Super Mario Maker's an odd game to quantify in terms of content. The game does come with its own set of levels, but a lot of them are very brief and seem intended to highlight specific ideas with which to inspire creators. Nintendo was clearly going all in on the hope that an enthusiastic community would go about creating the vast majority of the game's content for them; something even Media Molecule was apprehensive about when developing the community-driven LittleBigPlanet and its surprisingly long built-in campaign. Of course, the chief difference here is that while LittleBigPlanet's platforming mechanics left a lot to be desired, the four Mario game "models" currently supported by Mario Maker's toolset are some of the most mechanically proficient platformers ever created.
Take it from a guy who has been working on a number of NES and SNES pages here on the Giant Bomb wiki (do I talk about the wiki too much? I feel like I talk about the wiki too much), but the many, many Mario imitators rarely got close to the sort of divine but elusive platforming precision that Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World presented. Many of the hack developers that filled the NES/SNES with risible licensed games took one look at Mario and saw a goofy guy with funny clothes playing around in an abstractly bizarre cartoonish world - but the attempts to base their own games on such a rote, superficial reading of the appeal of Mario led to unfortunate cases like Wayne's World, Home Improvement, Family Dog, and no end of terrible licensed dreck that have since been consigned to oblivion and/or AVGN fuel.
Anyhoo, this is all in aid of trying to explain why Nintendo was absolutely vindicated in just throwing together a bunch of rudimentary tools, a handful of necessary Mario mainstays that editors could plonk down anywhere and a few of the Mario games' more memorable settings and expecting their diminishing audience of long-suffering Wii U owners to fill the game with so much free downloadable community content that they could get away with installing a mode where you play through sixteen randomly chosen user-generated stages and almost assuredly get something different every time. That feels extremely ballsy to me, but Nintendo didn't get to where they are without taking a lot of big, often dumb risks and emerging from them relatively unscathed.
All this pre-amble leads to what I, and I'd have to assume almost everyone, enjoy most about Super Mario Maker: finding the levels of friends and followed internet personalities, playing their creations and leaving a sarcastic message to them on MiiVerse. I've taken it to an extra meta level below, where I play through the "Marioeuvre" of a number of semi-famous Mario Maker creators and judge their body of work. Maybe some armchair psychological evaluation too, even though I'm dangerously unqualified to do so and some of it will no doubt border on passive-aggressiveness borne from their more challenging levels. I have a lot of Mario Maker-induced aggression to work out, it appears. With Dan Ryckert especially. Let's begin:
The Giant Bomb Community
I adore our community. We've had some rough spots and rougher spats of late, but while I believe the staff and the moderation team have helped mold the Duder Collective into one of the finest internet gaming communities on the internet, a lot of that has been on the community itself: choosing not to take any bullshit, taking it easy on the memes and hosting and welcoming a wide range of talented folk who create all manner of GB-related artwork and videos in their off-time, even if some of it ends up being horrifying. Yet, there's still a darkness within this pack of game-lovin' fools. That darkness was manifested in our combined efforts to create two of the most frustrating, trap-laden and just malicious Mario Maker stages that have no internal consistency or connecting tissue beyond the infliction of pain.
The Giant Bomb Community has so far created two levels, via the Giant Bomb Makes Mario livestreams and the "final say" judiciousness of Dan, Jeff and Drew. There was an implicit undercurrent that these levels would be foisted upon former GB newshound and current YouTube celebrity (and something about being a "Kotak" reporter?) Patrick "Scoops" Klepek, and so the community and the GB crew were anxious to add as many "fuck you" traps to the level as possible. As such, unless you were there for the level's creation or have since seen the archive, the levels are packed with pitfalls that you'd have to be prescient to avoid. For all our well-meaning submissions and clever ideas (using the POW block as a door step is still inspired, and I've used it myself), we recreated Cat Mario. Almost entirely because we all have fond memories of watching Patrick playing said Mario hack and almost tearing his impressively large hair out. Kudos, everyone.
I will say that, having been present for the creation of both levels, it's a lot easier once you know where all the mines are buried. The second stage is tougher than the first - naturally, since escalation is always a thing - but neither are in the realm of impossibility. It's another testament to just how sharp the physics and controls are for any Mario that you look at something like the precarious ice blocks floating over the abyss in the second community level and nail those jumps the first time, simply because everything reacts just like it should. Even so, with 1.25% and 0.61% completion respectively, we didn't build those things to be pushovers.
- The Giant Bomb Level 1: F829-0000-0066-E98B
- The Giant Bomb Level 2: 1F31-0000-0094-CC9D
"Dirty" Dan Ryckert
Oh, Dan. It should come to no surprise to anyone who hasn't actually seen Dan's Mario Maker levels that, while he started with the best intentions with some "traditionally" difficult Mario levels, his natural competitiveness and heel persona took over at some point to create levels that follow the same philosophy ofl meanness as the above community efforts.
Perilous Pits and Castle Keepyourtail are rocking sub-5% completion rates, but neither is absurdly difficult. Neither's particularly laden with unforeseeable pitfalls either - the aforementioned "fuck you" traps - relying instead on skill and understanding the game's mechanics. I was able to beat both within four or five attempts, which makes them the perfect level of difficulty for the game's Expert-level 100-Mario Challenge mode. Wood Zeppelin, meanwhile, is Dan's attempt at what may well have been a mid-game airship level for Super Mario Bros. 3: less difficult than his other stages but the right level of challenge for the original game. Ladder to Floor 2 is Dan's first requisite attempt a puzzle level: these things are fun to plan out, I've found, and seem almost as ubiquitous in the 100-Mario Challenge lottery as the clever but pointless "automatic" stages and "run along and the stage recreates music" stages.
After helping to bring the community levels into being, Dan's creations start to take on the vindictive, troll-y forms you'd expect. Mario's Jailbreak is a cute themed level with some misdirection, but Yoshi's Many Sacrifices and Spikeshoe Plains are far more malicious with plenty of "how was I supposed to know that?" instances packed into them. The Yoshi stage requires a lot of leaping off Yoshi to reach areas of the screen you are unable to see until you get up there, while Spikeshoe Plains requires an unnerving amount of precision and backtracking with a Kuribo's shoe. Both stages currently boast a <0.5% completion percentage: the sort of thing you'd instantly skip while playing the 100-Mario Challenge but might, with enough time and effort, eventually conquer. These two seem more overtly created to test Patrick, but of course that adversarial relationship would come to a head with the following: The Ryckoning.
I haven't beaten The Ryckoning. I simply don't have the patience for it. I consider myself a fairly decent Mario player, having been firmly attached to every new Mario game for the past twenty-five years as they were released, but I simply lack the motivation to complete that one. I've realized that the "0.1-0.2" range is about where I tap out; levels that would not be permitted in an official Mario game, even as a post-game hard mode bonus. Not even in The Lost Levels. But then, The Ryckoning was never meant to test me. It was meant to test Patrick; to all but humiliate him by filling the stage with his hated music blocks and all the rope-a-dope one-way traps and tricks Dan could muster. I know how to beat it, but having to go across those blocks both ways carrying galoombas and P-switches and POW blocks is something only a crazy (but still admirable, if it's for the sake of charity) person would want to dedicate more time to beyond the five minutes it takes to reach the inevitable "fuck all this" appraisal.
- Castle Keepyourtail: 6C17-0000-0034-CFC3
- Wood Zeppelin: 6D98-0000-003B-0CAC
- Mario's Jailbreak: 1A3C-0000-006F-6DD7
- Spikeshoe Plains: 6E3C-0000-008D-C11F
- The Ryckoning: 861E-0000-009C-8913
Jeff once proclaimed during one of the Giant Bomb Creates Mario streams that, unlike Dan, he only creates "nice levels". His first level Day One Fun is breezy and seems to have been thrown together to test out the tools for the sake of review, but his next two, Fish Riders and Quick Castle, are a little more elaborate. Going by the deaths and low completion percentage of Fish Riders, it doesn't seem as if too many people realized that they were supposed to make a fish appear a little earlier in the level and use it to cross the big gap that spells out "FISH" in coins. Quick Castle, meanwhile, is a short but brutal gauntlet through a SMB1 castle that could well be a Lost Levels holdover. Block Party's another gauntlet of moderate difficulty - the platforming's easy but there's enough enemies roaming around to complicate things - and Citizen Kane appears to be an elaborate joke on the famed hyperbolic statement.
Jeff's most recent levels, Walk a Bigger Eight and I Hate This Party, betray a turn in Jeff's level design. A turn for the evil. They don't quite hit the depths of Dan's trolling, but both feature a number of GB Community Level tricks that Jeff wanted to explore in a slightly less chaotic setting. Both still have their share of BS moments, however, like a leap of faith (more like a drop of faith) in I Hate This Party and Walk a Bigger Eight's number of deathtrap doors and misdirection. I hate to say it, but we're partially to blame for these levels. I Hate This Party's rocking a sub-5% completion rate, largely because of the awkwardness of Weird Mushroom Mario, while Walk a Bigger Eight has a Ryckertian 1.75% as of writing. Give them a shot if you need something to segue into the tougher community levels.
Also, how weird is it that Jeff hasn't made any Super Mario World levels yet, considering it's his oft-mentioned favorite? Maybe he considers them too sacrosanct to mess with.
- Fish Riders: 9F6A-0000-001C-E745
- Quick Castle: 1C35-0000-0022-92DC
- Block Party: F0B3-0000-0022-D6C1
- Walk a Bigger Eight: A3D9-0000-009C-D845
- I Hate This Party: B4A5-0000-00C8-9D56
Ross is many things: an animator, a voice actor, an Australian and part of the Game Grumps menagerie of YouTube LPers. He's also one of the most highly rated users on Super Mario Maker, in part due to his internet renown. First and foremost, pertinent to the levels he's created, he's a self-proclaimed sadist. I suspect he means in the gentler prank-loving, "watching people squirm" kind of way, but his stages - which were the centerpiece for an ongoing Game Grumps series with the irascible Arin Hanson and the impossibly chill Dan Avidan - evenly split their time between horrifically difficult sequences and cruel deathtraps. I'm more a fairweather fan of the Grumps, cherry-picking whatever LP series strike my fancy (they have one going right now with creepy-crawly sim Deadly Creatures that's been made better by how frequently surprised they are at its quality, though I suspect they'll move on soon), but the Mario Maker episodes have been oodles of fun because of the not-entirely-fabricated animosity the hosts share with their co-worker as a result of his creations.
Half of Ross's levels are goofing around and not particularly remarkable, but - as with Dan - it's when he finds a couple of patsies in the form in his alleged friends and their ongoing Mario Maker coverage that the gloves come off and he starts twisting the knife (yeah, I know, metaphors and the mixing thereof). Companion Spring and You Are A Monster are his most notorious, though Boss Rush also stymied the Grumps for a long time. Compared to those nightmares, such cute novelties such as Pac-Mario (you can already imagine what that stage looks like) and Very Simple (and very deceptive) don't even feel like they came from the same person.
I've beaten all of Ross's stages except Boss Rush and his most recent project: an even harder sequel to Companion Spring that currently enjoys a 0.03% completion rate, which is one of the smallest I've seen outside of Panga's notorious Bomb Voyage. Knowing Ross, he's installed some kind of hidden power-up or path to help him beat the stage so it could be uploaded and leave his audience scratching their heads. He is a butt.
- Pac-Mario: C70D-0000-002E-6128
- You Are A Monster: 0D6C-0000-0049-8B08
- Boss Rush: 41DA-0000-008A-CD13
- Very Simple: FE40-0000-008B-0790
- Companion Spring 2: Bounce Back: FF25-0000-009E-6508
Known variously as the sweet baby brother of the MBMBaM advice podcast, the malevolent Dungeon Master of The Adventure Zone D&D podcast, as Chad the Talking Dog (briefly) and as a video producer over at Polygon, Griffin's general philosophy with Mario Maker levels is to not take the whole exercise particularly seriously. Though his most recent stages demonstrate a depth of creativity, most of them are goofs and practical jokes. As you'll see a little later, I'm pretty much on the same airship with my stages.
Is This What You Want From Me is the epitome of "meta Griffin": a level which is essentially one long passive-aggressive message to users wanting something slightly easier than his intimidating debut effort (and yet more Klepek bait) Hypercube.
Speaking of Hypercube, it's not a good idea to go into that thing without knowing what the trick is. Make no mistake, it's quite the trick: it involves a bug in the game itself that allowed him to conceal two of those blocks that become coins when you hit a P-Switch with regular old indestructible blocks, making the stage literally impossible to complete until you'd found it. It's not even obvious in the editor. Once the secret was out, the win/fail ratio suddenly went from nothing to something, but after three or four wasted Super Mario Maker Mornings from Klepek the damage had already been done.
While Super Fun Auto-Play Level and Stop Limiting My Art, Fascists are goofs, Catch You on the Flipside, Journey of the Springboard and Cannonball Hall are genuinely inventive levels. As an admirer of going into a lot of effort for the sake of a doofy gag and of the more puzzle-focused levels I've seen on Super Mario Maker, he's worth following for ample amounts of both. (And for goshsakes, listen to MBMBaM and The Adventure Zone already.)
- Hypercube: B2A3-0000-00AB-C911
- Cannonball Hall: 8E0C-0000-00B5-790A
- Is This What You Want From Me?: D9D0-0000-00BA-869D
- Journey of the Springboard: 7273-0000-00C7-7AAF
- Catch You on the Flipside: 1535-0000-00C7-AEA7
Well, if I've discovered anything about myself after tinkering around with the Mario Maker tools, is that my attention span is utter garbage. I've created two levels I'm sort of proud of, and two others which were a test and a dumb pun respectively, but I'm in that prideful situation that I also embody with my video game writing where I'm trying to avoid learning from smarter people in order to maintain a unique perspective and avoid inadvertently biting their steez, as it were.
However, there is something to be said from taking cues from people who have been doing things longer than you have or are naturally more gifted with the medium, so I'd recommend anyone actually considering making their own levels to take their lessons where they can from whatever the game randomly spits out for the 100-Mario Challenge. (To perhaps a lesser extent also, the GB community and the creators above.)
I'll leave you with three more level codes: my own. See what you think, and recommend me some good levels from GBers and elsewhere. I've been meaning to check out the big showcase thread we have on the forums, but... well, like I said, I don't want to step on anyone's toes. I already ripped off the "POW block as steps" bit from the Giant Bomb Makes Mario streams.
- White Blöoper Cult: F7E7-0000-00C5-1BEC
- Super Marrario: 621C-0000-00C4-8F64
- Boo Fort T. Justice: 0367-0000-00C4-E04E