Game Review

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Robert Hughes

Super Masochist Bros.

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is the famously difficult, Japan-only sequel to the titular plumber's breakout NES hit, expanding on the original formula with deviously challenging level design and obstacles. Western audiences were instead given the comparatively easy 'Super Mario USA' (a re-skinned translation of Nintendo's Yume Koujou: Doki Doki Panic Panic) as a sequel — freshly monikered as Super Mario Bros. 2 — as either an act of condescension or mercy. It wasn't until the SNES compilation Super Mario All-Stars that we experienced what our Japanese cousins had been enduring the years prior. The Lost Levels is frustrating, difficult, infuriating, and at times punishing and cruel.

It's also fiendishly clever and lots of fun to boot.

Many older gamers will remember either ignoring or disliking The Lost Levels when experiencing the title as part of Super Mario All-Stars; the game lacked the polish of Super Mario Bros. 3 that followed years later, and due to being unreleased in the West was missing the nostalgic draw of the original Super Mario Bros. The game also had an unprecedented level of difficulty - it becomes clear after five seconds of gameplay when a sickly looking mushroom — always portrayed as a power-up and beneficial to the player — kills Mario outright, that The Lost Levels is not a game to be taken lightly. As a result, it became the black sheep of the collection, an ironic outcome considering it was the Western Super Mario Bros. 2 that perhaps did not belong comfortably with the series' identity.

Some twenty years later it's a little easier to appreciate Nintendo's approach with The Lost Levels, less a sequel and more akin to an expansion pack, before such a concept even existed. The Lost Levels is add-on content for players who have mastered the accessible Super Mario Bros. and are looking for a greater challenge, one that pulls no punches and truly showcases the evil genius the masterminds at Nintendo are capable of. Those expecting to be eased into the experience with Nintendo's trademark effortless conveyance of mechanics and carefully planned tutorial-esque early levels will be disappointed — it begins at an unprecedented level of difficulty and ups the ante from there.

The Lost Levels is consistent with its predecessor's mechanics if not its rules; whilst previously aquatic enemies may now float through the air and seeming impassable crevices litter the landscape, the original title's tight jump controls and sense of momentum are present and accounted for. Perhaps the biggest change is the game's flow; the original Super Mario Bros. encouraged the player to race from A to B, with level design that facilitated bold jumps and reckless pace, arguably serving as the inspiration for Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog. The Lost Levels, inversely, rewards the patient player and often punishes the impetuous with a pitfall or meticulously placed trap. This can be frustrating at first and those familiar with Mario's original adventure may struggle to adapt their play-style, but once they are able to do so the game's brilliance shines through.

The Lost Levels subverts expectations constantly in the most devious ways; it will provide a Starman power-up in a location where it is more likely to bounce off screen than be of any use, or rewards the overzealous player with a warp-zone that sends them backwards for their attempts to find shortcuts through the game.

The use of the Virtual Console's save states are an obvious boon here but The Lost Levels, for all its bluster, is surprisingly lenient in terms of continues, only requiring the player to begin the current world anew rather than the whole game once all lives are lost, a welcome mercy in a game as challenging as this. Assets remain mostly unchanged from the previous instalment and the game is a similar length, short on overall content but longer in practice due to the difficulty. The undetailed sprites and simple music may not have aged particularly well, but provide a welcome feeling of nostalgia that remains comforting to this day, particularly for those who played Super Mario Bros. on its native platform.

Conclusion

Those who hated The Lost Levels on its inclusion in Super Mario All-Stars, due either to its difficulty or lack of originality, may find that they have a new-found appreciation for this underrated gem. It's not without flaws, but when played in tandem with the Wii U's save state functionality in short doses to alleviate frustration, there's a lot to enjoy here. Some of the level design and intentional placement of obstacles and enemies is almost frighteningly devious, a sense of playful teasing that is perhaps sorely lacking from present-day Nintendo's 'games for everybody' line-up. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels will constantly taunt the player with its level of challenge and meticulously sinister design, but those who enjoy triumph through adversity and can handle a little frustration will enjoy every second of it.

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User Comments (49)

Tops

#1

Tops said:

I might pick this up someday as I've never played it. btw you misspelled "new-found" in the conclusion :)

unrandomsam

#2

unrandomsam said:

It is especially clever in that playing as Luigi allows you to go over the top of the most difficult parts but it is the same levels.

Not sure it would be the same with savestates but I played it on the Wii (It being one of only a few 60hz releases on the PAL Wii) but by the time you clear a stage you have always mastered it. You can never really get a fluke other than sometimes on the 4th world. (With so few lives it makes it never happen. The time you actually complete the castle more than likely you can get there every time without losing a life).

Using a savestate after each level would remove what it had before. Finishing a level on its own is not that difficult at all. Finishing 4 in a row with 3 lives is much more difficult.

I am stuck on World A for the moment (Not included in Super Mario Bros Deluxe or All Stars afaik). I suppose save states could be a good way to learn it but overall it loses something then.

Another thing is at least the colours look correct this time. (The Wii one looks like what happens if you connect a PAL SNES with a Gamecube or N64 RGB scart lead - The proper PAL SNES SCART lead has resistors on it).

SparkOfSpirit

#3

SparkOfSpirit said:

I'm not much of a fan of this one. I still think the SMB2 we got was the better game and the more fun of the two.

DrKarl

#4

DrKarl said:

Note: You can do the "infinite" life trick right at the beginning of the game in level 1-1.

sketchturner

#5

sketchturner said:

I love this game, but the fact that you can't use the infinite lives trick is pure evil. Once you get more than a small handful of lives, the game will cause you to game over after one death.

sketchturner

#6

sketchturner said:

DrKarl, you are correct that you can do the trick, but it will result in you being reduced to only one life. You can get up around 20 lives or so? But beyond that it drops you to one.

unrandomsam

#8

unrandomsam said:

Another good thing about is how if you try and play it slowly then it becomes loads harder.

And nearly every mushroom is a risk to get.

Nick255

#12

Nick255 said:

@sketchturner: Actually it is 127 lives (they used a signed int for some reason) and then after that your lives become negative. I also believe that was fixed in the All Stars version.

sketchturner

#14

sketchturner said:

@Nick255: That is weird... I was playing the Wii VC version recently and I swear even if I got above 30 lives or so, I would game over after the next death.

unrandomsam

#15

unrandomsam said:

@Gridatttack I agree. I don't feel the same about Super Mario Bros 3 however which has a few minor changes that it make it much more fun to play and the removal of the visual artefacts that Nintendo introduced for cost reasons. (They absolutely didn't need to as Castlevania III shows).

sinalefa

#16

sinalefa said:

I have beaten this one (SNES version) with both Mario and Luigi. Found it more difficult with Mario.

WaveWarlock

#17

WaveWarlock said:

The last time i played Lost Levels was on Super Mario All-Stars in the early whirly' 90's.
Now, Lost Levels was the sequel I didn't want for SMB1. It felt like a cut & paste emulation rom hack for super masochistic gamers such as myself. ;) 'Lost Levels' is the best way to describe it, giving it the number 2 would just be ludicrous. Japan did it wrong.

Thank He-Man & She-ra we got Doki Doki Panic'd up with SMB USA, a game that easily defined my NES-childhood. :* The most magical bizzare and dreamy Mario in the entire mushroom Kingdom me thinks!

I personally don't like to count Lost Levels, and i don't plan on playing it again. :P Be gone!

retro_player_22

#18

retro_player_22 said:

Does this game had a minus world like the first game? I would definitely like to check that out if there is one.

DreamyViridi

#20

DreamyViridi said:

I beat the Mario Bros. Deluxe version of this game and that's good enough for me! It took me 12 years to beat (only because I found the game years after I stopped playing and decided to give it a shot).

If anyone wants a 'challenging' old school game, then have at it!

ShockeyRai

#21

ShockeyRai said:

I'll admit i have been abusing the save states for this game, I have this game on my 3DS XD

emayer

#22

emayer said:

This game was a bear on Wii VC without save states. There was no greater satisfaction than finally beating worlds A-D though!

Expa0

#23

Expa0 said:

I like Lost Levels to an extenct, but Super Mario Bros 2 USA is the far superior game imho.

unrandomsam

#25

unrandomsam said:

@emayer I wish I never watched the youtube link above ^^ World A in the lost levels (From All Stars however). I could obviously do it if I looked at where all the mushrooms are but I hadn't done that up to now. (And I was in no great rush.)

faustcoolio

#28

faustcoolio said:

Enough already, either remake game properly on new graphic engine or don't bother. Stop milking dead cow.

Klobb

#29

Klobb said:

This game is so hard but it's so worth beating without savestates! Well, at least I think it is.

unrandomsam

#30

unrandomsam said:

@faustcoolio They already did (All Stars version) and it broke it. This version is not broken in fact the way it works in anything but broken.

@Waveboy There is nothing wrong with this the way it is designed is extremely clever. Luigi gets to take the easy route. If Mario can take the easy route the process to it is harder than just doing the hard route anyway. It is a harder version of Super Mario Bros with exactly the same physics it rewards going quickly by making going slowly harder. (The jumps are still just possible if you stop all the time but it is much harder). It swarms you with enemies as well quite frequently.

@Klobb It is hard but it isn't as bad as say VC Arcade Ghosts n Goblins (Even with infinite credits). Or even the first Warp Zone level of Super Meatboy (To unlock the kid). It is probably much easier if you look beforehand where the mushrooms are but I hadn't done it up until a few hours ago. (When I saw the location of that one mushroom on World A-1). World 9 took me quite a while to get it to loop. (I don't think I will ever do start to finish ever again once was enough).

Nintendo_Ninja

#31

Nintendo_Ninja said:

I got this one the Mario 25th Anniversary for Wii a couple years back. It's so hard and similar to the original.

Mommar

#32

Mommar said:

Back when all I did was play video games this game was... not easy, but not nearly as hard as it was described. These days, in my thirties, I can't even get through the original game anymore

WiiLovePeace

#34

WiiLovePeace said:

Already downloaded it upon release, really awesome game. I'mma be beating it without save states, just how it was supposed to be. It's hard but not impossible.

KeeperBvK

#35

KeeperBvK said:

Wait, I'm kinda confused. In the review it says that The Lost Levels rewards players for going slow, and punishes them for going as fast as in SMB 1.
In the comments here, however, I read the EXACT opposite, saying that going slow ill get you killed, requiring you to speed right on through.

So what's true now? Both sides seem to be very certain about this, making sure to tell people about it.

Oh, and another thing. In the review it says how people playing All-Stars 20 years ago were all "Oh, this is the black sheep. I'm not gonna play it anymore." I don't remember anyone ever having reacted to it in this way. Actually, our Western SMB 2 always was looked down on as the series's black sheep. Fortunately these last few years people seem to finally grow a liking to it again.

StarDust4Ever

#36

StarDust4Ever said:

Awesome. I am so glad they've allowed save states on VC as this game really needs them to enjoy to it's full potential. Come on NOA, we need Lost Levels and SMB3 like, now. You promised us SMB3 by the end of 2013, and now I've got lost levels to add to my wishlist. Never thought I'd say this but I'm so jealous of PAL Nintendo fans right now.

Pj1

#38

Pj1 said:

I only like the all stars version of this game, I downloaded it the first time it appeared on Wii-VC because I wanted to play the original but I don't wanna play it on Wii-U.

Bass_X0

#40

Bass_X0 said:

Don't know why a port of the original Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 keeps being referred to as The Lost Levels... Look at the title screen and tell me what it says.

unrandomsam

#41

unrandomsam said:

@Bass_X0 It is what Nintendo themselves refer to it as. (i.e if you want to buy it that is what you want so you don't end up with the garbage labelled Super Mario Bros 2).

Genesaur

#42

Genesaur said:

I've always loved The Lost Levels, even if I suck so horribly at it now, in comparison to my childhood.

Donutman

#43

Donutman said:

@SparkOfSpirit fun is always important, but I loved this game for the challenge. Only ever beat it with no continues 2 times ever. Smb2 is IMO the black sheep...but I still love it.

Gold

#45

Gold said:

I'll download this day one when it comes to the North American Wii U eShop. hint hint NOA hint hint

FireHorsePrime

#46

FireHorsePrime said:

Nice review of the game. I've got it for my 3DS but haven't gotten too far in it because of the difficulty. Your summation put it into perspective. Thank you.

knvx

#47

knvx said:

I find the All-Stars version a little easier to complete and enjoy. U know the Mushroom Kingdom done gone nanners when Hammer Bros start getting that azz in underwater levels.

knvx

#48

knvx said:

Super Mario Bros. 2 (douki dou I panic) gets a bad rap but I'm glad that things worked out the way they did. Even if Shyguy and Birdo are all we really have to show for it. Super Mario 2 was one of the first games I ever beat and will always have a special place in my heart.

SahashraLA

#49

SahashraLA said:

@Mommar
Oh man, I know what you mean. I went to play both Mario Bros. through yesterday (my 30th) in anticipation of SMB3. 4 worlds in I was having a bit of frustration, but that 7th world.. I never even made it to the 8th world. It had been, I'd say, 8-10 years since I'd played the entirety of worlds 2-6 though, so it wasn't a total loss. Great trip down memory lane, that's for sure.

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