Ah...I think you may have swung the difficulty pendulum a little to far to the opposite side in that third section. Anyway:
- The abrupt, blocky intrustions of the Candy Calmaity terrain into this section looks...really bad, to be blunt. Honestly, I wouldn't get too worried about trying to link this level with that stage: as I've said before, the order of the stages in World 9 is very much non-final, and thematically, your stage and Foop's are so far apart it's hard to imagine any organizational scheme where they would belong back-to-back (his is definitely an early-to-mid-world level, where as yours definitely belongs near the end). But even if it were
placed immediately after CC, I wouldn't get too caught up in transitions, anyway, especially in a world like this, which favors sudden changes. Your stage has a wonderful æsthetic in its own right, and you really ought to stick to that, instead of trying to force in references to a stage it may not even actually follow, especially when these references hurt the coherency and visual appeal of the stage itself.
- I still think you need something--anything--here.
- And I still think this is unfair to first time players, as it presumes you know what setups are following, as the intuitive approach is sure to be fatal here (tip: adding a second platform above the one seen here--like you have on the other end--will help compensate for the slow scroll here, and its fatal effect on players who logically try to keep near the right side of the screen. Alternative, throw something in to stop the player from reaching the platforms so quickly). The player should know what sort of obstacle they're facing before they're expected to have to chose a method for dealing with it.
Second section: This area's okay, but the combination of Venuses and Bros.--the two most overused enemies in the hack--and nothing else doesn't exactly thrill me.
- This strikes me as a bit of a tight spot, especially with the sneaky Venus immediately thereafter.
- This, conversely, is a little too empty.
This, I fear, is where the difficulty gets completely ridiculous. There's far too many unforgiving setups, lots of big Mario discrimination, and the entire area seems to be based upon memorizing the stage layout, to the point where it would be more or less impossible for a player with even the most brilliant of reflexes to theortically be able to complete it on their first (or second or third or fourth) try. Your gimmicks seem to work counter to each other here--the autoscroll moves so fast that by the time an essential platform is visible, the player has already lost their chance to jump on it. And even when the player knows where the unseen plaforms are beforehand, the huge swarms of patrolling enemies further reduce the already very small windows for using them. And it's all very cramped on top of that. Frustrating.
Some of the more egregious examples:
- This is far
too tight a squeeze. Either remove the lower Buzzy, or better yet, give the player another block's worth of space the slip down there.
- A prime instance of a platform which is already useless by the time you know it's there. I've actually never gotten up here without spinjumping off the Buzzy (which I assume is the think-outside-the-box method rather than the standard one, since it allows easy access to the moon). Also, big Mario has essentially no choice but to tank the hit on the upper level.
- This would be a tough place to slip through in any circumstances, but with the tiny window the autoscroll allows, it gets very close to impossible (I did make it in the end, but only with vigorous save-state abuse). And failure often means missing your window to take the normal path, as well.
- More "big Mario is screwed" antics.
- Pretty much impossible unless you know where the platform is beforehand, since--again--once it becomes visible, it's too late.
- More badly timed platform visibility antics.
- Automatically hit by the Buzzy upon emerging from the pipe.
General advice for this section:
~ An in-the-dark section should not be so cramped, doubly so with the lack of room for error provided by the autoscroll. Give the player a little more room to navigate around curves and the like.
~ Don't go overboard with the Sparabuzzies. Too many of them with too little time to react just gets overwhelming. A few well-placed ones are better than huge swarms of them. And well-placed means placed in such a way that they obstruct Mario's path, but are still avoidable--even as big Mario.
~ Never require the player to know the stage layout beforehand--doing so is essentially demanding they die at least once at every setup. A platform which is necessary to land on or to avoid should be visible while a player still has time to land on or avoid it.
Difficulty--or more specifically, enjoyable difficulty--is not about throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the player. Rather, it's about carefully selecting elements that compliment each other well to provide a challenge without getting overwhelming. A cramped place with lots of enemies and vanishing platforms could work if you didn't have the autoscroll (and thus allowed time for observing and strategizing), but with the autoscoll, you need to allow more room for error, as even the most carefully planned setups will seem like nothing more than an endless artillery barrage if thrown at the player one after the other while giving them only a split second to react. Part of the key to good level design is to know when to rein yourself in, and not
do every single thing which occurs to you, but only those which work together well without putting an undue burden on the player, who, it is important to remember, will always have a tougher time with the stage than you, the designer will.