Soft-lock: The worst design flaw?

“Soft Lock: Mario is stuck so player must either let time expire or reset level.”

Soft locks might be the most annoying experience in Mario Maker. Whether it is an accident in a well-designed course or intentional deception from a troll level, soft locks cause one of the most frustrating feelings to most players, unless you have absolutely nothing to do and don’t mind waiting roughly 450 or so in-game seconds to time-out. Sure, it might make sense for some puzzle levels to trap players for making mistakes, but generally, I believe all platformers should be quality checked extensively to avoid soft locks at all costs, especially kaizo levels.

One of the more overlooked causes of soft locks I’ve seen actually comes from using Bowser Jr. First of all, most people, understandably, use Bowser Jr. for forced boss fights (key doors) because he is the most versatile enemy in the game with so many capabilities:

• Classic 3-bounce kill
• Damages Mario via rolling
• Breaks blocks via rolling
• Spits fireballs
• Throws hammers
• Throws shells
• Stuns Mario via stomp
• Jumps through the floor or roof

Such an amazing move-set. However, too many times, I’ve seen courses where level designers place Bowser Jr. in multiple floor settings and seem to not account for his ability to jump through surfaces. Generally, if Mario does not actively fight Bowser Jr. and they are in one of these multiple floor settings, one of two things can happen that are actually *not* RNG:

(1) if Mario is above or on the same ground level as Bowser Jr., Bowser Jr. will jump high up and stomp the ground, attempting to get to or remain on the same plane as Mario


(2) if Bowser Jr. is on higher ground than Mario and there is valid surface under, he will drop down through the floor to the next bottom level.

The latter is a problem if the lower level is inaccessible for Mario and not intended to be part of the boss fight. If Bowser Jr. goes through the floor and is no longer reachable, Mario is soft locked.

Sadly, this is an offense which I committed recently. My original Bowser’s War Tanks level actually had this issue (depicted in the above image). In the boss fight, Mario ends up in this room, which sits above a tank (valid surface). The following video describes my original level design flaw.

Very briefly, it is possible for Bowser Jr. to drop down and never come back up. Since Mario is trapped in the upper room until the fight is over, there is no way to exit unless either time runs out or he catches a fireball and dies. To fix this, I changed the room to contain a row of trampolines underneath that pushes Bowser Jr. back up if he ever tries to jump down.

Hopefully, more level creators are aware of this and other causes of soft-lock. Remember to always do a thorough quality check before uploading levels!

First Time Building A Mario Level

Bowser’s War Tanks

What was it like for you when you were learning to build on Mario Maker?

Bowser’s War Tanks is one of the first levels I made on MM and is still a favorite in my local circle of friends. If you played World 8 in SMB3, you will quickly see where I drew inspiration. You have no idea how excited I was to make the Complete Run video with the cannon hopping in the beginning.

I started playing Mario Maker probably in the middle of 2016, so I was only just discovering the nuances in the game. The most fascinating thing to me at the time was being able to make enemies giant (like in SMB3 World 4), so I pretty much flooded the underground areas with large enemies randomly.

Another thing I learned was the game’s limitations, particularly with doors and pipes (which I’m sure is something everyone else runs into also). If you played through this level, you’ll know you have different pathways to choose from, which end up going to the same central tank towards the end. I originally built the course to allow you to choose from two completely different paths – super gigantic level. I finished the entire design and saved the pipes for last.

I needed 13 pipes; the game only allows 10.

So I spent the next two days figuring out how to work around the problem, mapping the whole level on a spreadsheet and trying to salvage my work. Luckily, after breaking down walls and combining certain sections, we have the level as it is now.

I am pretty proud of this course overall, especially the boss fight. I personally love the boss room itself, since it has that surprise factor with Bowser Jr.’s behavior.

What was your level-building experience like early on? How did you deal with the game restrictions such as asset and space limits? I would be glad to hear about it.

Bowser’s War Tanks

Course ID: 6FBA-0000-030C-ACFC

Maneuver across and through Bowser’s army of tanks, full of obstacles and traps. As you progress further, more enemies try to stop you.

Concept and theme:
This level was inspired mostly by the traditional platforming style of SMB3, particularly the tanks designs, with the added flair of going inside certain tanks to progress through the level. The various choices are also intended to give the effect of choosing alternate routes throughout the platoon’s “architecture.”

This was one of my earliest stages, and I remember sitting down with the SMB3 blank slate, wondering what I should make. I drew the first tank, and it looked awesome to me. So I started progressing the level with gradually bigger vehicles and more weapons. That looked too similar to SMB3 and felt a little overdone, so I decided to make an underground, which represented going inside the tanks. That seemed kind of cool, and because there were a lot of tanks in the environment, I designed the underground to have mini choices for Mario to decide how to maneuver through Bowser’s army.

Just a slight tidbit: I wanted the very first room to feel as if you were already inside a chamber. Since nothing really happens there, my hope is the player is led to feel like the level doesn’t really start until Mario exits the pipe, which isn’t very typical because, by game-design, that means the outdoor tanks area is actually the “sub-world.”

Overall, this is a typical, fun platformer that is only moderately difficult and is generally pretty simple to figure out. My hope is that it has good replay value, especially with the many combinations of pathways to choose from.