Steamed cheep cheep
There are two elements of Mario games that I despise: the sluggish, difficult nature of water levels, and the rounded, cartoony look and sound of New Super Mario Bros. This level is the first time I tried these two elements—because sometimes I feel the need to rip off the proverbial Band-Aid and push outside my comfort zone.
Underwater levels prevent you from bopping most enemies on the head to clear them, so fire flowers end up being one of the only ways to clear enemies when you’re underwater. I find this incredibly frustrating because when I think “Mario” I think “jumping on enemies’ heads.” As a result, I wanted to create a sense of catharsis by giving the player a fire flower and a ton of enemies to wipe out with fireballs.
This level is wide open, and features increasingly complex formations of Cheep Cheeps. My idea was to introduce a fire flower about halfway through and turn it into a fish fry. Having the fire flower show up halfway through should create some tension, in contrast to the sense of relief you get after arming yourself with fireballs. Unfortunately, my inexperience at making water levels really shined through when I played through this level again recently.
My first mistake was making the water level wide open. You can see from the screenshot that it’s a little too easy to just swim up to the top and pass over all the enemies. If you go back and look at any other Mario game’s water levels, they tend to be less of a straight shot, and more “twisty”. The fact that you can freely move up and down opens up way more possibilities in the design, and a official Mario level tends to take advantage of that. By making a straight, open level, I made a really boring and trivial level.
My second mistake is closely related to the first. Because I had a wide-open level, it might be a little bit too easy to skip over the fire flower entirely. Since getting the fire flower was my central idea for the level, having it be skippable renders the entire level pointless! Ideally, I would have used pipes or blocks to herd the player into a place where the fire flower was 100% unavoidable. By closing off some more of the level, I could heighten the tension of near-misses with Cheep Cheeps and make the initial stages of the level more interesting. That would heighten the sense of catharsis even more. For the end of the level, I could have opened up suddenly into a big shooting gallery of Cheep Cheeps, which would make it harder to skip over entirely. That release from a small, tight space where you dodge enemies into a big space where you are free to toast enemies would also have made the level more emotionally satisfying.