Sunday, February 7, 2016

Super Mario Maker - Packed Pipes

Packed Pipes

I think this course is a failure.

I wanted a course where all the platforms were pipes, which I thought would be aesthetically interesting, and it would give a chance for me to play around with the “enemies coming out of pipes” mechanic. I tried to set up a gradual increase of enemy difficulty, from goombas to piranha plants to flying koopas. I also wanted a branching path because I think that’s what interests me most in my favorite Super Mario World courses.

By the time I finished creating my course, I was pretty happy. It seemed to be the right level of difficulty and surprise. However, after letting it sit for a week or two, I came back to it and it doesn’t hold up so well against some of my later levels.

The most irritating thing about this level is the length. I think early on, I was intimidated by trying to fill out a large screen with tons of stuff. I kept the course at the default size and tried to fill in from there. As a result, this level is really dense. Playing through it doesn’t take very long, and there’s no time to really absorb what’s happening.

The density of the level also throws off the difficulty curve. Piranha plants don’t activate until you get reasonably close, which ambushes an unsuspecting player. I never noticed this effect because I already knew the plants were there! Other enemies spring out of the pipes in such rapid succession that they quickly fill up the space between the columns. After seeing a few other levels with this mechanic, I think the best idea is to let the pipe-spawned enemies fall off the stage after bouncing off a wall. This allows the constant flow of enemies to be intimidating without becoming overwhelming.

Finally, the flying koopas that spawn just before the end are just annoying. I wanted to make the last pipe hard to reach without bouncing off an enemy, but I also wanted the difficulty of a piranha plant trying to ambush you. Those two ideas are introduced at the same time, and the pattern of the koopas means they get stuck for a bit before moving into an ideal jumping position. It’s just sloppy. If I made this level longer, I could have given more time to each individual idea instead of piling them on top of each other like an overstuffed sandwich.

I do like the top path, though. There’s a question block, which is what I like to use to distract the player for a second in order to let any potential dangers reveal themselves. In this case, the question block gives a mushroom. As the mushroom travels down to the player, the piranha plants spring into action, revealing the dangers ahead.

The mushroom also gives the player the ability to soak up the inevitable damage from the piranha plants. The invincibility frames the player gets after getting hit allow the player to run to the end, where another mushroom hides in a question block. I think this is a decent implementation of “you need to take damage to move forward” tropes that appear in harder levels. However, I’m not entirely sure it belongs in this particular stage, which is not supposed to be all that difficult.

Looking back on this course, it’s definitely a sophomore attempt. I think it would be interesting to go back and revise it. In the meantime, it’s more of a warning to amateurs than it is an interesting and engaging level that stands on its own.