Back in the saddle – Quick reviews by 32

I would spin some grand tale about why it’s been about two weeks since I last ran reviews… but let’s all face facts. I got addicted to Hyrule Warriors Legends. And I thought the original WiiU game was sweet. Linkle in particular is awesome and should be more than just an Original Generation character for a gaiden game. But I know folks are wanting some reviews, so here’s what I have lined up. Just to warn folks, I know some of these were covered by Kat in her new review series – I’m not watching it until after I finish this because I don’t want to seem like I’m just piggybacking on what she said. That said, I’m really looking forward to watching it.

Key Haunt! – 7D81-0000-01FF-837A

First, a long-delayed request by SuperHorace, for this Super Mario Bros. 3 ghost house built around trying to find plenty of keys and getting to just the right locked door. Honestly, the big catch with this level is stocking up on the easy keys as quickly as possible, and poking around to find just the right locked door – once you get a feel for the level, it’s deceptively simple. Mind you, for the unaware or the bold, there are some really nasty setpieces that can throw you, but to some extent, it’s overthinking the level – I ended up just tripping across the correct solution when I consciously stopped thinking so hard about it. My only real issue is that the final setpieces in the home stretch felt more like a test of patience than anything else, but for those who like picking their way through a level, there are certainly worse ones to pick than this one.

Bowser Junior’s Fun Land – BD12-0000-01B0-5AFC

Let’s be up front about this one straight away – lots of tracks on this one, meant to simulate various fairground rides. Not only that, but the level contains a dearth of offensive options while having a sizable density of foes. Yep, this level is practically calculated to get to me. In particular, the second “ride” – a series of tracks with a blue skull platform weaving around fire bars – is particularly noisome, as whether or not you’re going to be punished by the fire bars depends on just when they were spawned (and it’s surprisingly easy to cause them to spawn early). Too much of the level feels like it depends on luck, particularly as there aren’t multiple options in each segment. Those looking for a challenge that don’t mind everything being up to when stage elements are spawned onscreen may find this a fun ride, but I couldn’t disagree more.

River Raid – ECA8-0000-020A-891A

This surface New Super Mario Bros. U level is a Fire Clown Car coast through airspace constricted by spikes and with lots of Koopa Troopas and Goombas on rails. The enemy density is actually on the mild side, and combined with the fact that none of the enemies fire projectiles, this level is mostly an exercise in getting people used to how everything handles. Sure, there are a couple of minor tight spots, and you do have to learn to destroy walls with the charge shot at one point. But this level is an educational level. If you’re still wanting to learn the ins and outs of the Fire Clown Car, this is a fine place to practice your shooting and learn how to fly. Outside of beginners, though, there isn’t anything to really hold attention.

Some Assembly Required – A3C7-0000-0209-7112

This primarily underground Super Mario World level, with the beginning and end on the surface, is theoretically meant to demonstrate just how many ways one can collect red coins. That said, the actual purpose of the level is to demonstrate some really evil setpiece designs to frustrate and challenge players. Honestly, it’s easy to fall for the trap of thinking that the challenge comes from figuring out how to get the red coins – you probably can do it in a few seconds. The challenge is actually getting the elements together to do so. Some of the challenge feels quite fair – in particular, the trick to building a two-sided burner is brilliant and I look forward to building my own in the future. Some, though, is just cheap, like the Hammer Bros. gallery that you will need to dodge. The level is fun, but it’s definitely one more for the experts. Also, as a side note, I see this level uses the “tiered exit route” technique, which I experimented with in my last level. I’m more than excited to think that I may be cause for that.

Topsy-turvy Brain All Hurty – E0E9-0000-020F-82F7

This ghost house in the Super Mario World theme is a bit of a test to see how well you get how the various elements fit together. If you get exactly how the level conceit works (hint: it’s very close to one of my favorite conceits, the mirror level), it’s a pretty simple bounce around an area that has its secrets telegraphed but never freebies. If you don’t, it’s a nightmare of trial and error as you try to figure your way through a maze. I will admit, the final setpieces feel a bit rushed, as the harmonious whole doesn’t quite come together at the end (I honestly felt the last drop was a bit of a leap of faith in pretty much every respect). That said, the concept is very well executed overall, and it feels like an accomplishment at each point to progress even when you’ve figured out the conceit. Not a walk in the part, but it’s a solid level worth giving a try.

Lair of the Koopa King – 6360-0000-020B-0F0E

First, I have to apologize about the review of this Super Mario World castle – I didn’t go through the whole thing. I beat it, and I went through some very clever setpieces and got to dust off some of my better skills to do it, too. No, the problem is that this is a branching level with so many paths, it’s just dang near impossible to actually see everything unless you play through 3 or 4 times. So forgive me when I just judge this on the well-executed setpieces I did see, where I got to show off some of my timing and skill while finding several fun secrets. I can’t guarantee that everyone will enjoy their path through the level as much as I enjoyed the path I ended up taking. I’ll ask you to take it on faith that you’ll enjoy it as much as I did, because it just nails each part of design so well in what I played. At the very least, you have a shot at playing something as fun as what I played; that has to count for something big.

Mirror-Memory Mansion – D21A-0000-007B-7085

As I’ve said before, I love mirror levels. One of my first submissions on Mario Made was a mirror level. And just like this one, it was a New Super Mario Bros. U ghost house. That said, mine played differently – this one has the mirror sections be contained segments, and getting past one means getting past both. On one hand, it feels like it’s meant to be a gentler introduction to the mirror level form… which means that the drop to almost certain death (if you can’t react properly quickly enough) at one point is a rather unforgiveable sin. It’s such an absurd ramp-up in difficulty (not to mention being just a hair shy of the most unfair setpiece possible, the “guess what the designer is thinking or die” build) that it ruins any fun that might otherwise be in the level. There are some good concepts here, but there’s just a couple of elements that ruin the whole experience. I would recommend a massive overhaul to the level.

Checkpoints Optional – DC2C-0000-0212-9FC4

Hey, I know this maker! She’s a friend of mine that has crashed on my couch and who has let me crash on her couch in turn. That said, she submitted the level, so I must be fair about this surface/underwater Super Mario World level. It’s a bit nasty because the enemy density is so high that Mario has only a second or so to react or he gets run over by foes right at the start. And having Mario under immediate threat for a level is frequently a poor design choice in general. Beyond that, though, the level is fairly enemy-heavy but not ridiculous, with the conceit being that you ideally want to get the key early and not have to restart from the checkpoint. It helps that the last third of the level is pretty much built to be avoided via proper use of the cape, though “you can just fly over 33% of the level if it annoys you” is the height of damning with faint praise. While I appreciate that this level also goes with the tiered exit that I experimented with, this level is proof that random and heavy enemy placement is no substitute for considered element placement for the making of a fun challenge. With a bunch of tweaking in regards to enemies and other obstacles, this could be an excellent challenge level.

Five Mini Levels – 9902-0000-0215-56C0

“Wait,” you say, “aren’t there only four underground subareas connected to the main surface area in this Super Mario Bros. level?” Well, count them – one hub and four subareas. That makes five. Beyond potentially confusing players, though, this is a pretty light but entertaining take on the mini-level concept, with the goals all being fairly simple to get to, but still requiring a bit more imagination than simply “go right” or the like. I appreciate that the key coins were not just placed without much consideration, and the fifth in particular is easy to overlook if you’re not cautious. It’s on the simpler side, but this level is extremely fun. While it’s best suited for those that want to warm up to the concept, it’s a fine level for just about anyone who doesn’t demand that everything push a gamer to their limit.

Piranha “Point” – 38BF-0000-0215-9C5B

This rather spartan New Super Mario Bros. U airship level is mostly built around using Yoshi cleverly to find key coins to get to the end of the level. I will give the level full credit for having some legitimately difficult sections, with power-ups at a superb premium and several sections requiring rapid reaction to get past. That said, this level feels built mostly for trial-and-error gameplay, too many guessing games regarding various element placement (including where the key coins were placed), and design elements that seem uncertain regarding their placement. It honestly feels like there’s little rhyme or reason as to which elements got placed where in terms of the level design. This level feels more like a proof-of-concept than a full attempt at a build; I’d like to see it fleshed out much more.

Yarn Yoshi’s Shortcut Home – 1E6E-0000-00D0-A5C4

This surface Super Mario Bros. stage uses the mystery mushroom to put you in the shoes of Yarn Yoshi, who’s doing his darnedest to get home. And it’s not easy; perhaps to spite the way many Yoshi games go, this level is built to be rather tricky. It’s to the point of frustration at several points – one early setpiece requires a blind jump to catch a vine (thankfully, although it’s not immediately apparent, there is ground below… far below), plus dodging cannonballs and Bulls-Eye Bills in a fairly cramped space. In addition, the way even some of the simpler setpieces (like the first giant Bob-Omb setup) play out feel like some of the later elements were put together a bit slapdash. It’s a really solid level, but there are tweaks at several points that could be made to make it a classic.

Greenfinger Grove – 99A1-0000-0218-855B

This underground Super Mario World stage is primarily about getting Yoshi and having him help out against Piranha Plants. This is a pretty solid build, if again a bit spartan (as per this designer’s usual style), with several sections demonstrating just how different Piranha Plants can be used. In particular, I enjoyed many of the sequences involving enlarged versions. The jumping does require a bit of precision (platforms have a habit of being at just the height of Mario’s running jump), but at least it’s easy to see how they can be done. That said, the final setpiece involves a quick trip with Koopa Clown Cars to fight a giant Piranha Plant… it’s not that it’s hard or anything, but the flow of the level doesn’t fit such a sequence at all. It’s not a bad level by any stretch, but there’s still a cohesiveness lacking in its design.

Megamario – A9B5-0000-01B9-EFC6

Maybe it’s just my age or generation, but I never thought the Mega Man games were that ridiculous for the most part – sure, each game had one level that was a pain (like Ice Man, Quick Man, or Shadow Man), but once you wrap your head around the mechanics, it’s tricky but not that difficult. This tribute using the Mega Man mystery mushroom in a surface and underground Super Mario Bros. that is much less forgiving – platforming while regularly dealing with enemies that you can’t fight at all, several “miniboss” style fights when your only offensive option is head stomping, and an entire segment underground involving ice blocks and blind jumps. It’s not “Quick Man stage without the Time Stopper” difficult, but it’s definitely on the harder side. The biggest weakness is the “boss fight” at the end – it’s highly subject to randomness, and the AI can easily get locked into a “you can’t win” setup. If you really miss the “not sure if it’s totally fair” style of difficulty of NES games, this level is a blast, but there are too many inherently unfair setpieces for me to recommend this beyond that.

Super Altered Bros 1-1 – 952C-0000-016E-B2C1

Riffs on classic Mario levels are nothing new to anyone who has played Super Mario Maker for about 15 minutes. This level tries to be a bit different – each section of this Super Mario Bros. surface level is meant to be evocative of the very first level of the original game, but constructed in a way that plays much differently from the original game. How does it do? Well… decent, but not spectacular. I do like that the challenge was upped, that the first section is difficult without putting Mario in immediate threat, and the finale was spot-on while being distinct and difficult. The problem, though, is that the middle of the level kind of loses the plot, so to speak. While I know the middle of World 1-1 isn’t exactly iconic, this level doesn’t quite get the feel of the original (no antepiece building, the construction doesn’t even remotely resemble the original, and it mostly feels like filler). This is a great concept for retro levels, and I definitely think that there’s more there to build from. This just needs a bit more refinement.

Topsy-turvy Brain All Hurty Extended – 4FCF-0000-021A-EAC8

Wait, didn’t I just review this? Well, it had been so long since I reviewed, I made sure to get the sequel version of this level done too. Like the previous one reviewed above, it’s a Super Mario World ghost house with the same riff on a mirror level that either is obtuse or brilliant, depending on just how quickly you get the concept. About 2/3 of the setpieces are identical, with the main differences being it being a bit easier to backtrack if needed and an end sequence against a pseudo-boss added in. Most of the tweaks are very nice, including telegraphic that the blind drop is safe ahead of time as well as adding new elements to what gets flipped when you jump between zones (I particularly liked what was done with Boos). That said, the final setpiece combination is possible to break if you don’t pay close attention to background elements, and the psuedo-boss is pointless in the structure of the level. It definitely feels tacked-in, particularly as that section isn’t mirrored at all in the level (not even a mirror of the goal room). It’s even better than the original, but it is a disappointment that the ending abandons the level’s core conceit.

Lazy Drift Lifts – 66AD-0000-021B-16BE

To be up front, an autoscroll level heavily featuring tracks is not my idea of a good time. That said, for the most part, this surface Super Mario Bros. 3 level mostly makes it work – there are multiple routes in several sections, the track work is short and can easily be planned around, the power-ups are plentiful and pretty easily gained, and I give full credit for figuring out how to make blue floating platforms act more like donut blocks (namely, the shudder before completely collapsing on you). That said, several sections feel like they shouldn’t be in an autoscroll level – plenty of ten-coin blocks and tempting exploration targets get scrolled off too quickly to really be enjoyed. This level is pretty fun, but it’d really shine without the autoscroll.

Link’s Quest AMIIBO! – 19CF-0000-0207-410F

This underground/surface Super Mario Bros. level is, in theory, a quest for Link to get through a trip to the Mushroom Kingdom and find out what happened to its residents. It does not have the best of starts, with a key door blocking the way early on and forcing the player to poke around to find the key. Granted, it’s not difficult and you aren’t under threat for it, but it’s still a stalling maneuver to pad out a level. Beyond that, though, it’s a fairly simple platformer with the added weight of needing comments turned on to get the story behind the level. I’m not fond of this – if the level can’t tell the story on its own, it’s going to fall flat, especially if you regularly turn off comments or you just plain don’t speak the language of the builder. On top of that, there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to the placement of various enemies – while I appreciate that the layout is meant to be a “sewer” of sorts, it seems like enemies are more or less random throughout the level. I can appreciate what the designer is trying to do, but everything is too forced. Some time to redesign the level to be more along the concept would be a good call. Also, as a side note – despite the signs, it’s totally possible to beat Bowser, if you’re attentive.

Swampy Cistern Survey – 19D0-0000-021B-B4C3

Finally, we have an underground/underwater Super Mario World level that’s all about cleaning out dank passages to find where key coins have been hidden. This is a pretty solid level – careful consideration was clearly put in for every enemy placement, plus there are surprising amounts of nuance in how each segment flows into the next. Yoshi’s place in the level was very carefully handled, being very helpful without ever being fully required, and even a clever boss fight arena against a trio of Hammer Bros. that are tricky without being too ridiculous. It even manages to include a track section as well as a way for me to avoid the track section – the best of both worlds. This level is a fine time for nearly anyone, with enough neat secrets and solid design cues to entertain just about anyone.

I’ll have more reviews later this week, including a review of all Pixelfest levels. Well, presuming I don’t get distracted by an impromptu campaign to make Linkle a new Mystery Mushroom character. Which she totally should be. But beyond that, if you have any requests, as always, be sure to leave a comment, and be sure that it’s been posted on this blog. And until next time, I look forward to seeing your levels.

About the author


30-plus year veteran of the Koopa Wars. The things I've seen, the levels I've played... let me tell you of them.

Readers Comments (3)

  1. Hm.. I knew I shoulda done som’in with those boos. Sucks I ran out of usable warp pipes though =\

  2. Enjoying the reviews. It’s obvious you put a lot of thought into each one. There’s no sugar coating. Very honest constructive criticism.

  3. Heh. Lazy Drift Lifts came about after a discussion with a couple of my Mario Maker friends about my obsession with auto scroll, either natural or artificial (see Doomed Donut Raft Ride, Tense Thwomp Test Flight, Underwater Trip). It ended with me shaking my fist at their perceived impatience and declaring “more autoscroll!” 😛 Considering what you’ve said, though, I think I ended up at the wrong well of inspiration. I got too much SMB3 1-3 and 1-6 mixed into my SMB3 1-4. :)

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