Super Mario Maker 2 is filled with all sorts of cool and interesting stages—I recently highlighted a bunch—but far and away, the material that gets shared around the most involve the game’s most difficult creations, levels born from nightmares. Stuff like this:
How is someone supposed to play a level like that? Ignoring how chaotic everything looks, if you merely focus on what the player is being asked to do moment-to-moment, it still seems insurmountable. Part of the reason it’s “insurmountable,” however, is because there’s no easy way for people to learn how to play them. These “kaizo” levels are largely the dominion of the streamers and speedrunners who pull off incredible feats of platforming for our amusement. Video tutorials have existed for years, but there’s such a huge difference between watching and playing.
What if it could be different? What if there was a way for your average Mario player to learn these tricks? That’s what GrandPOObear, one of Mario Maker’s most prolific streamers, is trying to accomplish with his already-impressive “tech talk” series, where he combines detailed video tutorials explaining basic kaizo techniques alongside Mario Maker 2 stages he’s specifically designed to help anyone accomplish those very same techniques.
“I knew there would be a ton of players diving into Mario Maker 2 that had only watched videos,” said GrandPOObear to me, “and [would] want to immediately check out the kaizo stuff, so I wanted to give them a way to easily practice some of the more common tricks.”
GrandPOObear wasn’t born with inherent kaizo knowledge; it’s something he picked up over the course of playing more than 5,000 hours of the original Mario Maker, initially working his way through levels made by PangaeaPanga, the most well-known kaizo level creator.
These levels, often dubbed kaizo because they were influenced by an infamous package of ultrahard Mario stages that purposely buck traditionally accepted level design trends to surprise and shock players, are also inaccessible to the vast majority of Mario Maker players, even folks who consider themselves pretty good at platformers. That’s because kaizo stages tend to involve advanced techniques the Mario games don’t consider canon, and Nintendo has historically pretended to ignore (and quietly punish) the kaizo community.
Mario Maker 2, for example, lets players reference a “move set” for each past Mario game that its levels are built around, but nowhere does Nintendo touch on shell jumping—the act of tossing or dropping a shell to create a platform where one does not exist—which is basically kaizo 101. GrandPOObear’s videos and levels, however, are here to help. The genius of what GrandPOObear is doing is his inventive use of Mario Maker 2’s toolset to act as a visual language for kaizo practice.
The first stage (Tech Talk: Shell Jump Into Me // 9MD-144-RJG) focuses on shell jumping.
The “track” object accomplishes two things: it shows the area Mario should be jumping towards and the direction (in this case, right) the shell should be thrown. The blue box is the moment Mario should release the shell. If done correctly, Mario will toss the shell against the wall, and when the shell ricochets back, it will be perfectly placed for Mario to jump on top of.
(In an ideal world, one we will never live in, Nintendo would support stages like this with additional features, like creator-recorded ghosts that show the exact way to perform a technique, or even by allowing players to see real-time button inputs so they can begin to internalize timing.)
Even with this placement, the technique is incredibly hard to pull off. I’m living proof:
And yet, with enough practice and patience, GrandPOObear’s setup totally works:
Hell yes! Every time I nailed a technique, it was such an unbelievable thrill because it felt like I was suddenly joining a secret club, and this level was handing me the keys to kaizo. As such, I’m now a kaizo master who will soon be quitting their job in games journalism to fill stadiums as I jump on shells to an adoring crowd. (You laugh, but GrandPOObear basically does this for a living, and has now actually started touring the country playing Mario Maker.)
There are other clever things GrandPOObear is doing here, too. The level is designed to make it as easy as possible to run through techniques over and over; you’re going to fail a lot. Thus, the stage has doorways warping you back after an attempt goes awry, and pipes dropping shells in ideal locations, with pathways for errant ones to disappear into. (The game won’t spawn endless shells, so the level needs to be laid out to, in essence, recycle them.)
The level escalates from here, walking players through different versions of the shell jump that are commonly employed in kaizo levels, including trickier techniques like bouncing shells off walls opposite of Mario’s accelerating direction and waiting for them to fall down:
(Yes, I did that.)
GrandPOObear does what he can within Mario Maker 2’s offerings, but the levels are pretty inscrutable without watching the videos he makes showcasing them. If you’re not already familiar with the button presses required to pull off some moves, you might struggle to put things together on your own, so it’s incredibly useful to watch someone do it correctly first. When I was playing through the stage, I had the video queued up on my computer monitor, while I worked through a specific section on my Switch, quickly swapping between the two.
The stage culminates with an especially rough technique, the double shell jump, a move that’s been made even harder in Mario Maker 2 because, for whatever reason, Nintendo made the timing to pull it off even tighter than before. This is what it’s supposed to look like:
And here’s what I did for nearly 30 minutes:
You can see me starting to put it together, and by the time I pulled the plug, I felt inches away from doing it. I’ll probably return to it later tonight to see if I can put the level away.
Do I actually think this is going to lead to me playing many kaizo stages? Probably not, but it at least provides a mental and physical framework for understanding what folks like GrandPOObear are doing while ripping through stages filled with back-to-back moments relying on a keen understanding of moves like this. It’s also a testament to Mario Maker’s toolest that, as limited as it might feel sometimes, is able to support creative ideas like this.
One thing GrandPOObear wishes Nintendo would bring back is the ability to download levels and play them in the game’s editor. This is useful on especially difficult stages because you can drop Mario wherever you want in the level, and practice specific areas. This has been removed from Mario Maker 2, likely to tamp down on issues of plagiarism. It also means you can’t download a stage and try to figure out what exactly the creator did.
“So often in Mario Maker 2 I see something crazy and I am like ‘I wish I knew how they built that so I could expand upon that idea!’” he said.
GrandPOObear recently published his second level/video combo (Tech Talk: New n Old Item Tricks // W48-R91-JCG), focused on pulling of things like—yikes—mid-air trampoline jumps.
Good luck! No, seriously. You're going to need it.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you've noticed anything cool happening in Mario Maker, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. He's also available privately on Signal.