Switch City, Vol. 9: One Month of Making Mario!

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Ah, game creation. Who hasn’t dreamed of dazzling Shigeru Miyamoto with their masterpiece? Or showing off something cool to their friends?

Making a game is one of my many pipe dreams (it seems more likely than entering the Baseball Hall of Fame). Many titles have attempted to gamify game-making, but few are as successful as Super Mario Maker. And to my surprise, the average level found in Super Mario Maker 2 is leagues better than the bulk of the original game. Perhaps this is Nintendo marketing to an older audience, or better curation, or just more serious players. In any case, the half a screen filled with Bowser barf has a highly diminished presence in the sequel.

A lot of creators like to push the game mechanics to their limits with outrageous puzzle levels. Those are cool in their own right, but I’m more interested in making vanilla-ass platforming challenges. In fact, I’ve spent the past month (and change) designing a continuous Mario game.

Nearly every time I try to make a project like this, my ambition outpaces my abilities. A great idea doesn’t count for much if you get frustrated and give up right away. That's pretty much my experiments with Dreams earlier this year in a nutshell. For Mario Maker 2, I’m just taking it one idea at a time.

I can’t say that all my levels are perfect, but they were definitely fun to make. So, here’s an overview of the first two worlds of Untitled Mario Project!

Underwater Escort

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There’s no dearth of YouTube tutorials explaining how to make a good level. The general consensus is to focus each level on a single concept that evolves over the level. So, for my first level in the new game, I gave myself a challenge: Could I take traditionally hated gaming tropes and make them fun?

This led to Underwater Escort, where the player has to take P Switches up a vertical tunnel of water to clear blocks in their way. I actually had a much greater scope for this level originally, where you would have to keep up with the switch on a track. Rising water levels were also part of the plan, but these elements weren’t working the way I had envisioned.

One part of creation that’s been tricky for me is enemy placement. Super Mario Maker 2 has a ton of enemies to pick from, so there’s really something for every situation. Constructing a solid difficulty curve was a challenge in the case of this level. The result is a mishmash of enemies including Hammer Bros, Boo Buddies, and Thwomps. Looking at the death distribution, I somewhat succeeded, though how fun it is is harder to judge. Maybe I’ll revisit this concept in the future.

1-1: Goomba Alley

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Once I finished my first stage, I was ready to start my game proper. I went with the Super Mario Bros. 1 style because it has the least variables. No picking up junk, no flying power-ups, no spin jumping… it’s as pure as you can get.

So, what makes a good 1-1? Well, they always seem to have Goombas, so that’s the theme of this level. But more than that, this was really practice for good platforming flow. Honestly, I’m pretty happy with it! It’s short, but it serves as a good baseline for what the rest of the game will be.

I’m also noticing experiments with enemy modifiers here. Goombas have parachutes and stack on each other, which I haven’t used in any other levels. I’m largely sticking more to what you would find in a Nintendo-made game for the rest.

1-2: Down the Pipes

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As you would expect, level 2 is an underground stage. Unlike the straight shots beforehand, the idea here is to separate small rooms with pipes. Enemies have a much greater presence compared to platforming, which is unusual. No one too crazy shows up, but I threw a Boom-Boom in there.

There’s even a split path where the player can pick between two pipes. The difference is negligible, but it’s fun putting in extra options when designing. We’re still in introductory mode, after all.

1-3: Leapin’ Mushrooms!

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This one’s a sky level! I really went all out with the aesthetics with vines draping off the platforms. Now that’s good form and function.

As the title implies, the gimmick here is the Goomba’s Shoe. Yeah, that’s what it’s called in Mario Maker. “Kuribo” is just the Japanese name for a Goomba. This time, though, the gimmick is more optional. It’s up to you whether to use the shoe for the hidden room and to bounce on hazards, or you could use the vines and avoid it.

Visually, this is probably my favorite level of the bunch. I find the palette of the sky theme really appealing, and the extra touches make it shine that much more.

1-4: Fire Bar Castle

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I remember fire bars as insurmountable obstacles when I first played the original game. I must have tapped into that repressed anxiety for my first castle level. Most of the time, you’re timing jumps on the fire bars to avoid falling into the lava below.

Truthfully, this one feels kinda rushed out there. My design could stand to be tweaked more, though you can skip a segment with some tight jumping. There’s also a “boss fight” with Bowser Jr. at the end… you know, he tries his best. Definitely some room for improvement in future castle levels.

2-1: Desert First

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Why make a game if there’s no desert level? This one is a step up in length from world 1. I put down the first checkpoint in the game, which is always a good practice in my opinion. And the desert gives the opportunity to introduce some of your favorite faces:

Spinies! Hammer Bros! The Angry Sun! It’s good summer vibes all the way down! Just ignore the giant bones everywhere.

2-2: Rivers in the Desert

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I already got bored of the desert, so I added water segments. If you follow the coins, you should be safe from the schools of fish. Actually, the most deaths were in the first few seconds, which you don’t really want to see.

Anyways, this one’s mostly more of the same plus some new enemy encounters. I think the genesis was thinking of desert-related wordplay and going from there. If you don’t know, the title is a reference to a song from Persona 5. Those jumping Cheep Cheeps in Mario 1 are cool, so they’re in here too.

2-3: Desert P

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Now we’re in puzzle territory. Inside the pyramid, P Switches reveal the way forward. The first part of the level is sort of open-ended since you need pink coins to get a key. I had to do some tweaking since P Switches never seem to act like how you would expect…

After two levels about P Switches, I’m probably good without them for a while. The tune that plays when they’re active really dampens the atmosphere I tried to create here. To me, aesthetics can be just as important as the jumping, and I usually try to make both strong. Speaking of, I’m really happy with the way the pyramid looks. I buried some skull platforms inside to add to the creepy factor.

And here’s a secret: You can go left at the end to ride one to the top of the flagpole!

2-4: Casa de Boom-Boom

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This level is so new, it’s not even finished yet. I’m trying to refine the curve of Underwater Escort, this time outside of the water. I actually started working on it before the other levels in world 2, but I just couldn’t get it working right. You’re meant to use springs to climb the tower and avoid progressively harder enemies. And of course, Boom-Boom will wait at the top.

Looking back at my earlier levels has strengthened my resolve. If you’re interested in trying my levels, I hope you look forward to my future ideas! And if you have any ideas or feedback, feel free to leave them below. Ciao!

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