(Review archived from March 6, 2015)
Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels is a Super Mario fever dream hallucinated through a fog of several consecutive bad acid trips and moments of religious epiphany. The gaming world tends to think of Shigeru Miyamoto as that super fun uncle from your childhood who was always cracking jokes and teaching you magic tricks. This conveniently overlooks that one time the uncle in question got completely shitfaced and told you he was going to teach you how to wrestle since you looked, “scrawnier than a six year old girl”. After slamming you to the floor for the fifth time, and clumsily dislocating your shoulder, he told you to “get up and stop acting like a pussy; you’re an embarrassment to your family”. So yeah, that experience pretty much encapsulates this game. On the one hand it is a trial by fire intended to forge and galvanize you into a better (SMB) player. On the other hand, it leaves you feeling battered, frustrated and powerless to effectively fight back at times, even after the difficulty has been dialed back for the purposes of Super Mario All-Stars. The game goes out of its way to alternately challenge, harass and/or troll the player. I was reminded of this phenomenon at one point in World 8 when I stumbled on a warp zone that takes you to World 5 … and I wasn’t even looking for a warp zone! (I usually try to avoid warp zones in SMB games). At other points in the game you’ll find that the flagpole jump is one of the more difficult jumps in the level, meaning that they put the goal within sight only to yank the football away from you at the last moment (AAUGH!).
The game is a very challenging platformer to put it mildly. But even after all of that, it’s still a quality Mario game through and through. It never gets so frustrating that you feel like giving up on the game altogether (although it certainly encourages you to take an occasional break). Furthermore the All-Stars version graciously grants you some accords that help to make the game more manageable. Among other things the game allows you to save your progress at the end of every level (rather than at the end of every World as in the SMB1 All-Stars version). Starting each game with five lives, rather than three, also further aides in the management of difficulty. However, even with these concessions in place, it will likely be good old fashioned pattern memorization (and a dash of luck) that sees you through. Your gains will occasionally be made in inches, but with perseverance you’ll eventually arrive to rescue the eminently kidnappable Princess Peach.
SMB: The Lost Levels is a challenging slog through old school Mario mechanics, but it’s an adventure not to be missed for diehard Mario fans, and a great thrill ride for all fans of the platformer genre.