Thursday, September 27, 2012

Video Game Corner: Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)

As I said in my review of the original Super Mario Bros., my earliest memories of the original NES were playing the one my grandmother had at her house for several years until I briefly had one myself. I forgot to mention that I have relatives who live in Nashville and as a child, my parents visited them several times and I remember playing the NES of my cousin as well. Not only did I play the original Super Mario Bros. there but I'm also pretty sure that I played this game as well. Obviously, my memories are very hazy since I probably wasn't even five at that time but I do think I played this game there. I do know that I rented it from my local video rental store a number of times when I had my own NES. I must have played it a lot since I can remember making it to World 4 but, again, it's a little foggy. Regardless, even at that young age, I realized that this game was very different from the other Mario games that were big at that time. Needless to say, I was too young to concretely figure out why it was so but I did sense that it was a breed apart from the other games. Of course, as I got older, I remembered the game, looked at footage of it, and then really became aware just how much of a unique game it is when compared to the others. In any case, like the other classic Mario Bros. titles, I was never able to play it again until I got the Super Mario Bros. All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition for the Wii. The advanced graphics aside, when I played that game again, it brought back a lot of childhood memories. As we'll get into, it helped that the game was virtually unchanged aside from the graphics and the improved audio quality. In any case, I really like Super Mario Bros. 2. I don't know if I would say it I like it more than the original but I can safely say that I think that it's just as enjoyable, despite how different it is.

All you have to do is glance at Super Mario Bros. 2 and you will see how it is a completely different game from its predecessor. Aside from the playable characters of Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool, the very basic control mechanics, and some of the items, there's little in this game that resembles the original. The design of the levels and the gameplay are similar but still quite different from those of the original. In fact, the very layout of the game and levels is changed considerably. It's all new enemies (although, some of the enemies introduced here would become classic Mario characters in their own right) and even the main villain is a new creation. In fact, this is one of only a few times in a Mario game where the bad guy behind everything isn't Bowser. The music is quite different as well. I think the only time you hear the classic Mario theme in this game is when you enter sub-space (at least, that's how it is in the All-Stars version). When you research the backstory of the game, though, you find out that the reason why the game is so different from its predecessor is because it wasn't intended as a Mario game at first. Nintendo of Japan developed a follow-up to Super Mario Bros. immediately after that game's release but Nintendo of America didn't like this game due to its difficulty and the fact that it's fundamentally just a modified version of the original game. Instead of releasing that version in America (which they eventually would in the Super Mario All-Stars collection, calling it The Lost Levels), they decided to revamp another side-scrolling game adventure game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic into a new version of Mario Bros. 2. That game featured a lot of elements from the Mario games anyway so not much of an overhaul was needed except for the basics and creating more horizotal levels. In any case, like I've been saying, the end result of this tinkering and revamping is a game that has the basics of a Mario game but overall, has a completely different feel than what you would normally expect. Even though this game did sell very well when it was originally released and does seem to be regarded as a classic Mario title, I always get the feeling that it's kind of overlooked whenever people talk about the classic Nintendo games. Everyone talks about the original Super Mario Bros. because of how ground-breaking it was and Super Mario Bros. 3 because it's quite possibly the best game on the original NES but Mario Bros. 2 doesn't seem to be as lauded as much as those two games are, probably because it's so unlike them in many ways. It could be just me but I just get that feeling. My opinion though is that Mario Bros. 2 more than holds it own with those two games and is worthy of being part of this franchise.

This game takes place in the world of Subcon (which, at the end of the game, is revealed to exist only in the subconscious of a dreaming Mario) and it's your task to journey through the seven main areas in order to battle and defeat the evil King Wart. At the beginning of each level, you choose to play as either Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Princess Toadstool, each of whom have his or her own advantages and disadvantages. When you die, you have a choice of either continuing with the same character you had or selecting another one who might fare better in the particular level. Each world has three levels instead of four like the original Mario Bros., except for the final world which only has two, and most of the time, though not always, you have to fight a mini-boss called Birdo at the end of each level in order to progress. Every third level in a world has a main boss that you have to fight and sometimes, you have to battle Birdo as well as that boss one after the other. The basic mechanics of the gameplay are different from those of the original. For one thing, your character has a life-bar this time. You start out with just two points on the bar but you can increase it up to four by collecting mushrooms found in the sections known as sub-space. The enemies cannot be killed by simply jumping on them as before but instead, you have to throw objects like vegetables, blocks, or even other enemies at them. And there's no time limit in this game either, which is great because a lot of these levels can go on fairly long.

The playable characters differ greatly from each other in their pros and cons, they all have the same basic moves. Some from the original game, like running jumps, faster than normal running, climbing, and ducking make a return but there are also plenty of new ones. There's the Power Jump, which you can pull off by crouching until your character starts glowing and then pressing the "jump" button. You'll jump much higher than usual and you will use this trick a lot. You can do a Guided Jump, where you use the control pad to steer yourself while you're up in the air (doesn't seem like that big of a deal since I figure that's how the jumping mechanics in all games work but maybe this one is special). You can open doors by standing in front of one and pressing up on the control pad, you can dig in soft sand by continuously pressing the "B" button (or what functions as such on what ever system you're playing on), and you can use the same button to pick up vegetabbles, items, and enemies that jump on. You can press the button again in order to simply drop whatever you've picked up or you can push it while also pressing a direction on the control pad in order to throw it. As far as the individual specialties of each character go, I usually play as Mario because he's the most well-rounded. He can jump, run, and pick up items very well, his jumping ability is kind of hindered when he's carrying an item. Luigi, as everyone knows, can jump much higher than Mario (or any of the other characters for that matter) and, therefore, he's great at reaching high items, some of which you can only get with him, and is useful on levels where a lot of jumping is needed. My complaint with his jumping, though, is that he jumps so high and so far that it can sometimes be hard to control where he lands, particularly because he hovers slightly in mid-air when he jumps. His running and pulling skills are okay but not as good as Mario. (Interesting fact about Luigi here. Because their designs were based on the characters from the original Yume Kojo game, Luigi ended up being taller than Mario, something that has stuck with the character to this day.) As for Toad, you would never guess that this little pipsqueak who always told you that the princess was in another castle in the first game is the strongest of the bunch. He can pick up items with the greatest ease, no matter how big they are. He's also the fastest of the characters too and his speed is not hindered at all when he's carrying an item. So, apparently Toad has a lot of strength in those stubby little arms and legs. But, he's the worst jumper so it's best not to use him on levels where you have to do a lot of platform hopping. Those levels are best left to either Luigi or, surprisingly, the princess. The princess has the ability to float in the air for a short period of time when she jumps, which comes in handy in clearing long gaps. You can also access short cuts and warps in some levels that you can't with any of the other characters. Unfortunately, she's the slowest of the characters as well as the weakest so you have to use her wisely. And it's also important to get straight that while she can jump the farthest due to her hovering, Luigi can jump the highest. Knowing that can make a big difference, trust me. (Isn't it sad, though, that in the only game where the princess actually does something other than get kidnapped, it's revealed in the end that it was all a dream?) Interesting thing is that the game keeps track of which character you use the most and that character is given special recognition after you beat the game. It'd be interesting to see if you could manage to use each character the same number of times throughout the game.

The levels in the game may be of the typical platforming-style that you see in Mario games but there are various types of them present here as well. Some levels have sections that are of a vertical nature, where you have to get to the top of an enormous mountain or building, either by jumping up ledges or finding a way to ride up. There are also sections where you have to find your way safely down a vertical structure as well. While most of the levels have the horizontal design you expect from the classic gaming era, a good majority of them are not exactly straightforward. There's a lot of backtracking involved here, where you go from one section of a level to another in order to reach an area or item that you couldn't get to at first. There are many instances, often in vertical-style sections within a building, where you must head either up or down to get to a room containing a key that unlocks the door leading to the next part of the level. There are also many underground sections here as there were in the original Mario Bros. Some of these require you to use bombs to blast through sections of wall in order to advance while others require you to jump gaps and other obstacles. Basically, you can categorize the main levels in the game as either being outside or in underground tunnels and inside buildings but they all have their own unique challenges. There are no swimming levels to be found in this game and I can't say that I'm unhappy about that given my contempt for those types of levels in any game. As I said, there's typically a boss battle with the enemy Birdo at the end of each level as well as a fight with a main boss at the end of each third level in a given area. There's also subspace, which you access with the red magic potions that you find in levels and if you collect coins in subspace (more on that shortly), you can play a slot-machine bonus challenge at the end of the level to earn extra lives. Sometimes, I try to match up certain combinations but if I've ended up with a lot coins and I have plenty of lives anyway, I just tap the button like mad. I have managed to match up three of the same symbol before but it's not easy and I can't keep up with what combinations grant extra lives. There are warp zones in this game as well but only four in total and to activate them you must enter subspace in specific spots of the levels and go down a jar. I found one of these warps by accident. I don't typically use them myself but they are there for those who want to bypass some parts of the game.

While some of the items in the game are carry-overs from the original Super Mario Bros., there are some new ones here as well. Whenever I think of this game, the first thing that comes to mind are turnips. I can't help it because turnips and other vegetables are your main weapons to use against enemies here. (You think maybe this was Nintendo's way of subtly encouraging kids to eat their veggies? I would like to think so. However, more than likely, it would cause kids to throw vegetables at people and animals that they don't like.) There are two types of vegetables: sprouts and full-blown veggies. Sprouts are easier to pull out of the ground but because they're so small, I tend to miss when I throw them at enemies. While the full-grown vegetables take a second longer to pluck, they're far more effective in hitting enemies. You also get a reward for taking out several enemies in a row with one vegetable (or other weapons for that matter): a heart that you can use to replinish your health bar by one will float up from the bottom of the screen. You have to grab it quickly before it floats out of your reach, though. Also, if you pull five fully ripened vegetables out of the ground in a row, you will activate a stopwatch, which freezes time for a short period, making all enemies completely vulnerable to attack. Another useful item is the Mushroom Block. Not only can they be used as weapons like vegetables but they also serve as stepping stones (there are spots where you have to stack several on top of each other to reach high ledges and such) and as lids to block contraptions that continuously spit up enemies. Every level has several Magic Potion bottles that you pull out of the ground like a vegetable and when thrown on the ground, they reveal a doorway to subspace, an alternate dimension that contains hidden items. You can't scroll over to another part of the screen in subspace so you have to be careful where you make the door appear. You find two types of items in subspace. If you throw the potion in an area with lots of grass, you can pull the roots out in subspace to reveal coins that, as I said, you can use in the bonus challenge after every stage. The other items found in subspace are mushrooms. When you jump on them and lift them up, you will add another section to your life-bar (they also replinish any damage you've already taken up to that point). However, they only appear when you enter subspace in certain spots in the actual level and sometimes, you have to clear the way in the level before you can actually get to the mushroom in subspace. It's worth the effort, though, seeing as how you have to build up your life bar in every single level. As in the original game, there are also 1-Up Mushrooms but if you thought they were rare before, here they're even fewer and far between. You can usually find them hidden off the beaten path but, like I said, they're very elusive.

Scattered throughout the levels are cherries that hang suspended in the air, from trees, and so on. For the longest time, I didn't know exactly what they did. I thought maybe they had something to do with the bonus slot-machine game seeing as how cherries are one of the symbols on the machine but nope. Turns out if you collect five pairs in a row, you'll make an Invincibility Star appear. Like the hearts, they appear from the bottom of the screen and float upward. As in the original game, they give you about ten seconds worth of invincibility but they're kind of hard to grab because they sway back and forth in a slightly erratic pattern as they float upwards and they sometimes appear in spots where they're hard or impossible to reach. Bottom line, be careful where you are when you grab that fifth pair of cherries. There are also bombs that you use to blast through certain types of walls but you have to be cautious with these things because if you're too close to the explosion, you'll take damage. Once you pull one out of the ground, you've only got a few seconds before it explodes (it starts to flash before it does so) so you'd better be near the wall before you pull it out. Also, there are boss battles where you'll have to fling bombs that boss tosses back at him. I highly suggest either trying to catch the bombs in mid-air or grabbing one as soon as it hits the ground. If you let one sit on the ground for a few seconds, it's nearly impossible to pick it up and throw it at the boss before it explodes in your face. POW Blocks are a very useful item that, when picked up and thrown on the ground, causes a small earthquake that takes out any nearby enemies that are on the ground. However, the game sometimes puts them in spots where it's hard to grab and use them effectively. Even though the Koopa Troopas themselves are not in this game, their shells are. You can pull them out of the ground with some grass sprouts and then throw them on the ground to use as a moving weapon that will knock out any enemies in their paths. The shells will continue moving forward until they hit a wall (they don't bounce back like in the first game) or they scroll off the screen. If you run behind one and jump on it, you'll pick it up again to use in another section. Some doors in the game are locked and need to be opened by a key that you can find in another room somewhere else in the level. However, every key is guarded by a pesky enemy called a Phanto that will chase you the minute you pick it up but, as I'll explain later, they're fairly simple to outwit. Finally, there are rockets that pop up when you pull on some grass roots. They don't come up often but in some levels, they're necessary to reach the next section.

None of the enemies from the first game make a return appearance but, as I said, a couple of the ones introduced here have since become classic Mario characters in their own right. The most recognizable ones are the Shy Guys, the little dwarf guys who wear blank, white masks. In this game, they function as a bit of a mixture of the Goombas and Koopa Troopas from the original. Like Goombas, they're the most common and basic enemy, relatively easy to deal with although a large group of them can be a problem. But like the Koopa Troopas, their different colors correspond to their movement patterns. Red Shy Guys walk in straight lines and just keep going, walking off ledges and so on; blue Shy Guys (or pink in the original NES version), on the other hand, walk back and forth in one small area and won't walk off ledges. As in the original game, knowing that can make a difference. In some levels, the Shy Guys can be found hitching a ride. Sometimes, you'll encounter them riding Ostros, which are basically ostriches, and they will chase in that circumstance. Even if you get the Shy Guy off his mount, you still have to contend with the Ostro so throw the Shy Guy at it. Late in the game, Shy Guys will start riding autobombs, which are wheeled carts that shoot fireballs at you and can also run over you. Once you get the Shy Guy off the cart, you can use it to ride over dangerous terrain but still, they are fast and seem to lock onto you once you're nearby so be prepared.Though not quite as well known as the Shy Guys, the Snifits, which are the little men wearing gas masks, make their first appearance in this game as well. They're fundamentally a more difficult version of the Shy Guys in that they have the same walk patterns and corresponding colors as the Shy Guys but they also shoot bullets if you get too close. In addition to red and blue Snifits (again, pink in the original NES version), you also have gray Snifits that stand in one spots and jump up and down while shooting their bullets at you. These kinds are quite tricky to get around (I've been hit by them plenty of times) so you have to be careful when approaching them. Bizarre, bird enemies called Tweeters (which are actually wearing maks if you look carefully at them) are common throughout the game too. They tend to attack in groups of three or more, bouncing along the ground and when they reach you, they often make a larger hop than the one they usually do. While they're not too difficult above ground, they can be tricky in cramped, underground tunnels. There are flying enemies called Beezos that basically look like Shy Guys with fairy wings. They're quite a nuisance because they often travel in big swarms, making them hard to avoid. From what I can tell, the red ones fly in straight lines while the gray ones (yellow in later versions) often dive at you. You can't really ride on them unless you continue walking in the direction they're traveling while standing on them so there's no point in trying to do so. The little star-shaped guys called Ninjis are among the most annoying enemies in the game. They continuously jump while heading towards you and they also follow you instead of moving in one predictable pattern like the Shy Guys. It's best to use a weapon to get rid of them because jumping over them is hard to do without taking a hit. Sometimes, you come across odd, insect enemies called Hoopsters that continuously climb up and down vines (I didn't know what they were for the longest time, though). When you get close to them or start climbing a vine that they're on, they get agitated and move faster but if jump on top of them, they'll give you a lift without realizing they're doing so.

Every key in the game is guarded by a Phanto, a smiling mask that comes to life when you grab the key and chases you until you reach the locked door and use the key. The good thing is that they stop chasing you if you drop the key, giving you a chance to catch your breath, but if you're not careful, you may throw the key in a spot where it's hard to retrieve. For a while, I didn't know you could do that to make them temporarily stop chasing you and I would running like mad trying to get to the door, all the while being chased by this thing which is very hard to avoid and has no real pattern in how it moves. Trouters are big fish that jump in and out of water in some levels. They don't really attack so they're not as annoying as Cheep-Cheeps and you can use them as temporary stepping stones but you have to be quick or you'll end falling into oblivion. Porcupos are little porcupines that pop up here and there and, as you no doubt suspect, touching their quills will damage you. Your best bet is to hit them with an object or jump over them altogether (be warned, though, because they sometimes travel in groups). Another type of enemy that you can't touch are Sparks, little electric orbs that are often found circling around floating platforms. While they can be taken out by throwing objects (POW Blocks work best), you often find yourself facing them with nothing to throw so you'll just have to jump over them. They all have different speeds so it's best to keep a cool head while jumping over them. One of the most annoying enemies in the game are Flurries, which are snowballs with feet and eyes. Found only in arctic world, they're always sliding toward you when you're walking on slippery snow and ice where it's hard to get traction. I've fallen to my death a lot of times due to these little pissants knocking me off of a ledge. While you can kill them with objects, I often just jump over them and try to outrun them (they will chase you, though, so don't think that just because you've scrolled off the screen away from them they won't come up behind you). Another irritating enemy is Panser, which are plants that spit up fireballs. Those fireballs are very hard to dodge because of the Panser's erratic spitting pattern and they're especially difficult when you come across a type of Panser that moves across the ground while spitting. You can take Pansers out with items but, again, you tend to come across them when there are no throwing objects around so you're forced to dodge the fireballs. I think this game may make the first appearance of the walking bombs known as Bob-Ombs, which are probably the most well-known Mario enemy introduced here. While you often find them walking back and forth in the levels before they explode, they sometimes hide in grass roots. If you pull one up, you'd better throw it quick before it explodes. It's best to avoid them as best as possible and while they can be used to blow open holes in walls, they tend to walk away from the wall right before they explode so you have to lure more to the wall. Very irritating.

Red birds called Albatoss appear in some levels and they can either be a threat or they can be useful. Sometimes, they act like Lakitu and drop Bob-Ombs on you or they come flying straight at you. Both of these attacks they often do in big flocks, so it can get challenging. However, you can also ride on them and, unlike Beezos, you don't have to keep moving to stay on one. There are some levels where you must ride an Albatoss in order to advance so you better have that skill down pat by that point. Another bird enemy is a Pidget, a weird little bird that swoops down on you on a flying carpet. However, I've never had any trouble with Pidget. He's not hard to avoid and when he swoops down at you, you can jump on the carpet, throw him off, and use the carpet for yourself. In the desert levels, you run into Cobrats, orange-colored snakes that spring out of the sand or vases and spit fireballs at you. Even though you can see them while they're hiding if you look for their eyes, a bunch of them can be very difficult to get by unscathed. However, when you grab one, all you have to do is throw him to get rid of him so basically, they're hard to get by but not hard to dispose of, if that makes any sense. Pokeys (which would become more well-known after Super Mario World) are moving cactii that often come at you when you're in the thick of other enemies. However, you won't take damage if you jump on one's head and all you have to do is hit the bottom segment with an object to take one out completely. But, that can be hard to accomplish and I often end up hitting one of the other segments. Still, a Pokey by itself isn't that hard to manage. Typically at the end of each level, you face a mini-boss called Birdo, which is a weird thing that's a cross between a bird and a lizard with a bow on her head. There are several varieties of Birdos. The pink kind shoots one egg at a time at a time you, which you can jump while it's in mid-air, pick it up, and throw it back at Birdo. Red Birdos can shoot three eggs at a time but they also sometimes shoot fireballs so wait until the object is out of the Birdo's mouth before going for it. Green Birdos shoot nothing but fireballs so you'll have to hit them with whatever object you have handy (usually a Mushroom Block). Once you hit Birdo three times with whatever object, she'll cough up a crystal ball that will allow you to pass through the bird-faced gate to the next level. (I'll talk about the other bosses in the game when I talk about the levels. I mentioned Birdo here because you fight her so much that she might as well be considered a typical enemy.)

As it turns out, the music for Yume Kojo was composed Koji Kondo, who composed the iconic music for the original Mario Bros., and when that game was converted into this one, most of that music remained with few alterations and new compositions added to it. Except for the original Mario theme, which you hear when you enter subspace, none of the music here sounds anything like the score for the original game. The themes that play over the title screen and throughout all of the above ground sections of the levels characterizes the quirky nature of this game. The main level music is very catchy and bouncy, with a sprinkling of oddness to it. I often find myself humming along to that music and sometimes, I don't even realize I'm doing it for a bit. It's that memorable. Unfortunately, that's basically the only music from this game that I really like and that's good because it plays a lot. I don't care for the music that plays in the sections of levels that take place in underground tunnels or inside buildings. It's a short, repetitive, and kind of unpleasant theme that gets a tad monotonous after a while. The music that plays during boss fights is a little better but, like the previously mentioned theme, it doesn't have that many notes to it and it loops over and over again, which gets tiresome. In fact, I would say it becomes monotonous quicker than that other bit of music. The music that plays during the final battle with King Wart is interesting and, by that point, it's refreshing to hear a new theme but I honestly can't remember anything specific about it save for a few notes at the beginning. I don't remember the music that plays over the credits at all. Like the original game, there are small bits of music that play when something specific happens, like when you beat a boss (there are different musical bits for beating Birdo and a main boss), lose a life, or game over and while there's nothing all that special about how they sound, they do suit whatever they're played to (I like how the "Game Over"  theme isn't depressing like that you typically hear in video games but instead just feels like, "Oh, well"). To sum up, the music for Super Mario Bros. 2 has some memorable sounds and themes but I don't think it's as classic as the score for the first game.

Time to talk about the levels themselves.

World 1: Right off the bat, the game lets you know that it's very different from its predecessor. The first thing that happens in Level 1-1 is you fall from a door suspended in mid-air to the top of a small mountain and you have to work your way down while avoiding the Shy Guy. Pretty straightforward level from here on out and while none of the characters have any real advantage, I always just go with Mario. There are your basic enemies like Shy Guys and Tweeters here as well as a section where you jump on barrels going down a waterfall but nothing to difficult. You can even bypass the next to last section where you have to climb up vines and avoid a Hoopster by going to the left and blasting your way through a wall inside the hill (doing so is tricky because you have to drop the bombs at just the right time in order to blow up a section of the wall. And the first Birdo you fight here is easy as can be. For Level 1-2, it's a good idea to use Luigi because there are some jumps here that are best suited for him. You have to jump on a Pidget and use his flying carpet to get over a large gap at the very beginning and, if you want, you can even bypass the locked door in this section by using a high jumping Ninji as a platform and then Super Jump up to the top of the hill. If you decide to enter the locked door, you'll have to avoid Ninjis and Snifits and use bombs to blow open holes in the walls. There's a subspace mushroom here that, in order to acquire, you have to blow away the rocks blocking your path down to it before entering subspace. The third section has an opportunity for you to grab a lot of coins in subspace before heading on to fight Birdo. Birdo is just as easy here as she was before as well. Mario is your best bet for Level 1-3. There's a lot of jumping in the first section. First, it's simple jumps over waterfalls onto hills with logs on top of them but at one point, you'll have to jump over three logs going down a waterfall and if you haven't practiced your jumping skills yet, they can be tricky. After that, the section isn't that difficult but once you go through that door, you enter the first major vertical section of the game. When you enter this section, you have to climb up a chain and jump up a series of platforms to reach a room containing a key. Once you take the key, all you have to do is drop down the rest of the section while avoiding the pursuing Phanto to get to the locked door. There's a bed of spikes on the left side of the room's bottom so you'd best keep to the right while falling. The next section is another horizontal platforming one, where you have to jump platforms with Sparks circling around them as well as a middle set of platforms with Snifits and Tweeters walking on them. Fortunately, there's a POW Block there you can use to clear your way. Enter the door at the end of the section and you begin your first major boss battle. The boss in question is Mouser, a big gray mouse that continuously tosses bombs at you. You first have to use some bombs to blow open a wall in order to reach Mouser and in order to defeat him, you have to catch the bombs he throws and fling them onto the platform where he stands. It only takes three hits to defeat him but he has a habit of walking out of the blast range right before the bomb explodes, which can get annoying. Just stay patient and you'll eventually blow him away. This is not the only time you'll fight him though.

World 2: This world is all about the desert. Level 2-1 feels like you're in Egypt with those pyramids in the background and whatnot. It's best to go with Toad here because of his speed and ability to dig through sand rather quickly. This level has tricky harzards like quicksand pits that will suck you down if you stand still; annoying Cobrats that lurk within the sand and jars, waiting to pop up and spit fireballs at you; and those Panser plants that stay in one spot while spitting up fireballs. There's one spot near the end of this section where all of these hazards come together to make your job especially difficult. The good thing is that several of the jars contain Koopa shells which you can use as weapons and there's one spot where it's quite obvious that you can enter subspace to get a mushroom (you'll need your life bar to be as big as it can be in these levels). You're also provided with Shy Guys to throw at the Panser plants. When you enter the pyramid at the end of the first section, you'll be faced with a vertical shaft full of sand that you'll have to dig through. This is where Toad's digging skills come in handy. However, there are Shy Guys in this section that will eventually fall down whatever hole you leave behind so it's best not to keep digging in one direction but move one step to the left, dig, move to the right, dig, and so on. Otherwise, a Shy Guy will fall down on top of you. However, if you collected a lot of cherries outside, you can pick some more up in here, make an Invicibility Star appear, grab it, and continue digging with no such worries. In any case, the door at the bottom of the shaft leads to the fight with Birdo. While she's still as easy as she was before, the room is full of gaps that you'll fall into if you're not careful and even after you defeat her, there are two more gaps you have to jump to get to the gate. Toad is your best bet again for Level 2-2. This is fundamentally Level 2-1 again but with the difficulty cranked up. The quicksand is faster, the Cobrats come out in full force (every jar has one hiding inside of it and don't let a Cobrat knock you into quicksand in certain spots or he'll proceed to smother you until you lose your life), there are two Pansers to deal with at the end of the level instead of just one, and there's one section where the game throws a Pokey at you along with Cobrat after Cobrat. While there are plenty of Koopa shells at the bottom of the jars, there aren't many cherries here and only one part in this section where you can get a mushroom from subspace. In the middle of this endurance round is a cave entrance leading to a small section where you can find a 1-Up Mushroom and another subspace mushroom, though to get the latter, you have to blow open a wall and that can be tricky seeing as how you have to Power Jump while holding the bombs to get to that wall. In any case, the section leading up to the fight with Birdo is another vertical shaft filled with sand. This time, there are many more Shy Guys that will follow you and if you dig on the left side of the room, you'll reach a dead end. Fortunately, there are plenty of cherries here as well, so you have an opportunity to activate an Invincibility Star. In this fight with Birdo, getting to her may require you stack some Mushroom Blocks in order to clear a gap. This is your first red Birdo as well, which shoots fireballs along with eggs and you have to fight her in a bit of a small space as well so be cautious. I'd say choose Mario for Level 2-3 because you'll need him for this world's main boss. This level consists of more quicksand basically but this time, your main concerns are Beezos constantly flying through here. There are a couple of subspace mushrooms (though one is in a room that's tricky to get to with Mario) and the quicksand pits are easy enough to jump over with the groups of cactii and bones laying nearby but those Beezos can become a problem if you're not careful. The next section is another vertical shaft but only the last half is filled with sand. The door to the next section is locked and you'll have to dig through the sand to get to the room holding the key. Once you get it, you'll have to jump back up to the door while dodging enemies walking around in the sand as well as Phanto. This is where you have to be careful about where you drop the key or it might end up in a spot where it can't be retrieved. After going through the locked door, you'll have to face a Panser and some other enemies before moving onto the boss fight. There are some cherries available to make your sprint easier though. The boss for this world is a three-headed Cobrat called Triclyde that spits fireballs at you. You have an assortment of Mushroom Blocks to hit it with and it only takes three hits to take it out but you have to dodge its fireballs at the same time. I usually don't make it out of this fight without taking a couple of hits. You can also build a wall with those Mushroom Blocks to protect yourself from the fireballs and there's even a Tweeter on the floor that can be used as a weapon if you're desperate. A tricky boss, yes, but still, not extremely hard.

World 3: The first level here starts out very simple: there are no enemies in the first section and the only hazard is a waterfall that only a complete pinhead would fall down. Go through the door in the hill to enter the first real part of the level. You must go cloud hopping up a waterfall but first, if you jump off the waterfall and stay in the middle, you'll land on a little island with a room where you can enter subspace and collect a lot of coins (there's a door in there that takes you back to the start of this section and if you go down the vase next to it in subspace, you'll warp straight to World 5). Hopping up the cloud platforms is simple enough and at the top, you'll encounter a Pidget whose magic carpet you'll have to use to scale the upper part of the waterfall. You'll have to dodge some Beezos on your way up and while that's not too difficult, lining yourself up with and jumping on the vine you need to climb up before the carpet disappears can be. When you get to the top of the vine and enter the next section, you can float over to a secret warp on the left side of the screen with Princess Toadstool (she's often considered to be the most desirable character for this level but personally, I've never had a problem with using Luigi here). You can also reach that warp with Luigi's jumping skills or even with Mario and Toad but doing so with the latter two requires you to throw a Mushroom Block onto one of the little clouds leading the way. Even if you manage to do that, jumping on such a small platform without falling to your doom is rather hard to do. If you make it to this warp, you'll enter a section that allows you to come up behind Birdo. If you decide to go the long way, you'll have to deal with Pansers, one of which moves, Snifits, and Shy Guys. There are two subspace mushrooms to be found here but they both take some planning and precise throwing to get, especially the second one. The door at the end of this section leads to Birdo and while she now shoots fireballs as well as eggs, she's not all that hard to beat if you know what you're doing (even though Princess Toadstool is considered the ideal character for this level, because your back is to a pit during this fight and she's so weak when it comes to picking up objects, I prefer to use one of the other characters). Even though there are a couple of Mushroom Blocks behind Birdo, I don't recommend trying to use them since you'll be in such a cramped space. After you defeat Birdo, you'll more than likely have to use those blocks to get up to the gate anyway. Level 3-2 is best done with Luigi but whichever character you choose, I've always found this one to be quite difficult. First you encounter some Shy Guys riding Ostros, a swarm of Beezos, Pansers, and Snifits. Dodging this onslaught of enemies without taking a hit is almost impossible and even though there are vegetables to use as weapons, I'm so frantic that I almost always miss when I throw them. There are two POW Blocks right in the middle of your path and with all the enemies running around, you will be tempted to use them. If you pick one up, though, you'll miss out on a subspace mushroom at the end of the above ground section. After taking the mushroom, you'll have to blast your way underground using bombs and then climb down deeper into another underground section. There, you'll have to use more bombs to blast your way through walls and it's tough to get through them without getting blasted yourself. I always blast through the bottom row of walls because I can never get a bomb to fall down the ladder in the last part of the top section. I can't tell if it's a glitch in my version of the game or if I just suck but it never works for me.

As you make your through this underground section of the level, you'll constantly be climbing back to the surface in order to move forward and when you're up there, you'll have to dodge hazards like the Panser's fireballs and the flying Beezos. It's almost unavoidable that you will take damage while doing so. You can skip one aboveground section by floating over an underground gap with the princess or jumping over it with Luigi but it won't save you that much time or effort honestly. Bombing through a wall in the last part of the underground section is tricky because you have to drop a bomb down a small gap that's next to the wall and you to drop the bomb right after it flashes a couple of times. If you do it wrong, the bomb either won't damage the wall at all or it'll destroy a section that you can't jump through. I've taken some hits and even lost some lives while trying to do this. It's quite challenging. The good thing is after that bit, if you blow up a bit of the ground on the right side of the next screen and then enter subspace, you'll be able to get a mushroom. After that, you climb up the ladder leading to the door that Birdo is behind. By this point, you should know how to beat and, when compared to the rest of this level, she's quite easy to beat here. It's best go with Luigi again for Level 3-3. The first section is straightforward enough with an easy to get subspace mushroom as well as a way to get two POW Blocks if you enter subspace and pick the one up while you're in there. Things get challenging once you enter the building though. This first horizontal room is full of Ninjis and Sparks but at the beginning, you can acquire a Koopa shell and a POW Block to clear the way (there's also a Bob-Omb here and if you accidentally get him, you'd better throw him away fast). There are three doors here: two on the floor and one on the right most platform. The left one on the floor is right and the door on the platform leads to the key. If you take the right door on the bottom, you'll end up on the bottom of the long vertical shaft that leads up to the boss. Here, you'll reach a dead end that can only be jumped over by Luigi by using a Ninji as a springing platform. If you decide to do it the fair way, you'll first have to get the key. The path to the key is another long, vertical shaft with sets of floors that you have to jump up and these floors have jars that continuously spit out Shy Guys. Best to avoid them and keep on climbing. Once you get inside that door and grab that key, you'll have to make your way back down, avoiding both the Shy Guys (which tend to clump together in large numbers) and the Phanto. Even when you get inside the locked door, you're far from done. You have a long climb ahead of you filled with platforms that have Sparks patrolling around, Pansers whose fireballs you have to dodge by jumping across chains, and all the while, it's very easy to slip off any of these platforms and chains and have to climb back up them. After you finally make it to the top, you have to cross a couple of bridges crawling with Ninji to reach the gate where you fight this world's main boss. The boss here is Mouser again. He's still throwing bombs and the way you beat him is still the same. However, this time it takes six hits to blow him away and there are Sparks in the room as well, including one in his section whom you have to dodge as best as you can and just hope that at some point, he'll get caught in a bomb's explosion. This fight takes a lot more patience than it did before but, again, stick with it and you'll come out on top.

World 4: This is the ice world and you start off with quite an annoying level. Basically everything you walk on here is ice that has no traction whatsoever and can either send you flying right into an enemy or down a gap. It's best to jump as much as you can. This level introduces you to the irritating Flurry and they're out in full force here. They make it very hard to jump the gaps because they tend to come out of nowhere to knock you down them. There's a subspace mushroom here but it's hard to get into the subspace where the mushroom is located without getting hit by all of the Flurries. Fortunately, there's another opportunity to enter subspace near the end of the level where there are no enemies. You'll have to drop down to a lower part of the last platform without falling into the water in order to activate a rocket that will take you to the next section. The other section of the level is a gauntlet of ice, Flurries, and Shy Guys riding the fireball-spewing Autobomb carts. Once you get the Shy Guys off the Autobombs, they're not that bad but doing so is tricky to do without taking damage. You should just keep moving forward as best as you can and the good thing is you don't have to fight Birdo at the end of this level. You just have to grab the crystal ball and move on through the gate. While Toad was the best character for that level, the next one is best suited for the princess. The first section is a gauntlet of Flurries and Beezos on long floating stretches of ice. This is where the princess' floating ability really comes in handy because you'll want to stay off the ice as much as possible to avoid both the Flurries and slippery conditions. The Beezos come at you in a specific pattern and after a few tries, you'll have it memorized enough to where you can anticipate where they'll be coming from next. You really can't avoid taking damage here, though. After this endurance test, the next section has you jumping across the backs of whales and platforms while continuing to dodge Flurries and Beezos. The whales aren't really enemies but their waterspouts can hurt you if you hit them from the side (it's okay to jump on top of them, though). There's a subspace mushroom on the left-most whale here and there's a warp to World 6 near the end of the level underneath some ice platforms. Dodging all of these obstacles can be difficult without the princess' hovering ability. After taking the rocket out of here, there's a short section where you'll have to throw a Shy Guy off of an Autobomb and use the cart to ride across a row of spikes (while you can make an Invincibility Star appear with the cherries, it tends to show up in the middle of the spikes, making it hard to get). If you take a potion with you to the other side of the spikes, you can get a mushroom. After this is another Birdo fight, this time on slippery ice that makes it easy to slide right into her. It's not absolutely impossible but it can be tricky. (If I happen to activate Invincibility in the previous section, I often hurry to the room with Birdo so I can quickly defeat her without any resistance.)

After two rather short and straightforward levels, World 4 ends with another complex one that involves a lot of backtracking and going in and out of a couple of buildings. However, if you play as Luigi or Princess Toadstool, you can jump from one tower to the other and go straight for the boss. If you decide to play fair, then you're in for some annoying vertical sections. In any case, you start this level in a small ice-cave and when you go out the door, you encounter Birdo. This time, you're not to defeat her but when she spits one of her eggs, jump on it and ride it to the main part of the level (there's a subspace mushroom in the section behind her as well). Inside the first tower, you must climb up a series of slippery ice platforms while avoiding Flurries that come sliding down towards you and making sure not to fall on two beds of spikes: one on the bottom of the room and one about half-way up. When you leave this tower, you have a chance at another mushroom before you move onto the next one (you have to carry the potion up on top of the two towers and enter subspace at the end of the right tower). In the second tower, you start at the top and have to work your way down, first by riding on a red Shy Guy so you can avoid two beds of spikes at the beginning and then by taking a key out of a room and running down the rest of the way, knocking Flurries out of your way while avoiding the pursuing Phanto. Once you get through that locked door, you go into the door where the crystal ball and once you grab it and head through the gate, it's time for a boss fight. Ironically, for a world made up of ice and snow, the boss is a living fireball named Fryguy. There are two stages to this fight. First, Fryguy floats around the room while spitting fireballs down at you. Your best bet is to carry the Mushroom Blocks up to the higher platforms and throw them at Fryguy from up there. If you try to hit Fryguy from below (like I did), you'll more than likely take a hit from his fireballs because they're tough to dodge. When you hit Fryguy three times, he splits up into four smaller fireballs. However, this doesn't make the fight any easier. While it takes only one hit to snuff out one of these little balls and you sometimes hit two with one shot, the remaining ones start jumping around faster, making it hard for you to pick up a Mushroom Block that's on the floor. That's why it's best to have all of the blocks on the upper levels before hitting Fryguy that third time (it's very frustrating to be down to one smaller Fryguy only for the little bastard to hit and kill you right before you can hit). Sometimes, I've ended up hitting the last one out of dumb luck but trust me, that's not a recommended strategy at all. You have to think in this fight.

World 5: After the sliperry ice conditions of World 4, it's nice to get back to solid ground in World 5 but by this point, the game starts upping the ante on the difficulty. Level 5-1 starts out simple enough with an Ostro-riding Shy Guy whom you can use to take out a Panser but once you drop down to the section below and enter that door, you're in for some of the hardest jumping challenges yet. You're faced with a very long underground waterfall where you first must jump on a series logs rolling down the falls, then use some jumping Trouters as stepping stones (you better practice like crazy to pull this off), and finally, use another log. The good thing is if you make it from this log to a lone ledge on the waterfall, you'll be rewarded with a 1-Up and a subspace mushroom. There's another subspace mushroom up ahead but to get it, you have to use two last logs to jump up on top of the wall, fall down the second of two chutes, move the Mushroom Block out of the way, and then enter subspace down below. The mushroom will then fall into place but this isn't that easy to pull off and it's nearly impossible to get a second chance if you miss the jump (by this point, the game is making you work for you rewards). The Birdo you fight at the end of this level is a green one that only shoots fireballs and your only weapon is one lone Mushroom Block. Be careful where you throw it because Birdo won't make it easy for you to retrieve it once you do. Level 5-2 is best suited for Mario because there are a lot more annoying jumping challenges here. A lot of it involves you jumping over and onto tree-climbing Hoopsters, which is not easy to do since they change their climbing speed when you get close and if you jump at the wrong moment, you'll get knocked and sometimes to your doom. You also have to deal with a lot of Ostro-riding Shy Guys and Porcupos on the ground. There's one POW Block here to help you clear the enemies and while there are two subspace mushrooms, the second one can be easy to miss because you have to carry a potion all the way to one of the last parts of the section, which isn't easy to do by a long shot. Once you climb the vine at the end of this section, you enter another vertical section where you must climb up two vines while avoiding bullets shot from the sides by Snifits and Beezos that come at you from below. It's likely that you'll run into a Hoopster on your way and that means you'll have to change vines. It can be hard to do this without falling so you'd better be nimble. Once you get to the top of this section, the next section forces you to grab a POW Block and fall down a quickly narrowing canyon with spike-covered ledges as well as a large platform in the middle that has spikes on several parts of it. After avoiding the spikes, you have to move Mario to the left side of the screen or you'll fall right into a river and have to repeat this section again (which happened to me several times the first time I played it). The battle with Birdo takes place on a bridge with a gap in it. Be careful not to fall down there while trying to grab one of Birdo's eggs and watch out for the Trouter that's jumping out of the river as well (you can actually use him as a weapon against Birdo in a pinch).

Level 5-3, like Level 4-3, is another long and complex level leading up to a boss fight. There's a warp to World 7 at the beginning of the first real section and when you see what lies ahead for you, I guarantee you'll consider using it. This first section has you dodging an army of Bob-Ombs, which are either already on the ground or are dropped on you from above by Albatoss. If you doddle at all, you'll be overwhelmed and get blown to pieces real fast. After a gauntlet of Bob-Ombs, you'll have a chance to get a mushroom but you'll have to lure some to this wall and have them blow it open before enter subspace and that sucks because they tend to walk away from the wall just when they're about to explode. Throwing them isn't recommended because, unless they're about to explode, they'll just get back up and start chasing you again. You may think you can wait until one is about to explode and then throw it but another one will usually come up behind you. In any case, you climb down a ladder to enter an underground section filled with more Bob-Ombs. You can get some coins in subspace after you have several Bob-Ombs blow open a hole in the floor at the beginning but otherwise, there's nothing nice to be found here. There's a Koopa shell to be found at one point and you'd better grab it or otherwise, you'll have to do some fancy jumping to avoid a Panser that you run into before you can get to the door. Up next is another vertical section. You have to work your way down while avoiding Sparks and plugging up some Shy Guy-spewing vases to reduce the amount of obstacles you have to face. You eventually reach the bottom, head to the left, and work your way back up (again, if you plug up those vases containing Shy Guys, you won't have as many obstacles to dodge). After that, you continue to work your way up while avoiding Pansers that come down the steps while spewing fireballs. You have some Mushroom Blocks to hit them with but you can also easily dodge them by using the connected sides of the screen. Once you go through the door, you have to use a Pidget's flying carpet to cross a huge gap, jump across some small cloud patforms, and fight Birdo. As usual, she's simple enough but right after you defeat, you have to deal with this world's main boss: a rock-throwing crab named Clawgrip. The way to beat him is to grab his rocks and throw them back at him but he throws them at alternating speeds and heights which can be difficult to keep track of. While there is a safe spot near him to grab some rocks, this is still hard because the rocks will start quickly rolling once they bounce off the wall and will fall down the gap if you don't catch them. Once you manage to get one, use it the minute you see an opening. You have to hit Clawgrip five times to defeat him so you're in for a long, tricky, nerve-shattering fight. Once again, the only real advice I can give is just to stay calm.

World 6: We're back to the desert again in Level 6-1 so, naturally, it's best to select Toad again. The first section is a lot like the latter levels in World 2 except here, there are a lot more enemies and quicksand pits to deal with. Even subspace isn't free from quicksand and you'll have to act quick to get the first mushroom you find before it sinks into the quicksand. When crossing the quicksand, watch out for the Cobrats because, as I said before, if they knock you into it, they'll proceed to smother you and keep you from getting out. While there is another subspace mushroom to be found right before you move on to the next section, a Pokey and a Panser will make it tough on you. Once you get inside the door, you'll be faced with twenty-one jars, one of which contains the key to the door that leads to Birdo. It's the fifth jar from the right but you have to deal with Shy Guys while trying to get the key. Once you've got it, make a run for it and head for the door. It's another fire-breathing Birdo. You should know what to do by now. Use the Mushroom Blocks to take care of her. It's best to break out Luigi for the next level because there will be some jumping involved; in fact, right off the bat, you may have to rely on his jumping skills to make it over a wall before getting into the real meat of the level. This level is insanely short but the trick is you have to jump onto one of the many Albatoss flying to the right and use him as a makeshift plane to get to the end of the level. You can enter subspace and get a mushroom in the middle of the level but if you do, there won't be any more Albatoss flying to the right at that point so you'll have to jump one that's going to the left, go back to the start, and jump on another that's heading to the right. After you pass over the subspace bit, there will be a spot where three Albatoss, flying in a vertical row with one right above the other, will come at you. This is where Luigi's jumping comes in handy. If you use anybody else, you'll have to do a Power Jump, which means you'll have to charge it up at just the right point. After that, it's on to another fight with a fireball-spitting Birdo. Do I really have to say what to do by this point? Fling those Mushroom Blocks! As it has been with the last few worlds, Level 6-3 is long and challenging. You can actually skip a good portion of it by jumping into the quicksand to the left of the starting point and let it suck you down while you keep moving left, jumping continuously while you do so. You'll eventually get to a door on the other side of the wall that will let you skip 3/4 of the level. If you decide to play fair, then it's best to go with Mario. This first section is short but there's a lot of quicksand and Cobrats to get past. You can get a mushroom here but be careful not to throw the potion into the quicksand, which easy to do since there aren't many solid places to stand here. After you reach the end of this section, you'll enter an underground section filled with Bob-Ombs and Ninjis. The Bob-Ombs continuously come out of jars but if you manipulate them to stay near their jar, when they explode they'll blow up the jar, preventing any more from coming. You have two routes to choose from here, both of which require you to blast through walls with bombs. The top level is the best since the bottom is crawling with Ninjis. There is a mushroom on the bottom level but you have to blow up several obstructions in order to get the potion down there. After you climb up the vine leading out of here, you come upon a vertical canyon where you have to climb up many vines to reach the top. All the while, you have to dodge Hoopsters and bullets shot by Snifits from the sides and you will also have to jump from one vine to another. Be careful when attempting that latter maneuver because if you fall, you'll have to start from the bottom again. When you reach the top, you're faced with a pyramid housing the two mini-bosses for this world. The first one is Birdo but this one is red so you can use her eggs as weapons. You have to fight her in a kind of cramped space but it shouldn't be too difficult. The second boss is another boss you've faced before: Triclyde. Once again, it takes three hits with Mushroom Blocks to defeat the three-headed snake and you can also use the other blocks as a wall to protect you from Triclyde's fireballs. That wall will come in handy here because there aren't as many other places to take cover this time as there were before.

World 7: This is the home stretch and while there are only two levels in this final world, you're probably not surprised to know that they're quite challenging. After you climb up the ladder at the beginning of the first level, you have to run right across some floating paths made up of rock that are full of Ninjis and Bob-Ombs. Not only are there Bob-Ombs already on the path but Albatoss drop them on you from above and they can destroy your the ground if you don't move away from them quickly. At the end of the path, grabbing a mushroom along the way, you come to a small hut that has another mushroom inside it. After you add two more spaces to your life bar, you have to jump on an Albatoss outside of the hut and ride him all the way back to the beginning of the level. He'll eventually take you to a section to the left that you couldn't reach beforehand and you take a rocket to the next section. This part contains something that's hard to explain and even harder to clear without taking a hit. You have to walk down these cloud steps all the while avoiding Shy Guys and Snifits. It sounds simple but the problem is you can't jump out of the way of enemies or you'll jump up a step and have to work your way back down again. The red Shy Guys that come out of the vases along the clouds aren't that difficult but on the bottom cloud is a pesky blue Shy Guy who makes matters more difficult because of his tendency to walk back and forth. After you get past him, you have to drop down onto a platform with a Snift and get past him before you can move on. Again, if you jump too high in an attempt to jump over the Snifit, you'll end up on the top platform and have to start all over again. You best have a full life bar because more than likely, you'll take a hit from the Snifit's bullets. I'm probably not making much sense but if you've played the game, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The first time I did played it, I found this to be a rather irritating part of the level. What's most helpful is if you can make an Invicibility Star appear so you can plow right through the enemie and move on. But, if you can't, you'll have to do it the hard way. After getting past that section, you have to jump up some clouds and use a Power Jump at one point, all while avoiding some patrolling Sparks. That leads to a bunch of ladders you have to climb up while dodging bullets shot by Snifits. After that, you have another fight with Birdo (a green one) before heading for the final level.

It's really fitting that the final level in the game is the longest and most complex. It doesn't look bad at all when you first enter it but once you go inside Wart's castle, you realize the nightmare that's in store for you. This castle is a long, twisting maze full of conveyor belts, spike-covered floors, platforms with patrolling Sparks that you have to jump up, all sorts of bad guys, two more scuffles with Birdo, one right in the middle of the level and the other involving you having to take the key from her (you're still chased by a Phanto, though), and when you take the crystal ball that would ordinarily lead you to the boss, the freaking Hawkmouth suddenly comes to life and attacks you by swooping at you throughout the room! The first time I played this, I wasn't expecting that last part and I ended up getting killed. My reaction was simply, "Okay, that's not fair!" It tooks takes three hits with Mushroom Blocks to subdue the gate but that's just playing dirty! Anyway, during the final battle with King Wart, I didn't know how to hurt him at first. I knew it had something to do with the machine spewing out vegetables in the middle of the room but every time I threw one at him, it did nothing. I tried and tried but nothing happened and I would end up getting killed by the large amount of bubbles he spews from his mouth. Finally, I realized that you have to throw the vegetables into his big mouth when he opens it but that's really difficult because your vegetable will be destroyed by his bubbles if it touches one so you have to time your jumps and throws just right. What's worse, it takes six hits to put Wart down. This is a difficult battle because it's hard to avoid Wart's bubbles and there will be many times where you will throw a vegetable at his mouth only for it to hit a bubble. During one playthrough, I had plenty of lives when I fought Wart but I only had one or two lives left when I finally beat him. All you can really do is keep at it, memorize Wart's movements and attacks, and you will eventually put him down, though I emphasize "eventually" very sharply.

Super Mario Bros. 2 may be a very odd game in the Mario franchise and I do still get the sense that it's underrated but regardless, I find it to be very worthy of the Super Mario name. It's a prime example of a sequel, be it a game or a movie, that tries to do something different from its predecessor and is more or less criticized as a result. While it can be very frustrating and annoying at points, it's nonetheless a fun game to play with unique, challenging levels, an assortment of characters with their own pros and cons to choose from and work out, rewarding bonus games, and just a quirky tone overall in terms of the enemies, worlds, and music. As I said, it's different from but just as enjoyable as the original game in my opinion and definitely one I can see myself revisiting from time to time. If you haven't played it because you've heard how unusual it is or you did play it and didn't like it because of that, I recommend giving it another shot. To me, it's what a Mario game should be: fast-paced, challenging, and fun.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Video Game Corner: Super Mario Bros. (1985)

The way I see it, there are movies that everbody has seen and there are games that any gamer worth his salt has played and Super Mario Bros. has to be at the very top of the latter. Almost everybody who has ever touched a Nintendo controller has played this game at one point in their lives and if you haven't, then you can't really call yourself a gamer. This is the game that, more often than not, is used to introduce people to video games in general and there's a good reason for that: it basically created the video game industry as we know it. While it's far from being the first video game that ever existed, what with the Atari 2600 and other such consoles existing long before the original NES was even an idea, this is the game that saved the video game market after it suffered a depression 1983. If it weren't for this game, the video game industry as we know it today would either be very different or might not even exist. It's quite possibly the best-selling video game ever made as well. You're always running into copies at any store that sells used games and the like. It put Nintendo on the map and made Shigeru Miyamoto one of the most beloved game designers ever. In short, it's a classic through and through.

I had the original NES for a brief period of time when I was very young (like four years old or so) and, like everyone else, I had this game, which came packaged with Duck Hunt (I'm pretty sure that pack came with every NES). I remember playing it quite a bit back then but I remember doing it mostly at my Grandma's house. My parents were both working during the day at that point and it was her who kept me most of the time. I'm pretty sure the only reason she even had an NES was to keep the attention of all her relatives' children whom she had to watch. In any case, she had a system long before I ever did so that's why I played this game mostly over there. By the time I got my own, I moved on to renting and playing the sequels and barely thought of the original. At least, I think that's how it went. I was so young that it's hard to remember. Regardless, at some point early in my childhood, no doubt after I got my Super Nintendo for Christmas one year, my original NES went missing. I don't know if I lost it or gave it away or what but it just disappeared and I haven't seen it since. Because of that, all games for the system went out of my life at a very young age and I didn't play them again until I was much older, which is why neither this nor any of my reviews for classic NES games will be installments of Stuff I Grew Up With. I may have played Super Mario Bros. a lot as a kid but after I lost my NES, I wouldn't play it again after I got a Wii. Yep, it took me that long to finally play the original Mario game again. The Christmas after I got my Wii, I got the Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition for the system. I was very excited to receive it since I hadn't played the original three Mario games in so long and it was definitely time for a homecoming. I was slightly disappointed that it wasn't really the original games in that they were remade with the graphics and sound-quality of the Super Nintendo (Super Mario World in terms of the latter) but after I understood that it was still essentially the same game, it didn't bother me.

Having not played anything old-school in a very long time, I forgot about something that was common with video games made back then: they were hard as crap! Nowadays, were kind of spoiled with highly-advanced graphics, control mechanisms, and gameplay and because of that, we tend to underestimate the simple games like this. Well, believe me, I realized my mistake pretty dang quick when I played this for the first time in two decades. I didn't get two steps into this game when I played it after receiving the All-Stars pack before I walked right into a Goomba. How sad is that? Part of it could be that I was distracted due to the graphics being Super Nintendo-quality and whatnot but still, that was pathetic. And it didn't stop there either. As I went on throughout the game, it became apparent how challenging it really was. There really is a set of skills necessary to play this type of platforming game and I had to relearn them fairly quickly. It took a lot of practicing and a lot of screaming at the television but eventually, I did become skilled at the game and now, save for the last two worlds which are still quite tricky, I'm able to play it with relative ease. Despite being almost 30 years old at this point, it's still an enjoyable and challenging game. However, I personally don't agree with G4 voting it number one on their Top 100 Video Games of All Time special or even with Game Informer magazine putting at number two on their Top 200 Games of All Time list. It's just personal preference but I think games like Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario 64 are better and more fun than this. I feel that those sources put this game so high on their lists out of obligation due to the fact that it basically created the modern video game industry and because of what was at the time revolutionary gameplay. Not that the game doesn't deserve those accolades but when put into context, I see Super Mario Bros., for the most part, as an important stepping stone that countless other games have built and, in some cases, improved upon. But, again, that's just my personal opinion. And that's not an attempt to slight the game at all. Despite its unavoidable simplicity, it's still very fun and addicting. I just feel that a good deal of the countless games made since its release have improved upon what it established.

Everybody should know the story of Super Mario Bros. and even if by some chance you don't, there isn't that much to it. Princess Toadstool of the Mushroom Kingdom has been kidnapped by the evil Bowser (or King Koopa, whatever you want to call him) and as Mario, it's your mission to journey through various worlds to save her. It's as basic as you can get and it's not even required that you know it in order to play the game. Basically, all any player would need to know is that you have to make it from the beginning of one stage to the end with a bunch of enemies and pitfalls trying to kill you. Simple video game design in other words. There are eight worlds you must journey through, each with four stages and the stages have some variety to them. The most common are your typical platforming stages, which consist of standard above-ground levels with trees, hills and bushes, a series of high platforms that you must jump across, suspension bridge levels where you must dodge flying fish-enemies, and underground tunnels made up of bricks. There are swimming levels here and there, which are personally my least favorite type of level in any game because you're defenseless 85% of the time and in this case, if you're not Fire Mario or are at least Super Mario, these levels can be very tricky. The fourth level in each world is a castle stage where you run a gauntlet of enemies and traps in order to eventually deal with and drop Bowser into a pit of lava. After you defeat Bowser in each of the first seven castles, one of Princess Toadstool's royal retainers (Toad) will inform you that the princess is actually in another castle (something that caused these characters to become quite hated by players, I might add). After you defeat Bowser at the end of the eighth castle (which is no easy feat, as we'll see later), then you will save the princess. Within many of the actual levels are bonus levels, which consist of underground rooms filled with coins (some of which make it tricker to get all of the coins) and cloud-areas of full of coins that you can reach by finding a beanstalk that leads up to them, as well as warp zones which allow you to skip to one of the next worlds. The warp zone room you can access in stage 1-2 is where, in the original version of the game, you can access a bizarre glitch that leads to a never-ending underwater level that's often referred to as the Minus World. From what I know, when you reach the end of this level, you end up back at the beginning of it in a continuous loop that can only be broken if you die or run out of time. I really don't know why anyone would want to access it because it sounds pretty pointless and is only something that was discovered by accident. I wasn't smart enough to access it when I played the original version as a very young kid and the glitch was removed from the Super Mario All-Stars edition, the one that I have, so I can't even access it if I wanted to. I just felt that I should bring it up since I would probably get comments if I didn't.

There is a multitude of items throughout the game that would become standard for the entire Mario franchise. The most common items you encounter in the levels are "?" blocks that mostly contain single coins but can also contain a large sum of coins as well as other items. No matter what level, though, they always contain something useful. You also come across coins floating in the air, often in large bunches and getting one hundred leads to an extra life. The most basic item that pops out of a "?" block is a mushroom that makes you grow twice your size, effectively making you Super Mario. Of course, once you let them out of the block, they start moving to the right and have an annoying tendency to fall into holes which are often near the blocks. I think we all have stories about how many times we've activated a mushroom only to have it fall into a hole before we could get it. What's great about the Fire Flower is that once it pops out of the block, it sits there waiting for you to grab it. Naturally, grabbing them turns you into Fire Mario and allows you throw fireballs that can kill most enemies (including Bowser, which I didn't even know you could do for the longest time). However, you can only find Fire Flowers if you're Super Mario; otherwise, any block you find will contain a mushroom instead. There was one instance where I activated a Fire Flower but got hit by an enemy right after I did so. I was hoping I could cheat the game but nope, when I touched the flower as little Mario, it acted like it was a mushroom. That leads to another thing: if you get hit by an enemy even when you're Fire Mario, you'll revert all the way back to being little Mario. In later games, they would have mercy on you by merely taking away your power but still leaving you as big Super Mario. Not here, though. You get hit, you're shrinking back to the little shrimp you started out as. That gives you a bigger incentive not to get hit and that's no easy task, especially in the later worlds where the number of enemies becomes larger and also in those worlds, the power-ups become few and far between, making the gameplay all the more difficult. Another useful item is the invincibility star that you come across from time to time, which enables you to briefly kill all enemies simply by touching them. Be careful, though, because the power has a tendency to wear off right when you're about to touch an enemy and you're not invincible to pitfalls either. The stars also hope around once you release them from their blocks, making them hard to catch and, like mushrooms, their blocks tend to be placed near pits. Finally, there's the good old 1-Up Mushroom. These things are very rare and when you find one, it's like a blessing. However, it's a hard to reach blessing because not only are their blocks often near pits but they also tend to be placed in positions that make the mushrooms hard to reach. Like the Super Mushroom, once you let one out, it starts scrolling and you had better run after it like crazy before it scrolls too far off the screen and you lose it. I've gotten killed so many times trying to catch a 1-Up Mushroom that it's ridiculous.

With any type of game, there are many different types of enemies that you encounter throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. Every time you kill one, you get points (killing two at the same time gets you more points), which you also acquire by collecting coins, smashing blocks, and simply completing a level. I don't see any real point to the scoring system other than bragging rights but if you kill a bunch of enemies in a row with a Koopa shell, you'll get an extra life (in this game, that doesn't work with the invincibility star). The common enemies are the Goombas, which are the evil brown mushrooms that you see walking in a straight line and often in groups. These guys are vulnerable to anything and are easy to deal with, although a big line of them when you're stuck as little Mario can be a problem. The same goes for Koopa Troopas. They come in red and green varieties and there's a bit of info about them that comes in handy: the green Koopas will walk off any ledge that they're on while the red ones won't. Believe me, knowing that can be very useful in keeping you from taking an unnecessary hit. Both types can be kicked once they retreat inside their shells after one hit and used as weapons but be careful when going for that extra life because you can get hurt if a shell bounces off a wall and hits you. You also run into the flying Koopa Para-Troopas, which take several hits to get rid of. Once you clip their wings, they act like regular Koopas but in this instance, the red kind will walk off any ledges they land on. The red type of Para-Troopa also tends to be tricker to deal with when flying because they tend to hover in inconvenient spots as well as hop along the ground and get in the way (there are so many times where I've prayed for one to fall down a pit but instead, the asshole has jumped across it). Buzzy Beetles are a lot like Koopas in that their shells can be used as weapons against other enemies but unlike their turtle counterparts, they're invulnerable to everything but an invincibility star. Piranha Plants are always popping out of pipes and can only be killed by fireballs. They won't come out if you stand next to or on top of their pipes. One of the most annoying enemies is a Hammer Brother. They're often in pairs and jump and down, usually on two sets of ledges, while flinging hammers at you. They're irritating because their hammers are hard to avoid, you can stomp on them but it's almost impossible to do so without getting hit (when they're on the ground in front of you, you don't have much of a choice either), and when you're tying to hit them from belove when they're standing on blocks, they tend to jump up where you can't get them or hop down right in front of you. When it comes to the latter example, you'll wanting so badly for one of the brothers to hop to the blocks right above you but more often than not, they'll either hop up to the highest blocks or hop down in front of you, forcing you to dodge their hammers at close range which is tricky. Very irritating enemies. You better hope that you're Fire Mario or at least Super Mario when you run into them; otherwise, you're in trouble.

Just as or perhaps even more annoying than the Hammer Brothers is Lakitu, the little fart who follows and flies above you on a smiling cloud throughout his given levels, all the while dropping Spinies on you. It's often hard to get to an altitude where you can jump on Lakitu and even if you do defeat one, another one will take his place soon afterward. As for the Spinies, they can only be killed by fireballs. So, if you're not Fire Mario when you encounter Lakitu, all you can do is avoid his Spinies, which becomes tricky when the amount of them on the ground starts piling up. Cheep-Cheeps are the red and green fish that you encounter in underwater levels. The green variety is easier to deal with because they swim very slowly and are only found in the underwater levels. The red Cheep-Cheeps are more of a problem because they swim much faster and in the rope-bridge surface levels, they jump up out of the water at you. I find them to be the trickiest on those levels because they tend to come out of nowhere and there's often a bunch of them on the screen at once, making it difficult to keep from getting hit. In those levels, they will kill themselves if they jump at you from directly beneath your feet but sometimes, the game will screw you and register one as a hit on you! That's happened to me a couple of times and it can cause you to want to break something. Fire Mario is the best way to deal with them in either level. The absolute worst underwater enemies are the squid-like Bloopers. They are so annoying. They swim in erratic patterns for one thing and also, if you get too close, they'll start following you. If you let yourself drop down to swim beneath them, they'll do the same and then lunge at you once they're lined up with you. They're very annoying in groups as well. They only be killed by fireballs so you better pray you find a Fire Flower before you enter an underwater level that's filled with them. In other levels, you also have Bullet Bills, which fire out of cannons at you endlessly and while one can be knocked out by stomping on it (fireballs don't work on them), it's best to just keep moving forward and avoid them as best as you can. They are tough and annoying though, especially because they're always fired in swarms. Finally, in the castle levels, you encounter two types of fire hazards, both of which are indestructible. Fireballs called Podoboos (I don't know why they couldn't just call them fireballs) tend to fly up out of lava pits and while all you can do is avoid them, this can be tricky because their patterns are erratic. When one falls back down into the lava, it will immediately hop back up when you least expect it. Do not let them fool you because I've lost a lot of lives to them due to that trick. There are also fire bars, which are small fireballs strung together in a chain-like pattern. They swing around in place and there are many instances where you have to run a gauntlet of them in a row. While they can be simple to dodge once you work out their pattern, sometimes you run into very long bars which are virtually impossible to avoid save for precision timing. These are often put right under "?" blocks and unless you really need the item within, it's best to ignore them because more than likely, you'll get hit right after you grab the item.

Like I said, at the end of each castle level, you face Bowser on a bridge above a pit of lava. There are two ways to defeat Bowser each time you come across him. One is to dodge his attacks and grab the axe at the end of the bridge which will drop him into the lava. The other is, if you're Fire Mario when you reach him, dodge his attacks while pelting him with fireballs and he'll eventually go down. The second method is the easier way to deal with Bowser (and in the first seven castle levels, defeating him that way reveals that what you've been fighting with is a normal enemy disguised as the Koopa King) but more often than not, I get hit before I reach Bowser and am forced to fight him as little Mario with only one hit left. Bowser has two attacks. One is his fire breath and you'll have to dodge the fireballs when you get close to his area. When you actually face him, he'll continue to shoot fireballs at you while jumping around on the bridge. Even in the early castle levels, if you've only got one hit left, it's kind of hard to face him without getting killed since you either have to jump over him and run under him when he jumps and his movement patterns aren't that easy to predict. In the later castle levels, the game ups the ante on the difficulty in battling Bowser by putting obstacles like Podoboos jumping out of the lava and blocks to hinder your jumping ability in your way. On top of that, starting with World 6, Bowser develops a second attack which is throwing hammers at you in erratic patterns that are hard to avoid and can even hit you on the little lift floating above Bowser that you normally use to dodge his attacks. In these later levels, I pray that I reach Bowser while equipped with a power-up so if I get hit, I can use the temporary invulnerability afterward to breeze past Bowser and grab the axe. But, with a castle full of traps that you have to get through before you even face Bowser and the game having little mercy and not giving you many power-ups at that point, it's no easy feat I assure you. The only advice to beating Bowser in the last worlds is just that you need to have a lot of patience... something that I don't have and which usually leads to me yelling and cursing at the TV.

When you beat the game and save Princess Toadstool for real, you're given the option of taking part in a second quest. This second quest is really just a harder version of the quest you just completed. The most notable difference is that in the second quest, all of the Goombas have been replaced with Buzzy Beetles, which makes reaching some coin blocks and power-ups a harder task since you have to deal with a more difficult enemy. The Buzzy Beetles along with the ground-based Koopa Troopas move much faster here than they did before as well. The platforms that consisted of six blocks in the original quest are now shortened to four. The cloud bonus levels filled with coins (Coin Heaven I think they're called) are shorter in some levels and in some levels, you have to jump a longer distance towards the flagpole at the end of the level in order to get 5000 points. While the bonus quest does present its own challenges, the only areas where I experienced problems were the later levels, the same ones where I run into a lot of difficulties in the original quest.

Before we go any further, I feel I must comment on Mario's brother Luigi, whom a second player can take control of. The reason I haven't mentioned him up to this point is because, as I've in my other video game reviews, I grew up as an only child so I had very little use for the two-player modes of video games except when I had friends over and even then, by the time I was old enough to where that was a common thing, my NES had disappeared. Therefore, I never played the two-player mode of Super Mario Bros. except out of curiosity as a little kid and even at that young age, I realized that there wasn't any difference. Now, of course, I definitely have no use for the two-player because I almost never had anybody over to play video games with and even then, most of my systems only have one controller for obvious reasons so if I did, we'd just take turns passing the one back and forth between levels. And like I said before, there is no difference between playing as the two characters. This was before the game developers had the foresight to make Luigi's controls different from Mario. So basically what I'm saying in that, in my review of this game, this little section will be the only time Luigi is mentioned because there's no point to him here except in two-player mode, which, as I said, I never have any use for.

The music for the game by Koji Kondo is absolute classic, undoubtedly the most recognized video game theme ever created. I guarantee you that even people who have never picked up a Nintendo controller in their life can listen to that music and know exactly what game it's from, possibly even what character it's attached to. With that opening, "Doo, doo, doo, duh doo doo, doo," and the rest of the track, it really does fit the fun, innocent, fast-paced feel of the game. There are variations on sections of the main theme as well like the alternate soundof the first few notes when you lose a life and the slow, sad-sounding version when you game over (and you will hear that a lot). There are six tracks on the score for the game altogether. Besides the main theme, you have that slower-paced, slightly more sinister-sounding theme in the underground levels; the happy, cheerful theme for the bonus rooms; the lightning-fast music that you hear when you grab an invincibility star; the slow, relaxed-sounding theme for the underwater levels (which are hardly relaxing in and of themselves, I might add); and finally, there's the score for the castle levels, which has three different sections, one for the levels themselves, one for when you fight Bowser, and the triumphant music that plays when you defeat Bowser. There might be a different sounding track for when you actually save the princess at the end of the game but right now, I can't recall it if there is one. The music for Super Mario Bros. is basically the quintessential video game music: simple, fits with the fun tone of the game well, and, in the case of the main theme, is just as classic and recognizable as the game it accompanies.

Now, let's talk about the individual worlds and levels.

World 1: Like all of the first worlds in video games, this one is very simple (but then again, as I said, when I played this game for the first time since my childhood, I walked right into a Goomba so I'm one to talk). In any case, Level 1-1 is as simple as can be, with Goombas and one lone Koopa Troopa being the only enemies, an easy to find coin room at the beginning of the level, easy to reach "?" blocks, one of which contains the game's first invincibility star, and a flagpole that is very easy to reach the top of (this may be the one that you can actually jump over, if I'm not mistaken). Level 1-2, the first underground one, is simple too, although you run into many Koopa Troopas and you also encounter Piranha Plants for the first time. The items are not difficult to get, especially if you're Super Mario (and there's no reason why you shouldn't be), the coin room here is easy to find as well, and you can even cheat the game by getting on the lift at the end of the level, using it to jump onto the ceiling, and walking to a warp room where you can jump ahead to Worlds 2, 3, or 4. The only item that's a little hard to get is a 1-Up Mushroom that comes out of a block in the ceiling. If you don't make an opening next to the block, you have to chase it until there's a break in the ceiling and with a bunch of enemies in your way, you have to watch where you're going while doing so. Level 1-3 is the first of the treetop levels and it takes some precise timing and button controlling in order to succeed, especially in the sections where there are platforms that move back and forth or move downward while you stand on them. There's also only one power-up in this level and this is the first time you come across the Para Troopas as well as a fair amount of Goombas and Koopa Troopas. The coins are not that hard to get but since you can't see the platforms until you're right on top of them, things can get tricky. You just have to keep a cool head to make it. The first castle level is pretty simple as well, although jumping over the rotating fire bars without getting hit does take a bit of practice. The only power-up in the level comes at the very beginning and there's a fire bar beneath it so hitting the block and getting the power-up without getting cooked by the bar is a little tricky. The fire bars on the ceiling of the hallway afterward aren't that hard to dodge though but the bars on both the floor and ceiling of the section afterward are what, as I said, take a little practice. When you get close to Bowser you'll have to dodge his fireballs, which is pretty simple and so is defeating him, since all he can do is jump and continue to shoot fireballs at this point and there's a lift above him as well. I've never had the opportunity to use fireballs on him in this first levels because I always seem to end up taking a hit before I can get to him but, as I said, getting to the axe on the other side of the bridge isn't that hard.

World 2: Like the first level in World 1, Level 2-1 is quite simple. There are plenty of power-ups and they are easy to come across since there are opportunities to hit every block you see, there's both a coin heaven and a coin room here, and the enemies consist mainly of Goombas and Koopa Troopas. Still, there are some hopping Para Troopas that pop up near the end of the level, every single pipe here has a Piranha Plant in it, and the last power-up in the level is difficult to get if you're not small. Otherwise, it's not too difficult. Level 2-2 is the first underwater level and it can be tricky if you're not Fire Mario when you enter it since there plenty of Bloopers and Cheep-Cheeps and there no power-ups to be found either. You can avoid Bloopers by walking across the ocean bottom since they can't reach you like that if you're small and even if you're big, you can still duck. However, when you have to swim over bits of coral, blocks, and Cheep-Cheeps, it's tricky to avoid the Bloopers since they move so sporadically, fast, and follow you if you're too close to them. Getting coins is also hard because a lot of them are placed above pits in the floor which act as drains and can suck you in. You have to press the "A" button like mad to keep from getting sucked in and even then, it's still tricky to control Mario while he's swimming. It's a good thing there aren't many underwater levels in the game because even this first one can be difficult at times. Level 2-3 is the first bridge level were swarms of Cheep-Cheeps come jumping up from underneath your feet as you jump across the various levels. If you're not Fire Mario, you're in for it because these fish come out of nowhere, are hard to avoid, and some can even tag you from behind since they tend to jump up just high enough to hit you. There's only one power-up in this level (and in one instance, an asshole Cheep-Cheep hit me right after I grabbed it) as well and there are many sections where you have to be jumping across platforms and avoiding the fish at the same time. The only real advice I can give is just to keep moving and jump up whenever a Cheep-Cheep comes up from under you so you can stomp on it. Level 2-4 is much harder than the first castle level. This is the first time you encounter the Podoboos at the beginning of the level and after you get past them, which is hard to do without getting hit due to their erratic jumping patterns, you have an upper and lower path to choose from, each of which are lined with fire bars (on the upper path, they're on both the floor and the ceiling whereas on the lower path, they're just on the ceiling). The only power-up in the level is above a platform in-between the sections where the Podoboos jump up and the thing itself is hard to get because of how small the platform is and how high above it the "?" block is. There's also a section that requires you to jump across lifts to another passageway, which has a fire bar at the mouth of it (as does the passageway that you jump from to get onto the lifts). After that, you still have to avoid Bowser's fireballs and a couple of more pits before you face. This time, the lift above Bowser is hard to get to since there are blocks in front of it that hinder your jumping. If you're not Fire Mario, it's best to run under him in order to grab the axe.

World 3: This is where the game starts to ratchet up the number of enemies in a given level. There are Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and hopping Para Troopas everywhere in this level as well as Piranha Plants in every pipe. You also run into your first pair of Hammer Brothers here, which I've already explained are very hard to defeat if you're not Fire Mario. The good thing is that the game balances it out by putting in plenty of power-ups, including an invincibility star and 1-Up, as well as there being both a coin heaven and a coin room. This is also the level where you can get an infinite number of extra lives near the end of it (I've never tried that trick myself but I've heard that it's a bit difficult to master). So, there are plenty of enemies but there are plenty of items as well so there's a nice balance. (Also, did you know this a meant to be a snow level? It's hinted at in the original version but the All-Stars version really emphasizes it.) Level 3-2 is nothing but an onslaught of Goombas and Koopa Troops with one lone Para Troopa and Piranha Plant thrown in for good measure. There are only two power-ups here (the second being an invincibility star) and there are no bonus levels either. It's not hard since there aren't many pits and it's especially easy if you're Fire Mario but the constant enemies can become tiring if you're little or simple Super Mario. Level 3-3 is another treetop level and it's much more difficult than the first one. Many of the platforms that you're jumping across are quite small, there are a lot of Goombas and Koopas on them, and besides the typical floating lifts that drop down while you stand on them, this level introduces a new type: the balance lifts. They're lifts that are strung together and when you stand on one, it drops down while the other goes up. These are the trickiest lifts in the game for me since you can often make the one you need to jump on go up too high without realizing until too late that you've done so. You then have to make them both fall off in order to continue but sometimes, you come across some in a spot where making that mistake can get you killed. There are only two sets here and they're not that difficult but you will run into more in later levels. We're getting a lot harder in Level 3-4. There are a lot of Podoboos and fire bars here, including a section where you have to dodge a series of paired-up firebars that are rotating in opposite directions from each other and a pit near the end of the level where you have to dodge both Podoboos and Bowser's fireballs. In fighting Bowser this time, there are once again blocks on the ceiling that make jumping onto the moving platform above him risky but not as such it was in Level 2-4. Again, it's best to just run under Bowser in order to get the axe.

World 4: Level 4-1's big gimmick is the introduction of the annoying enemy Lakitu. As I said earlier, these little bastards come out of nowhere to drop Spinies on you, they follow you wherever you go in the level, and even if you manage to defeat one, another one will take his place. That's the only really difficult part of this level. Except for some random Piranha Plants in pipes, there are no other enemies in this level nor are there that many pits and there are enough power-ups, including a 1-Up, as well as a coin room to keep you going. Like I said, the only challenge is avoid the Lakitus and their Spinies, which can get a little annoying when you can't find a high enough perch to jump on top of the Lakitu and the amount of Spinies on the ground is piling up. But, if you're Fire Mario at this point, it's a lot easier since the only thing that can kill the Spinies are fireballs. Level 4-2 is another underground tunnel level and this one is crawling with enemies such as Goombas, Koopas, Piranha Plants, and Buzzy Beetles (I think this may be the first time you come across them in the normal quest) as well as a lot of pits and some tricky elevator jumping sections. But there also a fair amount of power-ups and coins as well as a coin room and even a beanstalk that leads you to a warp zone as well as another warp zone at the end of the level that you can access the same way you did in Level 1-2. Level 4-3 is another treetop level and even though it's short, it's the most challenging one yet. There are a lot of very high platforms that you must use the accelerate-jump technique to reach; those difficult balance-lifts are out in full force here; and there's only one power-up. While there aren't many enemies, the placement of one or more Koopa Troopas on the platforms can become tricky since you're constantly jumping across them and may end up landing right in front of one, forcing you to act quickly before you take a hit. Of course, it's a lot easier if you're Fire Mario but even with that advantage, all of the jumping can still be challenging. Level 4-4 is the first of several castles where you must take a certain pattern of different paths in order to reach Bowser. It wasn't too difficult for me to figure out where to go since in the All-Stars edition, a sound-byte will inform you whether you've taken the right path or not. In the original version, though, you just kind of have to guess and pay attention to your surroundings. Save for some fire bars that are easy to avoid, there aren't any real enemies to worry about either. If you're not Fire Mario, Bowser can be tricky this time around, though, because there's no lift above him and there's both a fire bar and a Podoboo in front of him that you have to dodge as well. Even if you are Fire Mario, you have to watch where you position yourself to shoot Bowser or you'll take a hit (though, if that does happen, just do what I do and run for the axe while you're momentarily invincible).

World 5: Level 5-1 introduces the enemy of Bullet Bill. You won't come across him until the middle and right before the end of the level and there aren't many that are fired in a row in this level but they can be hard to avoid. However, like Piranha Plants, if you stand right next to their turrets, they won't fire. Besides the Bullet Bills, there are a lot of Goombas, Koopas, and hopping Para Troopas in this level as well (at the very beginning of the level, though, you can use the shell of the first Koopa you come across as a way to get an extra life by hitting a bunch of enemies in a row) and the only power-ups are an Invincibility Star and a 1-Up Mushroom (the latter of which doesn't activate if you take a hit before you get to its block). While there is a coin room near the end of the level, the time limit may start to run out if you go in there so you must choose wisely. Level 5-2 is where the game starts throwing many of the most difficult enemies at you. There are a lot of Hammer Brothers in this level, some of which are in spots where it's hard to defeat them without taking a hit, and there are also some Bullet Bill turrets, Koopa- and Para Troopas, and Buzzy Beetles. Add to that only a few power-ups (one of which is an Invincibility Star that's in a block where some Hammer Brothers are positioned) and a lot of pitfalls and you've got a pretty hard level. Fortunately, there are ways to bypass the difficult spots. One way is to find a beanstalk that will lead to a coin heaven which will enable you to skip a lot of the level when you reach the end of it. The other is to enter the first pipe you come across which will lead to a swimming area. The latter is the more difficult of the two because although this swimming section is short, there are some annoying Bloopers and Cheep-Cheeps here as well as some underwater lifts that can push you down into oblivion if you get caught underneath them. Those lifts are difficult to avoid because of the Bloopers that swim around them. Basically, this level really is about picking your poison and I would personally recommend taking the coin heaven route myself. Level 5-3 is the exact same design as 1-3 except for one major difference: Bullet Bills are constantly being fired throughout it and while they're easy enough to avoid on the treetops, doing so on the lifts takes some practice. Despite that added challenge, I never found this level to be all that difficult though, since I already knew the layout of the level. Like the previous level, Level 5-4's design is the same as that of a previous one (in this case, 2-4) but the challenge is much greater. The biggest difference is at the very beginning where the "?" block is now underneath a very long fire bar that will get you no matter where you stand. Therefore, if you need the power-up inside the block (and it's the only one in the level), you will have to risk either losing your life or losing the power-up the minute you get it. There are also many more fire bars strewn throughout the level, especially in the hallway where you have to choose a path to take. No matter which one you choose, you'll still have to dodge two fire bars at a time to get through the passage. Podoboos leap out of every lava pit now, including the one Bowser stands over, and there are blocks hindering your ability to jump onto the platform hovering over Bowser. In other words, this castle is the hardest one yet and they're only going to get harder.

World 6: Lakitu is back in Level 6-1 but here, you're presented with plenty of high places to jump on top of him from so dealing with him isn't too difficult. Other than a random Piranha Plant, Lakitu and his Spinies are the only enemies you have to deal with here. There are a couple of power-ups and a 1-Up Mushroom (although, it's another one of those that might not appear if you get hit before reaching its block) but on the flip side, there are no bonus levels here. Other than that, there's not much to say. It's a rather unremarkable level. Level 6-2 is another one where you have to choose between two paths. You can go down a pipe in the first part of the level another swimming area (which is fundamentally the same as the one in Level 5-2 except that the platforms that move up and down in the water are smaller, making it easier to navigate) and after you come out, you can enter a coin room near the end of the level (there's also a coin room at the beginning of the level). The other way is to activate a beanstalk leading to a coin heaven in the middle section of the level. Both paths will net you a good amount of cash but one of the coin rooms also has a power-up in it (there's only one in the actual level not counting an Invincibility Star) so you must choose carefully. The actual level isn't too difficult. There are a lot of pipes, each with a Piranha Plant inside, but if you know the trick to getting past them, it's a breeze and even more so if you're Fire Mario. There are Goombas, Koopas, Para Troopas, and Buzzy Beetles here as well but their numbers are very few and so are the amount of pitfalls. Another fairly simple level in my opinion. Level 6-3 is another treetop level and it is rather hard. Besides the balance platforms and the tpype that drop when you stand on them, there are also spots where you have to use springboards in order to reach some platforms and directing yourself while bouncing on those things is kind of tricky. It's best to wait until the springboard and the lift are as close together as possible. The various groups of lifts tend to move at different speeds from each other as well. There's only one power-up and the item itself is hard to grab when you activate it and there are also Bullet Bills constantly shooting through the level. And unless you really need them, it's best to ignore the coins strewn throughout the level and concentrate on making it to the flagpole. As with the previous castle levels, Level 6-4 is like a previous one only more difficult (1-4, in this case). There are more fire bars here, they movie in the opposite direction of how they did in 1-4, and there's one section that requires you to dodge several pairs of fire bars that are rotating in opposite directions of each other. Getting the power-up at the beginning is trickier this time because of the different movements of the fire bars and the more frequently bouncing Podoboos. This is the first Bowser fight where the Koopa King throws hammers at you and like the Hammer Brothers, these things are hard to avoid and can even hit you when you're standing on the platform above Bowser. You must also contend with a Podoboo as well. It's tricky, which is why I make sure to at least be Super Mario when I reach Bowser.

World 7: We're really getting hard now. Level 7-1 is loaded to the brim with Koopa and Para Troopas, Hammer Brothers (which will become more frequent here on out), Buzzy Beetles, Piranha Plants, and especially Bullet Bills. The sheer amount of Bullet Bill-firing turrets, often within a few feet of each other and with barrels that can shoot in either direction, is what makes it difficult to keep from getting hit here. There's one section where there is a platform with a turret on top of it and a turret on either side of the platform on the ground. Good God, have mercy! There are also two sections involving Hammer Brothers and by this point, they have a tendency to jump from the top platform all the way to the ground, skipping the middle platform altogether, so it's best to run past them if you can. The good thing is that there are a couple of power-ups, a 1-Up, and a coin room to be found here but still, this level is an endurance test. Level 7-2 is another underwater level (there hadn't been one in a while by this point) and it's the same layout as 2-2 except there are a lot more Bloopers here. If you're Fire Mario when you enter the level, it's not that big of a deal but if not, you're in for a frustrating level and there are no power-ups here either. Not much else I can say except that this level takes patience if you're not Fire Mario. Level 7-3 is the same layout as 2-3 except now there are Koopa and Para Troopas on the bridges that you have to deal with as well as the flying Cheep-Cheeps. You can use the Koopas' shells as weapons against the Cheep-Cheeps but, like before, there's only one power-up here and there are plenty of tricky jumping challenges where a Cheep-Cheep can mess you up if it hits you, be it from the side or underneath you. Like Level 4-4, 7-4 is another maze castle only it's longer and more complicated. Again, I had an advantage with the game telling me whether or not I had taken the right path but others may not have that. Besides that aspect, you have to jump across falling platforms while avoiding Podoboos and there are no power-ups. There's no platform above Bowser this time and you still have to contend with his hammers and jumping Podoboos so, once again, it's best to try to at least stay as Super Mario when you reach him.

World 8: Needless to say, this is where the game pulls out all the stops in making your job as tricky as possible. The levels are longer than they have been before but the time limit is still the same so, more than likely, you'll be getting close to the wire by the time your reach the flagpole; when you die in these levels, you start back at the very beginning no matter where you were, unlike before where, after a certain point, you would respawn in the middle of the level; power-ups become very few and far between; and the enemies are out in full force and placed in more positions to trip you up than they ever had been before. If I were a betting man, I would say that Level 8-1 is probably the longest level in the entire game because I always end up running out of time when I finally get to the flagpole. It's also loaded with Goombas, Koopa and Para Troopas, Buzzy Beetles, Piranha Plants, and a lot of pitfalls, with many sections requiring you to jump across a series of very narrow ledges (the ones right before the flagpole are particularly awful and caused me to die more than once because of how tricky they are to jump). The only items are a 1-Up (and it's the type that might not appear if you take a hit) and an Invincibility Star that is particularly fast this time around (watch out for the pits that pop up right after its block). There's also a coin room but, again, with such a long level and a short time limit, you might want to think before entering it. Level 8-2 isn't as long as the previous one but it's still very difficult, perhaps even more so. First off, Lakitu shows up again at the very beginning and you have to avoid his Spinies as well as some hopping Para Troopas. Fortunately, you're given a high enough perch to jump on him andeven if you can't get him, he won't chase you throughout the entire level. That's good because the middle of this level is like Level 7-1 in that you have to deal with an onslaught of Bullet Bill turrets but this time, there are hopping Para Troopas and Buzzy Beetles thrown in-between the turrets for good measure. After that, you have to use the accelerate-jump method to clear a very long gap. That part had me stumped for the longest time. The way I do it is run quickly across the pipe in front of the gap and then jump right when I get to the edge of it. Usually, I end up clearing it even when it seems like I'll fall. The good thing is you're rewarded with a pipe that leads to a coin room the minute you clear the gap. Finally, you have to deal with a couple of more narrow platforms you have to jump across before reaching the flagpole and this time, you have the added difficulty of Bullet Bill turrets and a hopping Para Troopa. Item-wise, there's a 1-Up near the beginning of the level but if you're small when you activate it (and I almost always am), you'll have to run under a long block and catch it when it falls, all the while watching out for Para Troopas and pits. There is a power-up amongst the section where you have to deal with Bullet Bills and other enemies but even if you get it, it's hard to keep it for very long due to the sheer amount of enemies. Level 8-3 is where the Hammer Brothers make their last stand against you. You have to deal with two pairs jumping on sets of blocks and four that are standing on the ground in the section leading up to the flagpole. There are two power-ups here but they're both amongst the blocks that the Brothers are stationed at and it's hard to defeat them both without getting hit in order to become Fire Mario. If you're simply Super Mario by the time you clear the second pair of Brothers, you're in trouble because's it hard to get past the ones on the ground without getting hit and you'll need all the help you can get on the final castle level because there are no items whatsoever there. And, not surprisingly, you'll have to jump more narrow platforms to get to the flagpole and wouldn't you know it, they're the worst of all! Level 8-4 leads to your final confrontation with Bowser and not only is it another maze castle but it's the trickiest of all. You have to work out which pipes take you to the next section very carefully; otherwise you'll end up back at the beginning of the level. Even getting into some of the pipes is hard, as in the case with one suspended in mid-air where you have to find a hidden coin block and use it jump onto the pipe. Basically, every enemy in the book is out to get you, including the flying Cheep-Cheeps in one section, the Bloopers in an underwater section (which also has underwater, rotating fire bars: how is that even possible or fair, for that matter?) and one last Hammer Brother right before your final fight with Bowser. On top of that, this time Bowser will both shoot fire at you as well as throw hammers, instead of doing one or the other like before, and there's no platform above him. Like I said, if you're not at least Super Mario when you enter this level, you're in for a frustrating time. All I can say is keep a cool head and you'll eventually come out on top.

While I don't think Super Mario Bros. is the best video game ever, I can't deny that it is quite addicting once you start playing it and, as I said, it's undoubtedly the reason why the video game industry is thriving today instead of being non-existent. It put both Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto on the map, introduced the most popular video game character of all time, and, at the end of the day, it's still enjoyable to play after all these years despite its simplicity and the fact that hundreds of other games have built upon its gameplay. If I ever do a list of my favorite video games, I doubt it would even be in the top ten but it's still a great, fun game regardless.