The Super Mario franchise, amazing though it may be, has never really been known for its difficulty. While just about every game in the series has a level or two that can be a bit tough, Nintendo purposefully makes Mario games simple by platforming standards. Of course, there’s an exception to every rule. For Super Mario, that exception is Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels.
A Brief Lost Levels History Lesson
The Lost Levels has a very interesting history. Most Nintendo fans probably know this story, but here are the Cliff Notes for those who don’t. The Lost Levels was originally released as a direct sequel to Super Mario Bros. on NES in Japan. When Howard Philips, a game evaluator for Nintendo of America, played the game for localization, he deemed it too hard for North American audiences. “Few games were more stymieing than Super Mario Bros 2 for Famicom,” Philips said. “Not having fun is bad when you’re selling fun.” As a result, North America instead got a reskin of the Japanese game Doki-Doki Panic as our Super Mario Bros. 2. That’s why the game is so dramatically different than any other Super Mario Bros Game.
Ultimately, North America did get access to this game on the SNES. It was included in Super Mario All-Stars, a collection of all the original Mario games, and has since been released on 3DS, Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles.
The Evolution of Mario Requires The Lost Levels
The fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 went unreleased in North America for seven years definitely makes it the least known Super Mario game. Fans of the series rarely mention it, and when they do it’s usually in reference to the brutal difficulty that kept it out of our hands on the NES. Still, I recently played through The Lost Levels on Super Mario All-Stars and found it to be a wonderful game. Not only is it incredibly fun, but it also clearly set the blueprint for Super Mario Bros. 3. The Lost Levels is definitely closest to the original in terms of gameplay, but it’s hardly the “expansion pack” folks label it as.
One of the most critical innovations in Lost Levels is the way players are forced to explore each course. Exploration was encouraged in the original game, but only in the form of warp pipes or finding a mushroom in a block. The Lost Levels is the first game where exploring each area carefully was truly necessary. You still couldn’t slide the screen to the left, but some levels could only be completed by finding invisible boxes that made otherwise impossible jumps possible. Finding bonus worlds is a must for those new to Lost Levels because stocking up on lives is so critical.
The concept of bonus worlds also originated in The Lost Levels. Worlds 9 through D started the tradition still found in every Mario Bros. game today. And believe me, while all of Lost Levels is difficult, nothing is harder than getting through World D.
Even the tradition of Luigi jumping higher than Mario started in The Lost Levels. While that did get dropped for a long while, it’s a fun gameplay twist that makes the game decidedly different depending on which brother you choose.
Closing: The Lost Levels are a hidden gem
I personally found that playing through the Lost Levels was an incredibly rewarding experience as a Super Mario fan. While the game is notorious for its backwards warp zones, poison mushrooms and brutal jumps, it really is an important chapter in Mario’s history. It’s probably safe to say we’ll never see a Mario game as polarizing as this one ever again. Still, as a Mario lover it was interesting for me to see this key chapter in the plumbers evolution. The ideas found in this game are still found in Mario games today. If you love video game history, I’d check this game out. You can get it both for 3DS and Wii U through the virtual console. Good luck, and don’t spring past the flag on 3-1!