I swear I’m not an asshole, but the levels I keep coming up with in Super Mario Maker 2 seem to be conspiring to prove the opposite point about me. Given my propensity for trying to build my own video games and love of the greatest bros in the history of the world, Mario and Luigi, pre-ordering the latest Mario level builder was the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make. Immediately after getting home the Friday night that it released, I tore into the Story Mode hoping to learn all about the intricacies of what makes a truly great Mario course. Two days later, with the Story Mode complete, I was primed and ready to start creating my first world. That’s when I started to notice something odd about my level building. That’s when it started to dawn on me that I might just be an asshole.
The Dreaded Ice Coaster: 7Q0-XTK-PQG
For my initial foray into the world of Mario Making, I would start simple. I’d design a level revolving around an ice coaster theme where you had to carefully maneuver past obstacles and baddies while managing all the slipping and sliding the ice provided. Things started effortlessly enough, and in about half an hour I had the course fully laid out. It was fast and fun, but it needed a little more challenge to make it memorable. As a result, I started throwing in some enemies throughout the level, including one very intriguing hammer bro right at the start. What initially began as a cool little thing to catch your eye, soon morphed into so much more. It turns out that if you blasted through the level as fast as you could, the hammer thrown by the enemy had about a 75% chance of hitting you as you reached the bottom of the first set of slopes, relegating you back to non-Super Mario form. Every single time that hammer connected, it brought a twinkle of joy to my eyes. Later section of the level also needed a little boost, so a well placed Bully and a bouncy spiny were added to keep you on your toes. The end result was a speed-runners dream that I was pretty pleased with considering it was my first attempt. Several days later, I ended up being shocked to discover the completion rate was so low. Surely, though, it was the players’ fault and not my own….
Clear Rate: 25/177 (14.12%)
Asshole Score: 6/10
A Little Lava Never Hurt No One: 5PN-GK6-7QF
Shortly after I was done with my ice coaster, I decided to go the exactly opposite of that with a lava level. Without yet knowing how low of a clear rate my first course would get, I knew I wanted to make the second even harder. Just two levels in, I had consciously decided to go full asshole. This level would have it all, a falling skeleton koopa right at the onset to go for immediate frustration, a rising lava level that would occasionally obscure platforms you had to reach, tons of fire beams traveling in opposite directions, a superball power-up section requiring pin-point accuracy, a row of single blocks surrounded by spaces demanding you run or fall to your death, and lastly, a final area chock full of multiple Bowsers and more fire beams where the best bet was just to get hit and keep running until it was over. It was everything I hoped for and more, and at a sub 10% clear rate, the increased difficulty had clearly been achieved while, I believe still maintaining the fun.
Clear Rate: 16/170 (9.41%)
Asshole Score: 8/10
My third level based on the greatest game on my favorite game show from my unemployed days, The Price is Right, would be my asshole pièce de rèsistance. Inspired by a coworker’s brilliant yet extremely demanding take on a Goomba Battle Royale game, Brattle Royale (97Q-33C-JSG), I was determined to get my revenge. The core conceit was fairly simple, you had to navigate through diverging paths of bouncers, while being careful not to choose the wrong path that could be full of enemies or a death trap. At first, I was even going to include a checkpoint about halfway through to make it even easier for the player, but that didn’t last since having a checkpoint meant I couldn’t also have a clear condition based on the number of coins you had picked up. With that pesky player-aid out of the way, the end result was pure pain, highlighted by one particularly devious section where you must navigate through a lone safe square surrounded by bouncers and spikes. I knew I was starting to get out of control when I even included a troll trap at the very end that could bounce someone not paying attention to their death just inches from victory, that is if you managed to make it there before the aggressive timer ran out. Going back to play it for this post, I was shocked at just how much of an asshole I was. It truly deserves the only “perfect” Asshole Score of all my levels.
Clear Rate: 2/228 (0.87%)
Asshole Score: 10/10
The Great Switch Caper: VTT-GF1-FVF
The lack of success people had with this one was the most confounding to me. Sure it featured a 30 second time limit for a level that should take even the best speed runner 21 seconds and a no getting hit rule, but I could do this one in my sleep. It was actually designed to help me learn how to better use the cape power up from Super Mario World. Or so I thought! When going back to replay this it took me a solid 15 tries to complete it, helping me to unearth the hidden asshole potential of it all. Even when I wasn’t trying to be one, I was a massive asshole.
Completion Rate: 6/170 (3.52%)
Asshole Score: 8/10 (only 5/10 intentional)
Yoshi’s Hot Wiggler Eating Contest: XN8-PXJ-35G
My 4th of July celebration level is my most blatant attempt at going mainstream yet. After hearing a joking suggestion that someone should make a hot dog eating level in honor of Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest on my favorite video game podcast, Kotaku Splitscreen, I decided that someone should be me. Sensing that there was a non-zero chance this could end up becoming popular especially if one of the hosts shared it, I knew I had to change my design style. I found myself actively working to make the level easier and more appealing to the masses, which is fortunate because it did sort of blow up after a Jason Schreirer retweet and a shoutout on the podcast itself (3:55 mark).
The level unfolds via a series of changing platforming locales where Yoshi must eat wigglers, culminating in a bouncy musical note room that turns into a search mission. Initially, the music room was pure anarchy as every surface was covered with bouncy music notes leading to wigglers raining down on your from all angles with little hope of not getting knocked off of Yoshi. Eventually, I added some solid ground to provide respite from the carnage and greatly reduced the number of wigglers in that area to also ease things. I even showed mercy on the players by putting comments up at key locations, so they could make sure they had all the wigglers they should have consumed by that point before proceeding. These concessions led to my second highest completion rate yet. While still fairly low, I imagine this may be more of a result of the extreme length of time required to eat all 75 wigglers in honor of the actual hot dog record. Seriously, I gained a new appreciation for just how absurd eating 75 hot dogs is when I had to design fun, creative ways to have Yoshi do it that many ridiculous times.
Completion Rate: 22/163 (13.49%)
Asshole Score: 4/10
MariGato Roboto – Q90-R2W-KWF
Despite every fiber in my being screaming to go back to my asshole roots, I would attempt to make a second consecutive themed level to appeal to the masses. The very first level making idea that had popped into my head back when playing story mode was to build an homage to Gato Roboto using the 3D world’s Cat Suit and attempting to build a giant mech suit. After a week mastering the tools, it was time to finally do so.
The level spans 3 main sections – a coin search area requiring backtracking a la the game’s Metroid inspirations, a lava region including a fairly fun car section, and the grand escape via the mech suit and some bob-ombs. Overall, it might be my best designed level and most forgiving level (thanks to having cat suit power-ups everywhere and multiple checkpoints), but it still ended up with a fairly low clear rate that I hope can just be attributed to the length of the level and not the difficulty.
Completion Rate: 7/104 (6.73%)
Asshole Score: 4/10
Propeller Trouble – L9Y-WYC-PNF
A giant light bulb went off inside my head when building this level centered around propelling Mario perfectly from one obstacle to another while keeping ahead of auto-scrolling doom. All these low clear rates weren’t because I was an asshole. Well, aside from that of Plinko, where I clearly needed professional help. Rather, they were because I wasn’t really building Mario levels. Instead, I was doing my best to build levels like those in Celeste, a brutally challenging platformer that I absolutely love. The similarity of Celeste‘s dash-jump central mechanic to the propeller head power-up finally made it all make sense. While those types of games can get away with the extreme platforming challenges because you know what you’re signing up for and because the games are usually split into challenge rooms that take no more than about 20 seconds a piece, Mario Maker players don’t necessarily know what they’re getting into when they load up one of my demanding, lengthier levels. This revelation might not alter my design style, but it at least would help establish my guiding principles for the future. Of all my levels, this one might be my favorite because it just might be the closest I will ever come to building my dream platforming level.
Completion Rate: 8/70 (11.42%)
Asshole Score: 7/10
The Grand Gravity Glitch – 12G-TGF-GYF
With my newfound clarity, I decided to go all-in on my next level. I was hoping to build a truly epic gravity challenge that was not for the faint of heart, and I think I succeeded. The level alternates between rooms of low gravity and rooms with “reverse” (upside down) gravity causing your brain to have to constantly adapt to the context switching controls. When all is said and done, this one might end up with my lowest clear rate of all, but, unlike Plinko, this was done out of love and a sense of wonder for all the great things you can create with the impressive tool set of Mario Maker.
Completion Rate: 2/120 (1.66%)
Asshole Score: 9/10
Total Completion Rate: 88/1202 (7.32%)
Average Asshole Score: 7/10
Am I really a bad person? Was I actively trying to frustrate the fellow Mario lovers who stumbled upon my levels? I believe and hope the answer is “no”. I actually do think that, for the most part, my attempts at adding tricky challenges to my levels were to make them more fun, at least in the way I find platformers fun. I love difficult games in the genre like Celeste that require pinpoint control and constant frustration leading to euphoric victory, but it turns out that not everyone does. Maybe there’s a part of me that will eventually embrace designing some more straightforward and universally appealing levels for my plumber controlling friends to navigate, but deep down inside, I know I’ll always be wanting to throw in one more tricky feature. I’m not a troll. I just like a challenge.