This is both my first testlog and my 2000th post, so that's a milestone and a half. I did my best to make this a good one, too.
Whew. Finally finished playing through the hack (from the latest version of the demo in your last post).
First off, the emulator I'm using is the latest version of Snes9x (I last downloaded it a couple weeks ago). Second off, keep in mind that I didn't start seeing actually important issues up until world 8, so for the most part a lot of my comments before then are just small nitpicks and such. If your main concern is just getting the hack accepted then you can just ignore them.
- I really like the tutorial level introducing the wall jumping ability. I think that was a pretty lovely thing to include, and something that some people might have just left out.
- Actually, in general you do a really good job in the first few worlds of introducing concepts in a simple enough way so that the player can understand them (i.e. putting the coins in the shape of button letters when necessary, showcasing the "hidden walls" enough to get me used to the whole concept, etc.). ...Then again, you clearly have quite a bit of experience in level design (based on your previous hack), so I should've known that you've got a pretty decent handle on that sort of thing. Either way, I felt it worth mentioning - nice job with that. My only issue with it is the fact that I don't think the first worlds really convey the feeling that "this is going to get super hard later" sort of thing. I guess you could say it's almost too
welcoming. A player who doesn't know the intended difficulty level of the hack and expects it to be a pleasant, simple time might be in for a rude awakening later on - more likely though, the player will already be aware of the difficulty tag. It will probably be part of the reason why they download the hack in the first place, in fact. Someone who plays the hack will probably do so because they're expecting to play a "very hard
" hack and they might be disappointed or turned off when they realize how .. not hard it is. This isn't something I think you should go out of your way to change or anything since I know this hack is already in a mostly "finished" state aside from the bugs and such that got it removed, but I think for the future it might help to consider how much you want the difficulty of the hack to be reflected early on.
This is a minor nitpick, but I don't have much to comment on in the early worlds anyway so I'll just throw this out there: I think this level might do from having more of a hint that you're able to pick up the balls here. I mean, throughout this level the balls are treated like typical enemies, so "picking up the balls to throw them back" isn't a solution that a player would immediately think of. I dunno, I can't shake the feeling that I only figured this out because I got lucky.
I'm not saying you need to add a flashing neon sign to the top of the screen during the fight that says "HERE'S WHAT YOU GOTTA DO" or anything like that, but maybe there could be a puzzle or something earlier in the level where you have to pick one up to do a thing in order to progress, so that the player gets used to that concept.
...Or just ignore this criticism entirely; like I said, this is completely subjective and not a huge issue anyway.
Maybe it's just me, but personally I think it's kind of silly and potentially unfair to have this yoshi coin hidden in a way so that it's impossible to get without either luck or having to come back to this room a second time after already knowing which block the P-Switch is in. You could probably make the argument of "well then you just have to leave the room and come back so that it respawns", but if you're expecting people to do that anyway then why even put this "puzzle" here in the first place? It just feels kind of superfluous. This room would make much more sense to me if the grand prize was a moon or a 1-up or something, but yoshi coins are the sort of thing that a lot of people like collecting simply for completionist's sake - if they're going for all of them in this level, and they use up their ice block by guessing the wrong block to hit, then they have to go through the busywork that it takes to even get to this room all over again. My suggestion here would be to either come up with a new puzzle for this room, or just replace the coin with a 1-up or something that most players are a little less likely to care about and hide the yoshi coin somewhere else in the level.
- Quick thing I'd like to praise: The final level of world 3 is awesome. Both in atmosphere and execution. Mario turning into the ninji and bat while Flight of the Zinger plays is a really sweet mix that works together surprisingly well. Nice!
The difficulty of this room is wayyyy out of place. Super precise jumps off of floating spinies like this is near kaizo-like, even for a hack calling itself "Very Hard". Even after I started using rewinds, it still took me a while to get this series of jumps right. It's especially strange since none of the other "secret code" digits are this hard to get to.
- I don't know if this is happening to anyone else, but I started getting some strange button input bugs starting at world 5. Sometimes I would automatically go into a level if I was just on top of a level tile even though I didn't press anything, and once I'm in the level I would always jump as high as I would if I was just holding down the jump button. Other times the screen would automatically pan to the right as if I pushed R when I didn't. It completely stopped after world 5 too. Now, this could just be a simple bug with snes9x or my computer, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt here, but I'm just throwing it out there in case anyone else is having the same issue. If not, then just ignore this one.
- On 6-2: I don't know how skilled you are at ASM/sprite manipulation, is there any way you could tweak the sprites for the giant thwomps? I can't spin-jump on them. It's kind of inconsistent with the smaller thwomps (that you can spin-jump on), and makes some part of the level feel harder than it should be since a player might assume that they can take spin-jumps to their advantage.
- I was getting some pretty annoying slowdown at times in 7-5 (Searing Sandland). I'm not sure what you could do to fix it, but it seemed to happen a lot when a bunch of fireballs and bob-ombs were on screen together. To be honest, slowdown was something I had noticed a lot of in earlier levels as well (though not nearly to the sort of extent that would have caused me to remove the hack if I was a mod), but this level was probably the worst level I've encountered up to that point in terms of crashes.
- World 8-5 was where I started encountering the big problems. I had a hard time getting through this level because it kept crashing on me. I'm not entirely sure what was causing it, but it seemed like it would crash every time I jumped on a red koopa (flying or otherwise). Spin-jumping on the koopas didn't cause as big of an issue. I wanted to get a screenshot or video of the issue but sometimes the emulator would freeze up as well. I don't know what ASM you might have used that would have caused this, but you could solve this issue possibly by just removing those red koopas and putting another enemy in its place. Of course, the problem might start happening with another enemy, I'm not sure - play around with it for a bit and see if you can get that to go away.
Suggestion: Give Mario the ability to wall-jump off of the stretch blocks when they're in a vertical position. I don't blame a player for dying here unfairly because they expected it to be consistent with every other wall or vertical surface in the game.
- Another brief word of praise here: I really like 11-3. It's very easy to design a snake level poorly due to making the player wait around too much or go down some other avenue of making the level either too boring or too hard, but you did it very well here and balanced it so that the level never stops being fun or interesting while also containing quite a few challenging bits.
I tried wall-jumping up here to see if there was a secret and suddenly just died for seemingly no reason. Uh..
It's easily repeatable too, so there seems to be something wrong with the level there, or you put some strange tiles up there that the player would have no way of realizing are there.
This level actually has a pretty cool gimmick overall, but please
remove the bits where the sticky tiles are under the water like here. It's more annoying than anything and doesn't add much to the level other than having to needlessly wait.
Hoo boy. This is a bad level (12-3) for a bunch of reasons:
1. It's way too dark. I understand that that's somewhat the point of the level, but in the first part it's more of a hindrance than anything. You spend most of your time at the lower portion of the level (where it's darkest of all) and sometimes you can't even make out the pipes and stuff you're supposed to go through. I wasn't playing in a dark room and had to turn up my monitor's brightness to get anywhere.
2. The speed at which munchers come up and down is too fast. The sprite is obviously based on SMB3, that isn't lost on me, but in SMB3 there was more of a pause after each cycle of them coming in/going out. There's a bit of rhythm to it between them popping up/down and your jumps. It doesn't feel like there's one here, and as such I felt as though I needed to rush through those bits. There's one part of the level where a pipe with the munchers is right below a ceiling, so you can't easily just jump over them - and if your timing isn't practically pixel-perfect, then you're getting hit. It doesn't help either that one of the yoshi coins requires you to hurt yourself so that you can be small. Don't do this.
3. This one kind of ties into reason #1, but it's enough to get its own number: It's incredibly unclear how to get out of the first room. Aside from the coins vaguely hinting at it, there's no obvious hint that there's a door to go through. I played around with this room for around ~15 minutes before finally giving up and just going into LM. It STILL wasn't clear for a while what I was supposed to do, and after about 10 more minutes I finally just started screwing around in LM, removing each tile by tile on the screen where the exit was until I accidentally found the door tile. Even after doing all of this, once I knew where to go in-game the door was still practically invisible even with my brightness turned all the way up because of how dark the level is at that y-axis.
4. The next section is a little better, but it still doesn't show much mercy. There are munchers everywhere in the level, so once you get the silver POW you wouldn't be able to recognize which pipe is the one you have to go through. The correct one isn't hinted at either.
Ugh, this entire level was not fun to go through. I know that the "very hard" difficulty is supposed to finally be kicking off at this point, but this level is hard for reasons that are too unfair. And it's a shame too, because it actually has some pretty interesting and thought-out ideas behind it - the whole "going in a loop" thing where you go into the top half of the level to get the P-switch and bring it down actually has some potential; you just should rework it quite a bit and it will be MUCH better.
A few things about this level (12-4):
- I don't understand what the point of these platforms in the lava are, because if you stand on them then the lava kills you in like a millisecond. The same thing happens most of the time when you try to spin-jump off of the blargs, in fact. Are those lava tiles the same as in the original SMW? I could have sworn the usual lava tiles aren't as strict with their hitboxes as these are. Either way, the floating platforms in the lava are misleading and could lead to unfair deaths. Then again, I say "could" lead for a reason: There's so much severe slowdown in this level that sometimes it ends up not being an issue. Neat.
- Also, once you get to the upside down portion, the controls are inconsistent. Pushing "down" still makes you crouch, and pushing "up" still lets you go through doors and climb up vines. But pushing "right" makes Mario move right from the player's perspective, despite the fact that from Mario's perspective he's actually moving left. Are the upside-down controls supposed to be accurate to the player's viewpoint or Mario's viewpoint? Pick one, because this ended up confusing me at times.
Another SMB3 reference that I don't think was done very well (12-5). In SMB3, the directions were pre-programmed into the block so that the next direction it would switch to after you jump was always the correct one. In this case it's always the same pattern of UP-LEFT-DOWN-RIGHT, and when exactly you're supposed to jump again to switch the directions seems to be entirely trial and error. Which REALLY sucks at times because often the lift needs to be in a very precise spot, which is very hard to manage. I would simply suggest just moving around the walls and pipes to make the path to the finish a lot wider, so that the level is more forgiving. Right now it just feels ridiculously tedious, sorry.
Could you change the palette of the level name text here? It hurts my eyes to read.
- So. Level 14-5 (House of Illusions 2). I didn't take any screenshots here because the issues I have with it apply to pretty much the entire level. My feelings on this level are kind of mixed actually, so to sum up my thoughts as best as I can:
Objects acting unusual = good idea
Complex maze level = good idea
objects acting unusual + complex maze level + tight spaces everywhere with instant death blocks = NOT good.
I just think everything here needs to be toned down. There are so many doors and paths and rooms that it's very hard to keep track of what's going on, and because the level not only is full of instant death traps but also can feel very long, a player's not going to feel compelled to find all the exits here. In fact, I felt lucky just to find even one exit. Let alone all three.
Yeah, the text color should be changed here too. I always look at the name to check if there is a secret exit, so if I have to squint to even see the text at all then I end up uncertain.
For what it's worth, world 14 is probably my favorite world in terms of visuals and atmosphere overall, so you did a really nice job there.
- In 15-1:
The low-gravity effect you use here lets me see a lot of spots like this with bad cutoff. Just fill all of these in.
15-4, another really bad level. In the screenshot here, is it even possible to get through this bit without getting hit unless you already have the foresight to know exactly where to jump/walljump to get through? In fact, it isn't just here - there are jumps everywhere that are very precise and unforgiving. It's just not the "good" kind of hard.
However, there's a much bigger issue I have with this level. I noticed that the hack mods didn't bring this up, so I'm assuming this is a bug that was introduced after the rejection: The second room is super broken. At the final large "pit" before the pipe, the lava rises much sooner than I think it's supposed to, and since the snake platform ends up being completely submerged for a long time it's nearly impossible to make it. In fact, I nearly thought it was impossible. I wasn't able to finally make it through this level until I jumped over to the nearby thwomp, waited for the lava to rise up to the LAST possible pixel before it kills you, jumped at the wall, held against the wall in the "walljump" pose until the last possible second once more, wall jumped off with a spin jump and bounced off of the thwomp. Doing all of this caused me to just BARELY make it down after the lava was low enough again for me to walk. This took me a long time of rewind-spamming to get right.
The easiest way to fix the second section would just be to outright remove the rising/falling lava entirely. Frankly, I don't think it adds anything to the level. And just remove a lot of the enemies from the first section to make it less unnecessarily punishing.
(16-2) What on earth is this all about? It seems like taking a hit is mandatory here.
Minor bug: Is it intentional that the grapics on the OW border turn yellow when I'm over this level? And if so, then why doesn't the life counter change as well? It's still purple.
Now for more general comments. These are some things that I'm not necessarily saying you should go out of your way to change now, considering that the hack is already pretty much in its final stage of development; but rather, these notes should be taken more as general advice for whatever hacks or projects you work on in the future:
- I think this hack is unnecessarily long. In fact, I suspect that a small part of you feels this as well. Other long hacks like JUMP compensate for their length by making every level have some unique gimmick or trick to it that makes it interesting. In your hack, aside from a few levels that take concepts from SMB3 or a few others (i.e the gravity thing you seem to like using), the vast majority of the levels throughout the first ten or so worlds can be breezed through by just running through them and jumping a few times. If the player is going out of their way to look for all the secret exits and yoshi coins, then it's a little better, but if a player doesn't care at all about that then a lot of the levels will feel like they just sort of happened. You have a solid handle on the sort of level design that I can expect to find in an official Mario platformer, but beyond that most of these levels don't feel particularly memorable.
- The hack's difficulty, in my opinion, is kind of misleading. I understand that the hack picks up and starts to get harder in the last few worlds, but due to the hack's length it takes way too long before it starts to feel that way. In fact, the hack doesn't even begin to get somewhat hard until around world 8 to world 9 - Up until then it mostly feels closer to the easy to medium range.
Now, of course, everything above is just me telling you what I dislike or what I think you should change, but I want to agree with AvatarKorra that for the most part this is a very enjoyable hack. The aesthetics are phenomenol all throughout the hack, so you've definitely got a good eye for that. The design and mechanics overall are handled very well. The design curve was overall set up very well (despite my personal opinion that "very hard" is the wrong label for the hack's difficulty), and overall the hack feels like it knows what it wants to be. Overall it's very well done, and as long as you can fix the majority of the issues I mentioned above then I think it will have very little trouble getting accepted (unless there's some other bug or crash or something I missed).
Good luck PGP
--------------------Currently streaming: Pokemon Red, and various C3 SMW hack submissions