When Nintendo released Super Mario Maker in September of last year, it was pretty much everything I wanted it to be. All the tools needed to design and build official Mario levels, right at my fingertips. Yet along with each great level that gets made, there are still a ton of what I call ‘troll levels’ that take up too much of of a new player’s time. I’ll be the first to admit it’s hard to get to levels that feel like genuine Mario experiences.
That’s why each week, I collect the 10 best Mario Maker courses I’ve discovered and discuss why I think they’re worth playing. I deal with the trolls so you don’t have to. Let’s-A-Go!
W10-3 DoughNut Dungeon
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Somehow, I always get lucky enough to find an expertly crafted dungeon each week, and this week it’s W10-3 DoughNut Dungeon. It’s a level that plays with falling platforms, bombs, cannons, and vines cohesively to fully aware how you’re playing through an exquisitely planned out design. Everything works together in Rube Goldberg mechanization. Yet it’s not autopath. You feel as if you have significant control over the outcome. Mario himself is a cog in the machine for much of it, guiding and triggering mechanisms by his position in the level, and hitting POW blocks at the appropriate times. There’s clever tool usage at play as well. You might be given a spring platform and carry it through an unrelated portion of the dungeon before you know where it needs to be used. It is also inexplicably cruel (not in difficulty, merely in concept) near the end, putting you on the final bridge you’ve been trained to understand as the end of the level, and then sent down a pipe to an extra room. I enjoyed every second of this lovingly crafted masterpiece.
Goomba Story 8-A (Comments On)
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If you’re the type of person who usually turns the comments off while you’re playing to avoid distraction in a level, turn them back on for this one. Goomba Story 8-A uses them as dialogue for Goombas who appear not as enemies, but as characters of a mountainside Goomba village caught in an avalanche. Their words will bring you through the story and hint you towards what you need to do in each section of this wintery, cabin-filled bliss. This course feels like it’s capturing the animated spirit and humour Paper Mario, at times even better than the recent Paper Mario games have, and it put a great big smile on my face as I read the Goomba’s dialogue. I wouldn’t have had the heart to squish any of the little guys, even if they had been attacking me. Judging by the name, I’m assuming there’s more to this Goomba Story, and I’d encourage everyone to follow a creator intent on creating their own actual storyline within a completely sandbox game.
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This level is very dangerous, very clever, and very dark. In a narrow maze, Mario not only has to jump through all sorts of angles and ledges, but do it in a barrage of flames that makes you feel like Mario is about to be slow roasted to perfection in a 350 degree heat. Keeping the claustrophobic, one-step-from-death atmosphere appropriate to the broiler, the fact that Mario needs to be in his smallest form to manoeuvre through the maze makes it even more difficult, but if you take it slow and don’t try to rush through too much of the section, you’ll probably get through it on only a couple of tries. The opening section leading you to the oven feels a little useless, and I really disliked replaying it each time before I got to the actual Oven section. Even though it’s short, a checkpoint would have been appreciated. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a great concept for a level in general. It shows you how important thinking through difficulty barriers in your game design it can be.
Battletoads Hover Jet Level
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Yes, I have Battletoads. Of course Mario Maker doesn’t, so making due with a Slippy costume will have to do in this recreation of the Battletoads Hover Jet Level. Of course, Mario wasn’t exactly intended for fast-paced manoeuvrability, so there may be even more difficulty in this replica of a classic than in the original. Like the name implies, it’s a platforming challenge, something that (hopefully) will be easier the more you play it because it’s all about reflexes and remembering how to get yourself around each oncoming obstacle. I heavily appreciated the bottom of this level being treadmill tracks leading to a return pipe, meaning that my lives weren’t about to be completely sacrificed to this level’s notorious difficulty. Rather than simply have you end up taking a door to the beginning, however, this level makes you swim a short lap of shame in an underwater to reset the level. A small touch that made it much more interesting.
Super Mario No Enemy Challenge-3
This stage is an absolute nightmare for the inexperienced player. Like the title says, there aren’t any enemies within this stage, but I’ll bet many players won’t even get past the opening section of this Super Mario No Enemy Challenge-3. Though I encourage you to take that as the rigorous challenge that it is. No enemies of course means more of a focus on Mario’s platforming skills and the specific mechanics of momentum that Nintendo introduced in their original game. Would this level be as satisfying if the basics of Mario’s abilities, the ones created way back in 1985, hadn’t been so incredibly well defined? Some might not find it satisfying at all of course, but that’s okay. The joy of Mario Maker is in finding the different sort of level for everyone, and this level is absolutely only for players who want to think their moves through and potentially throw their controllers through their screens.
Lone Ranger Part 1
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When in doubt: Moles. It’s hard to go wrong using my favourite enemies in the game, especially when a level imbues them with as much character as Lone Ranger Part 1. The rambunctious critters are used here more for their throwing abilities than guidance system, as the level uses both moles and cannons (with moles cleverly positioned behind them of course) to assault you with projectiles as you work your way to the other end of an old west frontier town. The scrolling stage makes great use of its format to push you closer to enemies and slowly takes away the little room you have to avoid obstacles. It feels like the right pace to keep things moving, and when you get armed with a fire flower, you better believe it’s time for a High Noon style showdown. Be extremely careful near the bank, as a tempting balcony will make you want to jump up to the upper level, but it’s a strategy that will end up leaving you squished like a junebug against the left side of the screen.
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A sufficiently spooky haunted house, 5-Haunted Pipes doesn’t offer a huge amount of challenge for the experienced player, but the mix of Dry Bones, Piranha Plants, and ample Boos means this level is more about timing and stress management to keep the different types of enemies at bay all at once. It’s definitely not something you can play without thinking it through. The level will find ways to trick you, keeping the tradition of Ghost House secrets alive and well. For the best run, keep an eye out for Question Blocks to arm yourself with a little flower power. It won’t be any help with Dry Bones or Boos, but it’ll make the pipes a little less risky if you’re not able to nail your timing down with the pipes.
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Sometimes you want to play Mario Maker, but what you’re really in the mood for is an action packed side-scrolling space shooter. Well, believe it or not the aptly named STG level accomplishes that and not only successfully combines the two genres of game, but let me have a completely different sort of fun as I made my way through the 100 Mario Challenge. This high flying level gives Red Koopa Paratroopas, Green Koopas in Clown Cars, Magikoopas and inexplicably flying Bloopers the opportunity to take Mario down as you pilot a Fire Clown Car through an endless sky. The scrolling effect makes you feel the pressure of a true STG game, as the screen will soon become a dense barrage of enemies unless you’re mashing down that trigger finger to shoot fire out ahead of you. Some flyby Question Blocks may even offer you some helpful powerups if you can keep enough control to knock on them. If you’re not a platforming genius and want to show your friends your shooter prowess in a true space-faring scroller without putting another game in your disc drive, this level is for you.
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I am endlessly delighted by levels that find a way to do something new and unexpectedly imaginative with the tools provided. In this level, the creator has apparently decided that what Mario Maker was ultimately lacking was trains, and so they found a way to create one using cannons and moving tracks to create a level that sees Mario hopping along train cars, using pipes and doors to move from train to train. For anyone familiar with Super Mario 3D World’s train levels, it plays remarkably similar, with coins spurting out of the canons to make it less of a ridiculous exercise in frustration. I ended up getting stuck in one portion when I tried to make a jump off of an unexpected platform, so maybe try to keep to the tracks in this entertaining jaunt that reminds you not to be limited in what you’re able to make in this game.
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You can probably tell from the thumbnail how simplistic this level is, but it accomplishes something wholly unexpected. All that’s apparently in Uh Oh is a triple stack of Magikoopas standing behind a flagpole. The moment you start to walk forwards, however, the Magikoopas turn the flagpole into an enemy! I’ve never seen this in a Mario Maker stage before. It’s not hard to defeat these enemies and carry on, but I always want to feature an easier level near the end of this list, so why not something that took me as a genuine surprise? Has anybody else seen this before? Am I simply pointing out something everyone knows about? If nothing else, I’d like to point out Nintendo’s cleverness in allowing something like this to exist, as whoever figured this out gave me an experience I didn’t think I’d get in something fanmade. I only wish the level itself had a little more to it.
Liked this list? Hated it and want me to do better? Send me Mario Maker codes for the coolest levels you’ve either made or discovered to help me out! Each week I’ll be playing through the 100 Mario Challenge repeatedly looking for something cool, but I’ll try out any Super Mario Maker level I’m sent if you think it’s worth my time