Shortly after the launch of Super Mario Maker I did a write-up to share my experience with the game after the first week. It was an exciting time as we all learned the tools and discovered how much fun the concept is. However, it has evolved a lot since then with new tools added, some structural changes and a much larger community. I feel like enough has changed that another write-up is necessary, so Go-a-let’s! … Wait, I got that around the wrong way… drag this… move that. Let’s-a-go!
Checkpoints are the biggest addition when it comes to creation tools. Initially I was against these, because Mario levels are already short enough and they didn’t feel necessary. A level is a journey and a checkpoint can just cut up the experience and make the jumps seem less important. However with some experience, I’ve discovered that most people never GET to the end of a level and checkpoints have definitely helped with that. I’ve found a few practical uses for them and redone two stages to be more playable. They’ve also allowed me to put boss fights at the end of long stages, and still make them challenging with an easy retry incentive. Space Frigate is a level where I would not have put a boss fight at the end without checkpoints, because to make something difficult it usually has to be played a few times to understand. When you have to play through 2 minutes of obstacles to get back there and die again, it’s not appealing level design to most people. It also gave me a reason to create this cool Metroid save room.
Checkpoints have stretched the design of many skilled players and creators. While doing Expert courses I played a level that took me 25 minutes, and without checkpoints I would’ve gone insane. It was a good level and I’m grateful checkpoints are an option just to experience it. Despite their benefit, I haven’t included them in every level I’ve made since then. I feel if overused, they can ruin the feeling of tension and pressure at the end of a difficult level. Short levels also have their place and many good stages carry a sense of momentum. It’s a tough balance, but that’s just like any other element to the game really. Good addition to the toolset.
P-Switch doors are another addition, a blank outline of a door that becomes solid with the press of a P-Switch. This doesn’t change the structure much but it definitely increases the possibilities with level design and is very useful for puzzle levels. I have not found an exciting way to use it yet but it’s nice to have the option. I’m sure I’ll find a use for it if I keep trying new things.
Another new tool is this donut, delivered straight from hell. It wasn’t implemented by Nintendo but Satan himself. He somehow learned the network coding and snuck this horrific object into the update. It might not look that bad, but you can barely do anything with it because it’ll just send you flying comically off the screen or into some spikes. Even in calculated platforming, it’s very difficult to bounce in the middle of it to actually go where you want to. Most stages I’ve seen just spam them everywhere and you’re bouncing around like an optimistic moron hoping things work out. I think they look cool though, and when used as “obstacles” they are fine and can add to the visual flair. They are much better than spikes or grinders in that aspect, because of their wild trajectory you just REALLY don’t want to hit them.
The final object added is absolutely AMAZING, and it’s the Koopa Fire Clown Car. This is a new version of the Clown Car that shoots fire, with normal shots and charge shots. It has given birth to a ton of SHMUP style levels and they are really fun when done correctly. A charged shot can blow up blocks so you can use that to open doors and carve a path. This can be used creatively in many ways, for boss fights and for making a path with a time limit, and it’s one of the few good uses of auto-scrolling levels I’ve experienced. Really fun addition that is satisfying to control.
6 million stages makes the initial announcement of 1 million stages feel like nothing. This is a very impressive feat that Nintendo has rightfully celebrated, however it’s become much harder for stages to get seen. The “economy” of Mario Maker has started to resemble the mobile app store with an overwhelming amount of auto-play fart machines drowning out the good stuff. This is something you won’t be affected by if you’ve been playing since launch, but for new players it’s a big deal. I’ve seen new players who have made 20+ levels and they only get 1 or 2 stars each, even if they are good. The numbers have gone WAY down, and these ones actually matter. It’s not about getting recognition and applause, but people are getting so little stars now that they haven’t been able to increase their upload limit. It’s just become significantly less likely for your level to show up in the 100 Mario challenge when they are picking from a pool of 6 million. It’s not a game-breaking problem, but it has made the experience a bit discouraging for new players and there’s a solution to it.
It’s time to hit the reset button. I think they should only include random stages from the last month. There is still a ton to choose from, and it would also encourage people to make more stages and keep sharpening their creation skills. The older stages would still exist of course, but they’ve already had their time in the roulette. I would love for people to play my newer stages but I keep getting notifications that “Miiface just played Woolly Maker!” which I made in about 20 minutes at launch. It’s not a bad stage but just LOOK AT MY OTHER ONES, PLEASE. Another solution could be to introduce a new mode where you only play recent stages, or include a checkbox in the 100 Mario Challenge that enables “Recent”. I’d definitely play that because every creator has gotten better over time and the quality would be noticeable. While I do see this current over-saturation as a problem, it’s something I can forgive and understand since this game has become way more popular than Nintendo expected. I’d say it’s a good problem to have for a new game.
Unlocking things is something I had no problem with in the first week, but after getting the basic tools I’ve been exposed to the Mystery Mushroom grind. I’ve been playing pretty consistently since launch and look at all those gaps on the Mystery Mushroom unlock screen above. There’s over a hundred 8-bit costumes to unlock and these are obtained by completing the 100 Mario Challenge, with different costumes tied to Easy, Normal and Expert clears. For completionists, this is a ridiculous grind as the Expert challenge can take over an hour just to do once. This is NOT the main problem however, I’m actually okay with having cool things to unlock. The costumes are all good, with impressive sprites and funny unique sound effects tied to each one. My issue is that the “grind” encourages bad player behavior when there is so much at stake. Some levels are harder than others and people are skipping those levels after a few deaths, without really giving them a shot. All with the focus of surviving the damn gauntlet for 16 levels. I consider myself a good player and I’ve come close to losing a few times, and failed it once at the very end. The temptation to skip levels is very strong.
I love the 100 Mario mode itself and do not mind failure, but I just hate the way they have implemented this reward system. The fact that costumes are unlocked behind this is making people rush through it. I would rather them be unlocked some other way, so people can enjoy a difficult level they come across in the 100 Mario challenge without having to worry about “progress”. I wasted about 45 lives on one level I really liked, and it made getting to the end very difficult and probably would have cost me an unlockable costume if I got bad luck at the end. The costume is a nice reward, but so is discovering and playing a fun stage. I would love to see a different kind of challenge implemented that rewards players who complete levels.
The official bookmark page is a fantastic addition. It’s the reason I could link my Space Frigate stage in the second paragraph without having to post a code. It’s just a nice easy link to click for lazy people, and if you own the game you can bookmark a course in your web browser, and it’ll show up in the newly added “Bookmark” tab in the game next time you play. Very, very useful and it makes people far more likely to pay attention to a stage when all they have to do is click “bookmark” and play it later in their own time. Unfortunately it doesn’t actually say the code itself which is a bizarre omission. Not really necessary, I just find it strange since I’m used to putting codes in the traditional way.
Auto levels still exist. They are still shit. People are still making them. Just stop, please. I have played hundreds now and not one of them has been fun or interesting. If I want games to play themselves I’ll fire up a Humble Indie Bundle, dim the lights and crank up the feels. This is Mario, for fuck’s sake.
Event courses are great, I love them. These add to the community feel in a big way because everyone can play them on the same big Event list. It’s just fun to experience them and almost all the stages are good, like free DLC. I really enjoyed playing the courses that Nintendo made for a Japanese gaming event, as I imagined myself being there under pressure on the big stage. It’s a great way to add costumes to the game too, and much better than the 100 Mario grind because the Event levels are usually designed with the theme of that character in mind. For example the Tri Force Heroes level had waves of 3 enemies and stuck to the teamwork theme. I can’t wait to see more of these in the future, and hope Nintendo keeps holding live events like the Nintendo World Championships so we can play the levels, get into the minds of top players, and pretend we’re there. I love how this game brings people together.
Another great competitive feature is the new speedrun time. Every level will now display the first person to beat the level, and the person with the fastest time. After beating any random level, it’ll display your time as well as the record. If I’m just a few seconds off and I liked the level, I’ll usually replay the level and beat the time. I’ve found myself going back to quite a few stages just to get the best time, and some “easy” stages take on a whole new shape when you try to speedrun them. In a game like Mario Maker it’s especially satisfying because most people have not designed fool-proof levels and you can usually find skips and risky strategies to get amazing times. It’s a fun little incentive and anything that encourages players to test themselves is a positive addition. I would love them to expand further on this and have a “Top 5” or “Top Friends Times” for Event Courses, but this is a good start. It would also be bad to overwhelm players with this because I understand not everyone wants to go fast, or even think about it.
Now that I’ve talked about all the cosmetic changes I can talk about the biggest one of all, my inner growth as a person. I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the last few months, and my creative soul has blossomed along with Super Mario Maker and the rest of the community. This became apparent when I went back to my earlier levels and wanted to change everything about them. There is so much to consider when making a level and I feel like I’m learning to see the process in new ways. I’ve also learned a lot hearing friends feedback, and I’ve realised and accepted that my “type” of level is not a popular one. Despite this, I’m still happy to make levels to satisfy myself, because there’s absolutely nothing at stake here. I’m just enjoying the process and trying to make levels that I find interesting. I’ve now uploaded 27 levels which is more than I ever planned, and I want to push myself even more with an ultimate goal of uploading 50 levels I’m happy with.
Apart from some small complaints and reflections, I absolutely love this game and I still play a lot. It makes me so happy to discover people’s stages and see everyone having fun sharing comments and stars. Mario’s movement mechanics are just the best, and they make the whole creative process worth it. You don’t make levels to look at them, but to PLAY them. Even if you take out the creation tools this is the best controlling 2D Mario game to date. A slightly more polished version of NSMBU’s controls have made a huge difference in the confidence and precision of his movement. Some days I don’t touch the creation mode and just enjoy people’s levels. Other days I will just sit there and create.
I admit, there have been moments of frustration where I will start to question humanity while going through 100 Mario Expert. It’s an emotional journey sometimes, especially when you get 5 bad levels in a row. Then 5 more. Then you start to see invisible blocks everywhere. In the kitchen. In the bathroom. Then suddenly a great level will pop up and make it all worth it, as mushrooms start flooding out of the cupboard. You can also avoid this struggle entirely by playing on Easy or Normal, which still have a lot of interesting concepts to discover. In fact Normal is probably the best place to go for creativity. I’m constantly impressed by all the different approaches people have, this game still feels “young” to me which makes it exciting to think about the future. With limitless variety this game still feels fun and fresh and I can’t see that ever fading. The “gimmick” of playing new Mario levels has not just been fun for 6 months, but 30 years. Super Mario Maker is such a wonderful piece of software and it’s a true blessing that Nintendo decided to release this tool and let us experience the joy of game creating together.
Happy Mario Making!