Believe it or not, Super Mario Maker has a ton of great courses floating around. Here is the system I used to find these elusive levels.
First, I'm going to assume you already hit up our list of "20 courses you should play" — there is a lot of good stuff there that you can check out. That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. There are plenty of great Mario Maker courses waiting to be discovered, and I'll detail how to come across them below.
Play The 100 Mario Challenge
OK. Hear me out. There is no way around this: to find good Mario courses, you're going to need to put in some work. I was serious about the "wading through crap" part. But I promise that if you put in some time to build your own curation, you'll get to a point where you constantly have stuff to play.
First, though, you start with what the game already offers you. Try spending a few hours playing the 100 Mario Challenge, preferably on easy or normal. Straight up? Most of what you find will not be good. But the few courses that are? STAR THEM. This will do a couple of things. One, it will give a little boost to the stuff that's actually worth a damn, something that will hopefully give other players an easier time finding good stuff. Secondly, it will help you start developing a list of people worth following (we'll get to that in a second.)
You'll also want to be careful about commenting levels on the 100 Mario Challenge — absurdly, the game automatically stars whatever you comment on. So as much as you might be tempted to tell 9 year-old Timmy that his level sucks, restrain yourself! You'll only make that level more popular. Try only commenting on stuff you actually like.
If it helps with this step, be ruthless while playing. Don't spend too much time on anything that doesn't open up with something intriguing and worthwile. Don't be afraid to just skip levels that look boring. Stick with levels that have an intriguing name. It's your time. Make the most out of it.
Look At The Stars
So, you have a few starred courses from playing the 100 Mario challenge. On the Course World menu, click on your avatar. From there, you should have the option to look at the courses you've starred. You'll want to seek out the creators of the levels you starred — tap their icons. Feel free to browse through their other creations: if this designer was capable of making one good course, they may have another, waiting to be found. This can be a crapshoot, though.
What you're really interested in is what this creator has starred, too. Tap on the level designer's individual "Starred" tab, and browse through the levels this person has flagged. Not all of it will be worthwhile, but your chances are a hell of a lot better than just diving into the 100 Mario challenge. You can even do this trick with the most popular creators on Course World, too. Even if you don't like someone's automatic Mario level that's floated to the top, there's a good chance you'll find some gold in that person's "starred" courses.
I find that whenever I come across a single good level, I will end up spending an hour or two just going down the rabbit hole of what else that singular course leads to. I'll browse what that creator has starred, play those new courses, then look at what those creators have starred, and so on — essentially, doing the Mario version of Inception until I'm bored. All the way, I'm making sure to star everything I enjoy, thus making my own list of preferred courses pretty awesome. I'm confident that anyone that finds my profile on Mario Maker will have hours worth of stuff to play, which is a pretty great feeling. Here's hoping Nintendo eventually builds a news feed of sorts that can automatically tell you when your friends star other courses...ah, one can dream.
Find Good Curators
Here's the thing. Everyone has a different definition of "good." Some of you may be looking for classic Mario-type levels. Some of you may enjoy levels with a narrative twist. Some of you might like mash-ups, or playing recreations of other series within Mario Maker. Some of you might like gimmick levels. Some of you might be looking for the most difficult courses you can find. And some of you might just be interested in levels with a nice tune.
Think about what it is you prefer, and try to find other people with those same tastes, too. Here are some places or people that have been instrumental to my finding good courses...
- GameXplain regularly makes really clever Nintendo-based levels, and often showcases many of the cool courses he's come across. A good follow if you're into themed courses, remakes of other franchises within Mario Maker, and gimmicky levels.
- Panga is your one-stop shop for difficult Mario Maker levels.
- This neoGAF thread often has people sharing all sorts of great courses with one another. I'd look out for people who provide additional images, posters, artwork, or videos of their levels — the more effort someone puts into marketing their course to you, the higher the likelihood that course has of genuinely being awesome, I've found. That's because promotional material requires confidence, which is a good sign that a level is actually worthwhile. Marketing materials also necessitate a good understanding of what makes a level cool. You're probably not gonna see someone spend hours making a nice Photoshop of their level if its just a bad remix of 1-1.
- The Reddit hub for Mario Maker is also a great resource. About half the threads at any given time will be level presentations pitches, which you can sort through at a pretty quick pace. Again, look out for people who make promotional stuff for their courses, or levels with clever concepts. Or, if you prefer to just look at the cream of the crop, look for the sticked threads with the weekly round-up of best courses.
- There's a big push to make Mario Maker Hub happen right now — it's a website that acts as a repository of Mario Maker levels which you can sort based on difficulty, categories, game style, and even tags. You can scroll through the site and look at courses that come complete with a short description. In theory, this is exactly what Mario Maker is missing. Right now, the site is pretty young, so it's hard to judge its usefulness. I've spent hours plugging in courses from there, and had pretty mixed results. That said, it's only as good as what people submit to it, so! I encourage y'all to send in whatever great courses you find. Again: no getting around the fact finding good courses requires work.
- YouTube Gaming's hub for Mario Maker is great for looking at the most popular stuff on YouTube, which in turn is good for sussing out the Big Names/Creators making waves on Mario Maker right now. The explore tab gives you a grab bag of what's making a buzz right now, but you can also sort by popularity, or look at the "spotlight" tab to see what YouTube itself thinks is worth watching. If you spend enough time here, you can probably find a YouTuber/entertainer who does your brand of stuff, whatever that may be.
- Twitter can be a great resource for finding people who are making Mario Maker courses. You can see what courses people are tweeting about in real time, or, more preferably, follow for game designers who have purchased the game — they're making some of the best stuff out there.
- Polygon has a weekly series called Devs Make Mario that's worth checking out. New episodes drop every Wednesday. The latest one features Mossmouth's Derek Yu — you know, of Spelunky fame?
- Our very own Patrick Klepek does a thing called Mario Maker Mornings on Twitch (which is then uploaded to YouTube). Here's how he describes it: "I'm lucky enough to have enough people who think it's interesting to watch me try, fail, and sometimes succeed at playing the strangest, hardest, and most interesting levels Mario Maker has to offer. They act as my filter for the hidden gems of Mario Maker, passing along favourites they have made, played, or observed. Through the sheer power of experimentation and community filtering, every day I've been playing new stages that delight and surprise me here."
- I have a daily Mario Maker series on YouTube called The Boo Lab where I highlight creepy, weird, or unusual levels with my girlfriend. Latest episode is about an existential Waluigi course, and before that we highlighted a weirdly touching story about a Goomba dad, to give you an idea of what we play. This YouTube channel is more suited for people who like narrative levels, or gimmicky levels with a twist.
Play The Bad Courses Anyway
I see the benefit to weeding out the crappy stuff in Mario Maker — you want to spend time with stuff that delights you, after all. But the only way Mario Maker can improve is if everyone is making better courses. You can have a hand in that growth. Yes, you!
When you see someone sharing a level online, try it out. Leave a comment. Give that person a critique. Anything that might help that person out and make Mario Maker a better place, you should do. Many of us are predisposed to look at Mario Maker as a resource, a thing that is supposed to funnel ready-made levels of quality directly into our Gamepads — which makes sense. That's how most games work. But really, Mario Maker is a community. An ecosystem that lives, breathes, and grows. And you exist within that community. You can affect it. Are you doing your part? Or are you just making levels and expecting other people to play them, simply because they exist?
These are my secrets; what I do to find good Mario Maker levels. Getting to this point required a lot of effort at first — probably at least a dozen hours of buckling down and making a curation system for myself. But because I spent the time doing this, I now constantly have torrent of levels coming my way, all of which are waiting to be played. A good chunk of what I find ends up being great, or at the very least, better than what I'd find through the 100 Mario Challenge. I'm actually having a hard time keeping up with everything I want to play!