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10 Classics that Let You Build Your Own Levels before Super Mario Maker

To say Super Mario Maker is a smash hit release is quite an understatement.  The 2D sandbox game had reached a million units sold worldwide in about 20 days, according to reports.  This is interesting considering the hell Nintendo constantly gets for the Wii U, something that goes back to the Nintendo 64 days and has plagued every console by Nintendo since then.  That is a lack of third party support.  Nintendo has proven that, while third party titles are great, gamers will still buy their first party releases as they continue down a road less traveled, a road that Nintendo seemingly is the only company that knows about.  With Super Mario Maker, Nintendo continued their trek down that road.  This time finding success by giving gamers the power to make their own 2D Mario adventures.  Could this have been spurred by the popularity of level editors for classic games?  We may never know what spurred Nintendo to release Super Mario Maker but I do know about ten other games that featured level editors that allowed you to create all new adventures using assets in the game.

1) Lode Runner by Broderbund Software (1984/Japan- 1987/USA)

This is one of the earliest games to offer a level editor to fans.  Lode Runner carried a lot of weight with gamers of the time, and still does in certain circles, as the challenge is well balanced and the official level design was not cheap.  Lode Runner is a single screen action game that features stealth style avoidance gameplay- you cannot directly attack the enemy.  Defeating enemies requires digging well placed holes in the level so that guards fall into them, though this is usually temporary so don’t lolly gag around.

All versions of Lode Runner feature the level editor, though the Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge blundered this innovation by not giving gamers any way to save their creations.

2) Thunder Force by Technosoft

Okay, before anyone starts calling foul on this one, there is a level editor for the first Thunder Force game.  In Japan.  For the FM-7 computer.  Since, here at Retro Gaming Magazine, we consider gaming global we do go out of our way to cover obscure titles.  Can’t get much more obscure than this.  Thunder Force was an overhead, quite free roaming, scrolling shooter.  Later iterations took on 2D side scrolling levels, eventually dropping the overhead action altogether.

The Thunder Force Construction was released about a year after the original Thunder Force game hit Japan.

3) Mach Rider by Nintendo

A racing game on a console that features actual tracks rather than the procedurally generated stuff we got on the Atari consoles was quite revolutionary back in the day.  So, imagine the fun gamers had when they were given the power to create their own tracks and race those instead of the built in ones that they have become bored with.  Mach Rider offered this to gamers in 1985/Japan-1986/USA.

Nintendo’s 8-Bit gamers based in the USA were screwed again by the fact that the required hardware to save the tracks was left in Japan.

4) Jazz Jackrabbit 2 by Epic MegaGames

Jazz Jackrabbit was, for a long time, the computer gamers’ answer to the popularity of Super Mario Brothers and the many derivatives.  Jazz was a 2D side scrolling action platformer for Windows and Macintosh computers.  It was known for being smooth and challenging, usually 2D action games on computers required fans to pick one or the other but not both traits.

The shareware and Macintosh versions do not feature the level editor, that was saved for the commercial release only.

5) Wrecking Crew by Nintendo

Ah, here we go, a Nintendo title that features Mario in a 2D action game that also contains a level editor.  Mario cannot jump in Wrecking Crew so his tasks are just a little harder than normal.  Oh, and the save feature for North American gamers is disabled- i.e., they screwed us again.

6) Tomb Raider the Last Revelation by Core Design

The Tomb Raider series hit the console world with a thunderous announcement, setting nice sales records and moving Playstation consoles for Sony versus the quite less than stellar looking Sega Saturn version.  3D action adventure that featured a, now quite pointy, female lead was too much to pass up in the early 32-Bit days.  It proved too hard for Core Design to pass up too as they just kept churning out sequels that were less than quality games in this series (though Lara Croft did keep getting more lady like looking in later versions).

Okay, this one required fans to purchase another game, Tomb Raider: Chronicles, to get the level editor for the previous game (one way to pick up sagging sales).  It was also limited to the PC versions, leaving out console gamers.

7) Motocross Madness by Microsoft

This was one of those games that made me extremely happy to be a Windows gamer.  I got the demo off an old PC Gamer demo disc (yeah, back in the day we paid extra for access to demos) and loved it.  It was just so much fun to ride that dirt bike around the track and see what I could do (tricks, jumps, hitting the barrier of the game world).  There is a level editor that allows fans to make their own tracks that can be normal or impossible- the choice is yours.

8) Jill of the Jungle by Epic MegaGames

Lara Croft was not the first female to lead in an action game, Jill of the Jungle predates her by a fair bit (three to four years).  Jill’s adventure is 2D similar to that of Mario and other action games.  There were three “episodes”, sets of levels, released and eventually collected into one “trilogy” release shortly after the third episode was released.  The level editor is undocumented and only accessed through a special code but it is there and available.

9) Re-Volt by Acclaim

Who doesn’t remember playing RC Pro-Am on the Nintendo NES and having fun?  Re-Volt is kind of like a spiritual successor to that classic title, this time featuring 3D modernized graphics and larger than life levels.  Acclaim did great with this one.

Another racing game that features a track editor, this time though, it allows fans to save their creations.  This is accomplished through the use of memory cards on consoles.

10) Excitebike by Nintendo

I can’t do a list like this without including Excitebike by Nintendo for the NES.  If I had, I am sure it would have been brought up, constantly, by our readers.  So, with that said, here it is, not in any particular order.  If you are a fan of motorcycle racing but not of the modern variety like that of Motocross Madness then here you go.  Just keep in mind, tracks you create in Excitebike are gone when you turn off that game because, well, Nintendo screwed North American gamers by not bringing over the necessary adapter to save things.

What classic games do you play that have level editors in them?  Tell us in the comments.


Carl Williams

It is time gaming journalism takes its rightful place as proper sources and not fanboys giving free advertising. If you wish to support writers like Carl please use the links below.

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