We've covered the story of Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels in past issues of ONM, but for anyone new to the game here's a brief recap: after the success of Super Mario Bros. Nintendo got to work on a sequel, using the same game engine as before, but crafting much harder levels for the Japanese fans crying to have their newly found Mario prowess put to the test.
When it came to releasing the game in the west, Nintendo Of America deemed this Japanese iteration of Super Mario Bros. 2 too difficult, leading to a different version (the vegetable-chucking oddity, Super Mario Bros 2) being released in America and Europe. The Lost Levels, then, is the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros 2, a game Nintendo of America thinks you're too wussy to play. And after just an hour of it, we'll concede Nintendo had a point.
Though it looks nearly identical to the original Super Mario Bros. and uses the same music, The Lost Levels adds plenty of mechanics, such as the ability to choose either Mario or Luigi from the start. Not only was this the first time the Other Brother featured in a single-player Mario game, it also marked the first instance of Luigi having a markedly different 'feel' to Mario, with higher jumps and a far slippier running style.
But before we kneel to kiss Miyamoto's boots for this burst of generosity, know that Luigi is one of the few additions to the game that actually benefit you in any way. Most of the others are designed purely to irritate, upset, disturb and make you sit back in your La-Z-Boy, mouth agape, wincing at the rank injustice of it all.
The punishment begins immediately: the first mushroom in the game - a Mario tradition that teaches the player how Mario grows when he eats one - is a Poison Mushroom, killing Mario instantly. This is just the first (and simplest) of a series of tricks Nintendo places throughout the game to stump those who mastered the original. It's as if they're judging you for adhering to Mario logic - unthinkable in this modern age of Super Guides and P-Acorns.
One stage has a variety of huge jumps and springboards that fling Mario off the top of the screen for a few seconds, making it difficult to judge the landing. Another introduces wind to make jumps much trickier, while a fake Bowser appears halfway through a castle stage. And don't get us started on World 3-1's warp zone. Found by leaping over the flagpole, you're lured into thinking you've caught a break, a rare silver lining on this perpetual rain cloud. Then you bloop down the pipe and find yourself back in World 1. What kind of monster does that to a gamer?
Not everyone will enjoy The Lost Levels. While it uses the graphics and physics engines of the near-perfect Super Mario Bros, the increased difficulty will only infuriate gamers unaccustomed to the days of replaying games over and again until they're mastered.
Anyone who's up for a challenge, however, and feels like taking on what we reckon remains the hardest Mario game, should dive in and face the punishment. You might gnaw your hands off at the near-impossibleness of it all, but once you manage it (er, using the replacement fingers you crafted from sellotape and Wotsits) saving the princess will never have been so satisfying.