Moving backwards with art can be tricky. It’s hard to appreciate a painting of some trees by a lake after you get into abstract expressionism. Bebop isn’t as exciting once you hear free jazz. Rock ‘n’ roll’s never gonna die but it was forever turned into goofy, self-referential schtick once noise bands and avant-garde composers reduced it to its component parts. When the process is laid bare, and the act of creation becomes the entire point, older forms of expression can’t help but feel outdated.
It’s in that spirit that I’ve decided that Super Mario Maker 2 is the last side-scrolling Mario game that ever needs to exist.
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe came out for the Switch five months ago. I had pretty much completely forgotten about that. Not because it’s bad, or anything, or because I already played it when it was originally released for the Wii U, but because after the original Super Mario Maker it just feels superfluous. Not just superfluous, but regressive, even. Nintendo had already cracked open the vault and invited everybody in, and so its own in-house line of technically competent (but uninspired) Mario side-scrollers no longer had a reason to exist.
Super Mario Maker 2 has the same impact as the original, only with an updated set of options. It still leaves Mario exposed, not just giving you the tools to design your own levels but walking you through the process step by step. Sure, it’s not how these games are really made—you won’t be doing any coding or creating any art assets—but you can still learn some of the basics of level design, and have the freedom to follow or flout those rules as you see fit.
Freedom is the foundation of Super Mario Maker 2, and that freedom is a big reason why it’ll be hard to go backwards to a traditional side-scrolling Mario game after this. It lets us break the game apart and put it back however we see fit, and no matter how seamlessly Nintendo glues it all back together in the future, we’ll still see those cracks and see how everything fits into place. Even if Nintendo was still designing side-scrolling Mario levels as ingeniously as they were in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we would simply know too much to once again feel the way we used to feel about them.
And it’s not just our own ability to create that would undermine more games like New Super Mario Bros. Super Mario Maker 2 isn’t just about making levels, but playing the ones that other players make. The quality level of these things varies greatly, of course, but from the good to the bad, they all combine to make any more traditional Mario levels unnecessary. At best these user-made levels recontextualize the Mario we know and love into something startling and new; most of them are just dreadful, though. If they’re not tired rehashes of what we’ve seen from the official Mario games, they’re aimlessly sadistic attempts to build the hardest, fastest or most shocking Mario levels possible. Between those two poles is an innocuous middle ground of levels made by people who are just trying to wrap their head around this whole Mario thing. They might have a clever feature or two, or show a solid grasp on level design theory, but they still don’t feel all that necessary.
It’s actually commendable of Nintendo to release something that could easily make one of their regular cash cows irrelevant. Those New Super Mario Bros. games are always top sellers whenever they’re released, but I have to think the demand for another one is hurt by Super Mario Maker 2’s existence. Instead of just lazily cranking out one of those side-scrolling Mario kits every console generation, Nintendo has instead handed the keys to the franchise over to its customers. You could argue they’re also passing the burden of labor on, as well, and capitalizing on the work of the players by using them as an endless source of free new DLC, but that’s an overly cynical read of something that goes out of its way to make designing a game into a fun game of its own. By giving players access to a Perpetual Mario Machine Nintendo has removed any need to make another freestanding side-scrolling Mario game—at least until they kill the servers and put out Super Mario Maker 3.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.