Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish there were more Mario levels. But I also wish they were much harder, much easier, or made by toddlers??” No? You’ve never thought that? Shame. ‘Cause here’s Mario Maker 2. This game sparked its own internet sub-culture when it came out on Wii U… and they’re still at it. It’s a game that combines creativity and craftsmanship with infuriating nightmare concoctions that only the most demonic Furby could come up with. In short, it’s a microcosm of the internet. And it has just received its last major update, driving it once more into the mainstream. But can you play it if you’re visually impaired?
About me and my play style: I have albinism. My visual acuity fluctuates between 20/100 and 20/500 depending on if I’m wearing contacts and how tired I am. I have color vision, but no depth perception. I also deal with eye strain if I have to focus too precisely for too long.
The biggest upside about Mario Maker 2 is its flexibility. It has a mode or level for nearly everyone, as long as you relatively like Mario. There is a single-player story mode, a course builder, community speed-run events, and – of course – endless levels created by other players. The game allows you to play levels in different styles, meaning different generations of Mario games. You can play levels that look like New Super Mario Bros. or levels that look like the original Super Mario Bros. In the single-player campaign, the game forces you to play across the different styles, but if you’re playing other people’s levels, you can choose what style you want to play in.
Unique to Mario Maker’s story mode is the ability to utilize elements of the course builder in the pre-built levels. Is a platform too high? You can make one to help you get up there. Do you need a power-up to get through a section? You can give yourself one! Flexibility is the single best part of the game. You can make your experience whatever you want it to be.
This review is going to be a little different than a normal review, precisely because of this flexibility. There are truly terrible levels, but it wouldn’t be fair to grade the game based on the worst levels that users created. I’m going to be grading based on the best levels available to address each accessibility need, but know that these levels may take a bit of hunting to find.
Visual Characteristics 7/10
(Contrast, Lighting, Tracking, Clutter)
The visuals of this game are generally crisp, colorful, and distinctive. However, this game has a LOT of different elements. There are a wide array of different enemies, tons of power-ups, a multitude of backgrounds, as well as different styles and themes. In other words, a lot of stuff can be an obstacle, and some aspects are more difficult to see than others. That’s what makes the game such a sandbox, but conversely, it does make it a little more difficult to learn the game. I wouldn’t take this middling score as a bad thing at all, but it should give you an idea that this game might require more homework and effort to learn.
I usually try to pitch my reviews to people who want to pick up and play the game right out of the box. There are gamers who spend countless hours memorizing menus and sound effects, and are thus able to play visual games with much less vision or none at all. I am not one of those people, and I still find this game enjoyable. However, there are more items in the game to learn about than Mario Kart, for instance.
The wonderful thing about Mario Maker is that you can select the courses you want to play. The New Super Mario Bros. and Mario 3D World styles have excellent contrast and lighting. The tracking is usually simple because of the colorful, HD graphics, though some levels can be very busy. You can select your character, which may help with tracking. It would be nice to have an option to slow down the speed of the game, but given the competitive aspects of the game, I doubt that would ever be added in.
Nintendo has stated there won’t be any major new updates, but I would like to see them tweak the UI to make it more obvious which button is highlighted. Different buttons have different selected animations. Some get a solid border, some get little corner caps, and others get overall highlighted. It’s not consistent, and it can make it really difficult to track where your cursor is to select various options.
Accessibility Features 7.5/10
There aren’t many accessibility features to mention here. You can change your character among Mario, Luigi, Toadette, and Blue Toad, which may be helpful. There are many built-in tutorial-style functions. There are extensive Q&As, power-up descriptions, descriptions of the specific attributes of each style of game, as well as a very thorough (and somewhat dull) tutorial for the course builder. These are optional components that you have to specifically look for, but they are there for you.
Other features I’d like to see would be a variable zoom option within the courses. You can use the system zoom on the menus, and I very much recommend that because the menus can be quite confusing. It would be nice for them to patch in an option for larger text. I’d like to see text to speech options for the menus as well.
I’d also like to see an option to turn off sound effects and music independently. Creators can add a selection of music and sound effects to their courses, and it can get a little over-the-top at times. There aren’t any sound options that I have found.
As a note, the game does autosave, unlike Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe.
Assist Modes 10/10
I’m judging my score for this based on two aspects. In the story mode, you can add in power-ups and extra blocks, which I consider to be something of an assist mode, even if it isn’t categorized as such. If you lose all your lives on a course, you can also “call Luigi” to come finish the course for you. You still get the coin bonus for completing the course, but it is marked with a green L flag instead of a red M flag. You can then replay the course later if you’d like. Second, in the course world, you can select easy levels. If you select easy levels, you’re going to have to sort through a lot of inexpertly-crafted levels, but if you play with your search terms, you can find levels that suit your style.
The option to add in blocks and power-ups is really innovative, and fits the theme of Mario Maker. It encourages you to learn the new mechanics, but it doesn’t require them. That’s really the goal of any assist mode, for me. It doesn’t address competitive gameplay, but I think that’s understandable. It gives you help to learn the mechanics in the story mode so that you can apply those skills to whatever levels you choose in Course World.
Non Visual Cues 9/10
Holy snap, are there ever a ton of nonvisual cues in this game. Whether or not those nonvisual cues are in a course is up to the creator, and most creators aren’t thinking about the visually impaired experience. However, the potential is definitely there. Again, it’s a matter of sifting through the endless levels available and finding ones you like. The story mode courses are a mix of more traditional courses and courses that teach you about specific mechanics that are available in Mario Maker, and the nonvisual cues in these courses are very typical of other Mario games.
Decent Fonts 8.5/10
The font itself is fantastic. It’s a bold, sans-serif font that is easy on the eyes. But it could be bigger. I always say that, but this time I say it with a little more bite than usual. This text is smaller than most Nintendo games I’ve seen recently. There’s more text and more information to convey in the menus and user interface. You can use the system zoom, though, because all of the text is held in the menus. Occasionally, creators will spell things using blocks or other elements, but if you don’t like that, you can skip to a different level.
Necessity of Text 4/10
(The higher the rating, the less necessary the text is)
The text is pretty necessary in Mario Maker because it helps you figure out what type of level you’re about to play. The menus are not entirely intuitive, either. However, this probably isn’t a game-breaking problem. I’m going to hazard a guess that if you’ve got the visual acuity to handle tracking Mario and Goombas, you can probably handle reading the menus as long as you use the system zoom. That said, it may limit the length of your play sessions, so be aware.
Handheld Play 9/10
I struggle with grading this category because if you are interested in creating courses, handheld mode is the essential method. Trying to navigate all of the menus to create a course without the touchscreen is frustrating to say the least. That said, because Mario Maker has more of a variety of enemies, power-ups, and just stuff on the screen in general, I would warn you before playing it in handheld mode. This is going to be heavily dependent upon your vision, but there are a multitude of different items you will encounter, and more than most games, the small screen can be a detriment. But that’s not a problem exclusive to handheld mode. That’s just something to know about Mario Maker.
Level of Precision Required 8/10
This is still Mario. The hit boxes are still very small. There are still times you swear you weren’t in the way of the spikes, but you die anyway. That said, you can replay the levels as many times as you want, and you can choose levels that don’t require as much precision. And the availability of extra power-ups, coupled with Luigi’s help in story mode make story mode very friendly to beginners.
Controls and Depth Perception 9/10
The controls and physics of Mario feel a lot better to me in Mario Maker than they did in Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. Mario isn’t as slippy. I do find the depth perception a bit difficult, particularly in 3D World style. Overall, though, the controls feel fair.
What seems like a lifetime ago, I reviewed Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. I included a note for folks who only want to purchase one game or the other. After looking at them both in more depth, I still agree with the recommendations I gave in that review. SMBU is probably more friendly for people who haven’t played a Mario game before. There are easier levels in Mario Maker, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world to find them. I prefer the controls in Mario Maker, but SMBU has Peachette and Nabbit, which are better overall assist modes. I can’t give a universal recommendation of one over the other because they have different tradeoffs that will affect people differently.
Mario Maker courses do tend to be more cluttered than the average traditional Mario course. I highly recommend checking out some Mario Maker streamers before you buy the game so you can get a sense of what I’m talking about. If you need some recommendations, my favorite Mario Maker streamer is DGR Dave. You can find him on YouTube and Twitch. He’s very family friendly.
I’ll also note that Mario Maker has online play that suffers from connection issues. You can play with other people, trying to be the first to the goal, but the connection is frequently laggy. This lag affects everyone, but likely will be worse for folks who already struggle to see the gameplay. Not to mention that having multiple players on screen can add clutter and create very difficult obstacles. If you’re interested in this mode, I would again encourage you to check out some streamers before you buy.
Recommendation for visual skills needed for enjoyment
This really depends on what you want to do in the game. If you want to be able to boot up a few courses that are easier than typical Mario levels because you can’t see traditional Mario levels well enough to beat them, I think you could get away with up to 20/800 vision or so. You might need a sighted buddy for the menus. If you’re looking to be able to play a good variety of courses, I’d probably recommend up to 20/600. If you’re looking to become the next internet-famous level creator, you’re probably going to want more like 20/400 because the course creator is really only fun in handheld mode.
Overall, I recommend this game for anyone who has ever enjoyed a platforming game or is up for some wackiness. There are so many innovations in platforming included in the game, but it’s still presented with the same old-school, clean, and bright visuals.