My wife grew up with the original Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES and still enjoys playing the classics to this day. I also recently bought her New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS to give her some fresh 2D Mario action. However, she routinely plays through these platforming masterpieces in a relatively short amount of time with what I consider a small amount of effort.
As I was setting up emulation support on my Windows Media Center PC in the living room, I thought of a good challenge to give my wife while giving her a solid 2D Mario fix. I knew of the story behind Super Mario Bros. 2 and how we got a Mario-ized version of Doki-Doki Panic because the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was too challenging. Of course, the game was eventually released in the US as part of the Super Mario All-Stars compilation on the SNES.
I mentioned this background information to my wife and she was more than interested in giving it a try. Once she was barely into the first level, we knew the higher difficulty level that the game touted was not an exaggeration.
Note: Just as a fair warning, if you want to go into the game not knowing what to expect, you may want to skip reading this. I won’t go into too much detail since I don’t want to spoil the game for you, but I will touch on some aspects that make the game especially challenging.
Level Design Optimized For Difficulty
On the surface The Lost Levels looks very much like the original Super Mario Bros. It includes very similar level designs, enemies, and powerups, but everything is arranged in such a way to drive you insane with frustration.
On almost every inch of every level it as if the level designers tried to think of every single way to make getting through past a screen as difficult as possible.
It isn’t enough to just have long jumps where you have to land on a single block or having multiple enemies flying at you from all directions. Instead you have all of these challenges and more taunting you at at the same time.
In comparison, to the original Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels, also included number of more complex elements that didn’t make their make American debut until Super Mario Bros 3, such as more advanced moving platforms and more detailed levels.
All The Enemies You Hate, Made Even Worse
As if the level layouts weren’t enough to pull your hair out over, Nintendo also gave the enemies a bit more bite.
- Standard enemies such as Goombas and Koopa Troopas come in larger groups
- Red Piranha Plants come out of their pipes even if the player is standing next to them.
- There are also upside-down Piranha Plants that can be quite annoying.
- There are Piranha plants that now come out of pipes that are flush with the ground, making it easier to overlook.
- Blooper Fish float through the air very quickly and in large quantities.
- And finally, multiple enemies groups seem to team up on you all at once: picture dodging attacks from Hammer Bros. while having Beetles raining down from the sky and Bullet Bills are shooting at you.
Power-Ups Come At A Premium
Gone are the days of finding a convenient block to give you a boost every now and then. Instead, your Mushrooms and Fire Flowers are guarded in tight spaces by the most obnoxious enemies or placed right by a pit so that the mushroom quickly falls into lava immediately after you hit its block.
If you do happen to find a convenient question-mark block that isn’t a coin, it usually contains a Poison Mushroom. These evil-looking mushrooms have the same effect as being touched by an enemy and are usually released in tight areas where you are surrounded by flying enemies and unable to escape quickly. How convenient.
Practice Your Jumping Skills
Large pits are plentiful in The Lost Levels and will give your jumping skills quite a workout. In fact, precision jumping is probably the most important skill needed to successfully play The Lost Levels. I was surprised to see that there are almost no jumps in the game that can be pulled off without a running start. Not only are some jumps very long, but many times you must also land on a very narrow spot, an area filled with enemies, a moving platform, or even a rapid succession of long jumps that you can’t take a stop between. At times you will also find that you need to time your jump just right so you can use a flying enemy as a stepping stone to your destination.
It is also worth mentioning that there are a number of places where you will experience some strong gusts of wind which blow intermittently. These winds can both be a help and an hindrance to Mario. They often must be used in order to make long jumps, but they also make controlling movement and staying on platforms more difficult.
Keep Looking For Hidden Blocks
I realize it is rather hard to “look” for hidden blocks, but many times throughout the game you will come to an area that seems even more impossible to cross than usual. In these cases, you probably need to hunt around for a hidden block. Once you’ve uncovered one, you can use them as a an intermediate jumping point before the main platform. This tactic is found in other Mario games, but the level designers exploited it much more in Lost Levels.
Sometimes, You Just Can’t Be Super
There are few spots, primarily in Koopa’s castles, that you will have to shrink yourself by being hit by an enemy in order to squeeze through an area. Of course, after this, you are especially vulnerable to later attacks and another mushroom isn’t usually available afterwards.
The Castles Are Repeat-ariffic!
One of the most annoying tricks in Mario games, in my opinion, is when the level starts looping until you go through the level a very specific way. The Lost Levels decides to make every other of Bowser’s castles play like this. Of course, the path you need to take to progress successfully is the most challenging.
Deceitful Warp Zones
In several different levels, Mario Brothers 2 doesn’t play fair. In the original Super Mario Brothers, finding a warp or a hidden secret was good. Yet leaping over the flagpole in Mario 2 might as easily warp you backwards to earlier levels instead of farther along to more advanced ones.
Bowsers Are Surprisingly Easy
I’ve never found most of the early Mario bosses to be very difficult, but I was expecting more from The Lost Levels. The first few iterations of Bowser are very straightforward if you a familiar with how to beat him in the original Mario Bros. Later levels have him flooding the screen with Hammer Bros-style projectiles, but with a little patience, they aren’t too much of an issue either. Getting to Bowser is much harder than actually defeating him.
A Frustratingly Fun Adventure
Sure Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels is downright difficult, but it’s also a load of fun if you have enough determination. Truth be told, my wife and I played all the way through it for the first time by using numerous emulator save states (just so we could see what it was like), but we hope to play though it again soon without cheating.
Unless you are Super Mario Bros. genius, you will die many, many times your first try, but if you play through it enough, you actually start to get a feel for it and pull off some amazing stunts.
Once you are seasoned in the game, you will master any 2D Mario game Nintendo throws at you. Think of it as Super Mario Boot Camp.