It’s hard to believe there was a time before the tried and tested formula for the adventures of our favourite moustached plumber had been perfected. Mario had a more interesting journey to platforming greatness than you might have realised, with many interesting and quirky detours on the way. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels was one such example.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels was originally released in Japan as Super Mario Bros. 2, a direct sequel to the first game. Nintendo decided this more challenging outing was too difficult for western gamers and as such denied them the opportunity to play it for many years. Instead, they chose to adapt Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic which became the western Super Mario Bros. 2 and this explains why it looks so different from all its relatives. Who knows, this may be the reason why it took several years for Nintendo to risk a direct sequel again, but thankfully we got the sublime Super Mario Galaxy 2 so everything worked out okay.
I must say, I was a very lucky child. Thanks to the gaming exploits of my Dad, we had pretty much every gaming console in our house that you could imagine over the course of my childhood. One of my earliest fond gaming memories was getting to grips with Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES, which felt like the best value for money game ever released. However, there was a slightly odd title in the collection which stood out somewhat from the crowd. It’s worth pointing out that despite the western release being difficult, it wasn’t quite as challenging as the original Japanese release.
Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels featured altered graphics to give a different feel to the original. This included many colour changes and a rockier, somehow more threatening surface for Mario to traverse. However, it was given a graphical overhaul when released as part of Super Mario All-Stars, which is the version I remember playing as a wee nipper.
This direct sequel wasn’t just more challenging however, it was downright sneaky. It was easy to fall foul of poison mushrooms that had the reverse effect of the usual ones, red piranha plants which had a greater reach and sat in pipes flush to the ground, and strong winds that could make tricky platforming even harder. Even the relief of grabbing a classic power-up was often short lived. For example, at one point a Super Star would actually prevent you from clearing a large jump, killing the Koopa Paratroopers and preventing you from bouncing off them to the safety of the other side. There were cleverly disguised traps such as this hidden throughout the game.
Possibly the cruelest tricks of all were the warp zones that took you back to earlier levels. They offered a simple but tempting choice: try and take a sneaky shortcut or avoid the risk and go the long way round. “Who Dares Wins” was unfortunately not always the case here.
All of the usual enemies returned, except this time when you landed on them you were fired much further back into the air than before. This became very difficult to judge during the aerial levels, often resulting in you plummeting to your premature death. Some, such as Hammer Bros., felt as if they have been turbo charged, racing towards you whilst frantically chucking their weapons your way.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that Luigi was also a playable character in Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. This was somewhat of a test case for the lanky brother as he could jump higher than Mario but land with much less precision, something which carried over to many future releases. It provided a welcome element of choice in a game that tried to punish you for even the slightest mistake at every turn.
It’s fair to say that Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels became a bit of a cult hit in its own right for being refreshingly different and as a result influenced many Mario games that came after it. Thanks to the birth of the Virtual Console, this quirky game was released several more times, becoming much more accessible for everyone brave enough to give it a try.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels almost feels like a bootleg version of the legendary platformer. However, through its efforts to trip you up at every turn, it results in being a fascinating piece of gaming history that should not be overlooked.