Japanese Wii U owners (and a few folks in Europe and the U.S. who managed to find street-date-breaking retailers) are finally playing Super Mario Maker, and the rest of us have only a few hours to wait until the official launch. For reviewers, alas, that means a time of tearful reckoning is at hand. Yes, all the stages we've been posting about for the past few weeks are about to get a hard wipe.
Alas, Mario, fleeting and ephemeral, like the scent of jasmine on a spring breeze. Looks like we'll just have to start from scratch along with everyone else.
I promised one final Daily Mario entry before the serverpocalypse, and I'm a man of my word. (If you've missed the previous posts, them for the love of god, man, read them already.) So here, at the end of all things, let's look at one final project that shall soon be derezzed by the Master Control Program.
As the hundreds of hours of review labor vanishes as if it never happened, I thought it would be fitting (in a sort of melancholy way) to make one final stage in Super Mario Maker, patterned after the Mario game that Nintendo almost completely ignored in this release: Super Mario Bros. 2. Nintendo may not care enough about the American sequel to Super Mario Bros. to build it into this level-making kit, but clearly it commands a lot of affection among fans — myself included! While you can't fully reproduce that game's unique mechanics in Super Mario Maker, I wanted to try and capture its spirit as best as possible... you know, given that it's impossible to dig through sand or make Phanto chase you when you grab a key here.
I chose specifically to model my stage after Super Mario Bros. 2's World 4-3, the culmination of that game's ice world. There's very little in the way of slippery surfaces in SMB2's 4-3, though; instead, the stage unfolded as a pair of towers, which required you to climb one and down the other.
Now, there's a lot about SMB2's 4-3 that can't work in Super Mario Maker. Take the beginning of the stage, in which mid-boss Birdo appears seemingly out of sequence at the very start. It's a startling moment, but the point isn't to fight her; instead, you need to hop onto one of the eggs she fires and ride it across an otherwise uncrossable expanse of water. So I skipped that part to focus strictly on the towers, working in a Super Mario Bros. 3 style since it offers about the closest thing to SMB2's specific mechanics.
Of course, there's an even bigger problem with creating a tower in Super Mario Maker: The level sandboxes only allow you to create stages two screens high — not really much of a tower. Hence the 4-3 inspiration: That stage featured a break in the towers at the midway point, allowing you to cross over from one to the other. I did something similar here, using Warp Pipes to send Mario "outside" the tower multiple times to climb from one interior section to the next.
As with my previous stage project, I made use of background elements to create a sense of architecture — something more important in the exterior areas (to produce the illusion that you're traveling between multiple tower sections stacked one atop the other) than in interior spaces.
I played around with a few different hazard concepts, including Magikoopas and fire bars, but ultimately narrowed the challenges down to a handful of primary threats: Chain Chomps, Goombas of varying size, falling donut blocks, and Bob-ombs. Per usual, I tried to include early hints of upcoming stage mechanics in fairly harmless situations (you really have to go out of your way for this Chain Chomp to hit you) before putting them into more dangerous scenarios.
At the top of the first tower segment, the warp pipe to the next area appears on the other side of a pipe dropping Goombas (Goombas obviously being the primary theme of this first sequence). The arrow directing you into the far pipe isn't the most elegant way to coax players forward, but I didn't have a lot of room to work with here.
Outside the tower, you emerge from a pipe with the interior space you've just completed reproduced in an inaccessible area. (The rightmost pipe drops Goombas.) I should have put a background panel there to make its nature a little more clear, but hopefully the idea comes through and creates a sense of spatial and visual continuity that sells the "tower" concept.
In the first exterior section, multiple clusters of flame jets create a platforming challenge, with enough time to fire off on their cycles before you reach them, which makes it impossible for them to surprise you with their presence. The jets don't post much of a danger — they're easily leapt — but the idea is for them to create some tension and encourage you to rush along the more obvious path forward rather than solving the secret of the shortcut your first time through.
Said "obvious path" being a vine in a lone question block just begging to be hit; this leads you up to the next section of tower. There are some pretty obvious alternate platforms to explore to the right, but as vines in Mario games usually lead to a secret the idea here is to make it the more attractive path both for explorers and more easily intimidated players: Explorers will hopefully think, "Hmm, is there a secret up there?" and inadvertently take the critical path, while more timid players will ideally see a way out of the flames and go for it. Of course, there's no way to control how players think or react to a level, but I've tried to anticipate and guide everyone as much as possible.
The second tower interior leads you to a room where the floor is patrolled by small, free-moving Chain Chomps surrounding a giant Chomp whose range doesn't quite let it snag you on the pipe. You can rush though the Chomps if you want...
But if you wait for just a few seconds the active Bob-omb at the top of the screen will detonate, shattering the brick platform it patrols and thereby dropping a spring block. Then it's simply a matter of timing your jump onto the spring to leap up to the donut blocks above.
The donuts carry you just out of the Chomps' reach, but they're unstable footing and force you to rush. Some donut blocks appeared in a safer context in the first tower phase to introduce the mechanic, and this second iteration carries higher stakes. If you screw up, you can still make your way up on the platforms to the left, but the dense swarm of Chomps below will almost certainly deprive you of whatever power-up you happen to be carrying.
There's not too much more to this area: One last anchored Chain Chomp at the far end of a conveyor belt running in the wrong direction. Clear this obstacle and you can take the pipe to the second exterior sequence.
Outside again, you'll see some cloud platforms leading nowhere to the left of the pipe you emerge from, and some Bob-ombs dropping from the rightmost pipe.
The Bob-ombs once again serve as a puzzle, a reiteration of the one that showed off their ability to destroy blocks. Here, the path forward is obstructed by ice blocks that you can't break on your own. Instead, you need to toss Bob-ombs onto the spring blocks to destroy the blocks, allowing Mario to spring up to the platform above himself. The timing on this can be a little fussy, but it's manageable, especially if you use the raccoon tail from the power-up provided to the left of the pipes to swat the bombs.
Again, this is a more complex configuration of elements from earlier in the level... the one piece of this puzzle that hasn't already been demonstrated in some fashion is the fact that Mario can carry and kick some enemies, including Bob-ombs. If I rebuild this stage in the final retail version, I'll try to work that in somehow as well.
The path takes you up over a hump then down "under" the next segment of tower — again, you can see a glimpse of the next tower interior here to provide some visual continuity.
A P switch transforms the coins beneath the tower into bricks. I do need to tweak the layout of the coins here, since you can potentially kick the Koopa Troopas off the edge and cause them to collect the coins, destroying a portion of the path forward. It doesn't render the stage unwinnable — there's a hidden alternate route, for one — but it can make the first jump slightly too wide to be intuitive.
The coin-bricks lead to the final warp pipe, which takes you into the final segment of tower. Again, you see the same enemies that were visible from outside. The Bob-ombs go active as soon as you appear — not to create a challenge, just to increase the tension of the stage.
A few giant Goombas appear up top, making for a tough jump. Unless you swat them out of the way.
The bridge to the end is blocked by a wall of bricks. These are easily shattered if you've managed to hang on to the raccoon tail, but if not....
...the Bob-omb dispenser at the upper left of the tower comes in handy.
The end. A fairly convoluted stage layout, with a few tricky challenges. The coin-brick path leading to the final pipe in particular has very tight timing and allows room for maybe one mistake at the most. But it doesn't have to be like that! In fact, there are two shortcuts in the exterior areas. Again, this calls back to World 4-3 of Super Mario Bros.: In that stage, you could skip the entire tower if you were playing as Luigi or (if I recall correctly) Peach. Their impressive jump skills allowed you to cross a gap between the base platforms of both towers, skipping the majority of the stage. In the same spirit, you can totally bypass the second tower interior and the coin-brick path, if you know where to look.
There's a lot happening to the right side of the first tower exterior, but the important thing to look for is the odd asymmetry in the coins at the lower-right. Nature loves symmetry, and so do I, so this weird coin arrangement should provide a small clue...
...leading you to a hidden block with a P switch inside.
This of course turns the coins off the side of the tower into a pathway leading you to a door that takes you past the second tower section.
In classic Mario 2 style, it the other door hovers in the sky and drops you onto the clouds to the left side of the second exterior section.
Once you get past the springs and ice blocks of the second exterior area, you can ignore the coins leading you down below the final tower block to a slightly out-of-place block beside the upper tower.
This leads to a cloud platform beneath another hovering door. Appearances are deceiving, though; this isn't an exit from another door you haven't yet discovered.
A hidden block creates just enough flooring to turn the door into something you can actually use.
The other side of the door emerges directly above the final warp pipe, allowing you to enter the last section of tower without having to use the coin path beneath the tower.
Anyway, that's it for The Daily Mario. From here, the power to create good (or horrible) stages is in your hands, not just those of the dark games journalism illuminati. I do hope that my very public chronicle of learning through failure, and the deliberate design choices I've made, prove to be of at least some use to you! I've certainly learned a lot in the process of actually creating the things I normally only write about from an outside perspective. We'll be sure to create a topic specifically for level-sharing here on USG, so get to work.