This ended up being a bit of a long post, but it should be worth the read. It’s not as well organized as I would like it to be but at this point I sort of just want to get it out there.
When it comes to these easier, open maps that focus on going really fast, it’s important to allow the skill ceiling to stay high while lowering the barrier to entry. One of the things I enjoyed about the maps from GMT was all of the little opportunities to skip things to edge out others. Note that edging out others can mean more than just time, it can also mean a high banana count. It kept the maps more fresh and interesting after the 20th or 50th or 100th time through, whereas on the current maps once you learn the gimmicks there’s not really much to optimize on your runs. The large amount of ways you could approach a course was something that was all over both Sky World and Grass World - there were plenty of barriers you could boost over if you went fast enough, tubes that you could skip by airstrafing to avoid going in them, and risky paths with bananas. Memories also has some of the increased reward for taking more of a risk, but it mostly focuses on being a hard level. The stage with the repellers that you had to walk on was a good example of providing this. There was an easy path that was slower and a more challenging path that provided more of a reward for taking a risk.
With all of that in mind, it’s totally okay for there to be levels that are hard for the sake of being hard. I loved Memories when it was introduced because of the extra challenge it provided and I do enjoy what these new maps have to offer. However, they do need some polishing up before they’re really ready for widespread consumption.
Criticisms of currrent maps
The biggest issues I have with these maps are with how you communicate design intent with the level design. One example of this is blind jumps. They aren’t that interesting of a mechanic to run into, it’s no fun when you don’t have the information.
One big example I can think of is level 5 of Midori. After you clear the spinners and get to the booster, you get sent flying up to a wide half pipe with no view of what’s at the top. To me this feels like it’s going to break out into a more open and forgiving section where you just go as fast as possible to the end, but then you end up with another moving platform cycle and no way to save yourself as you fly over the end. This would be fairly easy to address - make the path more clear such that the player has more time to react to what is going to happen, or simply have the level end after that stretch.
Another criticism that I’m sure many have shared about Midori is the significant difficulty compared to other maps. This is totally fine, and I don’t think you should nerf each individual piece into the ground. What should be done instead is to address the issues that new players might have with how difficult it is while preserving the spirit of the map. While a lot of these obstacles need tweaks to make them a little more fair, the best thing you can do for Midori is to provide checkpoints on some of the more brutal levels. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one getting frustrated with clearing one difficult obstacle after using up a life, and then running into another one right after. Reducing the requirement to perfectly execute the course to even clear it would go a long way toward making this map more playable for the general public, and still allow the top tier of players to compete for better times.
Nimbus has a similar communication issue with its teleporters. While yes, you can peek through them, slowly rolling up to a teleporter to peek in clashes with the theme of a ball race. Because it’s interpreted as a race, most players will try to go through the teleporter in the hopes that it will give them an edge (whether that is melons or a quicker path, doesn’t matter). When the teleporter is introduced in level 2, it is placed on an offset platform with a gap, much like a group of melons would be placed. Since it’s a bit of a risk (although not as much in that case) the player expects some kind of reward. However, the player is instead punished by being sent back to the beginning. Perhaps instead of punishing them for being curious, make it some sort of tradeoff. Maybe it takes you to an island with a big melon but you lose a little time, making it feel worthwhile to check.
When the teleporter is reintroduced on level 9(!) you’re thrown into a gauntlet of teleporters with no experience other than the one failed teleport that sent you backwards. It’s all fine though, because the teleporter mechanic is retaught with a set of simple ones leading up to the first branching path. This first branch works fine because you’re given the time to compare and you can see into them.
However, after you pick correctly the first time, you’re then thrown onto a booster straight towards 3 different portals, with no clues tipping you off as to where to go. You can land on the platform at the end and compare them afterwards if you are skilled enough to stop yourself there, but even then it can sometimes be difficult to get into the correct teleporter because it is floating in midair. The fact that it’s in midair is a little confusing since every other teleporter has been connected to a platform with a small post. This is totally fine though, alpha art, there might not be a model for a floating teleporter, whatever. What isn’t great about this is the lack of anything to tip the player off before they go flying to their death what teleporter might be the right choice. This could be resolved in a few ways:
- add melons as breadcrumbs to lead the player to the right choice
- add some sort of barrier to catch the player
- adjust how the teleporter works so it’s more clear earlier on what will be on the other side.
Option 1 would be a great choice if this was a singleplayer game, but unfortunately the more experienced players will have come through and ate up the melons before the less experienced ones even get to the booster. Additionally, this takes away from the spirit of the teleporter mechanic, needing to look inside to understand what will be there.
Option 2 would fix the problem in this instance just fine, allowing the player more time to compare the teleporters and make an informed decision.
Option 3 would help to address the larger issue at hand here, lack of information. It’s hard to say what should be modified in terms of providing more information, but an easy adjustment for now would be increasing the distance at which the preview opens from. This wouldn’t keep the player from dying here the first time because there’s a lot of info to take in, but at the very least they could get an idea of what is behind the portals for the second time around. An important adjustment for this to really work well would be to add more of a visual cue for danger behind the portal. Perhaps instead of just one hammer swinging back and forth it’s a whole bunch of hammers swinging violently. You can get creative with that and find something that clicks with the aesthetic of the level.
Level 10 handles these teleporters just fine with the constraints they’re under right now, so that wouldn’t need any major changes.
I don’t have much else to comment on for Nimbus, with a couple tweaks it would also sit nicely as a good difficulty between Paradise and Memories.
Let me start off by saying that Paradise is probably my favorite level to play in multiplayer. It really sits well as a nice middle tier difficulty map that people can race down to the wire to min/max their times and their melon counts. I only really have two small things.
My biggest annoyance in this map is something that annoyed me with ball race maps on GMT. Elevators that run on a cycle suck. They’re boring. If you mess up a little bit and end up off cycle, you spend a bunch of time just waiting for an elevator.
The other issue I have is with how the levels start. I had a tendency to just run off of the level at the start because my camera was faced the wrong way. I’m sure this was planning to be fixed at some point but I thought I would just throw it in. You could fix it by adding the tubes from Nimbus or just snapping the camera forward at the start of the level, either one is fine.
I’m sorry if this post seems a bit scattered, I ended up writing a lot more than I expected. I’m also sorry if this comes off as a bit armchair game designer-y. If there’s anything people disagree with or anything that’s wrong, feel free to call me out.