There's a brutal competition being waged in Mario Maker right now, and it's inspiring people to make the most hellish Mario Maker courses they can think of.
It all started with a course named "Pit of Panga: P-Break." Uploaded last month by PangaeaPanga, Pit of Panga was so intentionally gruelling, it made grown men cry tears of joy after beating it. At the time, Pit of Panga earned the title of "hardest Mario Maker level," and the stats seemed to support that. Pit of Panga has been attempted by players around the world over 1.7 million times — but has only been cleared a measly 41 times, as of this writing. That gives Pit of Panga a clear rate of about 0.01%. Too high, if you ask its creator.
"In an ideal world, no more than 10 clears would satisfy me," PangaeaPanga told me in an email. So over the last two weeks, PanpaeaPanga has spent his time trying to one-up P-Break with a new level. He's calling it U-Break. While PangaeaPanga hasn't managed to upload the course yet — Mario Maker requires players to actually beat levels before they can be shared online — he feels that U-Break's creation is a necessary evil. P-Break started the proliferation of "impossible" type levels, meaning that it wasn't long before other people created courses that were actually harder than P-Break. And when you're purporting to be the creator of the hardest Mario Maker level out there, that's no good.
"Looking back at when I made P-Break, I imagined it to be harder than it really was, which is why it has so many clears," PangaeaPanga said. "With U-Break, I want to get rid of that partial viewpoint and actually make it as close to 'impossible' as I can."
And so PangaeaPanga has spent a good chunk of October bashing his head against the wall that is U-Break. Sometimes, the attempts to beat his own level are so taxing, they can leave his hands in pain. But he's positive he'll beat it, eventually. In the mean time, other players are coming out of the woodwork with courses that people are calling the new hardest levels in Mario Maker.
There's this course, developed by speedrunner Mitch Fowler, which is cleverly called "You Shell Not Pass:"
As well as this level, created by CarlSagan42 — it's titled Mr. Carl's Wild Ride. Skip ahead to the 5:22 mark if you want to see the successful run — everything before that is very quick deaths!
[Course ID: 550D-0000-00BB-3B34]
The PangaeaPanga influence is probably obvious. Like his infamous "Item Abuse" level series back in Super Mario World, which produced a course so difficult, it took three entire years to beat, these new Mario Maker levels are intense courses that make the player use objects in new and surprising ways. Even players who do not like overly challenging courses (like me!) can, at the very least, appreciate the level of creativity and inspiration that goes into creating courses like these.
While the roots are familiar, these new courses are finding novel ways to set themselves apart. Curiously, Mr. Carl's Wild Ride debuted with a $US50 bounty that its creator promised to whoever could beat the level first. That's the sort of confidence this level was created with — money was being put on the line. Not a ton of money, but still. Cash!
CarlSagan42, as you might have guessed, is not new to this sort of thing. Speaking to him over email, Carl shared a video with me where he beats the devilishly difficult "Kaizo Mario" levels in 18 minutes. You might know Kaizo Mario as "Arsehole Mario," the fan-tweaked version of Super Mario World that turns the game into an absolute nightmare of difficulty:
CarlSagan42 also happens to be among the elite Mario Maker players who has beaten P-Break. That's what prompted him to make his own impossible level in the first place, as the YouTube description of Mr. Carl's Wild Ride attests to:
Weeks of toiling in the Pit of Panga made Carl angry. Now it's time for revenge 凸(｀⌒´メ)凸
"P-Break was created and uploaded in two days," CarlSagan42 told me in an email. My new level, called Mr. Carl's Wild Ride, took four weeks to make and upload, totaling well over 20,000 attempts of the completed level before finally beating it once."
Carl, a graduate student working toward a PhD in microbiology, had a specific reason for building his course in the way that he did. "One of my favourite additions to Mario Maker is the ability to ride on top of moving shells, which you could not do in the original Mario games," Carl explained. "There are actually some really cool 'automatic' levels people have made using this feature, where you just sit still and the shell ricochets around the level, beating it for you.
"But unless it's set up perfectly for you like in an automatic level, it is very difficult to get on top of a moving shell, and they move REALLY fast once you're on one. In other words, it is the perfect setup for a very hard level!"
The moving shell part of the level explains the title of the course — which is a hark back to the popular 'Mr. Bones Wild Ride.' That's an old 4chan meme where someone built a Roller Coaster Tycoon course that forced passengers to perpetually stay on a single roller coaster that took 4 years of in-game time to ride once. Mr. Bones is a meme with the type of troll antics that perfectly captures the nature of impossible-type courses such as Mr. Carl's Wild Ride. They are courses meant to challenge what you think is possible within their respective games, but they're also meant to entertain players, too. To wit, Carl's Wild Ride even has a joke secret exit that traps Mario in a dance party with giant enemies. Just for funsies.
The other big thing about Carl's level is its ample usage of POW blocks — which, yes, can clear enemies with ease...but can also destroy the shell that Mario rides throughout the level. The POW block, normally a great tool for getting rid of any possible headaches, also makes it very easy for the player to completely screw themselves over in this level, if they're not careful.
"I wanted to create an experience, for anyone daring enough to attempt it, that would be a rollercoaster from start to finish," Carl said. "I actually almost named the level 'No Break" as a pun on 'P-Break.'"
Of course, just because it's a close competition doesn't mean Mario Maker is becoming a cutthroat, hostile place. Actually, the creators of these levels know each other already.
"It's funny to see that I sort of started an 'impossible level' community now," PangaeaPanga said. "I am actually good friends with the creator of [Mr. Carl's Wild Ride] and have actually been very supportive of his goals with this level."
Fittingly, Mr. Carl's Wild Ride is decked out with a number of heart-shaped coins. These are a symbol of love. "At the end of the day, many of us playing these levels are good friends, and our attempts to create the hardest Mario Maker level is really all just a friendly competition," Carl said.
Still, it's fun to watch these world-class Mario Maker players duke it out. Just a couple of weeks ago, PangaeaPanga and Mitch Fowler held a competition where they raced to see who could beat Panga's levels quicker. Mitch won.
PangaeaPanga hasn't had time to try the other impossible levels that he's inspired, but in our exchange he made sure to point out that he was already aware of a weakness present in one of his competitor's courses. He also has things to say about the fact that someone has already beaten Mr. Carl's Wild Ride:
— Panga (@PangaeaPanga) October 26, 2015
CarlSagan42 is not resting on his laurels, though. Even though his course boasts a 0.01% completion rate — a single person has beaten it since its been uploaded — he's already hard at work on his next "impossible" course. This one, he hopes, will be better than his last one. And so the cycle begins again.
"Many people ask why we do this, why make something that's so difficult to beat, and why do you hate fun?," CarlSagan42 said.
"In gaming and in life in general, I find that sometimes the most rewarding experiences are those that are difficult to accomplish."