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Read This Before You Buy Super Mario Maker 2

The pitch behind Super Mario Maker was simple: after 30 years of playing Mario games, here's your chance to make your own. Easy, right? Not so fast. While Super Mario Maker was an absolute breeze to use, thanks to a user interface that made game design feel like a game itself, it was also surprisingly deep. Players used Super Mario Maker's tools to remake games like WarioWare and Sonic the Hedgehog, retell the plot of Star Wars, create shumps and calculators, and all other kinds of wild stuff.

Best of all, though, Super Mario Maker let you put your levels online and download other peoples' creations. Even if you don't like making stuff, Super Mario Maker provided a virtually infinite supply of creative, surprising Super Mario levels to play. In many ways, it was the last Mario game you'd ever need.

Until Super Mario Maker 2, that is. On the surface, Super Mario Maker 2 is more of the same — making and sharing Mario levels is still the focus — but it comes with so much new stuff that it's going to be a must-buy for any Mario fan when the Switch-exclusive arrives on June 28, 2019. Here are a few reasons why.

A kingdom's worth of new toys to play with

Super Mario Maker was great, but after a while, its toolset felt limited, and it was missing some key features from different Mario games. Super Mario Maker 2 is here to fill in the gaps. For Mario Maker's second go-round (third, if you count the original's mediocre 3DS port), Nintendo is introducing all kinds of new toys to play with, and we can't wait to try 'em out.

You wanted slopes? You get slopes. You get Super Mario Bros. 3's villainous angry sun. You get enemies like the Super Mario series' recurring mini-boss Boom Boom and the giant-sized Banzai Bill. You get parachutes, on-off switches, the constantly moving "snake block," conveyor belts, rising and falling water levels, brand new power-ups like the Dry Bones shell, and much, much more.

If you're an advanced stage maker, you're also getting some new items that will help you create brand new kinds of levels. The custom scroll tool will let you make auto-scrolling levels, which can add extra challenges and should help make shump-likes feel more natural. Building a solid vertical wall will stop the screen from scrolling, letting you make hidden rooms and sub-levels. Most importantly, you can also set new "clear conditions" for your stages. If you want, simply hitting the flagpole won't be enough to finish a level. You can also make players collect a certain number of coins, defeat all of the goombas, collect every 1-Up, and more.

3D World domination

Super Mario Maker let you make levels in the style of four different Mario games: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. All of those are back for Super Mario Maker 2, but there's a new, fifth game style coming with them: Super Mario 3D World, which is based on the woefully underrated Wii U game of the same name.

The Super Mario 3D World style doesn't work like the others, however. While you can switch between the other styles on the fly, the 3D World style has a number of exclusive features that aren't compatible with the other games' settings. If you choose 3D World as your tileset, everything that you've built in the level so far will be cleared away. Be careful.

It's worth the risk. Super Mario Maker 2's 3D World style contains the Cat Mario suit, clear pipes, warp boxes, trampolines, red and blue blinking blocks, and an enemy known as the Piranha Creeper — and that's just the beginning. Heck, the 3D World style even comes with its own vehicle, the Koopa Troopa Car. Been dying to finally make that Mario Kart-themed level? Super Mario 3D World is exactly what you need.

Return to familiar lands

Mario's adventures have taken him everywhere from icy peaks to the bottom of the ocean, but Super Mario Maker was missing a number of the Mushroom Kingdom's most famous landscapes. Super Mario Maker 2 doesn't include all of them, but it does introduce four additional environments to Nintendo's level-design toolbox: the desert, the forest, snow, and the sky.

Each one of those biomes comes with unique gameplay features, too. For example, the forest mixes land-based platforming with underwater swimming. In snow levels, the ground is slippery, making basic movements more hazardous. All of Super Mario Maker's original themes — ground, underground, underwater, ghost house, airship, and castle — are expected to return too, meaning that you now have a total of ten themes to choose from. That should keep you busy for a while.

Best of all, these themes will be accompanied by new music from composer Koji Kondo, the musician responsible for Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda's iconic soundtracks. If you're a Nintendo dork, that's reason enough to buy Super Mario Maker 2. All this level design stuff is just a bonus.

Like day and night

Oh, by the way: each one of those themes comes in two separate forms. By default, Super Mario Maker 2 levels take place during the day. Once you unlock the Moon item (and it does sound like you're going to have to earn it, somehow), you'll also be able to play levels at night. That's more than just an aesthetic change. Once the sun goes down, Super Mario Maker 2's level themes change accordingly, becoming much, much harder.

At night, snow levels become more slippery. Gravity drops in the sky levels. Underground levels are flipped upside down. Ghost houses become pitch black with only a small spotlight to guide Mario on his way, while the forest's clean waters transform into deadly purple acid. Power-ups and enemies change, too: when it's night, mushrooms are poisoned, a la Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels.

If you're feeling pity for your players, you can drop the Moon itself into the level, giving Mario an easy way to clear the screen of enemies. Otherwise, it looks like night is Super Mario Maker 2's "hard mode." Bring it on.

Everything is more fun with a friend, including building

New Super Mario Bros. Wii and its follow-ups proved that Mario doesn't lose any of his charm when others join in the fun, and Super Mario Maker 2 has learned that lesson well. In addition to a number of online multiplayer modes — more on those in a second — Super Mario Maker 2 also makes collaboration a snap with a co-op building mode. Just pass your second JoyCon to a friend and you're good to go.

Now, there are limits. Co-op building looks like it's local-only, so you can't team up with other builders online. Unlike Super Mario Maker 2's other multiplayer offerings, co-op stage creation seems to be limited to two people, not four. Chances are that you'll only be able to upload levels from one Switch Online account, too. If your partner also has a Super Mario Maker 2 profile and wants some credit, we're guessing that they'll be out of luck.

Still, the co-op building mode seems like a great way for parents to help younger Mario fans make the levels of their dreams, and it should lead to some pretty chaotic Mario Maker sessions at parties, too. Super Mario Maker 2 is a wonderful introduction to game design, and co-op is a great way to get even more people involved. After all, there's enough fun to go around.

Tell me a story

So far, we've focused mainly on what Super Mario Maker 2's means for level designers, but what you're more interesting in playing Mario than making it? Good news: Super Mario Maker 2 has you covered, too. As before, Super Mario Maker 2 will let you play through randomly selected strings of player-made stages, but the sequel also contains a complete "story mode" featuring pre-made levels by Nintendo's staff.

In Super Mario Maker 2's story mode, Mario and his friends are in charge of rebuilding Peach's castle. They do so by earning coins, which Mario gets when he finishes quests, i.e., levels. Along the way, he'll also meet some of the castle's construction crew, which is full of deep-cut cameos and optional side quests to complete.

Story mode has an ulterior motive. It doubles as an introduction to the kinds of things that you can do with Super Mario Maker 2's robust and varied toolset, and should serve as an excellent source of inspiration for aspiring designers. However, with over 100 levels to play through, Super Mario Maker 2's story mode is functionally a brand new 2D Mario game made by the people who know Mario best. That's worth the price of admission all on its own, and it'll be fun to see what Nintendo's designers can do with all of Super Mario Maker 2's new toys.

Subscription required

Here's the bad news: if you want to share your Super Mario Maker 2 levels, or if you want to download other people's creations, you're going to need a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Switch Online isn't too expensive — it's only $4 per month, or $20 for an entire year — but given that online features were free in the first Super Mario Maker, it's still a bitter pill to swallow.

The good news? Super Mario Maker 2's online functionality is much, much better than it was before. The main attraction here is still sharing and sampling player-made levels, but Nintendo has beefed up Super Mario Maker 2's search engine, which should make it a lot easier to find the good stuff and avoid the trash (and there's a lot of trash out there). Level-sharing codes are now nine digits long, not 16, which will make them easier to remember. You can now download levels to play them offline, which is a huge boon if you're traveling.

Finally, Super Mario Maker 2's creator profiles have received a major overhaul, turning sharing levels into its own meta-game. As people play, rate, and comment on your levels, you'll also complete challenges. Finishing those will earn you special Mario-themed hats and shirts, and other pieces of apparel that you can add to your Mii, giving your Super Mario Maker 2 profile some extra flair.

Going to the races

Your Nintendo Switch Online subscription isn't just for sharing levels with others. It also lets you access Super Mario Maker 2's brand new multiplayer modes, both of which have the potential to be a lot of fun.

The Co-Op multiplayer mode should look familiar to anyone who's played a New Super Mario Bros. game with friends or family: four players — one as Mario, one as Luigi, and two others as Toad and Toadette —  team up to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles. Nintendo says that the characters will be randomly assigned, so they probably don't have unique abilities, and that's just fine. Co-op Super Mario Bros. gets crazy enough as it is.

Super Mario Maker 2's Versus mode is more interesting. Like co-op, it's a four-player game, but instead of working together, it's a race to the finish through a randomly selected user-made level. As you compete in Versus, you'll increase or decrease your ranking on the leaderboards, too. Occasionally, Versus players will have to team up — like, say, if there's a boss in the way —  but otherwise, it's every plumber for themselves. If you want to make stages specifically for Versus or Co-Op, that's easy, too. Simply give the level the appropriate tag before you upload it, and you're good to go.

The value package

If all that has gotten you excited about Super Mario Maker 2 — and by all rights, it should have — you can go ahead and pre-order the game now. Unfortunately, Nintendo hasn't unveiled very many pre-order bonuses for the game. In Europe, a Super Mario Maker 2 physical pre-order (or an early purchase of the digital "limited edition") will net you a stylus, which should make editing levels on the Switch's touch screen a little easier, but there's been no indication that the offer is coming to America.

Otherwise, you can pay $70 for a bundle that includes both Super Mario Maker 2 and a year's worth of Nintendo Switch Online service. That's basically half-off for a Switch Online sub, and it will stack with your existing subscription, too. It's not sexy, but given that you'll want Switch Online to get the full Super Mario Maker 2 experience, it's not a bad deal.

If you're really looking to save some money, though, check out Nintendo's new Voucher system, which it's launching alongside Super Mario Maker 2. It works like this: If you have a Switch Online subscription, you can pay $100 to get two vouchers, which you can redeem for two games from a pre-selected list, saving you somewhere between $10 and $20. You don't have to use both vouchers at once and they don't expire for a year, but they'll only be available to buy until the end of July. If that sounds interesting to you, act quickly.

Super Mario Maker 2 as an esport? Sure, why not?

On the other hand, if you're still not sold on Super Mario Maker 2, you'll be able to get a better look at it very, very soon. While Nintendo hasn't announced its full E3 2019 plans, the company has said that it will be holding a number of competitions around the annual trade show, including a Super Mario Maker 2 event called The Invitational.

During the Invitational, four pre-selected members of the Super Mario Maker community will gather in Los Angeles, California for a race through Super Mario Maker 2 levels created by Nintendo's Treehouse staff. The competition will take place on June 8, 2019 at the Ace Hotel at 11 a.m. PDT. You'll be able to watch in person (tickets won't be sold in advance, but you'll be able to line up starting at 8 a.m. on the day of the show, and admission is free), or online.

The Invitational will be followed by Splatoon 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments, and should be a lot of fun. The Super Mario Maker sections were the highlight of 2015's Nintendo World Championships and were packed full of surprises, and we wouldn't be surprised to see history repeat itself here. If you want to see just how wild Super Mario Maker 2 can get, the Invitational should get the job done.

What we still don't know

Super Mario Maker 2 is close to releasing, and yet there's a ton that we still don't know about the game. Outside of a 17-minute Nintendo Direct presentation, information about Super Mario Maker 2 has been remarkably hard to come by, especially for one of Nintendo's biggest games of the year.

For example, we don't know if Super Mario Maker 2 will have amiibo support. We don't know if levels from Super Mario Maker will be backwards compatible with the sequel, or if there will be DLC. Nintendo hasn't said whether or not Super Mario Maker's web interface will get a revamp, either, although we hope it does — bookmarking levels to play later via web browser made it easy to share stages via forums, Reddit posts, and round-up articles.

Fans also speculate that Nintendo has at least one more game style to reveal, too. In the released screenshots, there's a bunch of empty space next to the Super Mario 3D World icon that seems like the perfect size for another button, while the menu subheader says "extra game styles." Note: that's plural. Given that the Super Mario 3D World style isn't compatible with anything else, we're guessing that the mystery style — if it exists — is based on a game with a lot of unique features, e.g., Super Mario Bros. 2. One way or another, we'll probably find more at E3 2019.