Seesaw Spelunking Level Design Analysis

Click for a level design analysis about Seesaw Spelunking, a level I made in Mario Maker 2
A quick playthrough of my level “Seesaw Spelunking”

Seesaw Spelunking is a level I made in Mario Maker 2 focused on seesaws. I emulated the 4 step level design process used in a lot of Mario games, and used that as a guide when constructing my level. The four step process, as a reminder, consists of these steps:

  1. introduce a mechanic in a safe environment
  2. develop the mechanic and increase the difficulty
  3. introduce an interesting twist that challenges the player’s mastery or makes them rethink the mechanic
  4. Conclude with a flagpole sequence using the mechanic to allow the player to show off what they’ve learned

As I said earlier, for my level I focused on the mechanic of seesaws. So, with that in mind, let’s start from the beginning of the level and see how it ticks.

Step 1: Introduce the Mechanic

The first thing I do in my level is introduce the seesaw in a safe space. You can easily jump up to it, and if you fall you won’t die. This allows the player to get an understanding of how the seesaws work before they have to worry about anything else. Throughout my level I introduce a variety of new hazards, and typically these are also introduced by themselves before they’re combined with anything. One example of this is the jumping piranha plants, which are introduced shortly after this.

The floating block in this screen encourages the player to stop and hit it, to see what’s inside. This makes it likely that the player will see the jumping piranha plant come out of the pipe before they attempt to jump to the platform on the other side. This introduces the player to jumping piranha plants in a space that gives them time to think before they jump. It also gives them a mushroom to add some additional leniency. Attentive players will start to notice a connection between piranha plants and green pipes that will hold throughout the level.

Step 2: Develop the Mechanic

Now that we have the seesaw introduced, it’s time to do something with it. The first way I developed the mechanic was by placing the seesaw over a pit, and having the player jump over piranha plants. This is a small step forward in difficulty, requiring the player to combine their skills a little. The platform is fairly wide still, so the jump has a good amount of affordance.

The next way I develop our seesaw mechanic is by introducing spikes. This increases the difficulty by requiring the player to be quick with their motion, or otherwise stand in the middle of the platform to avoid damage. On this screen I also added coins above the seesaw that they can only get by standing still for a short time to raise the other side of the seesaw. This encourages the player to engage with the spike mechanic now, and also to further their own mastery of the seesaw mechanics.

Next I spend a screen introducing two new mechanics, the cannons and red koopas. I introduce the koopa by itself on a platform both to complicate the jump and so that the player can take a second to learn about koopas before continuing. Similarly, when I first introduce the cannons, I don’t complicate it with seesaws, as the cannons are a new element and I have no way of knowing if the player has played a level with a cannon before.

After the checkpoint I introduce the first serious challenge. Here we bring together the cannons, the Piranha plants, and the seesaws, along with a new element: the conveyor belt. This forces the player to contend with a lot of things at once, and marks a notable difficulty spike. It is also close to the checkpoint so dying is less punishing.

Next, we combine the Red koopa mechanics that we introduced earlier with the seesaw to make the timing on this jump tricky. This develops the mechanic by introducing seesaws that rotate without you being on them. It is additionally worth noting that the red koopa is hardest to avoid at the time when the player has to jump, adding another layer of difficulty to the challenge.

Then we have a tricky jump down to this set of pipes, where the green pipes have jumping piranhas in them. This challenge is pretty easy if you kept the shell from the koopa, allowing it to serve as a cool-down challenge before the twist at the end of the level.

Step 3: The Twist

We’re getting close to the end of the level, so it’s time to really test the player. First I combine cannons, spikes, and moving platforms to create a difficult section where you have to ride up and down the platforms without getting shot by cannons. I made sure to only use a few cannons, so that the challenge was still easy to comprehend for the player. It’s not visible in the screenshot, but on the right side of the second moving seesaw in this picture, there’s a wall preventing you from leaving the seesaw until you get low enough, which makes it so the player has to contend with the cannon shooting straight down at them. I give the player a mushroom here so they have more room for error, since this challenge and the next are the hardest in the level.

At the end of the level, I bring everything together for one final challenge. This screen tests the player’s timing and reflexes, along with their knowledge of the mechanics that they’ve built up throughout the level. This is one of the hardest screens in the level, but in my opinion it looks more difficult than it is. The challenge is complex, because it requires you to think about a lot of different obstacles at once, but the player can remove some of that complexity by using the first koopa’s shell to hit the piranha plant. If they do that, it makes the rest of it easier. That said, it feels good to hit that piranha plant with a koopa shell because it feels like you’re outsmarting the level. Ultimately, I wanted to prioritize a satisfying ending over a difficult one.

Step 4: Conclusion

After you take out the koopa on the platform to the right, you use the seesaw to hit the baton, thus allowing you to show off the skills you learned in the level.

Addendum: Bonus Area

This level also has a bonus area, which features a simple puzzle to get 30 coins. The area provides a different kind of challenge, giving the level some variety. It does require some knowledge of Super Mario World mechanics that my level doesn’t teach, so it’s designed for advanced players who already know the game well. The solution to this puzzle is to stomp on the koopa and shoot its shell straight up onto the seesaw, causing the seesaw to lower to a point where you can jump on it. I made sure to include a pow block (covered by the make button in the screenshot) so that you can destroy the shell if it gets stuck in the middle of the seesaw.

%d bloggers like this: