I've spent four days banging my head against a Mario Maker stage called Hypercube. Full of misdirection, false pipe gods, and music notes, it's (mostly) a clever stage. Eventually, starved of solutions, I broke my rules and used the editor to learn what was going on. What I found made me do a spit-take.
Anyone following my Mario Maker Morning series on YouTube and Twitch knows I've spent (way too much!) time lately working my way through a series of seemingly non-sensical, trollish stages that are designed to frustrate players.
First, there was The Giant Bomb Level.
Then, there was The Second Giant Bomb Level.
After that, there was Spikeshoe Plains.
Last week, I brought down The Ryckoning in a 72-hour challenge for charity.
And most recently, I've been dealing with Hypercube (B2A3-0000-00AB-C911).
Hypercube exists because after finishing Giant Bomb editor Dan Ryckert's stage, I called out Polygon editor Griffin McElroy, who was contemplating a level. He spent a few hours developing Hypercube, then sent me a kind message over Twitter saying he'd built a "prison" I would "have a super great time with."
Hypercube, as with The Ryckoning and others like it, is an arsehole of a stage. It's not meant to be fun in the traditional sense; standard Mario levels may be full of tricks, but none as outlandish as what's in these. Miyamoto would weep.
What underscores these stages is, as mentioned before, misdirection. Getting to the exit might be relatively simple, but learning what the solution is might not.
Though I traditionally avoid looking at the map preview screen, it's worth giving you a (unfortunately tiny) glimpse of the course's general layout:
(This doesn't include a separate underground section with music notes.)
Hypercube opens innocently enough, but already has tons of "what the hell?"
You start in an area with a pipe -- those two doors are connected, BTW -- with two conveniently located coins. If Mario had access to a P-Switch, he could convert all of those coins into blocks, which would grant access to the beginning of the stage and that first pipe. In Super Mario World, it's not possible to go into a horizontal pipe without being level with it -- a well-time jump won't work.
The reason we're considering this route is how the course seems to end.
Then again, lots of things seem to be one way but aren't.
Here's how my mind works on courses like this, much to the frustration of the people watching me: I want to fully eliminate any and all possible solutions, even potentially ridiculous ones. Since there are a million different ways these levels could go and I'm not sitting around theorizing with someone next to me, I'm left to come up with a giant list of "what if?" scenarios and cross them off.
There is a P-Swith in Hypercube, and I eventually dragged it back to the start.
The pipe doesn't work. It was all for nothing.
Well, not exactly. At least I know it's not a possible course exit. It's been scratched off the list. It might have taken me an hour of careful planning, but I'm technically closer, even if it doesn't feel that way when it all goes wrong.
These lengthy explorations can deliver other, unexpected rewards. For example, my first hour with Hypercube was spent trying (and failing) to navigate a series of music notes. Music notes are my death knell in Mario, an ultimate weakness.
But in exploring another path through madness, I accidentally found a star in that opening area with the ghosts. It's squirreled away in a nasty, hidden block.
"A-ha," my brain went. I could use that star to avoid the music blocks that had been causing me trouble. One less headache, another set of possible solutions!
One by one, step by frustrating step, it becomes possible to pick apart the stage.
After four or five hours, I'd settled on the most likely solution to Hypercube, which involved grabbing the star in the hidden block, locating a trampoline in a cluster of otherwise innocuous yellow blocks, using the trampoline to reach a block that reveals a vine, grabbing another hidden star to...look, just watch.
Fortunately, there's a hidden star in the room before the giant spiked turtles, and the door floating above the ground? Solved with a simple -- again, hidden -- POW block used as a boost. With those in hand, I figured everything was over.
When I learned this was, yet again, a road to nowhere, I literally screamed.
It was at this point that I threw up my hands. I'd exhausted every single avenue to finish the stage, and could not fathom how one finds their way to that pipe.
Though it went against my code of ethics, I downloaded the stage and decided to look at it with Mario Maker's editing tools. This would disqualify me from being the victor, a concession of defeat, but I had to know what was going on.
As it turns out, it only got more fucked up. I couldn't find any way to finish the stage. That pipe that was above the finish line? It doesn't actually do anything!
I spent another 20 minutes poking at the stage, completely bewildered. A total accident is the only reason I truly figured out what was going on in Hypercube.
If you try to move a few of the blocks near the exit, this is revealed:
There's a glitch in Mario Maker allowing creators to do things they shouldn't. It's possible to use them for good, such as this interesting invisible block level:
Not so with Hypercube, which shows no mercy. Here's how it plays out:
You're a monster, Griffin McElroy!
There's a little twist in this story, though. While Hypercube does take advantage of a glitch -- it's meant to be an inescapable prison, after all -- it does have a hint of what the player is supposed to do, even if I never would have picked up on it:
— Griffin McElroy (@griffinmcelroy) October 22, 2015
I still call bullshit on using that for the exit, if only because the rest of the stage is so well designed. Yes, it's meant to infuriate you, but it's definitely solvable. You could even argue that downloading the stage into the editor is part of the puzzle, since merely looking at the stage holistically does not reveal its solution.
With Hypercube behind me, I'm taking a break from levels like this for a bit. My mind and body have been ravaged. That doesn't mean I'm looking to avoid difficult stages, mind you, but between Rycokoning and Hypercube, I'm spent.