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!
A desert theme. An ancient tomb. Hidden traps and lost treasures. There’s a high difficulty threshold to completing Pyramid Exploration but there’s also great reward in experiencing these ever plunging depths for yourself. You’ll be using both your wits and best platforming skills to even progress past the first room of this mausoleum, but don’t give up! The way this level has been themed to make you believe you’re actually inside of a dusty old pyramid is miraculous. Dark enclosed spaces make you feel claustrophobic and alone and the enemies chosen are all what you’d expect to find in the setting. My favourite challenge is a climbing section early on. You have to get to the top before your staircase is crushed by skewers and time your jumps perfectly to avoid making any mistakes. Take your time and work out exactly what you’re doing. And don’t forget to collect those pink coins! Making your way back to the centre of this tomb is tough.
Pac Man Mario Version Only Pros
Like the name says, this level recreates the look, feel, and layout of the classic Pac-Man arcade game. Unlike the name says, it’s actually pretty beatable. You’ll have to go through three different screens in this video game mash up. Use the stars as power pellets (you know where to find them, right?) to kill the spike tops acting as ghosts, and make your way up through the pipe in the middle of the maze to progress. You could go straight for the pipe of course, but I always try to make an extra challenge for myself by taking out all the enemies I can with all four stars before I progressed. Pac-Man is just too wired into me at this point to give it anything but my all. I mean come on, It’s video game history!
Roland the Mole’s Castle
One of the best feeling levels I found this week is absolutely Roland the Mole’s Castle. Moles are some of the most interesting enemies in the game, certainly the most intelligent. This level is full of the little guys! Making you feel like you’re in an interconnected labyrinth, the main area of this level is a large chamber with several layers of bricks blocking your path. Completing four rooms allows you access to P-Switches so you can turn those bricks into coins row by row to reach a final goal. There’s a ton polish to the level that keeps its theme present and keeps you wanting to move forward. Each door helpfully use the coins you’ve collected to track your progress, so even if you’re the type to forget which door you’ve gone through you have some help to progress. When you finally complete this level, you’ve earned it, and seen your own progress get you through. This was so fun to play. More the sort of puzzler I can see working in a Paper Mario game than what I normally see in Super Mario Maker, and that’s one the biggest compliments I can give.
The 3 Marioteers!
How? Why? That’s my question for this one. Made in the original SMB style, The 3 Marioteers! gives you choice between Weird Mushroom and Big Mushroom to make your way through a cleverly designed obstacle course. The Big Mushroom turns Mario into a crushing powerhouse, able to destroy blocks that normally impede his progress with a single touch. The Weird Mushroom gives not only the horror of Mario’s disproportioned figure, but also the ability to jump significantly higher than even Super Mario normally can. It’s a test of wit rather than skill, like most of the levels I truly enjoy, and the way the level gives you choice in how you approach each situation is very engaging. You don’t see the Weird Mushroom used in a lot of online courses intentionally. The fact that even being able to use it is a Mario Maker endgame completion bonus means few creators have access to it, and that’s a shame if its use can bring such creativity to the table.
Yes, it’s Flappy Bird. But for the casual gamer looking for a legitimate challenge, it’s actually quite a bit better. One of Flappy Bird’s biggest failings, in my opinion, is its rigid difficulty that has many players rage quitting after three or four pipes of progress. I understand that for many people that’s the appeal, and it makes for a great mobile experience, but in a full fledged Super Mario Bros. game on my TV, I expect something more. Flappy Squid provides you with ample costume mushrooms to help you out when you inevitably hit the edge of a pipe, while red cannons add a little extra challenge beyond what the initial premise delivers. The fact that you’re playing in the Splatoon Boy costume is another added bonus, as the squidgy sounds that emanate from his movements really adds to the underwater experience.
It’s-a Morphin’ Time
No, Nintendo did not add Tommy the Green Ranger to their costume collection. Yet. It’s-a Morphin’ Time does use costume mushrooms to denote a series of challenges, beginning with some tricky mazes, that test the player’s ability and patience. Challenged aren’t impossible, however, and it’s a nice change of pace from levels that expect you to know every secret of the game’s programming to complete them. If you hit all the costume blocks, you’ll see Modern Mario, Yoshi, and a host of others along your way through this brain teasing level. The jumps in the latter section of the level can be a little tricky, and I expected a twist in one area where it turned out I was just vastly overthinking it, but I walked away from completing this level feeling good about myself, and I’ve played enough of these to know when that happens the level’s hit the sweet spot for me.
Okay, so you know how the X-Men have the Danger Room where they go to train and practice their sweet moves? This level is kind of like that, only for jumping. The beauty of 1-8+EX is in its simplicity. Enter a room, jump between the pipes, leave. Didn’t make it through the first time? Try again. Each room tests you on a different mechanic of Mario’s jumping abilities. Do you know how to jump and change directions in mid-air? How to perfectly line up your jumps, or get a little extra bounce off an enemy? You’ll need to. It’ll practically take a parkour expert to beat this level (which is why I wasn’t able to) but it’s also a great training ground for moves you may not have known were possible in such simple game. I’ve downloaded this one to improve my higher-level platforming skills and do hope to complete it… eventually.
The Struggle of the Proletariat
If you go into this level expecting a quality platforming experience, I apologize. There’s nothing here more challenging than entering a pipe and walking slowly to the left. But I unexpectedly loved The Struggle of the Proletariat as a narrative experience. There’s a story to this level. There are themes. It’s socialist propaganda for the struggles of the Mushroom Kingdom’s goomba population. Coins are constantly hovering above your head in this level but you’re unable to collect them because of the invisible blocks containing nothing but Red Koopas. Bowser is a tyrannical fat cat hoarding pipe-loads of coins for himself in a penthouse suite. And at the end, you’re not even able to enter the castle, as a worker’s trolley takes you away. I laughed. I liked it because it was funny, and there’s not enough creators making levels out there that put such a wide smile on my face.
Bowser’s Haunted Castle
While Bowser’s Haunted Castle may not be on the same tier as the other levels on this list, it nonetheless use a neat mechanic I thought would be interesting to share with other players who may want to steal the idea for themselves. In this level, players have to manipulate Bowser himself into destroying blocks with his flame breath so Mario can journey deeper into a pit where a pipe takes him underground. A single Boo at the bottom of the pit is enough to add a hint of complication to the game, testing the player on their ability to move around and manipulate Bowser into doing your work while keeping the Boo still.
I’ll end again with a smaller level. A second starring King Koopa himself. Who hasn’t wanted to ride Bowser like a bucking bronco? No one? Okay, that’s cool. It still doesn’t change the fact that this level is a simple, fun piece of craftsmanship that turns your greatest adversary into an ally necessary for the level’s completion. The beginning of the level gives you a boot to stomp your way on top of Bowser. The ground is lined with conveyor belts and moving lava beams that will shrink Mario down to smaller stature in an instant. You’ll have a bit of a grace period after you get hit of course, so it’s up to your best judgement to decide how soon you can jump (or fall) off this jumping, thrashing beast and make a mad dash to that axe! Try and stay on as you can for household pride.
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