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20-Second Gauntlets of Death Are the Hottest Trend in 'Mario Maker'

The best part is, you don't have to be an expert to beat them!

by Patrick Klepek
Jul 24 2019, 7:47pm

There’s a new kind of level ripping up the charts on Super Mario Maker 2, and for once, it’s not some daunting monstrosity meant for speedrunner demigods and thirsty social media shares. These levels are smart, thrilling, and importantly, take less than a minute to finish.

Welcome to Mario Maker 2’s newest trend, the 20-second level:

That thrilling piece of platforming is “On-Off Onslaught [20s]” by creator key$ (L5K-JJS-XWG).

20-second stages work by slamming a few other popular Mario Maker concepts into one another. Because there’s only 20 seconds, it functions similarly to an autoscroll level, a popular genre where you simply have to guide Mario to the right in order to beat it, enjoying the scenery and spectacle along the way. But in 20-second stages, simply holding right on the d-pad, won’t achieve victory. Here, you actually have to nail a bunch of key jumps.

They provide the delightful illusion of speedrunning because the player cannot, at any point, stop. If Mario loses momentum, he’ll miss a jump or run out of time. Functionally, these 20-second stages require players to act like a speedrunner and hit every single beat exactly, or else you’re sent back to the beginning. Because death happens swiftly, though, and stages only take 20 seconds if done correctly, it removes a key downside: frustration.

Which isn’t to say they’re easy—they’re often not—but they allow designers to play in different spaces. For example, they can deploy one of the creative advantages of autoscroll stages—the ability to assume where players are going to be—and go wild on aesthetics and visual distractions, creating the sense that players are on a rollercoaster. Then, in the middle of that coaster, control is handed back to the player, as they navigate one jump to the next.

It also lets creators be very funny, which is hard to pull off in Mario Maker stages:

In almost every 20-second stage, there’s a tool new to Mario Maker 2, the on/off switch. It’s early days in people figuring out all the ways to deploy Nintendo’s latest toys, but the on/off switch is unique because it allows designers to direct players, cut off various paths, and invent unique (and uniquely difficult) platform sections that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

But with every second that passes, with every jump Mario successfully makes, the tension ratchets up further and further. When you die with two seconds to go, it’s simultaneously hilarious and agonizing. Two seconds left on the clock means there’s only two seconds left to the level, which means you were so damn close to reaching the end. Reload, try again.

One thing: I wouldn’t actually recommend that people start with the above stage; it’s one of the more challenging ones, requiring a very specific timing to your jumps to finish. For 20-second level newbies, I’d point you towards one of the more popular levels in the community right now, Insane Forest Dash [20 Seconds] by maker zaydew (G6Y-31S-12G).

It’s not a pushover, mind you, but it’s way more approachable.

If you’re looking for more 20-second levels, follow the creator bruhhhhhh (QYC-V7C-BHF); he’s made a bunch of great ones, and he’s already started getting wildly experimental. In “20 Seconds: Bob-omb Blastoff” (QCC-N4B-6WF), you’re asked to do waaaay more than jump:

I’d like to recommend more, but Mario Maker 2 isn’t built to respond to moments like this.

Mario Maker 2, like the original Mario Maker, includes a series of tags to describe levels (i.e. autoscroll, themed), but they’re written by Nintendo. Thus, there’s no way to “tag” a level as this new subgenre, the 20-second stage, without Nintendo recognizing something is happening and building a new tag to reflect it. Furthermore, there’s no way to search for levels by name, so even if the community decided upon a branding like “[20 Seconds],” it wouldn’t matter because there’s no way to look up a course by name because...reasons?

I was able to find a handful of stages by limiting my searches to the most popular levels under the tags “autoscroll” and “speedrun,” but it’s a flawed solution to an obvious problem Nintendo should have seen coming. So far, there’s no indication Nintendo plans to address problems like this, forcing players to, instead, use places like reddit for recommendations.

I warned about this in my review of Mario Maker 2 from a few weeks back, but this is how it worked with Mario Maker, too. The community will do cool things, regardless of whether Nintendo finds ways to capitalize on it. Today, that’s levels that last 20 seconds.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you know anything interesting happening in Mario Maker, reach out at patrick.klepek@vice.com. He's also available privately on Signal.