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September 3, 2019

BONO | ‘Mario Maker:’ Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

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I was excited to hear that my cousin bought Mario Maker 2  because I had been debating whether to download it all summer. I never played the original since I skipped the Wii U, but the sequel for the Switch looked promising. It wasn’t just going to be a port, but a whole new game with a slew of added features. You can make nighttime levels, you can play as Luigi, there’s a story mode and according to my cousin, this game felt “way more complete than the original.”

Encouraged by my cousin, I gathered up my gift cards and bought the game, excited to see what level he’d made. Splatoon 2 uses the Switch’s built-in friend list, so Mario Maker 2 probably does the same thing too, right? We exchanged friend codes when we both got Switches, so I’d just have to find the game’s friend list.

There was just one problem — Mario Maker 2 doesn’t have a friends list. There’s no feature to view the friends you’ve already added through the Switch’s friend code system. There’s only one way to find specific users, and that’s through the game’s user lookup system. I figured it wasn’t too big a deal — I know a couple of my cousin’s usernames, it’s possible he used one of them — but as it turns out, it doesn’t even matter. Mario Maker 2 only lets players search two things: Maker IDs and Course IDs. Both of these are, of course, long alphanumeric strings similar to the friend codes has been using for years. The only way to find your friends’ profiles and courses is to ask them for their codes and painstakingly type them in. This system is handy for ensuring kids (Nintendo’s target audience) don’t encounter strangers online and only trade Pokemon or chat with their friends, but this system just doesn’t work for this game.

The problem is that Mario Maker 2’s ID system doesn’t actually protect kids from harassment or interacting with strangers. The game’s Course World (the social network where players post and play custom courses) system features tabs for “new” and “hot” courses, showing players courses from strangers all over the world and lets anyone comment on anyone else’s level. There’s a pretty strict content filter, but no algorithm is perfect. What’s the point of avoiding a proper search function if the alternative still lets you see strangers’ courses? Nintendo has made it actively harder to find friends’ courses, and easier to stumble into the comment section of a complete stranger. It also just doesn’t make sense for this type of game to leave a proper search function out — Mario Maker has always been about sharing player-generated courses with friends and online. Sure, there’s a single-player story mode, but that’s not the focus of the game. People buy this game to interact with others without expecting to have to go through an extra step of hassling all of their friends for specific codes for a second time or searching in the description box of every cool level they see on YouTube for a meaningless string.

More than that, it seemed like Nintendo had already solved this problem. The Switch’s native friend list (and by extension, a large portion of Switch games) relies on friend codes, sure, but also provides lists of potential friends from a player’s Nintendo account — spanning log-ins from mobile games, the 3DS and the Wii U, as well as the option to link a Twitter and Facebook account. The Switch menu system even provides a list of recently-encountered players from games like Splatoon 2 so that players could easily find and create teams after a play session.

Course World isn’t the only place where Mario Maker 2 drops the Buzzy Beetle Shell. The game’s other multiplayer features — namely, where up to four players can compete in a course simultaneously — were hyped up a lot in the game’s advertising. That’s why it was so disappointing to myself and other fans when those features fell short of expectations. First of all, the same problems from Course World transfer over into the rest of the game. You can’t just look at your friends list and ask a long-distance friend to join you for a game; there’s no integration with the Switch’s native friend list.

However, it’s actually a little worse than Course World — because in multiplayer mode, there aren’t any IDs or codes at all. You can only play locally with players in the same room or online with complete strangers. If you’re a college student whose friends are all in different cities for the summer, then you’re out of luck. If you’re fine with competing against strangers, though, it could be a solid game, if it worked. I admit, I haven’t used this feature too often, but when I did, the game was so slow as to be nearly unplayable, which is disappointing since Nintendo started charging for online play this past year. I’d like to think my money’s going to making online experiences like this better, but it seems they’re still working out the kinks.

I really do enjoy Mario Maker 2, don’t get me wrong — where else could you play a Mario level scored by “Take Me Home, Country Roads” or design a course based on the upcoming CGI adaptation of the musical Cats? Once you have your friends added for the second time, it’s easy to find their courses, and it’s incredibly cool to see a map of every spot in your level where players have died. The central concept of the Mario Maker series still holds up: it’s so fun to invent new levels that would never be in a flagship Mario game. It’s fun to play the same levels as your favorite YouTubers, it’s even fun to just mess around in the course creator and hear all the goofy sound effects you can trigger by dragging pieces around. It’s just disappointing when a game’s user experience could have been a little bit smoother.

I hope that future Nintendo games follow Splatoon 2’s lead rather than Mario Maker 2’s, and recognizes that one friend system is enough. The Switch’s menus are sparser than its predecessors (at least, in comparison to the plethora of channels on the Wii), but it’s too bad that more games don’t take advantage of its native features like its friend list. The upcoming Animal Crossing sequel, New Horizons, was made by the same team as the Splatoon series, so I’m hopeful that whatever friend system that uses is more player friendly. After all, these games were made to enjoy with friends.


Olivia Bono is a Senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]On the Level runs alternating Tuesdays this semester. 

Going into my senior year here at Cornell, I’ve noticed that nothing quite unites students like video games. I’ve made friends through Jackbox, Pokémon and even Fortnite; when my cousins come cross-country to visit, we bond through Wii Sports and Mario Kart; at my summer job as a camp counselor, kids would yell “drop an F in the chat!” (a Call of Duty/streaming reference, not the f-word, I promise) when they’d get eliminated in a game of tag. I swear, every time I eat at Trillium I overhear a different group of people debating the merits of Smash Bros fighters. Whether we’re working together to beat a level or ruthlessly destroying our loved ones in a race, video games are how so many students de-stress, how we get our minds off of our heaping piles of unfinished work. But what makes them so compelling over other types of distractions? The interactivity? The shared references and memes? Does over-analyzing this ruin the fun? I hope not, since that’s what this column is all about. So, gamers, let’s jump right in.