Kaizo Super Mario World

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The following is taken from a write-up by BeeKaay. It is meant to serve as placeholder information while the community sources a collective writeup.

Origins

The term Kaizo, as used in Super Mario World ROM hacking, originates from Kaizo Mario World, a hack released by T. Takemoto in 2007, to torture his friend, R. Kiba. Kaizo Mario World 2 followed in the same year, and Kaizo Mario World 3 in 2012. Kaizo, (改造), translated literally, just means “rearranged,” which, in the context of ROM hacking, means “ROM hack.”

At the time, Kaizo Mario World had become notorious for its difficulty, unfairness, and the frustration it brought to those who played it. It was also widely believed not to be beatable without save-states, and it was not until years later that players started beating it without save-states, and eventually speedrunning it—a testament to what can be accomplished with patience and hundreds of hours of Super Mario World experience.

Kaizo Mario World was hugely influential on level design, and several hacks were subsequently released by other hackers that bore its hallmarks:

  • Extremely precise platforming
  • Hard-to-dodge hidden blocks in inopportune locations, also known as Kaizo blocks
  • Unexpected post-goal deaths, also known as Kaizo traps (Notably, these were not original to Takemoto’s Kaizo series, and can be found earlier in the VIP Mario series)
  • Tested with and intended to be played with save-states

These came to be known as Kaizo hacks.

Transformation

As time went on, hackers and players emerged who valued beating Kaizo hacks without save-states, and hacks which were known to be beatable without save-states began being released. Coinciding with this, due to advances in Super Mario World ROM hacking and improved understanding of Super Mario World’s mechanics, Kaizo hacks became more complex and expanded out of Takemoto’s original mold. Custom sprites and controls were introduced (e.g. Banzai Mario World), and advanced game mechanics (e.g. wall shell jumps, key jumps, regrab jumps) became necessary to beat them (e.g. Super Gracie World). More recently, the original sadistic nature of Takemoto’s hacks has given way to hacks without trolls, which aim to be fun and ease the player into high-level Super Mario World gameplay (e.g. Quickie World and Backwards Mario World).

What Kaizo Isn’t

Before getting into what I think Kaizo is, here’s what I think it isn’t:

A class of difficulty

While it is true that Kaizo hacks tend to be difficult, the inverse is not necessarily true. There exist non-Kaizo hacks which are harder than most Kaizo hacks. Their difficulty stems from design choices such as excessive level segment length, enemy spam, and extremely aggressive custom sprites (e.g. Hyper VI, The Way of the M, Colossus, Bits and Pieces).

A particular set of tricks or obstacles

For example, shell jumps are very popular today. Recall, however, that Takemoto’s entire Kaizo trilogy had only a single required shell jump, near the end of Kaizo Mario World 3. Storks and Apes and Crocodiles is an example of a brutally-difficult Kaizo hack that is almost entirely devoid of the tricks and obstacles traditionally associated with the genre.

What Kaizo Is

A Kaizo hack has one overarching property — strictness — across the following dimensions:

Intent

In general, the author of a Kaizo hack has in mind one or two very specific ways to traverse a level. A recent innovation is branching paths, where one branch requires an exceptionally difficult trick (e.g. a mid-air shell jump) to skip over multiple less-difficult obstacles along the other path. This is in contrast to non-Kaizo hacks, where a level can be beaten in numerous ways depending on the power-ups the player has, whether they use a shell they found as a reusable projectile, and so on.

Time

Moving obstacles in Kaizo hacks generally have a short window of time within which they can be cleared.

Space

Obstacles in Kaizo hacks generally require precise travel through the space of the level, frequently requiring sub-tile precision.

Forgiveness

In general, Kaizo hacks are unforgiving. They don’t have sprinkled power-ups throughout the level to allow you to get hit and keep going. Missing a jump or getting hit by an enemy results in a death. If there is a mushroom in a level, it has a specific purpose, such as for breaking spin blocks or damage-boosting through some munchers, and you will not have it past a point determined by the author (see intent above).

Kaizo: Light, Kaizo: Hard, and Pit

Despite mentioning above that Kaizo isn’t a class of difficulty, smwcentral.net, a popular place to download them, says it is, and breaks them down into two categories. There is frequent confusion about this, so I will talk about it here:

Kaizo: Light

This does not mean “an easy Kaizo hack.” This is a Kaizo hack which can be beaten by a human in real time without save-states (e.g. Kaizo Mario World).

Kaizo: Hard

This does not mean “a difficult Kaizo hack.” This is a Kaizo hack which can be beaten by a human mostly in real time, using occasional slowdown and/or multiple save-states (e.g. Cool or Cruel). Notably, this requires proof of a negative, and is under constant test: if someone were to beat a Kaizo: Hard hack without slowdown or save-states, the hack’s original Kaizo: Hard designation was incorrect, and the hack is actually a Kaizo: Light hack.

Pit

Lastly, there is Pit, named after MoltovMarioWorld’s Pit of … hack series. Pit hacks push the limits of what is possible even with extensive tool use. Whereas a Kaizo: Hard hack can be beaten by a human using e.g. a Nakitek Game Saver, a Pit hack requires near-constant slowdown and save-state use throughout, and is typically beaten in an emulator using frame advance. Like Kaizo: Hard, Pit requires proof of a negative.