Review Levelhead – A Wonderfully Robust And Surprising Challenger To Mario Maker

Levelhead is a platform game that allows you to make your own levels, and the most fundamental issue with this is Mario Maker 2‘s existence. After all, the plumber and his community have had almost a full year’s head start. It’s a shame, but you can’t really ignore the fact that Nintendo’s flagship series has its own construction tool right there – the market’s effectively sewn up. Any contender going up against a similar first-party title has got its work cut out for it and will have to go some to impress. Thankfully, Levelhead is no slouch.

Story-wise, it’s nothing to write home about, but nobody’s here for an epic tale. You play as GR-18, a delivery robot, and the aim of each level is to find a package and take it to the exit. It’s window dressing for the platforming gameplay, but it’s surprisingly funny with it. We found ourselves laughing out loud more than once at the absurdly over-the-top cutscenes that crop up in Levelhead’s training mode.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Said mode is impressive in itself – it’s essentially the game’s campaign, introducing the player to all the elements and components that will be available to them in the level editor. This could have made for a rote and uncreative experience, but the training stages are fun, plentiful and laced with secrets. They’re not just tutorials, they’re full-fledged things that incidentally happen to be teaching aids. It’s an impressive level of commitment, and this no-half-measures approach is a welcome presence throughout the whole package.

Getting ahead of ourselves a little, Levelhead has an interesting structure – your completed creations are submitted to an in-game “Marketing Department” where they can be played by others. They may, however, prove difficult to find in the glut of stages already there. Thankfully, playing other people’s levels gives you “Exposure” which you can then spend to boost your levels up the list, meaning it’s more likely that people will see and play them. Levels that get enough plays then graduate to a different mode, “The Tower”, which is a more curated selection of stages that have proven popular. It’s an efficient system which lets you be a trend-setter or a connoisseur depending on your current mood. Levels are tagged well, in our experience, so you won’t be getting unpleasant surprises. These systems are well thought-out and genuinely impressive – Nintendo could learn a thing or two in this department regarding the system implemented in Mario Maker. One particularly smart inclusion are the “Daily Builds”, challenging you to create a stage using a limited, cut-down palette of objects. This is a fun, inspiring challenge that has the added bonus of encouraging good level design principles thanks to its enforced limitations.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

As for the actual gameplay, it’s good stuff. It’s not as precise as Mario – nothing is, really – but it’s far, far from awkward. Your GR-18 unit moves just the way you’d expect – smooth, speedy and delightfully controllable – the decision to limit its abilities to essentially just jump and grabbing helps focus the level design. Moving the package to the end of each stage may sound laborious, but it isn’t; rather than some 2D take on Death Stranding, it becomes more akin to the likes of Super Mario Bros. 2 or the old Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers NES game. Your package isn’t just a MacGuffin, it’s a weapon and a platform. You’ll frequently need to stand on it to reach higher platforms, utilising the satisfying extendable grip of your robot to pick it up again as you leap. It’s no escort mission; your GR-8 feels downright naked without his little parcel.

There’s a lot of stuff to work with – transformations providing new abilities such as flight, a variety of different enemies, multiple types of switches and doors, secret areas, collectable gems, everything you’d realistically expect from a platform game and much more besides. It’s a good thing, too, because you’ll need all those components to put together interesting and enjoyable levels to ship out to to the community.

The editor itself is fine. Levelhead is a PC port, and working with a mouse would certainly be more intuitive, but the Switch version’s interface is perfectly acceptable and responsive to a fault. The button controls are functional, but we’d recommend investing in a stylus. However, that won’t help you memorise where everything actually is within the menus. Thankfully the instructions are on screen at all times and hopping in and out of a level to make changes is extremely simple. It’s almost certainly best to play through the extensive training mode before jumping head-first into level creation, as it’s better to learn about Levelhead’s many gimmicks in the right context. Once you know what you’re doing, creating stages will effectively be limited only by your imagination. It’s a robust, accessible piece of software, and that can’t have been simple to achieve.

Conclusion

Ultimately Levelhead will live or die on the commitment of its community, but even without the creation aspect it would still be an enjoyable platformer. Smart design in every department – challenge, creation and curation – means that Levelhead is a surefire winner, and we only hope it catches on. After all, there’s more to the ‘maker’ genre than just Super Mario.

[Source : nintendolife.com]

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