For me, Super Mario Maker 2 was a life experiment: if the barrier between coding and game design was taken down, would I enjoy game development? Should I make my own indie game?
The answer was more complicated than I had hoped.
In the first few months of this game’s life, I played through story mode and was happy with that. The game designers gave me several ideas for making levels of my own. I started making a few standard levels, gravitating towards wall-jumping mechanics. However, I found myself wishing I could have more story elements. I ended up making a couple of “dating sim” levels for my wife and I loved watching her reactions to them. It was much more fun making a level for someone than just making a level for its own sake.
The UI, which I’ve talked about before, makes a lot of sense to me, and I gotta commend Nintendo for making a system where I can place some level assets, test them out, and adjust them all in a matter of minutes. I make levels exclusively in handheld mode with a capacitative stylus while watching reality TV with my wife. My one constructive criticism is that I wish there were a way you could send a level to someone for them to play-test. That way you can receive feedback and make tweaks without having to reupload and republish the level every. Single. Time. I can’t find every single error in my own play tests, and it can make QA sooooo tedious.
Playing levels was quite a mixed bag. I found myself turned off from playing random levels, just because for every 1 level worth your time, 5 more aren’t. I found Nintendo’s online method of curation a bit lacking. Going simply by “likes” means there’s an overwhelming amount of 1) very easy auto-Mario levels and 2) expert Kaizo Mario levels. Every once in a while the game gives you a creative themed level, but it’s more rare than you think. I ended up relying on the Subreddit r/mariomaker for finding new levels. And once I started following a good number of creators that I liked, I finally got a steady feed of good content.
It’s almost like Course World is its own social media app, only I get an even bigger dopamine rush from someone playing and liking my level over an instagram post or a Reddit post. I’d log onto the game like a pidgeon in a Skinner box.
Once again, I found myself enjoying the story-oriented or themed levels much more than normal ones. The Zelda update expanded the entire game exponentially. I never managed to make a Zelda level, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ones that others made. If we never got a Zelda Maker, this would be a satisfactory substitute.
But the best update of them all was the most recent one in April. Having our own worlds to make and share was 100% exactly what I felt was missing from Super Mario Maker 2. More than making levels for someone else, I realized that I could make a full Mario game as a gift for myself. And that’s what finally gave me the drive to make the over 30 levels that are now in my world. I could make what I wanted to play. And I could string ideas together into an actual story-like experience, with levels progressing into each other and common themes strung throughout. Let me give you a list of some of my recommendations for good Fan-Made Mario Games / Levels uploaded onto Super Worlds:
- Super Mario World Redux: C50-17Y-SFF
- Super Mario Bros. 3 Lost Levels: FDF-VT6-KDF
- Mario Bros. A New Journey: X03-4VX-5RF
- Anything made by 3rd Bunny. His user ID is: VKB-RL2-GQF
Out of this whole experience, I think the biggest take-away lesson I got is if you’re struggling with getting motivated to make something, then use your talents to make a gift — whether it’s for someone else, or for yourself. If other people like it, great! If not, that’s okay, because it was for you / that person to begin with.
So was it a successful life experiment? Yes and no. I think I would enjoy making my own indie game, even with all the work it would require, but it would have to be a game that I 100% needed to play, and I’m not sure what kind of game that would be yet. In general terms, I know I would want a compelling story with Literature-like themes married with tight gameplay, but I have no idea what exactly that game would be. Would I want to play a pixelated Metroidvania? A JRPG with 3D models? And what unique mechanics would be involved? Until I find that kind of inspiration, I don’t think I’ll dabble with any game-making programs. I’ll just stick with Super Mario Maker 2 for the time being.
Oh and if you’re interested in looking at my levels, my Creator ID is NWF-3HT-P6G.