Is Nintendo Trying To Tell Us Something?

In sports, teams that focus on their past often do so because they have nothing to celebrate in the future. Is that what Nintendo is facing right now?

2020 was already looking like the Year of DLC for the Big N, headlined by the second Fighters Pass in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra for Pokémon Sword/Shield, and the special events being rolled out all year long from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Two other major announcements, however, caught me by surprise:

  • Splatoon 2, nearly a year after the “final” Splatfest, is bringing back the Ketchup vs. Mayo feud for a second grudge match in May. A special week-long demo event for the game has also been announced for April 29th.
  • Super Mario Maker 2, a game that has been mostly forgotten and hadn’t gotten a major update since last December, is receiving a huge update including the Super Mario Bros. 2 game mechanics, a World Builder (!) and all sorts of crazy new power-up items.

All of this is good news for Switch owners, but looking at the entire pile of news, I couldn’t shake one simple question: Why? Why was Nintendo dusting off titles it had seemingly written off months ago, slapping a fresh coat of paint on them, and trotting them back out in front of the public?

The short-term answer seems pretty straightforward: There’s gold in them thar hills, and Nintendo wants to grab as much of it as possible. With the coronavirus trapping us all indoors for the foreseeable future, the video game industry is seeing a surge in popularity, and the Switch led the way on the back of Animal Crossing’s success. With all these people hungry for content, Nintendo saw an opportunity to sell more people on prior releases like SMM2 and Splatoon 2, and used these updates and special events to draw in some eyeballs, drum up some hype, and bring in some more cash.

However, I wonder if there’s a concerning long-term message hidden amidst this hype. Nintendo likes to lay out its roadmap for 2020 early, but aside from Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, we still don’t know what coming for the rest of the year. Given everything that’s taken place so far this year…is it possible that nothing is coming?

“Nothing” feels like a bit of an overreaction: After all, you have to have one big title to sell for the holidays, right? …Except that COVID-19 has basically called every facet of pre-pandemic life into question, and Nintendo has already been affected by hardware shortages and developers contracting the virus. (We may have already seen the effects on this in Nintendo’s long-delayed, little-to-show Direct back in March.) Would it be a huge surprise if Nintendo had nothing new to show at E3 in a year when E3 itself has been canceled?

Nintendo generally gives us a lot of lead time for its biggest titles, and so far we’ve gotten very little information about future games. Here’s what we know:

  • A sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is in some unspecified state of development. We got a trailer at the end of E3 last year, and have heard nothing since.
  • Metroid Prime 4 is…well, it exists (we think). We got a splash screen back at E3 in 2017, and then an announcement in early 2019 that development had been restarted from scratch, and then nothing. At this point, I’m starting to think the game will miss the Switch entirely.
  • Random ideas like a Super Mario 3D World remake or Mario Kart 9 have been rumored for a while, but we’ve gotten no hard evidence that they’re even in development.

So where does that leave us? The summer and fall are looking as lean as the final years of the Wii U, and while Breath of the Wild 2 seems like the obvious candidate for a late-year release, we don’t even have a release year yet, and Zelda games aren’t exactly known for their quick turnaround times.

There are other issues at play here:

  • How exactly do you top some of the titles that are already available? Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will likely never be equaled, so Nintendo might as well milk the game for all it’s worth. Same with Super Mario Odyssey: 3D Mario games are not that common to begin with, and how do you beat an open-world romp across the planet? And then there’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the best entry in the AC series by a mile and a game that will be incredibly hard to follow in the future. Games of this caliber take time, and unless Nintendo has managed to keep something under its hat for a while, we’re not seeing anything like them anytime soon.
  • When the Switch launched, Nintendo has most of its major IPs locked, loaded, and ready to roll out for its own new console. Three years later, however, the quiver is looking a little empty. I mean, what franchises are left to move to the Switch? Pikmin? Star Fox? Paper Mario? Unless Nintendo has another new IP in development à la Astral Chain, it’s either going to have start repeating its greatest hits or revamping some of its long-lost titles (Earthbound anyone?).

(Speaking of Astral Chain: I still think that cramming all those releases into the back half of 2019 was a bad idea because it didn’t give franchises like Astral Chain or Super Mario Maker 2 the space and spotlight to thrive. With 2020 looking this barren, I’ll bet Nintendo would like to have a few of those decisions back to fill out its current year.)

Part of me thinks I’m wrong because part of me thinks I have to be wrong: The holiday season is so lucrative that missing out on it would be sheer lunacy. However, things may simply be out of Nintendo’s control at this point: Many summer events are already canceled over coronavirus concerns (and some fall events are starting to look shaky, especially with experts warning of a second wave of infections). The Big N has never been afraid to take all the time they need to make a game meet their quality standards, and if COVID-19 slows them down, they’ll take the time to catch up before releasing their work. If that means leaning on the Crown Tundra as their crown jewel for the Christmas rush…well, no series prints money like Pokémon does, and unlike the rough Wii U years, Nintendo seems to be in a strong financial position to weather the storm.

So if this ends up year winds up being Animal Crossing and nothing else for Nintendo, don’t be too surprised. Every other facet of our lives has been turned upside-down this year; it’s only natural that video game release schedules would be affected as well. And hey, maybe this announcements will revitalize the Splatoon community or finally help Mario Maker recapture the magic of the original game. At the end of the day, we can only play the games we have, and we games we have are all already pretty darn fun.

Super Mario Maker 2: Is It Worth Buying?

I have to admit, I had no idea how much I missed this franchise.

I played my fair share of games on the Wii U, but the system primarily boiled down to a way for playing two games: Splatoon and Super Mario Maker. Fast forward to today, and as much as I enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey, Dragon Quest Builders, etc., no game has emerged as a consistent counterpoint/challenger to Splatoon 2. This is why I was so excited when Super Mario Maker 2 was announced earlier this year: I wanted more than Inklings and Octolings as a justification for my $300 investment, and this was the one franchise with the track record to pull it off.

In the back of my mind, however, I had some concerns. For starters, the Wii U gamepad was an integral part of the Super Mario Maker experience, and I wasn’t sure if said experience could be replicated on a single-screen console. As I learned more about the game, my concerns grew bigger: No multiplayer with friends? No amiibo support? A 3D World theme with minimal-to-no cross-compatability between the other themes? An editor that was so clunky in docked mode that is was borderline unusable? As June 28th drew near, I had my doubts that Super Mario Maker 2 would really pull me away from Inkopolis.

Thankfully, my initial experiences with the game were quite positive, and during my week of hands-on time, I’ve barely touched Splatoon 2 at all. I’ve gone in-depth with most of the game modes of Super Mario Maker 2, and while I’ve run up against some of the game’s frustrating limitations, my overall feeling about the game remains pretty darn good.

Course Maker: As I stated earlier, I’m really impressed by how well the creation interface works in every Switch configuration (handheld, tabletop, and docked modes). The touchscreen works so well with a finger that a stylus isn’t really necessary (pro tip: Don’t bother with a 3DS stylus; it doesn’t work at all), handheld and tabletop modes give you the option of just tapping what you need on the screen if scrolling through the menus feels too slow, and switching between menus and the main screen using my Pro Controller felt quick and intuitive after only about ten minutes.

The new items (snake blocks, angry suns, dry bones shells) and level themes (sky, desert, forest) are a lot of fun to play around with and use, and the game still captures the magic of level creation that the original had. The joy of discovery, however, feels a little less this time around: Instead of shaking elements or dragging them onto one another, the game encourages you to press/click on an enemy and hold the button until a menu of options pops up, which didn’t click with me the way the previous mechanic had and didn’t spur to me to investigate all the options an element might have (case in point: It took me three days to realize that the moon was accessed as an alternative version of the angry sun). Maneuvering around larger maps and between sub-worlds was not as easy or intuitive as I would have liked, and I never actually found the option to start playing the level from the start automatically instead of picking up wherever you were on the map. These issues weren’t deal breakers, but they did dampen my creation enthusiasm a little.

What really annoyed me as time went on was how separate the new 3D World game style turned out to be from the others (Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U). My most-recent level, a Skipsqueak-exterminating puzzle, captured this issue perfectly: Several of the course elements I wanted to use (swinging cranes, blocks created/removed by on/off switches, etc.) were not available in 3D World, but I couldn’t revert to an earlier style because Skipsqueak was a 3D World exclusive! (I’m okay with the way the level eventually turned out, but I completed it under protest.) I understand that making certain elements work inside or outside of the 3D World style would have been difficult, but the line in the sand Nintendo decided to draw in the end felt arbitrary and nonsensical, and I’m hoping they’re planning to remedy this in future patches.

The lack of amiibo support still bothers me as well: Those costumes gave the original Super Mario Bros. theme some extra personality that the other themes lacked, and the decision to not support them at all this time around just baffles me. (This also means that special event courses are also probably out as well, unless they give us special outfits for maker profiles or something similar.)

One last note: The course creation limit has a hard cap at 32 rather than being tied to your like count, which gives players a bit more initial flexibility (and honestly, I only made it to 35 courses in the original game anyway, so it doesn’t feel like much of a limit).

Course World: Course World works about the same as it did previously, with a few twists:

  • Level stars are replaced with generic “likes” and translated in “Maker Points” that seem to be much easier to accumulate than in the previous game (my first SMM2 level is already more highly-rated than all but one of my SMM levels, even though the game’s only been out for a week).
  • Levels seem to be better-sorted this time around: I’ve stayed mostly in the Normal and Expert modes thus far, and I’ve yet to see anything too extreme (autoplay levels, kaizo levels, etc.).
  • The 100-Mario challenges have been replaced by “Endless Challenges,” which give you a small set of lives based on your chosen difficulty and challenge you to play and beat levels until your lives run out. On one hand, I like the change is makes things like coins and 1-Ups more useful, but on the other hand, I miss the sense of accomplishment you got from completing an Expert or Super Expert run (sure, you can get a high global ranking, but until you get down under 1000, that doesn’t really mean anything). This change feels like a wash to me.
  • The course location setup, sadly, has barely changed at all: You still need a long cryptic ID number to play the specific course you want. Searching for levels and creators has improved slightly, but it still isn’t where it needs to be in 2019.

I enjoyed the co-op and competitive multiplayer modes more than I thought I would, but there’s a huge caveat here: If you don’t have a rock-solid Internet connection, this mode is pretty much unplayable. (This game might be more reliant on an Ethernet adapter than Super Smash Bros. is!) The matches are fairly chaotic and it’s easy to get pushed to your death, but at least the ranking system is forgiving at the D and C levels (you get a ton of points when you win, and the most I lost in a single match was 17). If you get your kicks on having more Mario prowess than others (and your network connection is strong enough), you’ll enjoy this.

Story Mode: This was interesting, but I would call it a little overrated in the end. The characters and dialogue are fantastic, and some of the levels feel inspired, but too many of them are forgettable and don’t always showcase the various course elements very well. (I went back to a few of these for inspiration on my own courses, but usually walked away disappointed.) Still, it’s no worse than any other recent 2D Mario offering, and there’s enough here to keep you occupied for about 8-10 hours.

Performance: I was really impressed by how well the game performed in terms of both battery and network consumption (it blows Splatoon 2 out of the water, although this is an apples-to-oranges comparison). Where the Wii U gamepad seem to die pretty quickly after heavy touchscreen use, the Switch gave me several hours of maker time before the low battery warning appeared. This was a quality-of-life improvement that I didn’t realize I wanted, but I’m really glad it’s there.

Overall: I have my issues with Super Mario Maker 2, but I also found that it captured the charm and enjoyment of its predecessor, and frankly, the enjoyment of putting the finishing touches on your Mario masterpiece remains unmatched by anything in the modern world. Whether you’re just a run-of-the-mill player or a power-user while prefers to build you own levels, there’s plenty for you to enjoy in this game. For my money, this is definitely a worthy addition to any platforming fan’s collection.

Super Mario Maker 2: Early Impressions

Wait, that’s not Luigi…

Reviews can be useful, but nothing beats a little hands-on time with whatever you’re judging.

Going into Super Mario Maker 2, I was more than a little nervous about how the game would feel. As much as I loved the original, much of the buzz around the sequel (including my own thoughts) focused on what was missing: No touchscreen, no amiibo support, none of the quirkiness that gave the original game its charm, etc. While I never wavered on whether or not I would buy, I had my doubts that it would become the counterweight to Splatoon 2 that Super Mario Maker had been to Splatoon.

After a little over 24 hours  with the game, however, I found that the core of the game I fell in love with back in 2015 still beat within its successor, and that even in a form factor that did not seem to flatter the game one bit, I still enjoyed the game both as a player and as a creator (even if my reservoir of good level ideas has run dry).

My specific thoughts so far are as follows:

  • The one thing a lot of critics seemed to agree on was that building levels in docked mode was a nightmare that should never have been wrought upon the populace, and that even handheld mode needed a stylus to truly re-create the Wii U magic. Unfortunately, with no HDMI cables at my current residence and only a 3DS stylus to work with (and it didn’t work at all), I was resigned to using either the controllers or my finger to build my levels, and the pain was…wait, this isn’t painful at all! After a few minutes of getting used to the controls, I was able to quickly and easily navigate through the game’s interface with every controller I used (the Joy-Cons, the Pro Controller, and my index finger). I’m amazed at how natural the whole thing felt, and I was able to focus my time on fair and fun level development instead of fighting with the controls. Who would’ve thought it possible?
  • I haven’t gotten to mess around much with the new 3D World style yet, but from the levels I’ve played so far it’s got some great aesthetics and interesting mechanics to play around with. This is something I’m hoping to play around with in the next week or so.
  • Story mode is okay for what it is, I suppose. The included levels I’ve seen so far are about what you’d expect from a Mario game: Well-designed, but not terribly difficult or memorable. (They are, however, inspiring copycats: I’ve seen several levels try to replicate Nintendo’s ‘choose an item for each room’ ghost house, with mixed results overall.)  As usual, the writing is top-notch: I love the bubbling-just-below-the-surface tension between labor and management (it feels very 2019), and  making Mr. Eraser a mob boss wannabe who uses Mario as his personal hit man (all of his levels involve knocking off a certain number of enemies) was a nice touch.
  • Course World feels about the same as it did in the original game: You’ve got your lists of popular/hot/new levels, your world records, your bizarre code scheme to look up specific levels to play, your 100 Endless Mario challenge (as of this writing, I’m just outside the top 1000 players on Normal difficulty, for what little it’s worth). I like the customization options for your Mii-like avatar, but this is mostly a wash for me. Co-op and versus play are interesting, but not terribly excitingas of yet (and prone to serious lag at times).

I’m hoping to have enough time with the game to put together a full review   by the end of next week, but so far I’ve really enjoyed my time with Super Mario Maker 2. Stay tuned for more of my thoughts, but in the meantime you can try out my first attempt at course design…

Let’s hope this game doesn’t get in the way of my Pokémon X Nuzlocke run; that’s going badly enough as it is…

My Reaction To The Super Mario Maker 2 Direct

This game looks objectively incredible…so why do I feel so disappointed?

I’ve been playing Splatoon 2 almost exclusively since I finished Octopath Traveler almost a year ago, but if there’s one game that could tear me away from Inkopolis, it’s Super Mario Maker, which I spent hundreds of hours messing around with on the Wii U. We got a brief taste of Super Mario Maker 2 in Nintendo’s last direct back in February, but the company had been strangely quiet about the game since then until the surprise announcement of yesterday’s dedicated Mario Maker Direct.

In hindsight, I think the data gap was a blunder on Nintendo’s part: With so little information on the game (and so many new features packed into the reveal trailer), fans like myself were allowed to let their imaginations run wild and form unrealistic expectations about what the game would actually include. When reality finally hit yesterday, while the game actually did a decent job of fulfilling these expectations, there were some glaring gaps that really jumped out at me, and those ended up being my biggest takeaways when the Direct ended.

Does this game look good? Absolutely. Will I enjoy it? Most likely, yes. But am I as hyped as I was before the Direct? Not by a longshot.

My specific thoughts on the game are as follows:

  • I had no issue with the structure of the presentation and how it started with the basics of level creation. The Wii U, and by extension Super Mario Maker, didn’t have a huge install base, so all the foundational stuff that fans of the original game take for granted still needed to be explained. It slowed the presentation down for me personally, but it helped explain the basic concepts to those who didn’t get to try out the first game.
  • One of the main issues with the Direct was that a lot of the new additions they showed off were already revealed in the introductory trailer, which stole a lot of their thunder here. I kind of wish Nintendo hadn’t packed so many things into its February Direct, and instead had been a bit more slow and deliberate about how they revealed information over time.
  • The new stuff that was here, however, was pretty neat: Night-themed courses and their crazy effects, a whole bunch of unexpected mechanics from Super Mario 3D World (warp boxes, blinking boxes, spike blocks, etc.)…there’s definitely a lot to play around with here, and I’m excited to try everything out.
  • Speaking of 3D World: While I’m super psyched it’s included here, I’m less than impressed that it’s basically siloed off as a course theme. Part of the beauty of Super Mario Maker was being able to mix and match elements from different themes, and not letting us use, say, blinking blocks in Super Mario 3 feels like it violates the spirit of the game. I’m glad this theme is here, but there’s a lot of wasted potential here as well.
  • I think the mode options are a slight improvement over the original game. Instead of random courses played through the 10-Mario challenge, there’s a full-blown Story Mode with a whole bunch of new courses and a reason to collect coins for a change (honestly, it sounds like there’s a whole new 2D Mario game buried in here). The 100-Mario challenge has also been revamped in favor of the Endless Challenge, pushing players to go far as far as their skills will take them. I’m not a huge fan of the 100-Mario change (there’s something to be said about knowing the scope of what you’re embarking on and the satisfaction of completing it), but given the massive streaming and competitive communities that sprung up around the original game, the change makes sense.
  • One thing I’m not excited about is the new ranking system for players competing against each other. It feels bolted-on and unnecessary, and while speedrunners might enjoy it, it feel like it incentivizes blasting through levels instead of taking your time and enjoying them. I don’t oppose its inclusion and I’m sure some people will have fun with it, but I just earned my first X rank in Splatoon 2 and am not really looking to climb yet another ladder in a different game.
  • The online co-op mode, on the other hand, looks more like my speed. I love the chaos that multiplayer brought to the table in New Super Mario Bros., and working together to complete a course (or even watching the last person standing trying to save the day) is more in the spirit of horde modes in other games, and I’m all for it.
  • I’m sure that collaborative course-building will be fun for others, but I’m too much of a control freak to deal with other people messing with my levels. This one’s kind of a no-op for me.
  • Despite all the information provided here, I’ve still got a few major questions, the biggest being “What the heck’s going to happen with all the existing SMM levels?” I haven’t seen a whole lot about the course-sharing mechanism either, and while I imagine it will work similar to the analogous feature in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s Course Builder, I’d like to see more specifics about how how the game might tie into social media. And hey, what about amiibo support? Will I be able to create an Octoling level based on my Splatoon figures? Will costumes still be a thing, and if so, can we unlock them through the Endless Challenge or Story Mode?

Overall, I still think Super Mario Maker 2 will be a great game, but I think my expectations were a bit too high and the game missed the mark with a few of its design decisions. Still, it’s nothing that a few hours trying to re-create Kickin’ It With Galoombas won’t fix.

Should Levels From Super Mario Maker Be Brought Into Super Mario Maker 2?

I’ve got a lot of time and effort wrapped up in this stage. Is Nintendo just going to throw it away?

Nintendo set the gaming world aflame back in February with its announcement of Super Mario Maker 2, the sequel to one of the few hit titles released on the Wii U. Since then, however, we’ve gotten very little official information about the game, and have had to rely on deep dives into what we’ve already seen to infer how the game might function. (Side note: André Segers is a madman in the best possible sense.) I’ve learned a lot about potential level themes, enemies, items, game mechanics, and (of course) slopes, but there’s one question I haven’t found a good answer for yet: What’s going to happen to all that cool we all built in the original game?

For all intents and purposes, my Wii U was dedicated to two games during its lifecycle: Splatoon, and Super Mario Maker. While I didn’t go as crazy over level design as Segers did, I ended up uploading thirty-five different courses to Nintendo’s servers, earning over a thousand stars in the process (and I’m way more proud of that stat than I am of my dumb doctorate). While many of my levels are broken, terrible, or both, there are a few that I’m still really proud of, and I’d be really bummed out if Nintendo just tossed all of them into the garbage. I imagine that many of my fellow creators feel the same way.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly the precedent the Big N sent when Splatoon 2 came out for the Switch back in 2017. The game made a (mostly) clean break from its predecessor: Ranks had to be re-earned, gear had to be re-purchased, and DJ Octavio had to be re-squashed. On the other hand, Super Mario Maker is a vastly different beast: By spending hours painstakingly constructing levels and sharing them with the world, players essentially built the entire freaking game themselves. This would be the equivalent not of making gear loadouts for Splat Zones, but of building the Splat Zone game mode itself (and Tower Control, and Rainmaker, and Turf War, etc.). This sort of investment is not something that can be easily or painlessly discarded.

Then again, it’s not like every level sitting on Nintendo’s servers (over seven million as of this March!) is a masterpiece, or even fully functional. If the wheat-to-chaff ratio is too low, it might not be worth the company’s time to keep all those levels around, especially given that the Switch’s success means that the potential install base could be much larger this time around. They’ll have enough trouble storing and managing the upcoming flood of levels from SMM2; why add to that headache by keeping all these old levels around as well? In this case, the devil they don’t know might be good enough for them to cut ties with the devil they do.

So what are Nintendo’s options here? In truth, we’re really dealing with a sliding scale, so let’s discuss the three major options:

  • Option #1: Keep everything. Nintendo takes all of the old levels from Super Mario Maker and make them available in the sequel. This gives the game a solid base to start from (over seven million levels are available before anyone even touches a Joy-Con) and keeps creators from raging about how their super-awesome level that they spent a million hours on was just dumped into the recycle bin. However, this means all of the broken and low-rated stuff from SMM comes along as well, potentially damaging the user experience (especially for series newbies who might be expecting top-notch content right out of the game) and eating up server space that could be put to better use.
  • Option #2: Keep nothing. Nintendo makes a clean break from Super Mario Maker and begins the SMM2 era with a blank slate. This allows them to focus their resources of the newer content and not have to worry about potential backwards-compatibility issues, but risks raising the hackles of power users who have spent days meticulously constructing their magnum opus, and may also limit the amount of content available on day one.
  • Option #3: Keep “something,” whatever that means. Is it possible for Nintendo to split the difference between the extremes and find a middle ground that mostly satisfies everyone? While I’m on record saying “there’s no money in the middle” in country music, the more I think about it, the more I think there’s a way forward here for Nintendo, and it hinges on how they could define “something.”In Super Mario Maker, users were not immediately given carte blanche to start uploading whatever they wanted to the server. They had a strict ten-course limit to begin with, and they could only increase that limit by getting other people to like, or “star,” the stuff they had uploaded. Reaching certain star thresholds would earn creators medals, and each medal would increase the number of levels the creator could upload by ten. It wasn’t a perfect system (leaving a Miiverse comment automatically starred a level, even if the comment was about how much you hated the level, and star-for-star horse-trading was a common practice), but it provided a rough measure of how good a creator was at designing fun, engaging levels.

    Here’s my idea: For every medal a creator has earned, allow them to select one of their courses to port to Super Mario Maker 2Everyone would get to save at least one, but only those creators recognized by the community as high-quality designers could save much more than that (and very few creators would be able to save all of their levels). This seems like a kinda-sorta fair way to get rid of most of the lower-ranked levels while allowing talented power users to save their most-prized creations.

    Take me as an example: With just over 1000 stars, I’ve managed to earn six medals since SMM was released. This system would allow me to bring six out of my thirty-five courses to SMM2, reducing my overall course count by over 80% but still giving me a chance to save some of my favorite stages for posterity (and thus not be too sad to watch the rest get tossed into the garbage). Repeat this en masse, and Nintendo lightens their server load considerably and ideally gets rid of a ton of less-liked levels, while also minimizing the potential backlash from creators who were heavily invested in the original game.

    (I would totally save these six, by the way.)

There are many more details that will come out in the days to come as we approach Super Mario Maker 2‘s June 28th release date. Meeting past level creators in the middle when it comes to old content, however, would take a lot of the sting out of not getting the rest of our wish lists fulfilled. I’d love a Super Mario Bros. 2 level theme, but I’d rather keep my best Super Mario Bros. 3 levels instead.

Mario Maker Spotlight: Jan. 21

Looking for a fun Mario Maker challenge? Try these levels on for size:

Normal: Googie’s Super Wario Bros (2004) (9802-0000-0268-EB1D)

Let’s start with a ROM hack throwback, shall we? This one is inspired by a Wario-themed mod of the original Mario Bros., but it adds authentic costumes and removes some of the nastier traps. It’s a nice shout-out to Mario Maker’s deep roots.

Expert: Ice Floor Castle (DFEC-0000-02E1-103F)

Bowser’s decided to ice Mario for good this time! Spikes and firebars await the poor souls who don’t stick their landings, and the boss battle adds an interesting twist to the mix. (Hint: Don’t kill the boss when you reach him; instead, try and get him to clear a path for you.)

Super Expert: Super hell castle (C63D-0000-0223-D8EE)

That ice castle wasn’t enough for you? Well, how about trying this course on for size! Bowser’s cranked up the heat this time, and you’ll have to dodge spikes, bullets, and fire of all sorts if you want the princess back. Good luck!

Mario Maker Spotlight: Jan. 14

Looking for a fun Mario Maker challenge? Try these levels on for size:

Normal: Petey’s Peculiar Pipes (B6AA-0000-019C-FF11)

A straightforward pipe-and-P-switch maze, with a tricky Piranha Plant section thrown in for good measure. One piece of advice: The pipe you’re looking for to advance is usually hidden behind another pipe, so keep your eyes peeled for pipe openings that are just barely visible behind other obstacles.

Expert: [1YMM] Fungal Fortress (1BD2-0000-02A5-F949)

A cool key-exploration level that uses Goombas in a lot of neat ways to set up its challenges. Be careful when you reach the boss, as there’s a Fire Piranha Plant underneath you to keep you on your toes!

Super Expert: Ludicrous Lithomancy (EE5B-0000-02E8-3873)

This level’s designation isn’t official yet, but given that it took me an hour and a half to beat it, I’m assuming it’ll get the Super Expert tag. It’s a well-designed gauntlet, involving spiky track rides, vine-climbing shenanigans,  and lots of Thwomps! Be sure to take your vitamins before challenging this course.

Mario Maker Spotlight: Jan. 7

Looking for a fun Mario Maker challenge? Try these levels on for size:

Normal: 8-2 (36E6-0000-02C1-0300)

A decent puzzle level with some nice platforming challenges. One tip for this one: don’t get too caught up in the pipe-choosing section—instead, look for potential alternate routes in the area.

Expert: Lavender Town’s Pokémon Tower (5646-0000-01EF-1755)

Why should Red and Blue have all the fun? Mario takes a stab at climbing a 2D Lavender tower in this level. Patience is key here—the level is fairly long, so don’t lose your Pokémon costume because of a rash decision! (Also, the boss fight makes a lot more sense now that Marowak has an Alolan form.

Super Expert: Make your decision! (147A-0000-0222-C217)

This level earns its designation through some really tough opening challenges and an insta-death decision at the very end. Red/Down/Left was my path to victory, but no matter which way you’re going, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Good luck!

Mario Maker Spotlight: Dec. 17

Looking for a fun Mario Maker challenge? Try these levels on for size:

Easy: Mario Teaches Math?! (B2A4-0000-011B-E896)

Time to drop some edumacation on your butts! The problems are pretty simple, but watch out for the modular division question at the very end!

Expert: Spin jumps are important! (6EBF-0000-0071-F05F)

Be prepared to put the ‘jump’ in Jumpman here, because these spin jumps are long and tough! The creator was nice enough to put a net under the first few, so take your time and get yourself used to the challenge.

Super Expert: P-Block Panic! (2A39-0000-010D-4E63)

Boogie2988 issued a Twitter challenge for this level roughly a year ago, and it’s still only got 58 clears. It’s a tough combination of precision jumping, P-switch timing, and one massive YOLO jump at the end. Good luck!

Mario Maker Spotlight: Dec. 10

Looking for a fun Mario Maker challenge? Try these levels on for size:

Easy: 脱出ゲーム「連鎖」 Linkage (20E0-0000-02C9-9311)

Sure, this one’s compact and easy, but it’s also a nifty puzzle level that can help teach players how to chain power-ups and items together to create tricky levels of their own. Try this out, and think of ways to make your own puzzle levels while you play!

Expert: 地下の大砲拷問部屋  Artillery Room (AEE1-0000-02C9-944A)

Now this is a cool design! You’re trapped in some rather claustrophobic spaces, with nothing between you and certain death but a couple of wacky beetle shells. Use you blocking well, and then make a break for it when you get the chance!

Super Expert: why? (6A03-0000-0054-01D0)

This level is pure freakin’ insanity, comin’ at you live through the power of the Internet courtesy of Boogie2988. The best advice I can give here is the same thing Cipher told Neo: You run. You run your you-know-what off.