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Mario’s Keytastrophe: Rebirth Edition Review

With just a little more spit and polish, Mario’s Keytastrophe: Rebirth Edition could be released by Nintendo as a companion DLC alongside Super Mario World for the Nintendo Switch Online service. The 2017 romhack by S.N.N. takes the key and keyhole mechanic from Super Mario World and expands it into 27 levels of single-screen puzzle platforming alongside four optional challenge courses, which must be unlocked by snatching orbs hidden within four different levels.

The game took me about four hours to play through and is a nice diversion that didn’t consume all of my free time. It’s billed by its creator S.N.N. as a spiritual sequel to the first Mario Keytastrophe rom hack from 2007. I’ve never played it, so I can’t tell you about how much of a sequel it is, but what I can say is that Rebirth Edition is very well designed and uses lots of clever and ingenious mechanics that caused me to think very carefully while also taking care to avoid crossing the line from ‘challenging’ to ‘overwhelming,’ at least for the most part. The challenge is not so hard that causal players will quit in frustration, although some platforming that I was required to perform in a couple of later levels created some odd difficulty spikes. If you like brain teasers and can stomach repeating a couple of tough platforming sections just to get the key to the keyhole, this romhack will probably be a lot of fun to play.

Box Art: Mario's Keytastrophe: Rebirth Edition

At first glance this game seems to be a very vanilla experience. That is, that it would just use assets and mechanics from Super Mario World. But before I’d hit the first required castle it became extremely obvious that the mechanics that were being introduced in each were as chocolate as they come, which means that they did not exist in the original Super Mario World.

Most of the new mechanics are very thoughtfully designed. Mario’s fireball melts ice blocks a la Super Mario Bros 3. When hit from below, the arrow blocks temporarily spawn up to three blocks in a row in the direction the arrow is pointing. There are red blocks that disappear as soon as Mario jumps off them, and resurrection blocks revive Mario if he touches them after he dies. There are timer blocks that appear in two different puzzles that pause falling platforms until Mario interacts with them and freeze all other physics for a small period of time before movement automatically resumes. When winding down with this game at the end of each day I would always preview the next puzzle before I turned my SNES Classic off because of these and other inventive mechanics. I didn’t want to wait until the next day to see what would challenge me next.

And that’s not just due to the mechanics, but also because of how they are used in conjunction with the original Mario World mechanics like block grabbing and shell tossing. They are mixed together in unique and surprising ways, making most puzzles different from each other. For example, using the original game’s on/off switch to control the path of a moving Thwimp between ice blocks was a delight and strongly reminded of the ice block puzzles in Twilight Princess, except that the “block,” the Thwimp, would automatically move in a clockwise pattern and the only part you controlled was the on/off switch to turn the red blocks in the puzzle on or off in order to guide the Thwimp to its destination.

And the way the game teaches you each chocolate mechanic is classy, too. Rather than ramping up in difficulty level by level, the difficulty curve is broken down by mechanic. Each one is introduced with a single level to itself and a text box or two that helpfully explain what they are and how to use them. Many times there are one or two more levels after the first one that require even more careful thought about how to use that same mechanic to find a solution before another mechanic is introduced with a simple puzzle. This was especially evident when we got to the snow levels after one rather challenging course. The first snow level was nearly as easy for me to figure out as the first level, but the next two became more and more challenging. The third one especially had me thinking for a long time about how to solve it.

The challenge of each puzzle lies in your knowledge of the general play mechanics of Super Mario World as well as with experimenting with new mechanics that eventually come into play. You grab items, flip switches, toss shells, or perform any number of other actions to retrieve the key from a seemingly-impossible spot and then carry it to the keyhole. And if you get stumped or softlocked, pressing the L and R buttons together will completely reset the puzzle, allowing you to try again. This feature is a life saver, pun intended. I didn’t have to die and go to the overworld to try again. I could just reset as quickly and conveniently as I wanted. And you will need to reset many times during this game.

The first puzzle is super easy and only exists to teach you the basics of how to play. Later puzzles do get harder, and a couple of them had me thinking for nearly an hour. This can be a good thing, but sometimes the difficulty seems to suddenly spike in a way that made me feel like I’d missed a previous puzzle that was supposed to teach you something important about how to play later ones.

After breezing through the first six puzzles, I sat stumped in frustration on the seventh for a good forty minutes because the moving snake blocks, a mechanic that had appeared in a few previous puzzles, were required to be used in a completely brand new way that the game never hinted at. I didn’t notice any clues that implied that I could manipulate them outside of triggering them to start moving. It seems to me to an odd choice that the solution requires using snake blocks in a way that wasn’t previously implied. But when I finally did figure it out, I was surprised that I ended up with the biggest grin on my face. I was happy that I’d solved the puzzle rather than being happy that I never had to play that puzzle again.

That’s a huge point in favor of this game because I’m not the biggest fan of brain teaser games. I want to quit whenever I get stuck instead of stopping to think about how the parts of the puzzle relate to each other, so I was surprised to find that solving the puzzles that stumped and frustrated me mostly added to my enjoyment of the game and actually made me want to keep playing, even with the seventh puzzle’s odd solution.

There was one notable exception, however. The “Hydrologic” puzzle required me to perform a tricky kaizo maneuver in order to solve it. It’s easily my least favorite puzzle in the game. If you’re a kaizo novice like me or are playing on any kind of emulator that introduces lag like RetroArch on a SNES Classic like me, then you can forget about easily getting the key into the keyhole, although it’s possible because I did it. In all but this puzzle, the input lag was not a factor. But here, I was only happy because it was over. There’s nothing more frustrating to me than knowing how to solve a puzzle but being unable to because you can’t do the platforming required. Thankfully most puzzles are fairly laid back. There were perhaps three levels that increased my anxiety levels to uncomfortable highs due to the constant fear of dying to flames or failing a crucial kaizo platforming maneuver. In another game that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it comes across as a disruptive change of pace here.

The backgrounds and music are all custom, and I think they are from the SMWCentral library because I’ve heard some of them in other rom hacks before, but I don’t count this as a mark against it, and this romhack may well have been the first to use these tracks for all I know since I’m still pretty new to this community. Either way, the title screen music choice is rockin and while none of the other music particularly stood out to me other than some of it feeling familiar, none of it became grating after listening to it on loop.

You’d also think that for a game composed entirely of single-screen puzzles that you’d be staring at a motionless monotony of static sprites for the majority of the time you’re playing this game. But it’s almost as if S.N.N. anticipated this potential shortcoming because he added scrolling background and foreground layers to several levels. It’s like he knew my eyeballs might dry out if I didn’t have some movement on screen to help me refocus and blink from time to time… or at least to help make the puzzles feel more like regular Mario levels.

Most of the game uses standard Mario World sprites, but there are plenty of custom ones as well. S.N.N. made good selections here because each custom sprite and background feels like they fit in with the original game.

The overworld map, created by Koopster, is also a beauty with lots of interesting features, colors, and no weird perspective issues. There were several times after completing a level where I honestly had no idea where the path would go because it literally sends you all over creation, and in counterintuitive directions. There is no wasted space and no boring design here. It’s one of the more varied and interesting overworlds I’ve seen to date.

S.N.N. also commissioned Medic to create an in-game timer for speedrunning that appears on the world map screen. I’m not sure if it’s considered legal if you want to appear on the game’s leaderboard, but casual players can keep track of their play time using this feature, and speedrunners could easily use it as long as they finish in a single play session since this game does not require any resets to complete fast.
Sadly, the game just ends when you finish the final puzzle. There’s no credits sequence, just a Yoshi house with two text boxes. As a kid I always wanted to see good credits sequences at the end of the games I played, and if the game had just a mediocre one, it just felt disappointing. To this day Super Mario World’s is perhaps my all time favorite because of the curtain call featuring all the enemies from the game. It would have been great to see something.

Mario’s Keytastrophe: Rebirth Edition offers some genuinely fun and unique puzzle platforming for nearly anyone who enjoyed Super Mario World and is into puzzle games. It’s chock full of chocolate gameplay mechanics which are utilized in clever ways but it’s still slightly rough around the edges by retail game standards due to no credits sequence and a couple difficulty spikes, one of which is a “kaizo-ish” platforming level. Yet the fact that I’m even comparing it to a retail game speaks volumes about the overall quality of each puzzle and that unquantifiable ‘fun factor’ the game has that makes it one of the best rom hacks I’ve played.

Rating: Really Great

  • Puzzle platformer that’s just the right length and challenge
  • Well-designed chocolate (custom) gameplay
  • A couple puzzles feature anxiety-inducing platforming
  • No credits

Download at SMWCentral.net

Original Game: Super Mario World
Genre: Platform Puzzler
Published: 2017-07-09
Author: S.N.N.

Platform Compatibility
BizHawkUnknown*
bsnes-hdUnknown*
byuuUnknown*
HiganUnknown*
FXPAK PROUnknown*
Mesen-SUnknown*
RetroArchSnes9x & bsnes cores
Snes9xYes
SNES/NES ClassicRetroArch only
Super EverdriveUnknown*
Super NTUnknown*
*If you have tested compatibility for any platforms that are listed as "Unknown", please contact me and let me know so I can update the table!

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I'm a part-time influencer, full-time dad, and Nintendo fan! I've curated a collection of romhack reviews to help you revisit the games of your childhood, but in a new way. I'll help you get up and running as well as help you find good fan games to play, including Super Mario Maker 2 levels!

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