Following the success of Super Mario Bros. on the Family Computer in Japan in 1985, Nintendo decided to capitalise and release a sequel using the same game design and graphics. This one, titled Super Mario Bros. 2, didn’t initially see the light of day in Europe or USA, owing to the fact that it was deemed too difficult for gamers outside of the Asian market.
Instead, the Western markets got their own separate game, which might have had the same name but was actually a sprite update of Japanese game Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. In 1986, nobody in the West cared because hardly anyone knew what had happened. We got a fantastic game in which you could choose to play as Mario, Luigi, Toad or Princess Toadstool. It introduced many gameplay elements and character traits that stuck with series forever more, as well as a host of enemies. It was simply the next in the series and a welcome one at that.
It wasn’t until the the Japanese game was released as part of Super Mario All-Stars on the Super Nintendo in 1993 that the wider Western public became aware of it. What they found when they began to play it was a game full of pitfalls and frustrating game design with the sole purpose of over-challenging anyone who dared continue to see if it got any easier.
The version most readily available nowadays – and the version play-tested here – is available on both the Wii and Wii U virtual consoles. It doesn’t cost the world (500 points) so may well tempt those unaware of its background.
Playing the game now it’s clear why it wasn’t unleashed on the Western gamers of 1986. It may well have killed the franchise. The difficulty picks up at around the same difficulty or World 7 or 8 of the predecessor, meaning that by World 3 the whole game is entirely infuriating.
All the things that might have helped you in the first in the series are either toned down or flipped to trick you. In addition to the 1-UP and power-up mushrooms, there are now poison mushroom that cause you damage. In addition to the Warp Pipes that you’d expect to help you every time, there are additional pipes that take you backwards to earlier worlds, meaning that unless you do your research (remember how difficult that would have been in 1986?) you could end up going backwards. The number of coins available is greatly reduced as well.
The fun-dampening doesn’t end there. Many of the jumps are near-impossible leaps of faith that often don’t leave much confidence prior to trying them out. Doing so is a trial and error situation that can quickly cause you to game over. Trying to speed through a level? Good luck – the game designers have placed a smattering of hidden mystery boxes that usually cause instant death by knocking you off balance. The platform lengths are unforgiving too, meaning both run ups and landing spaces require pin-point precision or else Mario will fall into another pit.
There are also several levels that require a particular pathway to reach the end goal; running from left to right will just cause an infinite loop and the final goal will never be reached. The only solution is to either hope you get it right by chance or give in and search for a solution on YouTube (always a disappointment).
This is the first Mario game to introduce the concept of hidden worlds post-completion. If you manage to complete the game without using a Warp Pipe then you’ll be rewarded with World 9, which is a fantasy world that utilises a psychadelic colour scheme and some bizarre game mechanics. It’s entirely straightforward and requires no concentration whatsoever despite the fact they remove all your hard-earned lives before the start. In additional to World 9 are Worlds A-D, which were also available to anyone willing to persevere. However, anyone that wishes to see how they play (apparently they’re even trickier than the main game) will need to complete the game eight times in the same save file.The one saving grace is that on the Virtual Console versions there is the opportunity to save at any point throughout the game. This will no doubt be implemented by most quite a lot towards the end of the game, as an absolute necessity. When tackling a single jump takes ten or more attempts, the thought of trying to do this without a save option will fill anyone with dread.
This game will suit die-hard fans and people with sadistic tendencies. It is a form of self-punishment and is seldom enjoyable. Completing the game won’t fill you with joy, but it might give you more confidence to tackle the hardest levels on Mario Maker when it arrives later this year.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is available now on the Wii U virtual console.