Making levels in Super Mario Maker is insanely fun and addicting, but personal enjoyment doesn’t always translate to everyone else when it comes time to upload your masterpiece. It’s impossible to please all people, of course, but there are ways to help ensure that your Mario Maker stages appeal to a wider array of folks. Here are some helpful hints to spice up your creations and stretch your skills!
I’ve been playing Mario games since I was around five or six years old. I know my way around the Mushroom Kingdom, and though I will often find myself challenged in a Mario game, I tend to fly through every stage at fast speed and rarely get stuck. This is the case for a lot of folks reading this, but it’s important to understand that not everyone is the same way. I initially wanted to make every stage as difficult as possible, with tricky segments that only the most hardcore of Mario players would be able to overcome. There are a lot of fans who want blazing hot difficulty levels, but generally speaking it’s more important to find a healthy middle ground somewhere between hard and easy if the goal is to get a lot of people playing your stages.
One thing I’ve taken to doing to help make this happen is testing my stages to see if they can be completed just by walking through them from the beginning to the end. Weird though it may seem, there are a lot of players who never make Mario run. Like ever. It’s maddening to watch for anyone who is like me and hardly ever takes it slow, but these players are out there and looking to experience your wonderful stage ideas. Try to throw them a bone and leave enough wiggle room that even the slowpokes can have fun.
Balance Your Elements
Mario Maker offers an unprecedented level of control over the action on-screen, but it can be easy to lose the balance between too many and too few elements utilized in a given stage. Like everything else in Mario Maker, there’s no true right or wrong amount of items, hazards, and enemies to stuff a level with, but players tend to gravitate toward stages that have a clear, thoughtful design to them. If you’re going to fill the screen with dozens of Koopa Troopas, that’s swell, but what’s the purpose behind it? Are you going to give the player a star so he can barrel through all of those enemies? Are you going to arrange it so that the player can bounce her way across their heads in rapid succession? It’s tempting to go for pure spectacle by throwing a bunch of things on the screen, but it rarely translates to quality gameplay.
Don’t be a Jerk
Some people just can’t help themselves and want to be the craftiest, sneakiest, smartest designer of all-time, uploading levels with nauseatingly obtuse, head-scratching methods of completion. That can be fun here and there, but when you’re at the end of a 100-Mario gauntlet and hit a brick wall because some dude in Finland put an invisible block in the least obvious place ever, well… don’t expect to make lots of friends if you’re that dude in Finland. A little mystery is a good thing, and players dig secrets, but be smart about how you incorporate them. Visual cues are always a sound way to go. Placing an invisible block between two solid ones creates a high probability that players will actually find it, for example. Leave a coin trail just in sight of the player to let them know some out of the way path or prize is nearby. If you have some vine squirreled away in an obscure spot up in the rafters of your ghost house and make a wall of coins that says “UP” with no other direction or hint, that isn’t typically going to get the player to do whatever it is you’re wanting them to, and will instead make them decide to quit your stage.
Hard but Fair
I know a lot of people reading right now are thinking, “Well, what if I don’t want my stage to be easy?” Totally understandable, and I like a challenge, myself… so long as it’s a fair one. If you’re looking to create a real monster of a stage that requires the sharpest reflexes and intimate, inside-out knowledge of how to control Mario, this isn’t the guide for you. For those who simply want to demand a high level of excellence from their audience, I suggest looking to the classics. What are the stages that demanded you play them over and over to complete, and when you finally did you felt a huge amount of pride and accomplishment? No one does Mario stages better than Nintendo’s designers, so use their work as a foundation for how to maximize the layout of your design. The qualities that drew you to those levels can be mimicked in your own.
Remember, players are also more driven to fight through a stage if they feel like they’re being rewarded for their efforts. If you don’t want to make things too easy by tossing a Fire Flower their way, compromise and give them a Super Mushroom after a really taxing bit of gameplay. If you’re going to incorporate a complicated barrage of enemies and jumps, work on the flow of it all. Put yourself in the player’s shoes and ask if it’s obvious how they should be progressing, or if it isn’t intuitive enough for them to grasp what your vision is. At the end of the day, everyone is checking out each other’s stages because they want to have fun; even if your design is tough, it doesn’t mean players shouldn’t be getting any enjoyment out of it.
Be sure to check out our Super Mario Maker Level Exchange Hub for stages crafted by Nintendojo staffers and you, the fans! What tips would you suggest to make the greatest Mario Maker stages? Disagree with our advice here? Let us know in the comments!