thought it was a neat toolkit, but it didn't really hold my attention as a game. It was fun to mess around with my wife. But to actually sit down and play it myself, I just couldn't seem to enjoy it much beyond the fun little Nintendo made "event" courses. In my mind, it was a cool piece of software, but not exactly a great game.
Super Mario Maker 2 is apparently a whole different beast. As it turns out, there's a legit Story Mode. This is 100 new Nintendo made levels, and in my mind this is the best 2D Mario game that Nintendo has published since... jeez. I don't even know. This is better than the entirety of the New Super Mario Bros series for me.
Part of what makes these levels so compelling is that each one feels like a unique and compact experience. In some ways it gives me NES Remix vibes - which is a game that I adore. Rather than do the usual New Super Mario Bros thing where it's like "okay, this is the ice world so we'll do all the ice levels now..." it's a free for all where each new level is something surprising. It's as if Nintendo is freed from its own limitations and the creativity is flowing.
Bouncing from something like a Super Mario World style ghost house to a throwback Mario Bros (no "Super") single screen puzzle platformer is kind of great. And I love that there's a hub world that lets me choose which level to play next, leaving some more difficult ones if I want to come back and retry them later (I'm looking at you "no jump" level).
I can easily say that this game surpasses the New Super Mario Bros series in every way. And I haven't even touched the build mode. Nor am I sure I even will. I think my wife would enjoy the build mode more than I do. But me? I'm just in awe of the quality of these story mode levels.
I also appreciate that I was able to skip a level and come back to it later with fresh eyes and more patience. I was on level 30 before I went back and completed level 15. It was great. My progress wasn't impeded, by level 15 stayed in my list of unfinished levels as a reminder to go back to it when I was ready.
I think if I had known about the story mode earlier, I'd have had more reason to get Mario Maker 2 instead of sticking with the original for so long. But then again, I was never that impressed with the New Super Mario Bros games, so I couldn't have known just how good this story mode was going to be. I'm super impressed, and this is probably the first time since Super Mario World that I've felt compelled to continue playing a Mario game with such glee.
Each new stage is like a pleasant surprise. Some I breeze through, others are quite challenging. Some even require some serious thought, which is welcome. One minute I'm in Bowser's flying clown car playing a make-shift Mario shmup that feels like a throwback to Super Mario Land; the next minute I'm in a single screen puzzler trying to bounce off clouds to collect coins without getting hit by Bullet Bills. It's... pretty great. Nintendo has really cracked the code with this game and seemingly remembered that variety is the spice of life when it comes to a Mario game.
It's interesting to me how the game is laid out in a way that you could kind of tackle it however you see fit. Meaning, you could play easier levels leisurely and get less coins so it takes longer, or you could play harder levels and rush through. I guess I've done some combination of both.
I did manage to beat the story mode. It turns out you don't need to beat every level to do so, just enough to get the castle completed 100%. Which means I've not really completed the game, but I did beat the story and I had a lot of fun doing so. I can't even remember the last time I was so wrapped up in a Mario platform game that I was compelled to play it all week. So that speaks volumes. I'll definitely want to come back to this one and finish all the other levels in story mode, but for now I'll probably pass the game on to my wife to play for a while as I move on to something else.