Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels - Does It Hold Up?

Brutally challenging games are a rarity these days. Though titles such as Super Meat Boy and Demon's Souls provide an intense level of challenge reminiscent of the NES era, we don't see those types of games very often. The truth is there's a niche audience for those games, and they really only appeal to a select crowd of masochist video game aficionados who can stomach the high level of challenge. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels for the NES wasn't originally released in North America because, to put it bluntly, Nintendo thought we would suck horribly at it. Playing the game years later, I can certainly admit that it's tough, but is it difficult in a good way, or is it just cheap?

The first thing worth noting is that The Lost Levels is the real Super Mario Bros. 2. In Japan, The Lost Levels was released as a direct follow-up to the original Super Mario Bros. Famicom owners had the chance to play a new set of stages in a brand new collection of worlds, each with their own challenges. Meanwhile, here in North America, we got Super Mario Bros. 2, a game that was originally called Doki Doki Panic in Japan, with some Mario character sprites thrown in to trick us into thinking it was the real sequel to Super Mario Bros.

Now that we've got that little history lesson out of the way, I'd like to point out that The Lost Levels feels a bit like an expansion to the world of Super Mario Bros. The graphics and level designs really look like something you'd see in Mario's revolutionary platforming romp, but they don't exactly play the same. Yes, The Lost Levels is a lot like Super Mario Bros., but there's enough that's different that really makes it stand out as more than just a simple expansion.

First and foremost is the availability of both Mario and Luigi right from the start. Rather than allowing two players to take on the game, The Lost Levels is a single-player affair that allows you to choose between the brothers Mario. But rather than just giving you two identical characters with different appearances, Nintendo decided to create two distinct characters that actually play differently from one another. Mario has slightly better control, but his jumps aren't very high. Meanwhile, Luigi can catch some crazy air while jumping, but he seems to have banana peels glued to his heels. Both characters offer something unique, and they require different strategies for gamers to master.

The Lost Levels requires that you enter each of its levels with a lot of patience. This is no Super Mario Bros.--the levels here start out much more difficult than they did in the original, and the challenge is probably what you would expect immediately after playing the last stage in the first game. Yes, The Lost Levels is that hard. Attempting to zip through the stages is a foolish practice because you'll die more often than you'd like that way. Instead, approaching each level with caution is the suggested approach. Of course, even then you'll die a lot.

The level design in The Lost Levels is punishing, but if you're tenacious enough, you should be able to get through the game. There are bonus stages and unlockable levels, and these get pretty sadistic and really make you revert to the old school gaming skills you may have forgotten you had. The Lost Levels never gets easy, so you can expect a niche challenge fit for fans of punishing games the likes of the aforementioned Super Meat Boy and Demon's Souls.

There are a few quirks you should probably know about depending on which version of the game you choose to play. If you're enduring The Lost Levels on the Wii Virtual Console, expect more brutality. Losing all of your lives sends you back to the start of the world regardless of which level within that world you were playing. And in order to unlock Worlds A through D, you need to beat the game eight times. This is how the game was originally developed, so this is really the true experience created in the original version of The Lost Levels. However, if you choose to play the Super Mario All-Stars version of The Lost Levels, losing all your lives lets you retry from the start of the same level you left off on, and Worlds A through D are unlocked after beating the game once.

Graphically, the game looks and sounds like the original Super Mario Bros. There's a lot of minimalistic charm in each of the game's stages, even if they are insanely difficult. The sound is enjoyably retro, and if you're a fan of the original Super Mario Bros. soundtrack (which you should be), you'll have a good time listening to the same tunes all over again.

So when all is said and done, does The Lost Levels hold up? That really depends. If you're a glutton for punishment and enjoy ridiculously tough games, you'll dig The Lost Levels. You aren't guaranteed to like this game just because you really enjoy other platformers in the series. This is one of the toughest titles in the entire Mario franchise, and while some players will love revisiting the Mushroom Kingdom, others will find The Lost Levels to be a bit too sadistic for their tastes.

The verdict: Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels is mad levels of tough, and while it's certainly a great game for fans of painfully challenging video games, the more casual Mario fan may not really find much enjoyment in it. The game holds up as far as mechanics are concerned, but the challenge will really only appeal to a select few niche gamers.

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David Sanchez David Sanchez is the most honest man on the internet. You can trust him because he speaks in the third person.
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