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!

13,856 thoughts on “Soft-lock: The worst design flaw?”

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