Review: This one is definitely for super players.
Super Mario Bros. was the game that launched a million NES systems around the world in 1985. People were enthralled with Mario, Luigi, the Princess, Bowser and "Our Princess is in another castle!" Nintendo quickly produced a sequel and released it in Japan in 1986. But this version of the game never came to America. The story goes that the chairman of Nintendo of America, Howard Lincoln, hated the game and thought it was too difficult and too similar to the first Mario game to become a hit in America. Years later, the game was packaged with the Super NES compilation Super Mario All-Stars as "Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels" but the gameplay was made easier and the game's graphics were tweaked to SNES levels. But now, after 21 years, American gamers will finally get a chance to play the original Super Mario Bros. 2 through the wonder of the Wii Virtual Console.
While gamers may have been saddened to learn a Mario game was being held from them, Howard Lincoln was right about both of his criticisms of the game. The Lost Levels is extremely similar to Super Mario Bros. and the difficulty is off the charts. The game follows the exact same level progression as the first game: 32 levels broken up into eight "worlds" of four levels apiece. The first level is some kind of overworld level, the second takes place underground, the third is some kind of treetop/open air platformer and the fourth level is the castle, which ends in a bridge battle against Bowser.
The similarities continue in that there are no new enemy types, but several have been tweaked. Bloopers (the octopus guys) can now fly and Piranha Plants are much more aggressive. Two new obstacles were added to make Mario's quest harder in the form of super trampolines (which make jumping unpredictable) and strong gusts of wind (ditto). Powerups are also the same (Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Starman), but they can also have negative consequences with the inclusion of Poison Mushrooms (that can kill regular Mario and cut Super Mario down to size) and Reverse Warp Zones.
While none of these changes can be considered major, the game's difficulty is actually quite a test. As opposed to the first game, there is no slow learning curve to familiarize players new to the Super Mario Bros. universe. The Lost Levels assumes you've played the previous game and ratchets up the difficulty to match the challenge of the levels in World seven and World eight from the first game. Multiple enemy types appearing together (Koopa Troopas and Buzzy Beetles living, it's mass histeria!), precision jumping and limited coins and powerups all appear right from the start. Sadly, the slightly stiff control present in the original Super Mario Bros. is also present here and that may be an additional challenge to gamers who've graduated to the more fluid controls of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros.
The biggest change from Super Mario Bros. to The Lost Levels may be the creation of the "Mario Game" and the "Luigi Game." While the American SMB2 featured Mario and Luigi having different skills, that addition to the series actually started with The Lost Levels. Mario is faster and can stop quicker while Luigi can jump higher and farther. It doesn't make the game too different (and really, anything Mario can do, Luigi can do, and vice versa), but it's an interesting way to play a classic Mario game.
The Lost Levels sports the same music and sound effects as the original SMB but the graphics have been slightly enhanced for the sequel. It's a minor facelift, but some of the tiles used for the "dirt" look a little grittier and some of the pits are now filled with water. Redrawn bridges and clouds round out the few graphical bonuses Nintendo added to The Lost Levels. But all of the graphics are definitely NES-style, circa 1986.