I have plenty of guilty pleasures when it comes to games, whether it be preferred styles of perspective or specific features. For example, I’ve always loved the handheld camera perspective (in both video games and movies) seen in games like Outlast and Fatal Frame. I also consider myself a huge fan of challenge towers and games entirely comprised of challenges. Mortal Kombat 9‘s challenge tower remains one of my favorite modes in any fighting game, and WarioWare and Rhythm Heaven hold special places in my hearts. But above all of those, my favorite gaming past time is experiencing other players’ creations with level editors.
What’s So Great About Level Editors, Anyway?
Unfortunately, user generated content usually comes in the form of modifications (which is why you see a lot of it on PC over consoles). It’s pretty difficult to create a substantial level editor that is both flexible and easy enough to learn. There’s plenty of games with simple level editors in them, but it’s a rarity when the user generated content becomes the focus of the game. For this to happen, the level editing software has to be robust and user friendly, but the community also has to embrace the feature and grow with it.
Maybe it’s because user generated content often produces wacky and ridiculous content, things that you would never see hard work hours invested into. Perhaps it’s the fact that gamers can sometimes create original content even better than the stuff made by the developers. Regardless of the reason, user generated content and level editors allow for a constant supply of fresh and inventive content well after a developer has stopped updating the game. Not every game is created equal, and that’s especially true when it comes to level editors and games focused on them. So, in no particular order, here’s a list of the best games with an outrageous amount of excellent user created content.
Note: I’m not including things like Gary’s Mod, Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V, etc. That’s another list for another time.
The Best Games with Level Editors EVER!
1. LittleBigPlanet Series – Playstation 3 & 4
If there’s a game that accurately sums up how level editors and user generated content should be integrated into an experience, LittleBigPlanet is it. Although each game in the series has an extensive story mode, most fans of the titles usually go directly to the online level sharing aspect. With the original game’s simplistic platforming and intuitive “three plane” level layout, even the most inexperienced creators could have fun making their own level.
LittleBigPlanet wasn’t always the level creator titan that it is today. When the game originally released, players often found their levels being removed from the service. Since LittleBigPlanet‘s level editor was robust enough, creators often adapted other franchises to the LittleBigPlanet playstyle. These levels were huge hits. It’s no surprise that levels based on hit franchises like God of War, Bioshock, and Metal Gear Solid were massively popular. After a while, Sony loosened the restrictions on copyright, and LittleBigPlanet truly took off.
Thanks to sites like LittleBigPlanet Central and their “community spotlight” posts, gamers didn’t need to search through hundreds of thousands of levels looking for a good time. In general, both the game and the community exemplify just how great the genre can be.
2. Minecraft/Adventurecraft – Every System Ever
I won’t go on too long about Minecraft, mainly because it’s one of the most popular gaming properties ever created. Even if you’ve never seen the game, you’ve undoubtedly seen toys, collectibles, and figurines based on the game. Although Minecraft is more about creating your very own world, the community has used the tools to create some absolutely fantastic content.
The mod Adventurecraft is more in line with what I was considering for this article, although it technically falls in line with games like Gary’s Mod. However, it would be negligent of me to exclude the massive community around it. If LittleBigPlanet showed us just how well level editors can give a game life, Minecraft shows us how a faithful community can completely define pop culture. In a way, Minecraft digitized the Lego craze and modernized it for a more technologically inclined youth.
3. Super Mario Maker – Wii U
I’m honestly surprised it took Nintendo so long to execute on the idea of a Mario level editor with online sharing capability. Nintendo’s online presence has never been the best, but Super Mario Maker proved that the industry titan still understands the importance of it.
The entirety of the 2D Mario series has always been relatively simplistic, ultimately coming down to the quality of level design. After giving players 30 years to become intimate with the control scheme and level design of the franchise, Super Mario Maker immediately saw absolutely fantastic levels and creations. Not only was the level editor easy to use thanks to a slow progression of unlockables and excellent tutorials, but it was robust and varied. Creators could choose between different Mario styles, like the original Super Mario Brothers or the SNES classic Super Mario World.
Whether you’re looking for a challenge or simply want to play some crazy unique Mario levels, Super Mario Maker exceeds all expectations. I’m incredibly upset that the 3DS version gutted the sharing features, so if you’re thinking about picking up the handheld version, you might want to try it out first.
4. Trials Fusion – PC, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
If you’ve never played a Trials game, I recommend it without exception. Not only does the series have an insanely fun single player campaign and entertaining mini-games, but the DLC for the later Trials games were also some of the best I’ve ever played. Developer RedLynx has consistently delivered an excellent experience with each new game in the series, but Trials Fusion is my favorite due to the level sharing features.
Much like LittleBigPlanet, Trials Fusion has decently simplistic gameplay. You control a motorcycle as you attempt to complete ridiculous obstacle courses with the game’s physics based engine. Crafting a level in Trials Fusion is like plotting the blueprints for a rollercoaster. A combination of breakneck speed, death defying jumps, and crazy visuals make Trials Fusion a unique experience for time trial fans and those looking for a decent challenge.
As an added bonus, Trials Fusion is often included in digital store sales for both Xbox and Playstation quite frequently. If you wait until it goes on sale again, you can probably purchase Trials Fusion and its entire DLC catalog for under $25.
5. TimeSplitters: Future Perfect – Xbox, Gamecube, PS2
If you picked up gaming more recently (say, Xbox 360 and beyond), you probably aren’t super familiar with the TimeSplitters franchise. That’s a damn shame too, because it’s one of my favorite FPS franchises ever created. It’s reminiscent of classics like Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark, with a variety of difficulty levels and side objectives. Not only is there a robust single player campaign, a plethora of challenge modes, and entertaining multiplayer offerings, but the Xbox version of TimeSplitters: Future Perfect contained one of the best level editor communities I’ve ever seen.
When Microsoft announced they were discontinuing Xbox Live services for the original Xbox, Halo 2 wasn’t the game I was going to miss the most. No, I was much more upset that the collection of absolutely mind-blowing user created levels would disappear. Not only did gamers create levels that were just as good as the developer-created ones, but some went as far as creating their own campaigns! I distinctively remember playing a set of four or five levels based around the Splinter Cell franchise, complete with stealth sections and side objectives.
It was also one of the level editors that I found easy enough to use myself; I often lack the forward planning needed to make a cohesive experience. The content gamers made was purely ace, and the game itself was already busting at the seams with quality content. Man, now I want to play TimeSplitters again.
Check out this pretty good looking custom level by Youtuber IDT!
6. Halo (Forge Mode) – Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
Halo‘s Forge Mode is something that I debated putting on this list, but after a bit of consideration, I think it fits fine. When Forge mode originally launched with Halo 3, players had a good time creating their own maps and battling friends. It wasn’t until a bit later when we started seeing more inventive uses of Forge Mode. Obstacle courses, custom match types, and general chaos were easy selling features for Forge Mode and the content created within it.
I wish Forge Mode would’ve allowed you to place enemies and include objectives like TimeSplitters did, but what Bungie (and eventually 343) included with Forge Mode was enough to please Halo‘s more creative players. I have fond memories of enjoying custom maps with friends into the wee hours of the morning, but I struggle to identify Forge Mode as a defining feature. Many players never bothered to try it out, and its popularity was underwhelming for the options allotted.
7. WarioWare D.I.Y – Nintendo DS
WarioWare D.I.Y isn’t as much a level editor as it is a mini-game maker. Anyone familiar with WarioWare knows just how unique and fast paced it is. Every game in the franchise is essentially a collection of micro-games, giving you literal seconds to figure out the objective and complete it.
WarioWare was already a weird franchise, and letting players loose with the creation tools was a smart move for the franchise. The game was received well when it launched, earning high marks from sites like IGN and settling at an 82/100 on Metacritic. For the seventh game in a franchise, that’s pretty good by my standards. It would be interesting to see a new WarioWare title on the Switch, and one that allows for user generated micro-games would be icing on the cake.
What’s Next for Level Editors?
Level editors pop up in games every so often, but it seems like they’re making a small comeback with steady releases as of late. The Trackmania series just saw a recent console release in the form of Trackmania Turbo. The “mania” series (Shootmania, Questmania, Trackmania) has always been a defining franchise for level editors, and it’s good to see the titles making the leap from PC to consoles.
Additionally, 3DS owners are in for a treat when publisher NIS releases RPG Maker Fes, the newest game in the long running RPG Maker series. Even more impressive is the RPG Maker Player client, which will allow you to download and play games created in RPG Maker Fes without having to own the game. RPG Maker Player will be free to download, and releases alongside the main game in late June.
Most of the entries on this list could see sequels soon, with the Nintendo Switch being an excellent platform for a Super Mario Maker sequel. I’m really hoping Nintendo releases a Legend of Zelda Maker, as its something fans have been asking for. Additionally, I wouldn’t be surprised if another WarioWare saw release, and it’s not like Minecraft will be going away any time soon.
If anything, the sequel I want to see the most will be a long way out. TimeSplitters: Future Perfect remains my favorite FPS with a level editor, and it’s not likely we’ll see a return to the franchise. Regardless, there’s a slew of games with extensive collections of user-created levels to keep you busy. If you’ve never played LittleBigPlanet or Trials Fusion, they serve as excellent introductions to sharing content online. I hope this article might’ve sparked the creative juices for you. If you’ve created a level in any of these games, feel free to drop a link (or code, in Super Mario Maker‘s case) in the comments section! I look forward to enjoying some of your best levels!