By Neil Merrett
Super Mario Maker 2, released on Switch in 2019, published by Nintendo
The level Car Creeper was designed by the player ‘op gamer 2’. The Super Mario Maker 2 Course ID for the level is – 3GM-9DS-NLG
What is a videogame between friends? With the recent release of Super Mario Maker 2, the answer is a lot more open than one could have been conceived during the digital plumber’s ’80s heyday.
Here we have an official Nintendo title that builds on years of mostly well meaning, albeit very illegal fan-made games that mimic and even modify existing programming assets used in numerous Mario games to create ever more outlandish and challenging levels.
The Super Mario Maker series is intended to allow mainstream audiences to make levels on a simplistic or epic scope that not only recreate, but in some ways subvert one of the gaming world’s most reliable and dependable series. Entirely new gameplay experiences are possible beyond even the imagination of Nintendo’s own creative team.
They have opened up the experience to the world, and with some very sensible restrictions on what can be said or produced, given control of the game’s content to an unpredictable and unknowable audience.
In a simpler gaming era. Players knew what they liked about Mario games with their precision jumping, audacious power ups and secret exits. Now they can create all manner of personal exploits either for an audience of one, or millions of players online.
These new levels can range from frantic endurance courses, to puzzles and longer-form mazes. They can be examples of chaotic happenstance, where the player literally stands still and enjoys an improbable ride where gravity, velocity and trampolines spring them to the end goal.
Through the wonders of web connectivity, these levels, which mimic the various unique graphical and play styles from several different Super Mario platform games released from the 1980s up to present day, can then be uploaded online.
From here a global audience can compete, comment and advertise these strange and sometimes deeply personal levels to friends and the wider gaming community.
The pre-internet age
Mario games, like all aspects of our pre-web culture, were usually built for maximum mainstream appeal and often succeeded in gaining it in the form of critical acclaim and tens of millions of individual games sold before the turn of the last century.
The look, sound and design of the first level in the original Super Mario Bros game released on the NES in 1985 for example, is probably one of the most famous and recognisable levels in all of videogames.
Yet Super Mario Maker 2, in partially outsourcing its content to generations of players reared on Nintendo games, has seen these gamers develop their own unique takes on that very level.
Whether this is an attempt to literally shift the level onto its side, or re-conceptualise it as a firey deathtrap that requires precision timing and learning from a huge number of deaths, a number of permutations exist.
Oh, you thought the Super Mario Bros 1-1 level was a lighthearted jaunt? @grmartin is here to let you know that, thanks to Super Mario Maker 2, level 1-1 is now a fire-filled hellscape: https://t.co/B9klE7YVy2 pic.twitter.com/s7hZzOg6NR
— Paste Magazine (@PasteMagazine) July 22, 2019
The Mario Maker games reflect something deeply personal, subversive, exciting and sometimes problematic about our web-infused culture – not just in regards to gaming, but also our politics and interactions.
It is fair to say that Mario Maker owes as much to social media, as social media does to gaming, with regard to what it shows us about communication, sharing content and engaging with others.
For as long as Nintendo continues to host the huge numbers of levels currently being designed on a regular basis with Mario Maker 2, some of which may go entirely unnoticed except by their creator, players can have their very own unique Mario experience.
No longer do we have to concern ourselves with the sometimes sanitised, sometimes wonderful compromises required to ensure a game’s mainstream mass appeal.
Anyone can build something niche and revolutionary to play through and enjoy – sometimes they may have just enjoy it alone.
There is solace in this opportunity afforded by the internet, but are we also losing something in the mass consensus of mainstream appeal? The answer has become complex, often contradictory, and as life affirming as it can be disturbing.
Human consciousness and personal perception of the world can be conveyed as never before and in the very specific case of Super Mario Brothers, this is a wonderful thing.
For maybe no more than three players living in distant parts of the world, Mario Maker 2’s greatest contribution is a level that requires a player to perform and increasingly refine precision timing while driving a car across man-eating vines.
The course, known as Car Creeper involves the titular character leaping into a car that has its own unique feeling of speed, acceleration and aerial movement. In getting to grips with this car’s handling, the gamer must then ride along a thorny, makeshift road made up of three separate piranha plants in order to reach the level’s end.
The level has been completed some 150 times, but unlike the traditional challenge in Mario, the key appeal of this course is the concept of time and precision.
From an initial completion time of 24 seconds or so, successive playthroughs have whittled the required completion time down to just under 18 seconds. Over several months, gradual improvements in the completion time have been made from revisiting and trying new approaches to refine how best to drive across the vines. Go too quick, for example and you risk running out of road, or destroying the vine on which your journey depends. Hesitate, and the record goes unchallenged.
If you can launch the car earlier and land on a very specific part of the Piranha plants head, then maybe, just maybe, you can slice off a few more fractions of a second off your time to try and protect your record from the reprisals of a friendly, wounded ego.
What can be more important after all than a Super Mario Maker 2 ‘world record’?
Achievements made through the internet can seem very intangible, as if they might dissolve on contact with the real world.
While skilled gamers can earn real world fortunes from competitive gaming, a Mario record can mean nothing more than one man pretending to hold a significant victory over two close friends. This is all for no other reason than passive aggressiveness and a temporary ego boost from gaining an in-game world record.
There is no inherent real-world value in being a record holder in Super Mario Maker 2. A prerequisite of any new level is that a successful playthrough is made, meaning tens, if not hundreds of thousands of records exists at any one time.
Yet within the infrastructure of the game, each level – whether a brilliantly engineered piece of design, some underwhelming time sink or some esoteric creative vision – exists in a complex ecosystem.
Here, every level has its own tale of artistic vision, its own winners and losers, or stories of close friends and rivals.
As with everything found online, the game’s levels are nothing more or less complex than a reflection of the best and worst of human creativity. The value of any given level therefore is what an individual player makes of it, so just make it a good one.