Friday, April 19, 2013

Video Game Corner: Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2) (1986)

I first heard about this game in an issue of Nintendo Power way back in the mid-90's. By that point, the original Super NES edition of Super Mario All-Stars had been out for a few years but I never owned that as a kid so I had never played this game or even knew that it existed before. I really didn't know what to think of the title The Lost Levels. Remember, I was only like nine or so years old at this point anyway but still, I was still thinking, "Why couldn't they just call it Super Mario Bros. 4? Isn't that what it is?" That's what I thought it was. I thought it was some sort of fourth game in the series that had gone undiscovered or something for years and had just now been released. As I eventually discovered, I wasn't that far off in my thinking but at the time, my young brain just couldn't process or comprehend what that subtitle meant. In any case, as I've stated so many times here that I probably sound like a broken record, years went by and I never played The Lost Levels or even thought about it that much until I started watching James Rolfe's videos over at I don't think he ever talked about this issue while he was playing his Angry Video Game Nerd character but in gaming videos where he would be himself, he would sometimes mention how The Lost Levels was, in fact, the original Super Mario Bros. 2, before we finally ended up with the game that we officially know as being the first sequel to the original Super Mario Bros. Rolfe didn't explain the whole story in that particular video but once I got the Wii edition of Super Mario All-Stars, I looked the game up myself and found out what its deal was.

Even though it's often referred to as being the original intended sequel to Super Mario Bros., according to the developers, this actually was not their original gameplan. Doki Doki Panic, the game that was eventually refurbished by Nintendo of America and released over here as Super Mario Bros. 2, indeed started out as a prototype for the sequel but was changed to something completely different due to licensing issues (and, from what I hear, was released in Japan in a rather crude and somewhat unfinished form). So, to fill the gap, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka created this game, which is basically a remake of the original, with the only major difference being the increased difficulty of the gameplay. Because of this, Nintendo of America decided not to release the game in the U.S. and opted instead to essentially finish Miyamoto and his team originally intended to do, turning Doki Doki Panic into Super Mario Bros. 2 and releasing it in the U.S. as such. And obviously, until Super Mario All-Stars, The Lost Levels went virtually unheard of in America.

When I first played The Lost Levels on my Wii edition of All-Stars, I had no idea about how hard it is. After playing it for just a little bit and effectively getting my ass handed to me, I was thinking to myself, "Good God, this is freaking hard!" It was after that that I did my research and read the backstory on the game. My reaction was, "Well, that explains a lot." I think that Nintendo of America made the right decision in not releasing this in the U.S. until almost a decade later. While I wouldn't call it a bad game at all, it is frustrating to say the least. It may not be as sadistically hard as something like Silver Surfer on the NES, but it's still a game that, as the Angry Video Game Nerd would put it, kicks your ass until diarrhea comes out of your dick! There are so many levels here where you will think that this game just hates you, that it's giving you a beatdown because you owe it money or something. While I do get that it was intended to be a game that would challenge those players that had mastered the original, I do think that it goes overboard in some instances and can feel just downright cruel and unfair. I just want to make it clear, though, that, even though I am going to talk about how downright difficult and unfair I think this game is at points, I don't hate it. Beating it was actually rewarding simply because of how hard it is and there is a fun factor that comes from that. However, that does not extinguish the fact that I do genuinely feel that this game sometimes goes a little too far.

Besides its difficulty, another reason why Nintendo of America initially decided not to release the game in America is because of how similar it is to the original. When you play the game, that fact is undeniable. Again, I've only played the All-Stars edition but since that version looks exactly like edition of the original game that's in that pack, I'm going to assume that the same can be said for both original versions. Heck, the game apparently used the same engine as the original so it should look very similar. While there are minor differences made to the moves that one can pull off in the game, like being able to bounce higher when you jump on enemies, the movement mechanics are basically the same and so are the music and sound effects, save for very minute, practically unnoticeable, new additions. From what I can tell, while the character sprites are pretty much the same in the original version, more detail is put into the actual design of the levels. The story and basic gameplay are also the same: Bowser has kidnapped Princess Toadstool and you have to journey through eight increasingly difficult worlds in order to rescue her. That may sound like the same story for nearly all of the Mario games but most of the other games put some sort of new spin it, like in Super Mario Bros. 3, where you're liberating a bunch of different lands by the princess' orders when she herself is suddenly kidnapped at the end of the game or in Super Mario 64 where you're having to journey through worlds in the castle's paintings and collect power stars in order to progress further. Here, though, there is nothing changed in-between the two games in terms of the story, how you progress through the game, and the basic structure of the worlds: four levels, with the fourth being a castle where you face Bowser at the end. The various level types that were present in the original, (normal platforming ones, underground ones, swimming ones, rope ones, etc.) all return here as well as the coin heavens, coin rooms, and the Warp Zones (although, as I'll get into shortly, you have to be careful about the Warp Zones in this game). And, like the original game's Minus World, it is possible to access an unusual new world after you complete the game (without using any Warp Zones, that is) as well as four more worlds by completing the game eight times. It must be noted that at the time I'm writing this, I have never accessed those hidden worlds and, therefore, I doubt you will see anything about them in the final review. If so, I might do an update on this review one day and talk about those worlds after I've played them (emphasis on "might," though, because this game is hard enough to beat once, let alone eight times). In any case, I just felt that you should know that.

Despite all of these similarities, though, there are some very noticeable differences between the games as well. First off, there's no two-player mode. However, at the beginning of the game, you're given an option of playing either as Mario or Luigi and this is also the first game that highlights each brother's pros and cons. While Mario is basically the same as he was originally, with the same agile movements and jumping ability, Luigi can actually jump higher and farther, making him more useful in clearing large gaps. On the flip side, though, Luigi jumps so high that he often bangs his head against the ceiling in fairly narrow spaces, which can cause you to fall into oblivion, so it's best to be using Mario in those situations. In other words, this game not only gives you a choice but the characters' different ways of moving create a slightly more complex gameplay system, forcing you to think about which one is the best to play as in a given level and world. (Personally, I almost always just use Mario and grin and bear the obstacles that are thrown at me with him.)

There are no new enemies introduced in this game but, that said, the enemies that are here tend to behave much differently than the way they did in the original. In the swimming levels, you actually run into Goombas, Koopas, and Lakitus! As if you didn't have enough crap to dodge underwater, now you have to deal with these typically land-based enemies. Moreover, not only are there plenty of levels where Cheep-Cheeps are flying up at you but you can also find Bloopers hovering in the air in some levels. While they're not as aggravating in the air as they are underwater, seeing as how you can actually stomp on them when they're hovering around, I was not happy when I first realized that I would now have to deal with the most annoying underwater enemy even when I wasn't in a swimming level. The Hammer Bros. are much more aggressive this time around and will continue to move towards you while throwing their hammers at you. In addition to the classic green Piranha Plants, there's also a red kind in this game that will poke their heads out even if you stand right next to their pipes. They'll still stay down in their pipes if you stand on top of them, though, and thank God for that. And finally, when you fight Bowser in his final castle, he'll actually appear twice, with the first one being an imposter before you face the real one. This fake Bowser also appears in a couple of the game's extra levels as well.

While the enemies may remain the same, save for some of them having new attitudes and ways of attacking, there are some new obstacles and hazards that you must contend with in this game. The most notable one is the Poison Mushroom, a booby-trap that's disguised as a power-up. If one runs into you when you're Super or Fire Mario, you'll downgrade back to regular Mario and if it hits you while you're regular Mario, you'll lose a life altogether. These damn things have a bad habit of popping up when you really need a genuine power-up as well, so you have to keep an eye on what comes out of Item Blocks when you hit them. There are spots in some levels where some really strong winds that blow you to the left or right suddenly pop up and you often have to jump with or against them, forcing you to keep your timing skills sharp. In addition to the typical red springs from the original game are green springs that send you flying off into the wild blue yonder. While they are essential in crossing huge gaps, since you can't see where your character is for a little bit, you have to make sure that there is plenty of terrain on the screen for when you finally do come back down to Earth; otherwise, you may end up falling to your death. The trap that will probably make you break your TV if you fall for it is the fake Warp Zone. While the Warp Zones from the original game do return, the game designers decided to be real assholes and put in two fake ones that will send you back to an earlier world if you enter them! I've fallen for those things a few times in my playthroughs of the game, mainly because I'd either forgotten which was which or that they existed altogether, and when you don't have a gameplay file saved up, it's pretty damn irritating when you realize you have to fight your way back to where you were. In other words, you really have to watch what you're doing in this game because it will get you when you least expect it.

Of course, the biggest difference between this game and the original is the difficulty level. There are many factors that contribute to why this game is so hard. For one, the game doesn't take much time to gradually ease you into the difficulty like most games do. You'll only be playing the first few levels for a few minutes before you notice how tricky the game is and once you get to the second world, war is pretty much on. Many of the levels consist of tricky obstacle courses, whether that be due to a large amount of enemies that are present in one space, a bunch of very difficult jumping challenges (which range from a series of hard to land on platforms to having to build up speed and then jump off a narrow block in order to cross a gap), factors like the wind that sometimes pops up, or, in some instances, a combination of one or all of those hazards. Speaking of the enemies, this game really goes overboard with the worst enemies, in particular the Lakitus and the Hammer Bros., often forcing you to deal with awful combinations of the baddies that you absolutely despise, especially in the last few worlds. Even worse is that you typically can't find a power-up to make your life easier in those situations and that leads to another thing: this game gets really stingy with the power-ups. There were will be so many times where you're stuck as regular Mario and you desperately need at least a Mushroom so you can have an extra hit on you when you run a gauntlet of difficult enemies but you either won't find it or it will happen to be in an invisible Item Block that you stumble across purely by accident (which is often the case in the castle levels especially). Actually, invisible blocks can be hazardous in and of themselves, often popping up in the midst of a bunch of enemies and smacking you back down into the line of fire when you unintentionally activate them. Moreover, when it comes to item blocks, there are some instances where you find a Mushroom but while trying to get it, you end up accidentally activating either a 1-Up or, worst of all, a Poison Mushroom, which cancels out the normal Mushroom before you can get it. I've done that I don't know how many times and it is quite frustrating. You sometimes end up activating a Mushroom or an Invincibility Star when they're stuck between two walls and you have to hit them from underneath the bricks that they crawl or bounce across in order to give them the boost they need to get across the walls. It's difficult to do that, it eats up time, and sometimes, the item will end jumping over the left wall and scrolling off the screen to where you can't get it (like the original Super Mario Bros., the game will only let you go forward). These are just some of the headaches that you have to deal with in The Lost Levels and I'm sure that I will talk about more when I go through the levels themselves. Just because a game is challenging doesn't make it bad but, as I've said, there are so many instances in this game where I've been like, "Whoa, enough already!"

I don't know if this was the case in the original version of The Lost Levels but the developers of Super Mario All-Stars at least realized how difficult this game was and did their best to ease your suffering as much as possible. While the save feature for the other three games only saves what world you happen to be on at the time (if you don't finish the world before you save, you'll have to play through all of its levels again when you come back to it), you can save your progress one level at a time here. In addition, most of the levels (save for the castle levels as well as one or two near the end of the game) have a halfway point that, once you pass through it, you'll start there if you get killed (in levels as difficult as these, this really comes in handy). However, despite that little bit of a helping hand, this is still a frustrating game and even that small advantage probably won't keep you from getting very, very agitated while playing (either that or I'm just not very patient, which is also a distinct possibility).

Level 1-1: As I said before, even though it's the first level, this game doesn't pull many punches from the start. The first power-up is in one of the unmarked bricks with the Koopa walking across them that you come across right after the start and even then, you have to hit it from underneath one of the other bricks in order to bounce it out from between the two blocks. The only power-up that you get is near the end of the level. There are two Poisonous Mushrooms lying in Item Blocks placed throughout, quite a few Goombas, Koopas, Paratroopas, and Piranha Plants, and a big gap that you have to jump over in the middle of the level (although it is possible to walk over the brick platform above it). There's also a 1-Up, an Invincibility Star, and a pipe that leads to a coin room here. However, you have to approach that pipe from the right; otherwise, you'll fall down a pit. The coin room also has a power-up in it but it's hidden in a block on the ceiling that you have reveal some hidden coin blocks in order to reach. And the brick on the left wall has a Poison Mushroom in it. If this already sounds tricky, you haven't seen anything yet. This game is just getting started.

Level 1-2: The first underground level ratchets up the difficulty a few more notches. There are a bunch of difficult jumps here that involve platforms that begin to fall as soon as you jump on them, spots where the only "platforms" you can jump on are the tops of pipes containing Piranha Plants, and other enemies like Goombas, Koopas and Paratroopas, and Buzzy Beetles. Other than an Invincibility Star that makes jumping across those Piranha Plant-infested pipes easier (you still have to time your jumps carefully, though), the only power-ups in the main part of the level are in some of the bricks that make up the ceiling. They're very tricky to reach no matter how powered up you are. If you're small, you have to chase the Mushroom over to the end of the ceiling while avoiding enemies and pitfalls. If you're big, you still may not be able to reach some of them if you're not playing as Luigi and there's one section where you have to be careful because if you activate one power-up right after another, you'll cancel out the first one. It's best to make a hole in the bricks so you can catch the two 1-Up Mushrooms in this section and then activate the power-ups, which you can reach by breaking through some bricks to the left. (Of course, you have to be careful not to make the screen scroll too far to the right or you won't be able to get everything.) However, there are also three Warp Zones you can access here. One is near the beginning and you can get to it by activating a vine from a block and climbing up it. The other two are beyond the exit. If you manage to get up on the ceiling and go over the typical exit, you come to a room that houses one Warp Zone and if you go down the leftmost pipe here, you'll wind up in yet another room with a different Warp Zone. However, this Warp Zone is much harder to get to since, if you're large, you have to run underneath a column, break a bit of brick, then run and slide again so you can make it underneath the column completely and reach the pipe to the zone (if your timing is off, you'll end up falling to your death). Again, I'm telling you, it only gets harder from here.

Level 1-3: This stage may be short but it certainly isn't sweet. It's a series of jumps high up in the air that involves interconnected platforms that you have to manipulate by standing on one to make the other rise so you can use it to get to where you need to go, a bunch of narrow clifftops that you have to get across, floating Bloopers that you have to dodge (wait until one gets close to you and then stomp on him), and only one power-up. What's even more frustrating is that if you're small, the Mushroom that comes out of that Item Block will go to the right and fall off the cliff, so you have to grab it from the left as quickly as possible. All in all, while this level isn't as nearly as complex as the previous one or some of the later ones, it's still not to be taken lightly.

Level 1-4: Like Level 1-3, the first castle level is rather small and simple, but still a bit tricky. The one power-up is at the very beginning of the level and is so high up and close to the edge of the gap that getting the item can be difficult. If you're small, you'll have to grab the Mushroom by jumping across the gap as it falls to the right. If you're big, you'll have to build up a bit of speed on the very small platform the block is hovering over and jump up to the Fire Flower from the left (Luigi makes this much easier). The main hazards here are rotating firebars found on the ceilings and floors of the hallways as well as on a couple of the platforms and in fact, the ones in the hallways are so difficult to avoid when you're big due to the claustrophobic nature of the passages that it's almost a better idea to not go for the Item Block at the beginning if you enter this level small. If you do decide to chance it while super-sized, then it's best to duck to avoid the firebars and then jump. In any case, you know you're getting close to Bowser when you see his fireballs coming at you, which are easy enough to dodge this first time around, and Bowser himself isn't too difficult in this first level, even in this game. If you have fire power, you can take him out with fireballs. If not, it's not too hard to run under him when he jumps or cross over him with the aid of the floating platform above him. Jump for that axe and dump his shell-covered rear end into the lava!

Level 2-1: This one isn't too bad, all things considered. The enemies are the typical Goombas and Paratroopas and there aren't that many tricky jumps or obstacles. The only thing really worth noting, other than this is the first bridge level in the game, is that this is the introduction of the Super Spring, the green type of spring that will launch you up into the sky. When you jump on one of those things, you have to be really careful in trying to position your off-screen character over a platform that he can land on. (While that's not too difficult here, it gets much harder later on in the game, where there aren't many platforms to land on and the ones that you're given are very small and narrow.) Other than that, though, this level isn't too bad, although the power-ups and items can take some effort to get. There's also both a coin room and heaven here (some of the coins in the room are tricky to get if you're big).

Level 2-2: This rather long and wide-open level involves a lot of running and long-jumping in order to make it over some big gaps and tricky obstacles. Some of the jumps require you to build up speed and jump right before you hit a block on the edge of the gap, another requires you to do the same and stop on a one-block column in order to reach an Item Block with an Invincibility Star, and there's one spot where you have to activate some hidden coin blocks and use them as stepping stones in order to reach a floating pipe (you can probably jump the gap here instead if you build up enough speed but I've never done that because there isn't much room with which to do so). There's no shortage of enemies here either, with Goombas, Koopas and Paratroopas, and Piranha Plants infesting every long stretch of path, so you also have to watch out while attempting those run-and-jumps (in addition, the final staircase leading to the flagpole has a trio of Goombas falling down it so you'd best jump on the floating single block in order to avoid them). The two power-ups here are quite hard to get as well, especially if you're big when you go for the second one, and the coin room here is the one with the easily accessible Poison Mushroom with the real power-up in the ceiling. I wouldn't call this level hard per se but it can be frustrating nevertheless.

Level 2-3: Another bridge level, this one has enemies flying around everywhere, like Paratroopas, floating Bloopers, and, worst of all, flying Cheep-Cheeps. While the level isn't very long, it's not that easy either, with the jumps that you have to do while dodging the airborne enemies (even though those Cheep-Cheeps will knock themselves out if they hit your feet from beneath, the impact can fling you off a platform if you're close to the edge or mess up your jump if they hit you in the middle of one, causing you to fall to your death). While there's one sole power-up here, the good news is that it's not hard to get; the bad news is that, if you're not careful, the flying enemies may cause you to lose it as soon as you get it. If you're already Super Mario, though, I highly recommend going for the Fire Flower that will come out of the Item Block because it makes contending with the enemies much easier. The best course of action is to keep moving and jumping to make it to the flagpole in one piece.

Level 2-4: This castle level is a bit harder than the first one, with run and jumps that you have to do in order to clear pools of lava but you also have to dodge firebars on the edge of the platforms at the same time, jump across platforms with said firebars, and make your way through narrow passages that either have firebars on both the ceiling and floor or firebars on the ceiling and small pits of lava strewn across the floor. You can clear those little pits of lava by just running across them but you still have to watch the firebars and both of these halls are especially tough if you're powered up because you're a much bigger target in that case. In addition, the sole power-up here is hidden and it's right before said pair of passageways so you have to debate whether or not you want to take it. The spot leading up to Bowser is a section with platforms in lava that have firebars on them as well as Podoboos jumping out of the lava, so you must watch what you're doing there. Fortunately, though, there's an opportunity for a 1-Up at the beginning of the level that you can do through each playthrough so you won't game over: you clobber a Koopa, kick his shell, and then chase after it while it mows down some Goombas and some more Koopas (you have to dodge the shell once it bounces off the block at the end of the path, though). When you get to Bowser, there's a block with ten coins in one of the columns hanging down from the ceiling but you have to dodge his fireballs in order to get it. I say forget about the coins and just keep your mind on getting to the axe to drop Bowser into the lava.

Level 3-1: The Hammer Bros. make their first appearance at the beginning of this level and while they may not be hard to get rid of at this point, you will grow to absolutely despise them by the end of the game. The first pipe in this level leads to a coin room but it also leads to a Warp Zone that will send you all the way back to World 1 so it's best to ignore that pipe. This level involves a lot of jumping up onto floating brick platforms in order to make it over obstacles and move on as well as the first appearance of Bullet Bill halfway through. There are quite a few other enemies here as well, mostly Koopas and Paratroopas as well as the ever present Piranha Plants. Fortunately, the three power-ups (one of which is an Invincibility Star at the beginning) are not that hard to get to and the same goes for the vine leading to a coin heaven early on as well. However, there's also a Poison Mushroom and a 1-Up that is extremely hard to get without Luigi, so that sort of balances things out.

Level 3-2: The first underwater level, oh joy. In truth, this one isn't that bad, although there are plenty of Cheep-Cheeps to dodge as well as those annoying ass Bloopers (three show up in the section leading up to the exit pipe, making things all the more miserable for you). There are also some Koopas walking on the ocean floor that you can't do anything about except dodging if you're not Fire Mario (and if you didn't enter the level as such, you're shit out of luck because there are no power-ups here). While there aren't as many tight spaces here as there will be in later swimming levels, the screen can still get a bit crowded and it's particularly bad when there's a Blooper approaching and you can't move that much. There are also some spots at the top of the screen where it looks as if you can leap out of the water onto dry land but they're just there to tease you so just ignore them. The only thing to do is do your best in dodging the enemis and once you see that exit pipe, dart for it.

Level 3-3: More jumping across narrow clifftops with balancing platforms that you have to use in order to make your way across some spots, single floating platforms that fall when you stand on them, and Paratroopas that you either have to dodge or use as makeshift stepping stones. The last section is particularly hard because you have to stand on a falling platform and jump repeatedly to not fall to your doom while you wait for the Piranha Plant in the nearby pipe to go down and when you get across that, you have to activate two hidden blocks above a bluff in order to hop across two more to reach the flagpole. There's just one power-up and it's hard to get if you're not playing as Luigi. There's also an opportunity for a 1-Up involving a Koopa shell but, unlike the one in the last castle level, it's harder to pull off because the enemies will fall off the side of the platform if you're not quick enough in dispatching them. While I wouldn't say this level is difficult (although I did lose quite a bit of lives to that section with the falling platform and the pipe housing a Piranha Plant, mainly because I either jumped too soon, too late, or not at all), this is where the game is beginning to get more difficult.

Level 3-4: I hate these castle levels where you have to take a certain path in order to progress because I always forget which path is correct and I end up wasting time and, in some cases, taking a hit. The first path you have to take is the lowest one, which is so small that it's best not to be powered up when you try to go through it (you'll have to slide if you are and the little lava pit on the floor with the jumping Podoboo makes that quite hazardous). There is a power-up after this bit but getting it can make the next section hard too. You have to take the highest path next and in order to reach it, you have to make several invisible blocks appear (for the longest time, I couldn't figure out how to get up there and I thought the game designers had deliberately tricked me!) Afterward, jumping from the small staircase floating in the air to the highest passage is where being powered up might be a hinderance because it's possible to hit your head and fall into the wrong path or, worse, down the pitfall below (it's best to duck and jump). You also have to dodge some firebars here and then jump to a platform floating in lava in order to reach Bowser so, again, you might want to duck and jump to avoid disaster. The one good thing about this level is that, save for a Podoboo jumping out of the pool of lava underneath, Bowser isn't hard to deal with since there's no ceiling above him, making jump over him easy enough (just don't let him trick you because he could very possibly jump when you do).

Level 4-1: Now, we're starting to get really difficult. In this level, you're introduced to the red type of Piranha Plants that will continue to stick their heads out of their pipes even if you're standing next to them and, even worse, annoying ass Lakitu. While Lakitu will only plague you in certain sections of the level, he's still one of the most irritating Mario enemies ever and if you didn't hate him before, you will really grow to hate him in this game. In any case, there's also a tricky jump here where you will have to take a running leap onto this spring in order to make it over this gap (I sometimes mess up and end up losing a life) and a pipe that leads to a swimming area that may be filled with coins but also has three Bloopers that will crowd in on you as well as two Buzzy Beetles walking on the bottom of the middle section that you can't do anything about even if you're Fire Mario (unless you're really desperate for coins, I would advise skipping this area). The two power-ups are easy enough to get for the most part (although if the second one comes out as a Fire Flower, you may find it a bit hard to get to) and near the end of the level is a block with a vine that leads to a coin heaven. The drawbacks to that coin heaven, though, are that you have to activate and climb up the vine while dealing with Lakitu and after you complete the heaven, it'll send you back a little bit in the level and while this may be a good way to rack up coins, you may end up running short on time. In conclusion, view this level as a precursor for the challenges that lie ahead.

Level 4-2: Like the previous one, this level is short but difficult as all get-out, with Bullet Bill turrets, Buzzy Beetles, Lakitu again, and a couple of Hammer Bros. in the section that leads to the flagpole. When it comes to the two power-ups, one is right in the middle of some turrets at the beginning of the level and the other is in a row of Item Blocks that, one, is tricky to get to if you're big due to how it's right above a turret and, two, can be accidentally canceled out by the Poison Mushroom in the block at the other end of the row if it's a Mushroom and you're chasing it. There is a pipe that leads to a coin room but it's underneath the row of Item Blocks that the second Hammer Brother is standing on, which means you have to get past the first one (and it's difficult to that without getting hit if you're not Fire Mario) and run under the blocks in order to do so and even then, you still have to dodge the second brother's hammers. I typically don't stop for the items and just get through this level as quickly as possible in order to keep from taking a hit. However, I always try to go for the Invincibility Star that's right after the Bullet Bill turrets at the beginning because Lakitu comes up shortly afterward and definitely want to get rid of him before he cause you trouble here.

Level 4-3: This level is just cruel. It's another platforming level up high in the sky but a good majority of the platforms are either of that type that falls as soon as you stand on them or those pulley ones where you have to stand on one to make the other rise so you can move on. There are also some long jumps where it's best to use nearby Paratroopas as stepping stones to ensure a safe landing, other where you have to run and jump on springs in order to make it across, and near the end of the level, Bullet Bills start shooting from the right so you have to watch out for them too (it's possible to use them as stepping stones as well but it's not a sure thing). There's one power-up here and if you're small, the Mushroom is hardly worth the effort since getting will involve you having to do a potentially hazardous jump (in fact, the Fire Flower is hard to get too since you have to jump up on the block and the only platform beneath is moving back and forth). The last leg of the level gives you two choices and neither one is all that great. If you manage to get up on the last clifftop, you'll have to jump from one platform to two Paratroopas, land on one very small, narrow block, jump to another one, and then grab the flagpole. The lower route is a tad bit easier but you'll have to do a running jump on those little platforms and trying to stop on those after doing so is extremely difficult. If I were betting man, I would say that you will lose some lives here (I know I've lost my fair share of them).

Level 4-4: This is the worst castle level yet. You've got longer than average rotating firebars that force you to really watch where you're standing when they come around, enemies in tight passageways as well as ones that fall down on you from above, platforms that will fall right into the lava if you stand on them too long, forcing you to make some rather hard jumps to the next passage, a spot where you have to jump on a block with a rotating firebar and then quickly jump up onto the next ledge before it comes around (this is easier with Luigi but it's still very possible to get burned), and a Hammer Brother right after one of those firebars, forcing you to do some more fancy jumping if you're not Fire Mario or Luigi (with all of the hazards here, it's almost impossible to keep any power-up you may have). Moreover, the sole power-up that's here is only accessible by taking the middle passage in a spot where there are two firebars and even if you manage to activate the Mushroom, you have to drop down, chase it, and jump for it as it falls toward the lava. In addition, the section that leads to Bowser involves jumping across two platforms (the second of which is one of those small, narrow blocks) that are suspended over lava and when you face Bowser, there's a rotating firebar on his bridge as well as a low-hanging column descending from the ceiling, which doesn't give you much to space to contend with him. Your best bet is waiting until Bowser jumps and then quickly dashing under him towards the axe.

Level 5-1: This level is quite long and introduces a new type of hazard: the wind. Halfway into this stage when you get to the top of a brick staircase, it'll start blowing and while it is necessary in order to make it across the wide gap afterward, you have to be ready for it and be careful with your jumping or you'll get blown to your death. The wind aside, this level has a lot of Piranha Plant-infested pipes, including quite a few at the beginning that hang upside down, Buzzy Beetles, and Paratroopas, so you have to be very careful. There are no power-ups to be found here, though there is a 1-Up in a hidden block near the staircase where the wind blows (it's hard to get, though), a pipe early on that leads to a coin room, and a block near the end of the level that leads to a coin heaven as well as the Warp Zone for World 6. And incidentally, if you don't use said Warp Zone, then you have to get out of this level by making some hidden blocks appear to the left of the huge wall that almost completely blocks the path to the flagpole, jump on top of said wall, and run across it to the finish.

Level 5-2: Another underground level, this one isn't as long as the previous level but that doesn't make it any easier. There are more upside down pipes with Piranha Plants in them, plenty of Goombas, Koopa, and Buzzy Beetles, many of which you have to contend with in tight, narrow spaces, a couple of Poison Mushrooms that you could end up activating, and some elevators near the end that can be a bit difficult to jump across. The good news is that there are a fair amount of power-ups, including an easily accessible one at the very beginning as well as an Invincibility Star near the middle and a 1-Up Mushroom in one of the blocks that make up the ceiling right after the star but, of course, after you let it loose, you have to chase after it in order to catch it. You can also gain access to Warp Zones 7 and 8 here. The latter is reached by a vine in a block right before the elevators and the former can be reached by getting on top of the ceiling and running past the standard exit to the zone.

Level 5-3: While this level is short, not only is it another platforming level in the sky but it's also a non-castle level that loops in spots when you don't take the right path; in this case, it's the very first section. The good thing about this initial looping section is that going to the end of it without taking the correct path leads to a power-up that resets so you can go through twice if you desire a Fire Flower (it's the only power-up to be found here, as well). In any case, to move onto the second section, you have to make it to a floating pipe that's up rather high by using two hovering Paratroopas as stepping stones (you have to watch out for the Piranha Plant inside the pipe as well). The good news is that the passage to the next section is a coin room so you ran rack up some money on your way. The second section requires you to make your way across some clifftops using those balancing platforms while avoiding both Bullet Bills as well as floating Bloopers. In one spot, you have to leap from a sliding platform in the middle of a big gap to a Paratroopa in order to make it to a clifftop and then jump across three automatically falling ones to another before finally making it to another balancing platform that leads to the flagpole.

Level 5-4: A buttload of rotating firebars, Podoboo-spitting lava pools, and difficult jumps that often involve either narrow or falling platforms make the next castle level insanely challenging. It really is hard to describe this level except to say that you will find yourself jumping and dodging (and, no doubt, dying) a lot. The sole power-up here is a nightmare to get and keep because it's right above a rotating firebar that itself is in-between two other firebars. There's also an awful spot where the safer route is on top of a floating platform but if you can't make it, you'll have to jump across two falling platforms hovering above the lava with a Podoboo jumping in-between them in order to make it across. By the time you make it to Bowser, you'll probably be ready to get past him as quickly as possible in order to end this level but you still must be patient because you have to watch out for the Podoboo that jumps out of the lava beneath his bridge. (I've been killed by that damn thing a few times and it is really frustrating.)

Level 6-1: You're presented with a power-up, an Invincibility Star, and a 1-Up right at the beginning of this level, which is never a good sign and, sure enough, this level is more than a little tricky. Unfortunately, the aforementioned items are caught between two columns of bricks and you have to bump them from underneath in order to get them out if you're small. It's best to go for the star, though, because there's a Hammer Brother right after this section and being invincible will make dealing with him much easier. Some of the other obstacles here include more upside down, Piranha Plant-housing pipes, another Hammer Brother immediately after one of those obstacles, a big pipe that forces you to find a hidden coin block in order to get up over it (that's not difficult at all, though), and more wind near the end, which can make it very hard to stay on a moving platform that you must use to clear one of the last pitfalls before the flagpole. There's one other power-up about halfway through the level but, if it's a Mushroom, you'll have to run to get it and that includes running through a spot where there's a Piranha Plant on the top and bottom. In addition, you have to be careful about hitting the other item blocks that are next to the one containing said power-up because one contains a Poison Mushroom. There's also a pipe leading to a coin room beneath the staircase where the wind starts but, due to said wind, it's best not to chance it because you can very easily end up getting blown to your death (not to mention the fact that you have to be very careful not to hit the Piranha Plant in the pipe). Finally, the staircase leading to the flagpole has four pipes with Piranha Plants around it, three of which actually make up the steps. In other words, you can't be too eager to get out of here once you see that flagpole or you'll end up getting chomped!

Level 6-2: Remember back at the first swimming level when I said that level was nothing compared to the others in this game? Well, levels like this one were what I was talking about. This level is awful, with a bunch of tight spaces, columns, boxes, and bars of coral that you have to swim around, descending platforms that threaten to push you down into oblivion, and Cheep-Cheeps and Bloopers galore (as well as some random Koopas and Paratroopas here and there). There are no power-ups here and some of the many coins here are more of a hassle than they're worth since they can lead you into spots where you can either be easily cornered and damaged by enemies or underneath low-hanging obstacles that can send you falling down gaps in the ocean floor if you bump them too hard. The only way to make out of here in one piece is to keep an eye on the enemies and obstacles here and to keep moving as much as possible (if you can enter this level as Fire Mario or Luigi, it makes a big difference).

Level 6-3: Another bridge level filled with Paratroopas and flying Cheep-Cheeps and this is the worst one yet, with the added hazard of those falling platforms. There are two power-ups here and while the second is simple enough to get, the first one, floating in mid-air in the midst of falling platforms, is much harder, particularly if you're already big and it's a Fire Flower. As with the other levels of this type, you'd best keep moving and jumping on the enemies whenever you can. And you had better have sharpened up on your Paratroopa jumping skills by this point because jumping on one is the only to get to the clifftops where you can jump to the flagpole (you also have to jump on a Paratroopa in order to reach the top of the pole as well).

Level 6-4: Another castle level where you must take the right path in order to proceed and, naturally, the correct paths in this case are the most hazardous: running underneath a long moving firebar, jumping over a Hammer Brother in order to the get the top platform in a row of three (if you land on the middle platform while avoiding the Brother, don't go too far on it and you'll have to do the whole thing again), dodging a Podoboo and a firebar on said top platform, then taking a lower route that has Piranha Plant-housing pipes along it to jump onto two platforms with firebars on them (one of which is one block), jumping down on the lowest path (which itself is tricky to do because of the descending platforms in that section as well as the lava), and finally running across a small, Podoboo-spitting lava pit as well as past another firebar. Even after you've taken the correct path to the level, you still have to make it to Bowser by riding a moving platform across another lava pool. Worst of all, not only do you have to fight Bowser on another bridge above a Podoboo-spitting stretch of lava but Bowser now starts throwing hammers at you! Needless to say, this makes this encounter much more challenging the ones before so you really have to watch yourself here.

Level 7-1: With the end approaching, the game really starts to become an endurance test. The path in this level is choked with Piranha Plant-infested pipes (with many spots where they're pointing in both directions), flying Cheep-Cheeps throughout a large section, more wind, plenty of Koopas and Paratroopas, some Bullet Bill turrets (one of which serves as a platform necessary to reach the flagpole), Buzzy Beetles, and more Hammer Bros. Moreover, from here on out, the Hammer Bros. will be much more difficult than they were before, moving quickly towards you while they attack as well as being able to jump from the top platform they stand on straight down to the ground instead of having to stop on the middle one. Fortunately, there's an Invincibility Star a little before you first run into the Brothers, which makes getting by them much easier (there's another Brother near the end, though). The power-ups here can be very difficult to get and the same goes for the 1-Up Mushroom, which is in one of the bricks of the platform that the pair of Hammer Bros. stand on. Halfway through the level is a pipe that you can reach by bouncing off two Paratroopas that leads to three bonus areas in a row: a coin room, a long windy area where you can use the shell of a Paratroopa to earn a 1-Up, and another coin room. Don't get cocky when you get these rewards, though, because it only gets more difficult from here on out.

Level 7-2: Another level that loops in the first section, this one marks the unwelcome return of Lakitu and you'd best get him out of the way as soon as he appears in the second part of the level; otherwise, you'll have to jump across some narrow blocks with rotating firebars on them while trying to dodge his Spinies at the same time. The good news about this is that in the first section, there's an Item Block and if you manage to grab a Mushroom from it when you're small (getting a Fire Flower from it is virtually impossible), you'll be able to get a Fire Flower in the coin room that leads to the next section. Firepower will come in very handy in ridding yourself of Lakitu and his Spinies as well as the Koopas in the next section. Finally, to get to the flagpole, you have to make a rather hairy jump from a Paratroopa to a falling platform to the top of a large pipe where you'll be able to grab the pole.

Level 7-3: Wind, very wide gaps, and super springs make for a rather challenging level. This is where your super spring-jumping skills will be put to the test because you absolutely must use them to cross the enormous gaps here and you'll have to position your landings on the narrow clifftops and platforms as best as you can or you'll end up falling to your death. I'd also advise trying as best as you can to not land on the tricky balancing platforms that appear near the end of the level because they're hard enough to work with without the wind. Fortunately, there aren't many enemies here save for some Paratroopas and Piranha Plants (although one Paratroopa will make taking off with a spring a bit tricky) but on the flip side, the sole power-up here is hard to get due to its position in conjunction with the wind. The last leg leading up to the flagpole is a series of narrow platforms, a Paratroopa, and one last platform with a firebar on it before the pole. Moreover, the wind stops right before that last platform with the firebar, killing your ability to jump far, so you have to do a bit of dash jump to get to it, which can be a challenge due to how narrow the platform is as well as the firebar on the one you need to get to.

Level 7-4: Bowser's really upping the ante on the difficulty of his booby-trapped fortresses. More firebars and lava, a series of lifts that you have to make difficult jumps across, tight bottom paths that can be very hard (almost impossible) to get through if you fall down there when you're big, and a series of platforms suspended above Podoboo-spitting lava that ends with a firebar-housing platform that sits right in the lava. While there is a chance for a 1-Up a little over halfway through involving a Koopa shell and a bunch of Buzzy Beetles, the level's sole power-up near the beginning is in a hidden block right above a firebar that itself is right on the edge. Still, it's worth going for and even if you don't get the power-up, the block is a good way to jump on the nearby lifts without having to worry about getting burned by said firebar. As for Bowser, while the ceiling is high and the lava beneath his bridge doesn't spew a Podoboo, you still have to get around a firebar on the bridge as well as dodge Bowser's hammers. The minute you see an opening, run like hell!

Level 8-1: This level is absolutely loaded with enemies: Goombas, Koopas and Paratroopas, Buzzy Beetles, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills, Hammer Bros., virtually all of them are here and there are many sections where you have to deal with almost all of them at once. While there is a power-up early on, it's in one of many Item Blocks that make up a platform and not only are there enemies beneath it that make chasing after a Mushroom hazardous, if you're not careful, you'll also end up activating a Poison Mushroom and canceling out the item you were trying to get. There's a bit of wind after this part and when you jump towards a trio of Paratroopas that you must use to cross a gap, the wind will stop and if you're not careful, it might throw off your jumping precision. After that is a Hammer Brother and while you can use the nearby Buzzy Beetle to dispense with him, you have to hit him quick or you'll get tagged by a Bullet Bill (there's a power-up in one of the bricks here but it's so high up that I wouldn't risk going for it). After you make the next leap, you have to deal with two Hammer Brothers that appear one after the other, so you have to jump with great skill to keep from taking a hit. The last section leading to the flagpole involves jumps from parts of the ground with pipes housing Piranha Plants and Koopas to tiny blocks hanging in mid-air and so on until you reach the pole. You also have to be careful of one pipe in particular here because it'll lead you to a Warp Zone that takes you all the way back to World 5!

Level 8-2: Weirdly enough, the version of this level in the original Japanese game is different from the American All-Stars version, with blocks that are no longer present and hidden coin blocks replacing blocks that were camouflaged by the castle walls in the earlier version (finding these blocks, which are necessary to advance, can eat up time as well). Really odd fact about this level. In any case, there are more tricky jumps involving the wind, Hammer Bros., and plenty of Koopas and Buzzy Beetles. You also have to be careful there are Poison Mushrooms to be found here as well and the power-up at the beginning is so high above the gap that it can be hard to get, especially if you're already Super Mario. Like I said, there's a part where you'll have to use a sudden burst of wind in order to make it over a large column. You have to run with the wind and jump on a spring while doing so in order to sail over the obstacle. It's best to just try to make it to the other side rather than trying to land on top of the column. This level also attempts to trick you into wasting time because the pipe at the end leads to a coin room that will dump you back in the middle of the level instead of to the flagpole. You have to climb up a vine that's deployed from a floating block with a Paratroopa beneath it near the end of the level to find the pole (the good thing is you won't have to deal with the Hammer Bros. that stand in front of the pipe).

Level 8-3: The first time I played this game, this level almost made me quit. I'm serious. The middle section of this stage is so damn hard that I was about ready to just give up and leave the game unfinished. While the first section, which involves you jumping across some clouds while using Paratroopas as stepping stones, isn't so bad (your best bet is to ignore the spring and use long jumps to make your way through here instead), after that is the nightmare section. You have to run a across a wide-open stretch of cloud with two Hammer Bros., two hidden blocks that contain Poison Mushrooms, and, on top of all that, a Lakitu that's bombing you from above. Lakitu actually appears in the first section and while it is possible to get rid of him there, he always respawns by the time I reach this part and I can never manage to jump on him again (it's almost impossible to keep a Fire Flower on you during all of this crap as well). Dodging the Spinies and the Hammer Bros. is hard enough but the hidden blocks with the Poison Mushrooms can hinder your chance to jump out of the way as well (I got killed because of those things plenty of times). There are some power-ups and a vine that leads to a coin heaven after this section but by the time I get past the second Hammer Brother, I'm too frustrated to think to go for them (not to mention that they're so hard to get) and I try to continue on. There are two more Hammer Bros. up ahead and while there's an Invincibility Star nearby, I always forget about it since it's hidden and even if I got it, I'd more than likely run out right before I get to the Brothers. Finally, you have to activate two more hidden blocks in order to get up onto a balancing platform and jump across a gap to the flagpole. Many times, I was so frantic to get out of here that I didn't think to try to find the blocks and I tried jumping for the platform, falling to my death and having to do the whole thing again (there's no halfway point with this level). I don't know, maybe some less impulsive and hot-headed players out there have been able to clear this level without the amount of difficulty that I encountered but this level just drove me insane and it's really a miracle that I didn't just give up as a result (again, a big part of the issue could be that I'm just too impatient for this sort of thing but this level is still very irritating nonetheless).

Level 8-4: Bowser's final castle is, fittingly enough, another maze where taking the correct route is crucial and wouldn't you know it that this is the most confusing one of all? The first room involves you having to across one pool of lava (the only way to do this is to get underneath the stairs you start on because you won't have enough room to charge up your jump as Mario and you'll hit the ceiling as Luigi), run past some firebars and skip across another pool of lava with a Podoboo and a firebar on the next platform (just doing a running jump is the best way to do this) and then going down the pipe that has a small platform above it (doing this is difficult because of the Piranha Plant and it won't be the last time you'll have to do it in this level either). The pipe leads to a small underwater area with firebars (how is that even fair?) and a couple of Bloopers. In other words, you'll have to be very careful in swimming around these obstacles. After that is another small room where you'll have get to a pipe that's beneath a platform, with this one being an overhang that makes it quite difficult (there's a hidden power-up to the left of the pipe you come out of and I highly advise getting it). The next room has more Piranha Plants, Paratroopas, a floating Blooper, a Poison Mushroom, and a tricky where you have to keep the long firebar on the other side of the lava pool in-sight in order to journey. In addition, if you go down the third pipe in this room, you'll wind up back at the beginning (I did fall for that the first couple of times because I ended up forgetting about it; when I get caught up in the moment, I tend to forget important things). After you get past the firebar, which you must do so by waiting until the sliding platform on the lava lines up with the other small bricks there and then making a dash jump over the firebar, you go through a long hallway which ends with a spot where you have to deal with two Paratroopas in order to make it over this small lava pit. The Paratroopas move in two different directions so you have to wait until they're both in the right positions to make it safely across the gap. Fortunately, after that is another well-needed power-up and if you were lucky enough to keep the last one, you'll now be Fire Mario or Luigi. The firepower will be very helpful because a fake Bowser is at the start of the next section and if you can't get rid of him that way, you'll have to run past him and risk taking a hit from his hammers. In addition, there's a trap right before him that, if you fall for it, will force you to take a pipe all the way back to the beginning and if that happens, it's very likely that you'll run out of time before you get all the way back here. After the fake Bowser, getting to the real one is relatively easy compared to the other crap you've gone through in this castle but that doesn't make fighting him any simpler. Not only is he throwing hammers but there are two low-hanging columns in front of him that hinder your jumping and the latter one has a firebar on it, giving you something else to dodge. If you don't have any firepower (and may God have mercy on you if you don't), then you have to dodge the hammers and the bar and wait for the right opportunity to run under Bowser and grab the axe. Once you do that, you can rest easy knowing that you've finally beaten this endurance test of a game.

And that's Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels or the original Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, depending on who you talk to. Whatever you call it, while it's not a bad game at all, it's still one hard son of a bitch, with very challenging levels and enemies, aspects that seem to be there to punish you for trying to take the easy way out (i.e. some of the Warp Zones), and some of the stuff that you're forced to do in the levels seems absolutely insane and sadistic. Aside from the Mega Man games, particularly Mega Man 2, I've played few video games that were this challenging. I'm pretty sure that there were times while I was playing this game that my blood pressure went up to very dangerous levels and, as much as I'm ashamed to say, I did lose it and started yelling like crazy at the television (when I was alone in the house, of course). In other words, if you're hot-headed and impatient like me, it's probably in your best interest to steer clear of this game. But, if you want a game that really challenges you gaming abilities, then by all means, pick this game up, whether it be in the form of either All-Stars edition or the actual original game if you're in a position where you can get your hands on it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Video Game Corner: Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)

And now we come to one of the most beloved games in the original NES' library. This game is remembered with extreme fondness by every single person who played it during their childhood and for good reason: it's a pretty dang good game. However, as you've no doubt noticed, like the other two Super Mario Bros. games, I didn't list this as an installment of Stuff I Grew Up With for the same simple reason why I didn't do so for the other games. While I do indeed remember playing this game as a very young kid and I'm pretty sure that it was indeed one of the games that I owned during that brief amount of time I had my original NES, it, like the other games for that console, had pretty much disappeared from my life by the time I was six so it didn't really have that big an impact on my childhood like the games for the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo 64. That said, though, I do remember playing this game during that very early part of my life and having fun with it. Hey, throughout all these years, I remembered the basic look of some of the levels, some of the music, and the various themes for a couple of the worlds, particularly the one where all the enemies are gigantic. So it obviously did leave an impression on me. I also remember my cousin and I playing the two-player mode of this game and getting into squabbles over something every time (but then again, he and I always fought so it was nothing new). But, like the other Super Mario Bros. games, I never could say that I seriously played this game until just a few years ago when I got the Super Mario All-Stars for the Wii and revisited it after so many years. It also wasn't until much later in my life that I realized how beloved this game was. Obviously, I was only three when this game was released and while I did think it was fun, I was much too young to grasp or even comprehend its impact and since it was gone from my life by the time I would have been old enough to do so, I never knew that so many hold it in such high regard until I was in my early 20's. That was mainly due to James Rolfe's Angry Video Game Nerd episodes, particularly the one where he talks about the film The Wizard as well as the game itself. Right then, I knew that Super Mario Bros. 3 was viewed as one of the highpoints of Mario's long reign as a video game icon, given not just by the fact that James Rolfe said so but because he mentioned how it was the first game he could remember having a Player's Guide from Nintendo Power and how there was a cartoon show based on it, even though there wasn't one based on the second game. As he himself said, that's pretty special. Anyway, to sum up this introduction, after playing the game for real as an adult, I can say that I do get why this game is still so beloved. Actually I will say that I don't think any one of the original three Super Mario Bros. games is better or worse than the others. I think they're all classic video games, each one equally as good as its brothers as well as having its own unique flavor.

Although I was much too young to comprehend just how big Super Mario Bros. 3 was, I will say that I did understand that each of these games was different from the others. Super Mario Bros. 2 was certainly much different than the first one and while Super Mario Bros. 3 did have a feel that was similar to the original game, I did get that it was still quite different. Looking at the game now in retrospect, I do feel that, after the successful but rather unusual second game, this one was meant as a bit of a callback to the feel of the original, albeit with much more added to it: the original cranked up a notch, in other words. Indeed, while the game does go back to the same basic mechanics of the original game (Mario and Luigi being the only two playable characters, your main means of attacking being jumping on enemies, Bowser being the main villain again, etc.), there are many more elements added to it as well, some of which have since become standards of the Mario games in their own right. Basically, this does what any sequel (be it to a game, a movie, or whatever) should: take what worked about its predecessors and build on it which, if done right, should make it come across as clearly part of the same universe or what have you but as its own thing instead of just a carbon copy.

Before we go any further, though, I once again must say something for those who have never read any of my video game reviews before: the one aspect of this game that I'm incapable of talking about is the two-player mode, particularly the Battle Mode. As I said above, while I do remember playing the two-player mode with my cousin, you have to remember that we were both very young and I don't remember any of the specifics at all. I sure as heck can't ask him to play it with me nowadays either. And I don't think we played the Battle Mode when we were young period. In fact, until I watched that aforementioned Angry Video Game Nerd video where he briefly mentioned, I don't think I even knew that the game had a feature like that. Finally, I was an only child when I was growing up (while I do have a sister, she was grown and out of the house by the time I was old enough to play video games) so I almost never got to play the two-player modes of any games and even then, it wouldn't have mattered anyway given what ever happened to my NES when I was very young. So, yes, I'm sure that the two-player mode of this game has fond memories for a lot of people but I'm not one of them for the simple reasons that I've stated up above and therefore, you're not going to see a section where I talk about that mode in this review.

Even the basic story of the game is slightly different from what you usually do in Mario games. You're actually not going out to rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser until the very end of the game. The rest of the time, the princess is sending you out to the various worlds to liberate them from Bowser's forces, which consist of not only his typical minions but also his children, who are controlling all the bad guys in a given world. When you've completed the seventh world, you get a letter, the same as you did after you completed the other worlds, but rather than it being from the princess as it always was before, it's from Bowser, who informs you that he kidnapped the princess while you were out running around. Now, you must fight through the eighth and final world in order to get to Bowser's castle and defeat him in order to save the princess. Naturally, all of this isn't that vital to focus on since the Mario games aren't typically story-driven but it's that little touch that makes this game all the more different from its predecessors.

One of the major innovations that Super Mario Bros. 3 brought to the franchise was a map screen. Instead of simply going from one level to the next after you beat them, you now have an entire world map to wander around and explore. Moreover, there is no one set way to reach the end of each world. There are often forks in the road that enable you to bypass one or even two levels in order to complete the world sooner. However, as the game goes on, the world's get larger and more intricate, sometimes taking up two or three screens that you must journey through as well as having more obstacles that you have to get around in order to advance. These obstacles include big stones in the road that you can break on the map screen using the hammers that you can obtain from mini-games or from the Hammer Bros.; the Hammer Bros., who patrol the roads and whom you can sometimes avoid but other times, you have no choice but to fight them; mini-levels filled to the brim with pipes containing little piranha plants that appear in later worlds; and big locked doors that can only be opened when you defeat the mini-bosses waiting for you at the end of the one or more castle levels that are sprinkled throughout the worlds (even if you game over, the doors will remain unlocked). Going back to the Hammer Bros., on the map screens for certain worlds, if you finish a level after you've met a certain criteria of elements (which are quite complex in that your coin total must be a multiple of 11 and the tens digit of your score must match up with said coin score; who would have expected math, moreover really complex math, to play a part in a Mario game?), one of the patrolling brothers will be replaced by a treasure ship. Going towards the ship makes you enter a bonus level where you can collect a bunch of coins (although you have to be careful to avoid getting crushed by the screen) but you have to beat two Boomerang Bros. at the end in order to complete the level. If you lose that fight, the ship will be replaced on the map screen by the Hammer Brother whose place it took. Yeah, this game is tricky and definitely keeps you on your toes.

Often, you don't have to worry about running low on items or extra lives because the map-screens present you with plenty of opportunities to acquire more. You come across Mushroom-shaped houses that house three big chests and which ever one you pick will have a helpful item inside. The spots on the map that have Ace-symbols on them contain a mini-game that requires you to line up three rapidly spinning top, middle, and bottom sections in order to create the image of either a mushroom, a flower, or a star, each of which is worth a certain number of extra lives. Honestly, though, I try to avoid these spots as often as possible. I don't know if the thing is rigged or if I just suck but I almost always end messing up and not getting anything. And finally, every once in a while a white card with an "N" on it will appear on the map screen and if you go there, you can play a matching game where you have to turn over cards in order to match up a pair of symbols. The bad news is that you only get two tries to come up with a pair. The good news is not only do you acquire what ever item you find a pair of (not just power-ups but also extra lives and ten or twenty coins) but even if you mess up, when the game pops up again, what ever matches you did make will still be there when you come back to it.

On the bottom of both the map screen and those for the actual levels, you have an information bar, which displays some vital information in regards to the game. There's simple stuff like the indicators for whichever world you're on, the number of lives you currently have (the Wii version seems to be different in this instance because I've read that you can keep playing even when you have 0 lives but in that version which I have, you game over after losing your life #1), the combined amount of coins you've currently collected throughout the levels, the amount of points that you have in the game (although I don't know if that gives you anything at all other than bragging rights), and your time limit. However, there other, more intricate sections of the bar as well. Every time you complete a level, you get an item card that appears in one of three slots on the bar. When all three slots are filled, you either get one extra life or, if you manage to get three of one type of card (which I've often done without meaning to), you can get either two (mushroom), three (flower), or five (star) extra lives. And finally, there's the "P" or Power Meter. You can fill it up by holding down the run button and going in one direction for a little bit (although it is possible, albeit tricky, to do so by going back and forth) and once it's completely filled, you can either do a very long jump by pressing the jump button or actually fly for a short while when you're wearing one of two special suits and repeatedly pressing the button. And finally, on the map screen, you can press a button that will flip the information bar over to reveal the inventory of items that you've collected throughout the game and you can activate them either to help you deal with an obstacle on the map or enable you to go into a level with a power-up that you didn't have beforehand to give yourself just a little bit more of an edge.

Mario (and Luigi) also has some new moves and techniques along with his classic jumping and running skills. As I said up above, the P-Meter enables you to do a very long jump when you fill it up that you can use to cross large gaps and holes. There are some objects that you can grab onto, like Koopa shells, Bob-Ombs, Ice Blocks, and so on, that you can use as weapons. And there's even a minor but very useful and rather fun technique here where you can slide down a hill in order to clear a line of enemies that are coming up towards you. (A lot of games made after this one actually started putting that sort of move into them as well. Heck, this game was so popular that even its most fundamental aspects were copied by other games.) Obviously, there are many more moves and forms that your character can take in this game but I'll save those for when I talk about the game's items and power-ups shortly.

Another thing that Super Mario Bros. 3 does is that it takes the idea of the worlds that you travel through all having their own distinct themes that was hinted at in the second game and combines it with the various type of levels from the original. In that game, there were specific types of levels like typical side-scrollers, swimming ones, underground ones, bridge ones, castle ones where you fight bosses, and so on, whereas the second game introduced the idea of worlds that have different themes to them. Those various level types from the original are present here (as well as the warp zones and coin heavens and rooms) and most of them correspond to what the theme of the given world is, be it snow, desert, giant, etc. In that regard, the game not only manages a nice blending of the gaming mechanics introduced in the first two games but the added addition of the map screen also gives the feel of a much more epic adventure that you're embarking on this time around since you can actually see the enormity of the worlds that you're exploring. Save for the different paths that you can take through them, the basic playthrough of the worlds is very similar to that of the original game: you go through a series of levels in each world (some of which are not clearly marked as being levels in that they're not numbered or anything of the like but end up being necessary to beat unless you can somehow get around them) until you come to the last one, the end of which has a boss waiting for you. However, these battles don't take place in a castle, even though there are castle levels in the game, but rather on a flying warship and the boss waiting for you at the end of them is not Bowser but rather one of his seven kids whom you have to trounce in order to acquire a wand that you must use to save the ruler of that particular world, who has been transformed into some kind of creature by the bad guys. Again, the game is building on what made its predecessors great but is also adding its own elements to it (and it does so very successfully, in my humble opinion).

There are items and power-ups galore in this game, with a bunch of new ones introduced along with some old favorites. Any Mario fan should know the drill about the returning power-ups: the mushroom turns you into Super Mario, the star grants you temporary invincibility (and makes you do a type of somersault when you jump after grabbing it as Super Mario, something that I don't think occurred in the previous games), and the flower enables you to throw fireballs (this game actually gives those some extra uses since in the snow world, you can use them to thaw out frozen coins). In fact, going back to the Invincibility Star, there's an aspect they added to it here where, in some levels, if you come across an item block containing one and are still invincible when you hit another block later on in the level, another star will pop out instead of what ever item is typical in there (usually a coin) and this cycle with often repeat until you run out of invincibility. In any case, many of the items that made their first appearance in this game have become just as iconic as the items returning from the original. Chief among them is the Super Leaf, which you can use to become Raccoon Mario. In this form, you can fly and float as well as use your tail as a weapon against enemies and to slow down your falls. The Frog Suit comes in very handy in the water levels since it enables you to swim more smoothly and not be pulled down by gravity or pushed down by the air bubbles of certain underwater pipes. Out of the water, though, while you can jump higher than normal, you can't hop very fast. The Tanooki Suit gives you the same powers that the Super Leaf does but it also enables you turn into a statue when you crouch down and press the run button. You can use the statue power as a means of defense as well as a stronger stomp attack when you do it in mid-air. The best suit by far is the Hammer Suit, which enables you to throw hammers like the Hammer Bros. as well as gives you a shell that can protect you from fire attacks when you crouch down. Best of all is that the hammers can destroy virtually every enemy, including the usually invincible Thwomps and Boos. However, if I'm not mistaken, save for the Super Leaf, I think you can only get most of these new power-ups in bonus levels and rooms or from the Hammer Bros. I could be wrong on that, though. But, one power-up that I know for sure you can only get on one level is the Goomba Shoe. In that level, you come across some Goombas hopping around in big green shoes and if you hit them from underneath, they'll leave their shoe behind and you can get in it and hop around. Not only can you jump higher than normal and stomp enemies that you normally can't but you can also hop across the rows of little indestructable Piranha Plants called Munchers without taking damage. Even if you get a Fire Flower or a Hammer Suit, you won't get rid of the shoe; in fact, you'll be able to throw those weapons from inside of it. And if you do take a hit, all you lose is the shoe. You won't lose any other power-up that you also have.

In the levels you come across some more familiar Mario items like coins (which now also come in a blue type but, unlike how they would be in later games, these coins aren't worth more than the normal yellow ones), 100 of which give you an extra life, the 1-Up Mushroom, the beanstalks that sometimes come out of blocks that you hit, and the Question Mark blocks that contain various items. However, there are some new items as well as spins some of the more familiar ones. There are blocks that are visibly different from the normal ones that sometimes spit out power-ups if you bump against them (you have to be careful, though, because the recoil from these blocks can sometimes bounce you back a bit and send you flying into either an enemy or a pitfall). Jump Blocks, which are white with musical notes on the sides, that enable to jump really high and can also spit out items themselves. Ice Blocks are light blue-colored bricks that you can actually pick up and use as weapons. However, there's a type of enemy that will throw them at you as well if they get a chance so you have to stay on your toes in those instances. P-Switches often cause blocks to turn into coins and vice versa but they also do other things like make blue coins appear as well as trigger secret doors that are sometimes necessary to completing a level. Finally, there are question balls that you get after you defeat the bosses of the castle levels. I'm not entirely sure what they do but I think they give you a random item (of course, they could be what opens up the locked doors on the map).

Finally, there are some items that you can use on the Map Screen. The most common is the hammer, which you can use to break through stones on the screen's paths. The Music Box puts the Hammer Bros. and the Piranha Plants on the screens to sleep so you can walk past them without having to fight them or go through their levels. Lakitu's Cloud enables you to pass over levels that you haven't completed yet (although, if you die on what ever level you skip to, you'll be thrown back behind the one you skipped and will have to do it anyway). Warp Whistles take you to Warp Zones and Anchors allow you to keep enemy airships from moving across the map (which they will do if you get killed on one of those levels). Finally, there's the most useful one, the P-Wing, which turns you into Raccoon Mario and also gives you a completely filled P-Meter (that only lasts for one level, though, but you do get to keep the form of Raccoon Mario).

Super Mario Bros. 3 definitely feels more in line with the original game in terms of the enemies. All of the enemies from the original game that weren't present in Super Mario Bros. 2 are back and not only that but many of them have various different types (species, if you will) present here as well. The classic Goombas make a return and while they are just as easy to deal with as they were before, you also have Paragoombas, winged Goombas who, depending on what color they are, will either hop around randomly or chase after you and drop little Micro-Goombas on you that weigh you down and prevent you from jumping very high (jumping repeatedly is the only way to get rid of them). Speaking of the Micro-Goombas, there's a species of those that hide inside bricks and jump at you when you get too close. When you come across a bunch of random bricks, you'd best be careful because you never know where some of those Micro-Goombas might be hiding (watch for one of the bricks to move when you approach it and either quickly avoid it or jump on it). And finally, there's the aforementioned Shoe Goomba that appears in that one level and whose shoe you can actually steal for yourself if you hit him from below. The Koopa Troopas and Paratroopas are no different here than they were in the original game and the same movement rules apply to them (the red Koopas patrol back and forth on a platform while the green ones drop down to whatever's beneath said platform, even if it means falling to their death). However, there is an apparent cousin of the Koopa Troopas called Spike that appear late in the game and these guys will actually throw spiked balls at you. While they can be killed with any attack, you have to watch those balls and be careful when you jump on the enemies themselves so you don't hit the balls when they're pulling them out. Lakitu is back as well and he's just as irritating here as he was before. Here, though, he actually throws two types of projectiles: the classic Spinies as well as some green spiked balls that roll around constantly and never stop unless they you hit them with a fireball or they fall down a pit (do NOT let them trap you in a corner). The Spinies are also just as annoyingly hard to get rid of here as they were before (sliding down at them when they're on a hill doesn't work either, just so you know) but in addition, they sometimes appear when there are no Lakitus in sight and, just like a type of Buzzy Beetle that I'll mention next, there are some in underground areas that will drop down on you from the ceiling and spin towards you. The Buzzy Beetles are back and while the same rules apply to them as they did before (although they sometimes walk across the ceiling in underground areas and drop down and spin at you when they get to you), there are also Parabeetles this time around and there are two types of them: one that you can turn into a regular beetle by jumping on him and another that you can't defeat but you can use as a ride (that latter type still hurt you if you don't jump directly on top of them, though). The worst type of beetle enemy though is the Buster Beetle. Although these guys can be killed with very simple attacks like stomping, they are the enemies that can throw Ice Blocks at you and they often pop up when there's plenty of them as well. If you see that combination up ahead, you better be prepared for some serious ducking and dodging.

There are so many different types of the Piranha Plants in this game that it's insane. While the classic Piranha Plants that stick their heads out of pipes to chomp at you are back, you also have to deal with a type that spits fireballs at you (these sometimes pop up in quicksaid as well), a type that blows a spiked ball up into the air that is quite hard to avoid (not to mention that these sometimes walk around the level while doing so, adding to your troubles even more), Nipper Plants, which are little white Piranha Plants that sometimes hop around a small area and jump up at you when you pass over them (there's apparently one Nipper Plant in the game that can shoot fireballs as well but I don't think I've ever encountered him or else I just don't remember), and, worst of all, Munchers, black little Nippers that you can't kill at all and are often lined up in long, snapping rows (you can walk across them after grabbing an invincibility star). Except for the Munchers, while all of these Piranha Plants can be easily killed with every type of attack save for jumping, you'll often find yourself having to deal with them without those power-ups, which can be very frustrating. As I mentioned before, the Hammer Bros. are back as well and they've brought a bunch of their relatives as well. You often run into the classic brothers on the map screen, having to fight them as they jump up and down on some ledges. Believe it or not, I find it easier to fight them when you're not Super Mario because just about every time that I've tried to fight them like that, I end up breaking the brick they're either behind or in front of and they proceed to fall down on me. And when they're down on the ground with me, I just get real close to them, staying within the acrs of their hammers where they can't hit you. (I'm not saying that strategy would work for everyone but that's what I always do.) Relatives to the Hammer Bros. include Boomerang Bros., green-skinned brothers that throw multiple boomerangs at you and they will circle back towards you if they miss (the Boomerang Bros. not only appear on a couple of the map screens as well as in some of the levels but, fortunately, you typically only have to deal with one of them); Sledge Bros., which are big, green-skinned versions of the Hammer Bros. and while they may throw their hammers slower than their smaller cousins, they make big jumps that will stun you and leave you open to attack if you're on the ground when they hit it (the appear on the map screen in Giant World as well); and Fire Bros., very rare, red-skinned versions that only appear in some secret areas as well as in the final world and, as their name implies, will throw fireballs at you.

There are some enemies that are just downright strange, even for a Mario game. A notable one is the Angry Sun, which appears in only two levels and attacks by swooping down at you. While he can be quite annoying, I've usually found him easy to avoid and he's vulnerable to attacks like an Invincibility Star and even a Koopa shell (although, at one point in the other level he appears in, you're forced to jump across some blocks while avoiding him if you can't get rid of him and there, he can be tricky). The Fire Snake is basically just a large fireball with four other fireballs attached to its rear section, making it looking like a snake. This is another enemy I've never had that much of a problem with since its bouncy movements are easy to avoid and it's another enemy that's vulnerable to a fair share of attacks. I believe that this game marks the first appearance of Chain Chomps, which have become very recognizable Mario enemies and characters. If you don't have a Koopa shell, an Invincibility Star, a Hammer Suit, or a Tanooki Suit (the statue smash technique), it's best to avoid them and while doing so, you'd best be careful because they will lunge at you when you least expect it. An enemy that tends to appear in levels that take place in the sky is the Fire Chomp, a floating Chain Chomp-like enemy with fireballs at the end of it instead of a chain that shoots its fireballs at you as well as flies at you. Fortunately, though, they're much easier to kill than Chain Chomps, being vulnerable to stomps and whatnot but when you're also trying to hop across some suspended platforms at the same time, they can be challenging to deal with.

Underwater-wise, the common Cheep-Cheep fish enemies return and in addition to the red and green variety from the original game, there is also a spiked species that moves much faster than its cousins and can be a challenge to avoid. In addition, while you wouldn't think these fish would pose much of a threat since all they typically do is swim back and forth or in a straight line without really attacking you, they can get to be quite a nuisance when they pop up around tight corners or when a bunch of them appear in a small space. Also, there are many instances above the ground where they will come flying out of the water (or even lava in some cases) so you have to keep your guard up and be sure that you're aligned properly when you try to stomp or you will take a hit. There are also two types of extremely large Cheep-Cheeps in the game. The worst is Boss Bass, who appears in surface levels where there's water and will often lunge at you and try to swallow you whole. Even if you turn yourself into a statue with the Tanooki suit, he can still swallow you and you will automatically lose a life. He also often appears in levels where the water level constantly rises and falls and you're constantly in danger of being slurped. And even if you manage to get rid of one (which is actually quite simple), another one will take his place so your best bet is to just keep moving and dodging. The other type of big Cheep-Cheep is Big Bertha, who swims around back and forth in one small section in underwater levels, often letting a small baby Cheep-Cheep out of her mouth while doing so. Like Boss Bass, while she can be easily defeated with a lot of simple power-ups, I mainly just try to avoid her if I can. Unfortunately, the most annoying underwater enemies from the original game, the Bloopers, are back and they're just as irritating as ever, following you wherever you go, mimicking your movements, and coming out of nowhere to hit when you least expect it. Even worse is the Blooper Nanny, a Blooper that brings its kids with it and uses them to fan out and make getting around them all the more difficult. Believe me, if you have a power-up that can kill these annoying assholes, use it by all means because it will make your job much easier. You also have to deal with Jelectros, glowing jellyfish that you can't kill and almost always appear in HUGE schools, creating a maze of obstacles that you have to swim around. Finally, there's the Lava Lotus, a type of underwater plant that constantly releases small fireballs that can make swimming around hard to do without getting hit. They often grow underneath item blocks too, making it really hazardous to get what you need and I don't think you can kill them either. Bottom line: proceed with caution.

The class of enemies that I personally hate the most are those that appear in the castle levels, mainly because they're all extremely difficult or impossible to kill and you often don't have the necessary power-ups that are required to get rid of them. First off, there are the Boos, those annoying ghosts that chase after you when you turn your back on them. Although they can be defeated with either a hammer or an Invincibility Star, you'll often find yourself constantly having to face them so they won't follow you at the same time that you're trying to traverse through the extremely hazardous levels. And believe me, the Boos will come up and hit you when you least expect it if you don't keep your eye on them. Speaking of the Boos, you sometimes run across a type that hides inside of a white platform and sticks its head out every now and then to hit you. While you can run across the platforms themselves without being hurt, I try to avoid touching them if I can because you can never predict on what part of them a Boo will pop up. And you often have to contend with them in groups, making them all the more hazardous. A similar type of enemy to the Boos is the Hot Foot, the flame inside a candle which will sprout feet and follow you if you turn your back on it. These little pests can be very annoying when they hop down onto moving platforms that you're standing on in order to traverse through a section of the level. You have to face them as well as dodge whatever hazards are in your path. And, like the Boos, only a hammer or Invincibility Star can defeat them. Speaking of enemies that are hard to get rid of, you once again must contend with the Dry Bones, those skeletal Koopas that will fall apart when you jump on them but will quickly rebuild themselves after just a few seconds. They're another type of enemy that I hate because they're so hard to get rid of permanently and I often don't have the power-up necessary to do so. Other castle enemies include little statues of Bowser that fire lasers at you (you can't destroy them at all), glowing energy balls that circle around a block, usually in pairs, that are a challenge to get around and can only be destroyed with the Tanooki Statue Stomp, those rather unpredictable jumping fireballs that come out of lava known as Podoboos, and the Thwomps, those big living stone squares that attempt to crush you either by coming down on you from above or by squishing you against the wall when they move horizontally. The Tanooki Statue is a good way to keep from being flattened and you can also use its stomp move to destroy a Thwomp, as well as a hammer or Invincibility Star. At the end of each castle level, you have to fight Boom-Boom, a big brown Koopa who attacks you with spikes on his shell, by sliding wildly across the floor, and either by making big jumps or by sprouting wings and swooping down at you. While it only takes three hits to defeat him, you have to be wary the farther you go into the game because Boom-Boom's movements will become much faster and harder to dodge and you can never be sure which of those two latter attacks he'll use. I have gotten killed a bunch of times by Boom-Boom, mainly when all my power-ups have been used up by the time I get to him. Still, if you keep a cool head, he usually isn't that big of a problem.

Finally, there are the enemies that appear on the airships at the end of each world as well as on the tanks and warships in the final world. First off are the Bullet Bills and there are two types: the classic type that simply shoots straight toward you and a red type that will turn around if it misses you, although it will go straight if it misses you twice (incidentally, these enemies aren't limited to these levels but they're one of the most common hazards that you come across here which is why I chose to talk about them in this section). The Bullet Bills' biggest threat is simply in regards to the sheer number of them that you have to deal with at any given time and their turrets are often placed in the most annoying spots, sometimes forcing you to jump even when you're not Super Mario. Like so many of these enemies that pop up in big swarms, the only real advice is to keep moving and dodging. The same goes for the simple cannonballs, whose turrets are also usually placed in the worst spots and it's often hard to predict at what end the balls will launch out of. I have been hit by so many of these stupid things that it's ridiculous, which has often caused to swear endlessly at my TV screen. The Bob-Ombs make a return appearance here as well and even though they can be used as weapons after you jump on them, they'll still explode after a few seconds so whatever you intend to use them for, you have to do it quick. And in some of the levels in World 8, the Bob-Ombs blow up shortly after they begin to walk so you'd might as well forget trying to use them as weapons. In some parts of these levels, moles known as Rocky Wrenches will pop up from holes in the ship and fling little wrenches at you. While the wrenches are easy enough to avoid and the moles themselves can be defeated with just a simple jump, they're the type of enemy that will always have a replacement ready to take one's place when you do defeat him so it's best to jump on them to temporarily clear the way and keep moving. (If you stand a spot where they pop up, though, you will be able to constantly prevent them from popping up until you move on, which is useful in tough spots.) Finally, you must deal with the rockets' engine exhaust that tend to flare up in annoying places. You can extinguish a flame with the Tanooki Statue Stomp but it's only a temporary fix as another will take its place shortly afterward, so it's more useful to dodge them and keep moving forward. (I'm saying that a lot, aren't I? Still, I have found that to be a useful method in dealing with a lot of these hazards.)

While Super Mario Bros. 3 was a huge success when it was originally released, it did draw some criticism. Skyler Miller, writing for Allgames, commented on the lack of a save system, saying that was a huge drawback. Since I've only seriously played the game on the All-Stars edition for the Wii, which does have a save feature, I haven't had to deal with that but after reading about how the original version didn't have one, I can definitely say that I do agree with the criticism. This is quite a lengthy game and the last few worlds, especially World 8, are very challenging. After dying a bunch of times in the very hard levels of those worlds, I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for gamers to know that if they got tired and turned the game off, they would have to go through the entire game again just to get back to where you were. That's why I could never beat that Jurassic Park game for the Super Nintendo, because I eventually got tired and just said screw it. Also, I think the Mega Man games are particularly harsh about that when it comes to the final levels because they're absolute endurance tests, with multiple stages and bosses to fight and if you turn the game off, you have to do the entire level over again. Now, maybe the reason for the lack of save features back then was meant to make you increase your skills by doing the levels over and over again and getting used to the controls and hazards but even so, you're still going to run out of stamina, get frustrated, and have to start the whole game over again. It makes me wonder if game designers back then felt that those who play video games have absolutely no actual lives whatsoever, that this is all they do with their spare time. Now, it could very well be that I'm just a whiny jerk who's been spoiled the video games of today that are almost guaranteed to have save features (with how long and complex games are nowadays, it's actually a necessity) but still, I think Miller was right and that the game designers back then should have thrown the gamers a bone and enabled them to walk away from a hard level when they're tired without having to play through the entire game again in order to get back to it. But, again, what do I know?

Another criticism towards the game came from Julian Rignall, writer for the UK-based gaming magazine Mean Machines. Although he did say that it was the finest game he had ever played, he also said that he felt that the audio and visuals were outdated when compared to the games on the newer Sega Genesis and on the upcoming Super Nintendo. While that is definitely true, I think that's kind of an unfair comparison, since you could say the same for any of the other NES games made around that time. And also, you're talking about system that had 16 bits worth of processing power while the NES only had eight. Not a fair comparison at all. Looking at it on its own terms, I think the game looks pretty good. The graphics were created using a special machine called the "Character Generator Computer Aided Design" and it took more than two years to make so the designers were definitely not slouching in that aspect. The levels are well designed (in fact, some of them are rather complex, requiring some backtracking and thinking in order to find everything or to even complete) and the graphics are nice and colorful for the most part (I say for the most part because there are some instances where they are a bit faded). And before you say, "Well, how would you know? You're playing the All-Stars version that has Super NES graphics," I can judge how good the graphics of the original were from footage and images of that game. So, bottom line, while it may have come out at a time when newer, more advanced systems had either reached the market or were about to, I still think that Super Mario Bros. 3 more than held its own in terms of its visuals.

As far as the audio for the game goes, while I can't comment on the actual quality of the sound due to my having the All-Stars edition which is awesome in that aspect, I can safely say that the music for the game isn't one of my favorite aspects of it. I don't hate it, mind you, but I do think that it's rather... simple. While Koji Kondo, the composer of the original game, did return to compose this one and he does reuse some of his old tunes like his themes for the underground and underwater levels as well as the invincibility theme, I do think he could have done a bit more with the rest of the music. Some of it is a little irritating in my opinion, like the music for the map screen as well as this light piano-like theme that plays in certain levels. The music for the castle levels isn't one of my favorites either, making because of how it loops over and over again, becoming quite monotonous after a while. In fact, that's a problem of mine with a lot of this music. It may not seem like it's that much of an annoyance but trust me, when you have to listen to them in a constant loop, it can grate on your nerves (either that or I'm just a hothead when it comes to constantly losing at video games, which is a distinct possibility). In fact, I don't think the original Mario theme is present here. The tune of the very first level, which is repeated throughout many levels in the game, sounds kind of like it but it's still a very different tune (and not one that's a favorite of mine either). Now, I wouldn't say that I don't like all of the music in the game. I kind of like the music for the map screen of the snow world as well as the threatening theme for the map screen of World 8 and I actually really do enoy the theme that plays when you fight the Hammer Bros. in their own stages but, overall, I don't think that the music for Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of its best features. However, the game is so fun and addicting that I can easily forgive it for that.

Now it's time for the walkthrough of the levels that I always do in these video game reviews but I'm going to do this one a little differently than the way I did for the previous two Mario Bros. games. In those reviews, I simply talked about the levels but since this game has very distinct worlds and map screens to go with them, I feel I might as well mention them as well and talk about how complex and intricate each one is, how many screen spaces it takes up, what hazards lie along the road, etc. So, with that said, here we go (and this is going to be long as crap so keep that in mind).

World 1: Grass Land. Obviously, since it's the very first world, this one is not complex at all. It only takes up one screen and there are no secret paths, complex road routes, or anything of that nature here. There are a couple of Hammer Brothers that you'll more than likely have to fight before you reach the airship but, still, it's not difficult. The levels in this first world are quite simple and they, along with the Mushroom Houses along the roads, make for some good opportunities to stock up on items and extra lives. Believe me, you'll need them for what the game has in store for you later on.
Level 1-1: Nothing difficult about this first level at all. The enemies you have to deal with are the typical Goombas, Koopas, etc., there are plenty of item blocks with power-ups and coins present, and some coin-filled areas that you can reach as Raccoon Mario, including some clouds with coins floating above them (there's also an item block with a 1-Up up there and to find it, all you have to do is follow a trail of coins), a spot with a P-Switch that turns a bunch of blocks into coins, and a pipe that leads to a room with a 3 made out of coins. Very generous level to start off with.
Level 1-2: This level features a series of hills loaded to the brim with Goombas, who come at you either out of the many pipes that are scattered throughout the stage or while they're simply walking across the ground. There's also a Paragoomba at the very end of the level that will drop those little Micro-Goombas onto you if you don't watch it. Like the first level, there are a fair amount of blocks with power-up items in them including an Invincibility Star near the end, plenty of opportunities for coins such as a P-Switch and a pipe that leads to another secret room with 20 coins, and a spot near the beginning of the level where you can use a pipe that endlessly spews out Goombas as a means of getting as many extra lives as you want. With Raccoon Mario, all you have to do is jump on one Goomba while holding the Jump Button to go real high and then slow your decent to jump on one Goomba after another that comes out of the pipe, eventually getting an extra life when you hit eight more without touching the ground. You can do this as many times as you want until you're loaded with extra lives. Finally, this is the first level where you can try the hill-slide move to knock out a bunch of enemies in one round. Give it a try because it's actually quite fun.
Level 1-3: This level marks the introduction of the Boomerang Bros., which is the first enemy you run into here when you begin. It's best to take them with either fireballs or Koopa shells because of how tricky their boomerangs can be to deal with. There aren't many power-ups present here, but there is a coin heaven here that you can get to by using a Koopa shell to break up a few of these blocks that are sitting in a formation and that will enable you to jump in a spot that will reveal a red Jump Block that will take you there. And near the end of the level is a white platform that you will fall through if you squat down on it and if you proceed to head to the end of the level, you'll find a secret Mushroom House where Toad will give you a Magic Whistle that you can use to enter a warp zone.
Level 1-4: The first auto-scrolling level and, wouldn't you know it, it's also the first level that consists of a bunch of platforms suspended high up in the air. While there aren't that many trick jumps here, the auto-scrolling can cause you to panic since it pushes you and sometimes forces you to jump when you're not exactly sure what's ahead of you. Be wary of the platforms that aren't made of individual blocks as well because they'll fall as soon as you jump on them. There's only power-up here and while there are two 1-Up Mushrooms, they're both tricky to grab before they fall into oblivion after they're revealed. However, if you collect 44 or more coins in this level, a Mushroom House containing a rare P-Wing will appear on the map.
Fortress: While this first castle level isn't nearly as difficult as the ones to come, this one does have its fair share of hazards, including lava streams filled with Podoboos, a few of the indestructable Dry Bones, and room where the spiked ceiling slowly descends to crush you (there are sections in there that you can use as cover, though). While there are some item blocks containing power-ups here, it can be tricky to become either Fire Mario or Raccoon Mario here because of the enemies that will almost inevitably hit you when you least expect it (those annoying Podoboos are particularly bad about that). Also, if you manage to get to the first door inside the castle as Raccoon Mario, you can use the flying ability to fly up the side of the wall and to the roof where another Magic Whistle is. If you choose to play fair and see the level all the way through, however, then you'll have to fight Boom-Boom. This first fight with him is simply since he doesn't do any major moves except running back and forth and if you happen to be Fire Mario, you can dispense with him very easily with the fireballs.
Level 1-5: The first underground level, this one involves you descending into a cave (which apparently was an ice cave in the original NES version) filled with Buzzy Beetles and pipes containing Piranha Plants. There are also a couple of paths to take, one that goes straightforward through the cave and another that leads to a section aboveground. However, it's not that difficult. Heck, the very first part of the level gives you an opportunity to practice your sliding move by doing so on the slope leading into the cave, knocking out three Buzzy Beetles while doing so. There's a hidden Jump Block on the left side of the end of the tunnel that leads up to aboveground that will take you to another coin heaven. Otherwise, while there aren't many power-ups or coins in this level, it's not that difficult to beat (although the Piranha Plants can be annoying).
Level 1-6: This is the first level where the game begins to get tricky. This is another platforming level that takes place up high in the air and in addition to having to jump from one platform to the next, you also have to ride on some lifts that travel along some zig-zagging lines, the longest and most difficult of which is near the end. The enemies here are Koopas and Paratroopas and while that may not sound like much of a challenge, the Paratroopas tend to pop up in the paths of those platforms you need to stand on and it can be hard to get around them without taking a hit or falling to your death. While there are plenty of opportunities to get coins here, including a section where you can use Raccoon Mario to fly up to a long string of them, there's only one power-up and one 1-Up Mushroom here. Basically, consider this level your first taste of the challenges that the game has in store for you later on.
Airship: The first airship is quite straightforward, with no spots where you can fall to your death (you'll be wishing for that luxury in many of the later airships). However, there are still plenty of cannonballs and Bullet Bills to dodge, no coins, and one power-up that's trick to get since it's right next to a rotating, four-barrelled turret. However, if you can get it, go for it because it's best to at least be Super Mario when you fight one of the Koopalings at the end of these levels. Speaking of which, the Koopaling in charge of this airship, Larry Koopa, is a complete pushover. All you have to do is avoid the three rings he shoots from his magic wand and jump on him three times, all the while avoiding the move he does where he goes inside his shell and flies up into the air. Not hard at all.

World 2: Desert Hill. The second world is a little bit more complex than the first one, with a path that you can take to bypass several levels after you beat the castle (provided you have a hammer to break the stone that's in your way) as well as the option to break a rock in the upper right part of the map that will lead you to a secret oasis containing a Mushroom House with a Frog Suit inside as well as a Fire Brother that's guarding another Warp Whistle. If you decide to play fair and go through the entire world, you'll have to enter the first couple of those levels that aren't numbered but must be beaten in order to move forward.
Level 2-1: While the first level in this world isn't exactly difficult, with no pitfalls or anything of the like, you're introduced to pesky Micro-Goombas that disguise themselves as bricks right from the get-go and there are also some big looping pipe structures whose entrances are on their right sides, forcing you to climb around them at first in order to get inside. However, to balance things out, there are plenty of coins here, including two pipes that lead to coin rooms (one of which you can reach only as Raccoon Mario), each of which has a P-Block in it, a 1-Up Mushroom that is a cinch to get, and a fair amount of power-ups, including an Invincibility Star.
Level 2-2: Like the previous level, while not exactly hard, there are some new hazards introduced here like a couple of sloping hills that lead down into quicksand pits, the second of which has a Piranha Plant living in it. Other than that, as well as one tight little pitfall, there aren't many ways to die here. However there's only power-up and 1-Up Mushroom each here and while you will get a boat anchor to use on the world's airship as a reward for getting 30 or more coins, that's a hard feat to pull off since there aren't many coins in this level. There is a section above water near the end where you can use a P-Switch to collect the last few coins you need but even that is very hard to accomplish. I typically don't try to beat myself up with it and just concentrate on finishing the level.
Fortress: We're really beginning to get tricky now. This castle level has four rooms and they all have their own challenges. While the very beginning gives you an opportunity to get many extra lives by jumping on multiple Dry Bones without touching the ground (that is, if you're Raccoon Mario), you must also contend with two Thwomps here as well as the first appearance of a Boo at the same time that you have to deal with the second Thwomp. The second room has a platform suspended over some spikes that you have to cross over as well as Thwomp that lies in wait above it. After that is where you'll find the level's only power-up but if you're Super Mario, it takes a run and a crouch to get underneath so you can hit it, which is a bit tricky to pull off. After that, you must dodge four Thwomps in a row that are waiting to crush you. The third room has a series of platforms covered with spikes and random safe spots on either side that constantly drift up and down. You're best bet is to run under the first two and then use the safe spots on the tops of the other two to hop across. There are Boos in this room as well so have to literally keep an eye on them as well. (For some reason, there's one last platform at the end of the room but it's past the door that leads to Boom-Boom and it's not guarding anything. I'm betting that they put that there just to trick you into risking your life for nothing.) The door that rises up and down in here leads to Boom-Boom and you can take care of him in the same basic manner as you did before. There's not much change to his attack except that he moves a tad bit faster.
Level 2-3: This level is comprised of a series of pyramid-shaped stacks of stone and blocks which are guarded by Fire Snakes and Koopas. While there is a power-up in one of the item blocks atop each of the first three pyramids, the bouncing Fire Snakes can make getting to them hazardous, especially if you don't have something to get rid of them like a Koopa shell or Raccoon Mario's tail-swipe. Fortunately, though, the second pyramid has an Invincibility Star that can use to clear out the Fire Snakes with ease. (Of course, if you're not at least Super Mario, these item blocks are useless since there are bricks underneath them, unless you want to do the risky maneuver of taking Koopa shells up there to activate them.) After the first three pyramids, you come across some made up of bricks and if you're Raccoon Mario, you can fly up to a P-Switch that will turn them into coins as well as enable you get to a 1-Up Mushroom hidden amongst the bricks of the first one. However, getting to the pipe that leads to the exit takes some nimble footwork seeing as how you have to hit a Koopa shell in a confined space and quicky get out of the way before you take a hit. There's a block with ten coins next to the pipe but since that Koopa shell is going to be ricocheting back and forth down there at this point, it's pretty much at you own risk if you chose to go for it.
Quicksand: This is a level that you must go through if you're not able to clear a stone out of your way on the map. It's a good idea to try to get a hammer to smash that stone because this level has no items or coins but does have plenty of hazards, like numerous quicksand traps, one of which is very big and has fire-spitting Venus flytraps lurking in it; a twister that, while it won't hurt you, will prevent you from proceeding if you don't jump over or into it just right (I try to do everything I can to enter this level as Raccoon Mario and keep him in play by the time I reach the twister so I can fly over it); and an Angry Sun that will relentlessly chase you through the last stretch of the level unless you use a Koopa shell or some other weapon on it. Rather unforgiving level all in all.
Level 2-4: This level has two paths to it: you can either take the lower path that you start out at in, which has pitfalls and enemies like Koopas and Boomerang Bros. or you can use Raccoon Mario's flying ability at the start to fly up to the upper left side of the screen and reach the top section, which has fewer enemies and is chocked full of coins. I think the choice is clear. However, getting a power-up if you're not already Raccoon Mario when you enter the level can be tricky seeing as how you'll have to throw a Koopa Shell at an item block suspended over a pitfall early on. And while there are a couple of other item blocks in this section, by the time you get them you'll be near the end of the level so you might as well just carry on. And just to balance things out, the upper level has no power-ups so if you take a hit up there, you'll end up fairly limited as to what coins you can get. Of course, the choice is yours. I, however, typically decide to take the upper safe route if it's at all possible.
Level 2-5: While this one isn't that tricky for the most part, you're introduced at the beginning to the Chain Chomps. If you don't have Koopa shells to take them out, then you'd best avoid them as best as you can and keep moving forward. Other than that, this one is easy enough. There are two sections where you can use a Koopa shell to uncover blocks with goodies, including a part near the end where, after kicking a shell down a narrow funnel in the blocks, it will hit a block containing a vine that you can use to jump across some clouds to a pipe leading to a coin room. This coin room also has a power-up that you can get if you're Super Mario when you enter it but you also have to clear away some blocks after you reveal a P-Switch and, if you get rid of too many of them, you'll end up blowing your chances to get any coins before you hit the switch.
Pyramid: You must beat this level in order to continue on to the airship. Inside the pyramid is a maze of tunnels filled with Buzzy Beetles, some of which are the ceiling-climbing variety, as well as walls made of bricks that you must use the beetles' shells to open up if you're not Raccoon Mario (and there's only one power-up in this entire level, which is at the very beginning). The maze may seem monumental at first since there are quite a few dead-ends but after a few attempts at the level, it doesn't take long to figure out where to go. There's a pipe that leads to a coin room which you can reach by activating a hidden block to jump on, however when you're in the coin room, you'd best break as few blocks as possible before you hit the P-Switch and the top block has a 1-Up inside it as well. After that coin room, once you reach a long slope leading to a pipe, you'll know that you're almost home, although you'll have to dodge some Buzzy Beetles that will drop down on you from the ceiling and break a brick wall in order to reach the pipe that leads to the exit.
Airship: This one is much harder than the airship in the first world. Not only are there some sections where you can fall to your death but the constant scrolling up and down of the screen can often force you to put yourself right in the line of fire of some Bullet Bill-shooting turrets. There's one section near the end where you have to wait for the floor to scroll into view, run to the right while avoid Bullet Bills, and quickly jump up some crates while continuing to dodge them. It's very hard to do that without taking a hit and what's worse, the only power-up is before that section, something that you'll need in the fight with the boss. And just for one last test, there is a Rocky Wrench mole and two more turrets right before the pipe that leads to the boss. Jump carefully so you can keep your power-up for the fight ahead. Morton Koopa Jr. (I swear that's his name!) is a lot slower than Larry Koopa but he's much better at using his wand as a weapon and fires it more frequently. Dodge those beams and either hit him with fireballs or jump on his head, dodging his spinning shell attack after you jump on him. Like Larry, he's not really all that hard to beat.

World 3: Ocean-Side. This world is where the game really stops fooling around and starts to become very difficult. First off, the map-screen itself is absolutely huge. In addition to the two main islands that house the levels, there's also a spot where you can take a boat over to two islands that are located even farther to the right on the map. These islands contain Mushroom Houses where you can pick up some extra items as well as two chances for extra lives. It's just a shame that the game didn't put those at the beginning of the map because you need as much help as you can get in this world. As you can probably guess, a lot of these levels are either swimming levels or involve water in some way or another. As I've said in other video game reviews, I absolutely detest swimming levels in any game. It's hard to control yourself in the water and they often jam the levels with enemies, some of which swim in big schools, making it all the more difficult. And, wouldn't you know it, the very first level here is a swimming level! You also get your first taste of those levels where you're above water but you're forced to dodge some type of enemy in the water that's constantly leaping at you at every opportunity or, even worse, the land is constantly sinking and rising at the same time. There's also more than one castle level here as well. The only good thing is that there are draw-bridges on the map that will raise and lower in-between playings of levels and if they're lowered, they will enable you to bypass some levels that might be a little harder than you would like. Otherwise, though, you'd best be prepared for a lot of frustration in this world.
Level 3-1: The first swimming level of the game and while it's not very long, it does have more than its fair share of frustrating sections. There are pipes that blow out powerful current jets that you have to be mindful of or otherwise, you'll get blown into nearby enemies. Speaking of enemies, the annoying as crap Bloopers make their first appearance here and if you've never played in other Mario games, be prepared to be driven absolutely mad by how they relentlessly follow you. In fact, after the first section of this level, you'll have to drop down to move forward and there's a Blooper waiting for you down there that almost always hits me. In addition to the Bloopers, you have to deal with Lava Lotuses, which are almost always positioned underneath blocks or in cramped spots where you can bounce you into them if you go in with too much force. (In fact, the first Lotus is positioned underneath two item blocks, one of which contains a power-up, but it's best not to risk it because I almost always end up taking a hit from the Lotus' fireballs.) Fortunately, the level is balanced out with a fair amount of coins and some secret spots where you can get power-ups without having to deal with enemies at the same time (Fire Mario is a great power-up to have because you can easily take out Bloopers with the fireballs) but, I wouldn't be surprised if you still end up getting rather frustrated the first few times you play through it.
Level 3-2: Platforms suspended in the air above water, with pesky Cheep-Cheeps leaping out at you at every opportunity. That's this level in a nutshell. Those leaping Cheep-Cheep's are very annoying but if you manage to grab a Fire Flower, your fireballs can make life a little easier for you (you can also stomp on the Cheep-Cheeps when they jump at you). There are also some platforms that will fall if you stand on them for more than a few seconds so be aware of that too. While there are indeed power-ups and 1-Ups here, they're tricky to get, forcing you to either get near the water or activate a P-Switch that makes a platform appear for only a few precious seconds. It's also possible to be invincible through most of the level. If you activate the first Invincibility Star near the beginning of the level and manage to get to the next item block before it runs out, you'll get another star when you would normally get a coin and so on to the next block. It's tricky to pull off, though. There's also a secret spot up in the air near the end of the level that has some extra coins and a 1-Up but, again, it's hard to get to because you don't have that much running room to take off as Raccoon Mario. I typically just bypass a lot of the really difficult items here and just keep moving towards the exit.
Level 3-3: This is the first of those levels where the ground is constantly sinking and rising out of the water and you have to contend with Boss Bass, the big Cheep-Cheep who can swallow you whole and kill you instantly even if you're powered up. If you manage to grab a Fire Flower, though, it'll make things easier since you can dispense with Boss Bass with your fireballs (although, another one will quickly take his place). While there are plenty of coins and power-ups here as well, with the ground constantly sinking the way it is, you mustn't fool around or you'll become fish-food. Most of the level forces you to jump across some rather small platforms but there is a section where you can turn the coins suspensed over said platforms into a series of bridges that you can use to cross the waters (they won't last long, though). Finally, there's a block with a 1-Up that's far past the exit pipe but, if you're unable to momentarily remove Boss Bass, you'll end up putting yourself in danger so I would highly advise ignoring it.
Fortress 1: This is the first of several castle levels in the game that has a backside to it that you can access by going through a series of doors. Most of these doors will drop you into a flooded room, forcing you to swim all the way to the left to get back to the main part of the castle but some of them will give you access to items and one of them will lead you directly to the boss' room (it's the sixth door, in case you're wondering). The fourth door will lead you to a 1-Up and the very last door will lead you to a coin room. However, the section with the doors is filled with a lot of hazards, including those rotating electric orbs, Thwomps, and Boos. In fact, when you try to get past the second Thwomp, you'll have to deal with two Boos coming from either side of you. Since I know which door leads to Boom-Boom, I typically just head straight for it. Boom-Boom is tougher here than he was before because after you hit him the first time, he'll sprout wings and fly around the room. You have to wait for him to swoop down at you and then jump on him (be careful, though, because I've taken hits when I've tried to do that since his movements are rather erratic) and after that second hit, he'll slide around the room at a very fast rate. In other words, it's best to be powered up as much as possible when you fight Boom-Boom.
Level 3-4: The good news is that this isn't a swimming level but is instead a hill level (there are some spots with water, though). The bad news is that Lakitu shows up here, throwing down green spiny balls that seem to be able to track you wherever you go. There are also plenty of fireball-spitting Venus Flytraps in the pipes scattered throughout this level as well as Goombas, Paragoombas, and Koopas. There are a few power-ups here but the sole 1-Up can possibly trap you underneath some item blocks with Lakitu's homing Spiny balls. There's also a spot halfway through the level where you can go for unlimited 1-Ups but it's so tricky and hard to pull off that I've never tried it and I'm not going to even to describe it here. Finally, the home stretch involves you having to leap across some hills and if you don't dispense with Lakitu when he first appears right before this section, you'll have to do deal with this frustrating enemy while you're also trying to keep from falling to your death. Quite a difficult level this.
Level 3-5: Here we go with another swimming level and if you happen to have a Frog Suit on you, it would be a good idea to bust it out. You'll have to swim around a bunch of Jelectros as well as deal with Big Bertha and some strong currents coming out of underwater pipes, a few of which can push you into oblivion, so it would be ideal to be able to navigate easily around those obstacles. There's also only a couple ofpower-ups present here and the 1-Up Mushroom requires you to be able to swim against one of those currents. That said, though, there is one pipe that you swim into with the Frog Suit which leads to a room with coins as well as a big item block that contains three separate 1-Up Mushrooms (you'll have to be holding right on the control pad once you enter the room in order to get over to the block, though). On top of that, if you have a P-Wing on hand, you can use it fly over the water and make it to two platforms up high in the air that contain 10-coin blocks. You will have to get in the water at the end in order to exit the level, though.
Level 3-6: Another level concerning platforms suspended up high in the air, so it would be best to enter this level as Raccoon Mario. This is also an auto-scrolling level so you'll have to contend with that too. Most of the time, the only platforms that you can jump on are made up of those donut blocks that will fall if you stand on them for just a few seconds and there are also plenty of precarious jumps that are best done with Raccoon Mario's ability to slow his descent. While there are power-ups and a single 1-Up here, most of them require you to fall underneath the top of the platforms in order to reach them and, in the case of the power-ups, if you're not Raccoon Mario, you'll have to use a Koopa shell in order to activate them. There's one last hazard above the exit pipe which is one of these quickly rotating platforms that, if you're not careful, will send you flying to your death. Basically, watch the platform's movements, wait for it to stop, then quickly jump on it and hop down to the pipe.
Level 3-7: While we're not in the water or up in the sky this time, this level introduces Spike, the annoying Koopa-like enemy that will pulled spiked balls out of his mouth and throw them at you. Speaking of which, there are also plenty of Koopas and Paratroopas here, including one section that forces you to climb some stair-like block structures while avoiding both Spikes and the Koopas. Fortunately, though, that section has blocks that will bounce to the left or right depending on which side you bump them and you can use them as weapons (one even contains a power-up). Besides a couple of other power-ups, there's no shortage of coins here, including a section where you can climb up a vine and hit a P-Switch as well as a cloud to the right of said vine that has a hidden jump block leading to a coin heaven. Incidentally, if you enter this coin heaven, at the end of it you'll find a treasure chest containing an item that will complete the level right then and there and take you back to the map. Doing so will enable you to bypass that tricky section with the enemies on the stair-like blocks.
Fortress 2: I typically do everything I can to bypass this level because it's both a castle and a swimming level. Really bad combination there, making this is another good place to break out the Frog Suit. The first room makes you navigate around many Cheep-Cheeps as well as a couple of those rotating electric orbs. The level's sole power-up is in the middle of this room and if you happen to be Super Mario or otherwise when you grab it, you'll activate a Fire Flower, which will be very useful for clearing Cheep-Cheeps out of your way. The second room is filled with white platforms containing Boos that peak their heads out of them every now and then and move across them. You'll have to squeeze around these things in really tight spaces, including some spots that are hard to swim across without getting pulled down into a hole, and if you don't have the very maneuverable Frog Suit, it can be very hard to do this without taking a hit. The fight with Boom-Boom takes place after this room and he's flying again. There are floating blocks in the left and right spots of this room that will get in your way if you try to jump to avoid Boom-Boom's swooping as well as jump on him so your best is to stay in the center of the room.
Level 3-8: Another sinking stage with Boss Bass, except here the platforms sink deeper into the water, often leaving you floating with little way to defend yourself from the big fish. Fortunately, though, there are several spots where hitting a block will activate a vine that you can use to climb up and take a breather. There's only one power-up in this stage and it can be reach when you activate the first vine. The good thing is that it's Fire Flower, which comes in handy in keeping Boss Bass at bay and even if you're unable to get it, you can still use Koopa shells to whack the big greedy fish. There are a fair amount of coins and a couple of 1-Ups here too (one of them requires you to hit a P-Switch beneath it, though), as well as a section where you can make a Koopa shell endlessly bounce back and forth, hitting Boss Bass enough times to score some extra lives. And this is another level where getting 44 coins will unlock a special Mushroom House on the map.
Level 3-9: This is a level that has a top and a bottom section and the latter is underwater. The top section has Paragoombas, Koopas, and Bullet Bills turrets as hazards and the bottom underwater section, not surprisingly, has quite a few Cheep-Cheeps. The top half has a couple of power-ups, two sections where you can use Koopa shells to rack up extra lives by hitting Bullet Bills, and a few (though not many) coins while the bottom half, despite having none of these, has a pipe at the left end of it that leads to a room with a large item block containing a Frog Suit (it's not block that you can only reach by pressing right when you enter the room). Finally, there are some Cheep-Cheeps swimming around the exit pipe at the end so, if you're little, you'd best be very careful.
Airship: Bullet Bills, cannonballs, and Rocky Wrenches around in the final hurdle of this world. While there is a section early on where you can try to nab an extra life by jumping on three Rockys and a Bullet Bill nine times, there isn't much room for error here, with sections where you have to dodge three or more cannonball shooting turrets (in one part, with some above and below you) and a part where you have to jump repeatedly on a large bolt on a wire in order to cross a section (while you won't fall to your death, in later airship stages you will have to do this over such pitfalls). In addition, the only power-up in the level is hard to get before the item block scrolls off the screen. The Koopaling heading this ship is Wendy O. Koopa and she is quite formidable, with her wand being able to shoot rings that bounce off the walls and floor, giving you something else to dodge while you try to trounce Wendy. However, if you don't lose your head and manage to hit her the usual three times, you will end up victorious.

World 4: Big Island. This is one of the worlds that I vividly remembered from back when I played this movie as a very young kid. I don't know why but the images of the typical enemies of the game blown up to enormous proportions always stuck with me (that could have been the giant monster movie lover in me talking). It's also interesting to note that, despite the world's name, not all of the levels have enemies that are gigantic. (I personally feel that's a bit of a missed opportunity on the part of the game designers. Why not take this concept and run with it completely?) In any case, other than the fact that you have to use a pipe to get over to the actual island and you start from the right side and work to the left, this world is fairly straightforward. While there are rocks on the path that you can bust to reach Mushroom Houses behind them, there aren't any levels that you can bypass until you reach the end of the island so you'll have to grin and bare it through most of the world.
Level 4-1: This level is very short and simple. While the giant Goombas, Koopas, and Piranha Plant are intimidating, they have the same weaknesses as their small counterparts so it's not a problem. The only difference, though, is the giant Piranha Plants will poke their heads out of their pipes even when you're standing next to them so you have to keep that in mind. You can also stand on the enormous Lakitu clouds that float up in the air (don't worry, Lakitu isn't in this level). There are just a few power-ups and coins here but it's not that big of a deal really (though, you have to wonder why normal-sized items come out of the enormous blocks). The only section that can be tricky is in the hidden underwater level that you can access by using Raccoon Mario to fly up to the upper part of the waterfall and then swimming the rest of the way. Up there is a pipe that will take you to another underwater room that has two 1-Ups and some more coins but there are two Big Berthas here as well, so you have to watch it. Other than that minor quibble, this level is a cinch.
Level 4-2: Another short level, this one is a bit more complicated since it's one of those where the land sinks and rises into and out of the water. While you don't have to contend with Boss Bass, thank God, there are plenty of leaping Cheep-Cheeps that can make things tough for you. While the best way to deal with them is to let them jump right into the bottoms of your feet, you have to keep an eye on them because sometimes they'll jump at an angle where they can damage you. There are Piranha Plants and fire-spitting Venus Flytraps here as well (weirdly enough, though, they're normal-sized even though they're coming out of gigantic pipes) and there aren't many items that you can use against them so you'll have to avoid them. There are only a couple of power-ups, one being an Invincibility Star which comes in handy in getting the 24 coins here necessary to do activate a special Mushroom House on the map, and only a few Ice Blocks in one little section that you can use as weapons. Also, the Cheep-Cheeps really start coming at you like crazy near the end of the level, so you'd best keep moving. And finally, try not to fall into the water because it's hard to get back out and the Cheep-Cheeps won't waste any time in trying to get you while you're in that vulnerable position.
Level 4-3: This level starts with your introduction to one of the Sledge Bros., the gigantic cousins of the Hammer Bros. You can dispense with him easily enough when he pauses after throwing his hammers (an Invincibility Star in your inventory works the best, though) and then you move onto the real part of this level, which is underground. Your enemies here are Buzzy Beetles and ceiling crawling Spinies and there's also a lot of platform jumping (one of which has one of those blocks that will bounce you back a bit so you'd best be cautious), a secret upper part filled with coins that you can reach as Raccoon Mario, and one power-up and a single 1-Up but plenty of coins. A bit tricky but another fairly straightforward level all in all.
Fortress 1: We're introduced to some new hazards here, such as Hot Foot, the living candles that come after you when you turn your back on them as well as Thwomps that can move horizontally. While there is a pipe that leads to a secret area that has a power-up, it's a bit tricky to go down since there are quite a few enemies around it and not only does said power-up have a Boo and some Dry Bones guarding it, you also have to use invisible blocks to get out. There's one power-up in the actual level but there's a horizontal-moving Thwomp nearby and if you miss the power-up in that secret area, you'll have to dodge said Thwomp to get to it, which is a bit tricky. As for Boom-Boom, while he doesn't fly here, he can jump pretty high when he was to and the ledge in the middle of the room acts as more of a hindrance, putting you right in his line of fire so to speak. As always, though, it just takes three bonks on the head to subdue Boom-Boom.
Level 4-4: A swimming level where Lakitu is bombing you with Spinies from up above. So unfair. Time to break out the Frog Suit again since you'll need all of the dodging abilities that you can get in order to keep from being hit by one of the Spinies. There's only one power-up and while it is a Fire Flower, which you can use to get rid of a lot of bothersome Spinies, you'll lose the maneuverability that you have with the Frog Suit so it's best to keep that in play as long as possible. The only nice thing about this level is at the beginning where there's a pipe that you can swim down the aid of the Frog Suit and it leads you to a secret area filled with coins. Other than that, though, you'll have to dodge Spinies like crazy while swimming and avoiding the currents that can push you into the hazards. Fortunately, this is another short level and when you see that exit pipe come into view, swim like crazy to it!
Level 4-5: Another short, straightforward level with some big enemies, this level's one major hazard is that, particularly near the end, it has quite a turrets that shoot Missile Bills, the cousins to the Bullet Bills that will turn around for another pass if they miss you. Other than that, though, this level actually has quite a few goodies: a couple of power-ups, plenty of coins (including a bunch that can be made visible with a P-Switch), and a spot near the end where you can activate a vine and use it to climb up to a pipe that leads to a room with a Tanooki Suit and a few more coins.
Level 4-6: This is an interesting level in that there are two doors that, if you enter one of them, will swap the giant level you start in for a side where all the enemies are of normal size and vice versa. Moreover, you can find different items on the various sides. In the first part of the level, for instance, there's a floating square made up of blocks where you can find a 1-Up on the giant side and an Invincibility Star on the small side. Even better is when you travel from one side to another, the items (with the exception of 1-Ups) and coins reset, making it possible to collect them multiple times over. (Isn't weird how this world tends to be more rewarding than it is punishing?)
Fortress 2: This level, though, isn't all that easy. The first section is the hardest, with the donut platforms suspended over the large pool of lava and there are Dry Bones on the platforms as well. Some of the jumps are very tricky and while there is a power-up above the largest platform, it's hard to get due to how high up it is, the Dry Bones on the platform, and the unstable donut blocks. There's not quite as difficult, save for one of those annoying rotating energy balls, for the rest of the level until you get to Boom-Boom. (Incidentally, the P-Switch in one part activates a secret door that leads to an area where you can some extra lives as well as bone up on the type of levels that you'll be facing later on in World 7.) While Boom-Boom still doesn't fly here, you still have to deal with platforms that can be more hindering than helpful if you use them to stand on them, particularly with Boom-Boom's very high jumps. The only advice is, once again, avoid his jumps and whack him three times as fast as you can.
Airship: There might no be any cannons or Bullet Bills here but the tricky bolt lifts, badly placed rocket thrusters and platforms, and a Rocky Wrench make this a challenging level nevertheless. You have to jump and land very carefully to avoid getting burned (if you take the upper path at the beginning, it can save you from three thrusters on the floor below that you would otherwise have to jump over) and the series of platforms with thrusters on them in the last section put those skills to quite a rigorous test. Fortunately, though, there are two power-ups here, with the second to the right of the pipe that leads to the boss, so you'd best take advantage of the hospitality. Iggy Koopa, the Koopaling in charge here, can be a bit of a tough opponent due to how often he fires his wand and how uneven the floor is, which can make dodging, especially when Iggy bounces around inside his shell, and taking cover difficult. You can get cornered due to that floor as well so you have to be careful about that. It's best to try to beat Iggy as quickly as possible before he can overwhelm you.

World 5: The Sky. This world not only has two screens but the first one tricks you into thinking this is going to be typical since it's on the ground. However, after you beat an unmarked tower level on the island's right side, you'll come out of it up in the clouds and proceed onward there. As you can probably guess, the levels here involve a bunch of tricky platform jumping and the like and if you don't manage to become Raccoon or Tanooki Mario, it can be quite difficult to keep from falling into oblivion. Both maps may have a couple of Mushroom Houses but there are also Hammer Bros. patrolling back and forth on several spots of the map and some levels which you can't bypass that are quite tricky to beat. In other words, prepare to die a lot in this world.
Level 5-1: This level is interesting in that there are a couple of ways you can go. The most obvious one is to work your way up and down the arching hill made up of stones, all the while avoiding Chain Chomps and the like. (There are very few coins and power-ups along the way and the Chain Chomps will give you quite a bit of trouble.) On the other hand, you can actually go into the center of the arch by becoming Raccoon or Tanooki Mario and using their flying skills to make your up to a pipe in the sky. (This is tricky to do, though, because you have to go the top of the hill grab an Invincibility Star, and boogey back down to the start in order to get rid of a Chain Chomp that will prevent you from taking off otherwise. Even though you can get another star on your way back down, it's still not easy.) The path that the pipe in the sky leads to has two paths: a narrow upper path where you have to crouch and fly at the same time in order to get through and a lower path, much easier one. Not only is that upper path hard to get through but it leads you to an object that will allow you to complete the level there instead of getting the items in the middle of the arch. If you want the items, you'd best take the lower path. Once inside the arch, you will have four 1-Ups to collect (activate them one at a time though or you'll lose some) and two giant number "3's" that you can activate with a switch hidden inside the blocks on the ceiling. Afterward, you will have to fly up and smash three blocks on the upper right column in order to escape and finish the level.
Level 5-2: Here's another level that gives you two choices. After you come out of the pipe in the first small section, you'll find yourself in freefall. If you don't move while falling, you'll land on a Jump Block and you can use it along with a couple of others to make it over to the right where a series of small platforms are. If you manage to climb up them and enter the pipe, you can take a short and easy path through the level that also some item blocks and a pipe that leads to a room where you can get three 1-Ups. Getting over to those blocks as well as climbing up them is simple if you're Raccoon or Tanooki Mario but even then, you still have to deal with some Koopas that walking along the blocks. While it's not impossible to pull this feat off without either of those power-ups, it's much more difficult. If you fall, you'll have to take the more difficult route to the exit. At first, you might think it's an underwater section but after you go through a pipe at the bottom of this pool, you'll end up in an underground tunnel. However, this route is a nightmare due to the Buster Beetles, the enemies that can throw Ice Blocks at you and both of them are everywhere here. I've been hit so many times by these little assholes in this section that it's had me absolutely livid by the time I finally do make it to the end. They won't throw the blocks until you get very close to them and it's hard to tell at what angle they will throw them, making it very hard to keep from taking a hit. There are also Piranha Plants who stick their heads out of the pipes here to make your job all the more difficult. I'm not going to lie, you're probably going to get frustrated and die a bunch of times in this section before you finally beat it.
Level 5-3: This level in and of itself is very typical but what makes it stand out is that it's divided into two sections, the first of which goes from right to left, and most notably due to the Goomba Shoe that you can swipe from said enemy at the beginning of both parts. Just knock the Goomba from beneath and you'll be able to use the shoe to jump on all sorts of tricky enemies like Piranha Plants and Spinies as well as being able to bounce across rows of the indestructable Muncher plants. Don't get cocky, though. You'll still die if you fall down a hole or lose the shoe if an enemy hits you or you hit him on the side instead of on the head. You can even keep your Fire Mario capabilities while inside your shoe, giving yourself a little bit more of an edge. It's best to hold onto that shoe as long as you can since there are only a couple of power-ups, a single 1-Up, a lot of the really annoying enemies that I've already mentioned, and so on. The only shame is that this is the only level that this awesome item appears in.
Fortress 1: I think you'll be happy that you can bypass this level because it is an ass-kicker. This is filled with Thwomps, those rotating orbs (boy, are they out in full force here, forcing you to dodge two in a row or one on top and one on the bottom in some spots), and lava pits with jumping Podoboos. There are some spots where you're forced to deal with two of these hazards at a time, like at the beginning where you have to jump over a lava pit as well as dodging both a Podoboo and an orb or in a couple of spots where you have to dodge orbs as well as avoiding being crushed by Thwomps. While there is a pipe that leads to a room with three 1-Ups here, you can only reach it if you're Raccoon or Tanooki Mario and while it's early on in the level, there are so many hazards around it that you'll probably take a hit before you get to it. The only real good thing about this castle is that Boom-Boom is a real pushover here, so take out your frustrations about this level on him when you reach him.
Tower: This level is basically the same as a castle level, except that you're going higher as you progress through it. The first room goes over to the right to a pipe and after that, you head to the left towards another pipe. The lower section has a bunch of orbs, including one that's circling around the only power-up in this level, and the upper section has two Thwomps that you have to avoid. The section that the pipe leads to is outside in the clouds where you jump across columns made up of bricks. There are Micro-Goombas inside some of the bricks so you have to watch yourself but there's also a 1-Up and a bunch of coins in the blocks as well. You'll need to be Raccoon Mario to get those items though and if you enter the level with a P-Wing and manage to keep it in play by the time you get here, you can fly over the right column to a secret spot with three item blocks that each contain a 1-Up. The third room is shaped like the first one, with the lower section having a Thwomp, an orb, and sections of the floor with spikes on them. The upper section has nothing, though. The only danger in the last part is falling to your death. Otherwise, use your tail (if you still have it) to collect some more coins and then climb up the pipe to that takes you to the real meat of this world.
Level 5-4: It's best to break out a Super Leaf if you have one and become Raccoon Mario for this level. You'll be able to fly up to an easier section of cloud platforms that contain coins. If you're unable to go this way, though, you'll have to jump across a series of rotating platforms that can send you flying into oblivion if you jump on them at the wrong time. It's best to jump when they're spinning so you'll land on them right when they momentarily stop (again, this is much easier as Raccoon Mario). The latter half has a couple of waterfalls whose currents can drag you down to your doom if you fall in so jump carefully. When you reach the end of the level, Lakitu shows up to try to screw you over when you're so close but you'll get a lot of points for hitting the item panel while he's floating above (even more so if you hit it while he's in the middle of throwing some Spinies).
Level 5-5: Bridges made of unreliable donut blocks is what you have to look forward to here, as well as some troublesome Paratroopas, Paragoombas (those Micro-Goombas they sprinkle on you can get you killed if you don't get rid of them in a hurry) and Venus Flytraps. There are a fair amount of coins and power-ups (although some are tricky to get) as well as a pipe that will lead you to some more coins and Tanooki Suit, which balance things out, but nonetheless, this level can be quite tricky.
Level 5-6: Here's another level that's short but extremely tricky. It's an auto-scrolling level where the only way to get across the sky here is to jump on a series of Para-Beetles. Although these things are helpful, they can also be hazardous, in that they're very small and tough to land on since they're always moving and if you hit them on the side, you'll take damage. In addition, when you land on one, it'll fly upwards so you'll have to jump to the next one before you get flown away. Needless to say, Raccoon or Tanooki Mario makes all of this much easier. The second part of the level isn't any easier since you have to bounce across Jump Blocks, deal with Fire Chomps, and while there is a P-Switch here that can make getting to the exit pipe easier, once you bump it, the platform that it (and, by extension, you) is sitting on will turn into coins so you'd better jump and float over to the coins turned into bricks right after you throw it or you'll fall to your death (as I embarrassingly did one time).
Level 5-7: Remember those sections of the first fortress level in this world that had bricks up in the sky that were infested with Micro-Goombas? Well, imagine that as an entire level and that's what you have here. Honestly, though, I've never found this level to be that difficult. If you enter the level after activating an Invincibility Star in your inventory, you can make short work of so many of the Micro-Goombas since many of the item blocks will now have stars inside them. There's a 1-Up here as well. There are some turrets right before the exit pipe but, again, they're not that difficult. If you go down the first pipe you come across, you'll fall into a ground-based section that has plenty of coins, including an area in the sky where you can use whichever flying suit you have to reach a switch that will make even more coins appear, and another Invincibility Star in one of the Jump Blocks beneath the exit pipe. Consider this level to be a breath of air before what comes next.
Fortress 2: Okay, now the game designers are just being dicks. There's lava on both the bottoms and tops of the dungeons that you must travel through in order to reach Boom-Boom and both have Podoboos jumping out of them, giving you double the amount of torture. You have to time your jumps across the platforms very carefully and keep an eye on both the ceiling and the floor. The only power-ups are an Invincibility Star and a Super Leaf and, just to make things tougher, there's a platform in one spot that has a Boo sitting right in the middle of it. If you don't have invincibility when you reach him, you'll have to turn your back on him when you're on the platform to the left of his in order to get him to move out of the way and then jump over him... all the while watching out for Podoboos. When you reach Boom-Boom, he'll once again sprout wings after your first hit but fortunately, there are no awkwardly-placed platforms this time and by this point, you should be an expert at besting him.
Level 5-8: Now Lakitu decides to return to plague you while you're up in the clouds. This level is short but it's also very annoying. There's a lot of platform-jumping involved as well as the challenge of dodging Lakitu's Spinies. Even if you get a Super Leaf, there's not a stretch of cloud long enough for you to take off here so you can stomp on Lakitu so you'll just have to use your jumping and hovering abilities to avoid the hazards. There are Koopas here as well so you have to watch out for them. And while there are two power-ups here, the second one is right next to the exit pipe so it won't be much help by that point. Lakitu does appear again after you get out of the pipe but, again, hit the item-flipping block while he's in the middle of throwing Spinies for some extra points.
Level 5-9: My God, I hate this level! It is without a doubt one of the most challenging in the entire game. You have to work your way up a bunch of platforms that are aligned like a steep hill and not only does the screen auto-scroll up but the platforms move when you jump on them and not all of them move in the direction you want them to (i.e. some move horizontally instead of vertically). Sometimes the screen scrolls so fast that if you don't jump fast enough, you'll get shoved off and there's one spot where a platform is directly above another, forcing you have to back up a bit and "curve" your jump... something that's hard to do when you're under such time pressures. There are also Paratroopas and Fire Chomps that you have to deal with as well, making it all the more annoying. I've gotten a game over many times on this stage. My biggest advice is, if you manage to find a P-Wing, use it to bypass this entire stinking level and save yourself a lot of screaming and hair-pulling.
Airship: This airship is armed to the teeth with cannons, Bullet Bill turrets, and rocket engines and right before you reach the pipe that leads to the boss, you have to run a gauntlet of eight cannons, with four above and below you (not to mention that there's one last rocket engine to clear right afterward). You can jump on a cannonball to get on top of the wall that has these cannons attached but it's not easy with the scrolling screen. The only power-up you get is at the beginning of the level but, if you're like me, you'll probably lose it before you reach the boss pipe. Roy Koopa, the boss of this airship, is a big Koopaling that will cause a paralyzing earthquake whenever he jumps and hits the ground. If you don't jump when he does, he'll attack you with his wand while you're frozen in place. Just keep jumping and avoiding his wand attacks and, like the other Koopalings, he'll go down.

World 6: Ice World. One thing to say about this world other than the obvious: it is long. It has to be among the longest worlds in the entire game, with fourteen levels in total, not counting all the Mushroom Houses and 1-Up houses that are strewn throughout it as well. The levels themselves range from rather simple to downright difficult but I can't comment enough on how enormous this world is. That was the thing that struck me, even more so than its actual gimmick, which doesn't always affect the levels themselves I might add and are sometimes just there to add to the scenery.
Level 6-1: You start off with a straightforward, ground-based level that introduces the Patooie, an irritating type of Piranha Plant that's constantly blowing spiked balls up in the air that can damage you. As I said earlier, while some live in the pipes, others walk around on the ground and can be very difficult to get by without taking a hit. There's a whole mess of them near the end of the level as well as Paragoomba who's determined to make your job more difficult by crippling your jumping abilities. There are plenty of platforms made out of slippery ice here and the ground itself is also slick due to the snow. Fortunately, there are some power-ups, the most helpful being a Fire Flower since, not surprisingly, most of the enemies in this world are vulnerable to fireballs, and you can also use Raccoon or Tanooki Mario to fly up to a floating platform with a door that leads to a coin room. The only drawback is you have to throw a switch and quickly duck and slide underneath some ice barriers in order to get down to the coins in time, which can be hard to master, especially the first time you try this room. All in all, this level is more annoying than difficult.
Level 6-2: This level, on the other hand, can be difficult. It's an auto-scrolling, platform-jumping level that takes place high up in the clouds where most of the platforms are either made of slippery ice or are small clouds that travel across the screen rather quickly. Just do the math on that. In addition, there are a bunch of tall pillars (one of which is flat-out enormous) that get in your way and you have to get around them before they knock you off to your doom as well as a section where the screen scrolls upward, forcing you to quickly jump up a series of clouds like steps and then head back down again afterward. There's only one power-up and 1-Up each in this level and they can be very hard to get with the scrolling screen. The only thing you can do here is keep moving and watch your footing as well as where you jump.
Level 6-3: While the screen doesn't scroll in this level, it doesn't make it any less easier. It's still a platforming level where most of the platforms are made of ice and you often only have one or two small blocks to stand on. There are quite a few Koopas and Paratroopas here too. Some of the obstacles include a rather tall pillar of ice at the very beginning that you have to use a moving platform beneath to get under (you need to duck if you're Super Mario), a series of narrow ice plaforms with small gaps in-between them that you can actually just run right over if you do so with enough speed and without stopping, and a tricky jump involving a Paratroopa that you need to reach the exit pipe. You can use a Koopa shell to activate a vine to climb up to a pipe that leads to a room with a Tanooki Suit. You can use said suit to build up your P-Meter and allow yourself to fly to the end of the level after you exit the room (you can also fly up to an upper level in this room filled with coins after you get the suit).
Fortress 1: They just keep getting harder and harder. The first room has you ride on a platform over a lava lake as well as a floor of spikes, all the while contending with energy orbs and Hot Foots. There's a power-up early on but it's so hard to get it without being left behind by the platform that I usually ignore it. The second room has more orbs and more spikes, although there are a couple of power-ups, a 1-Up that you can reach with Raccoon Mario (a bit tricky to do so, though), and a tricky to get Invincibility Star that, if you're fast enough, you can run to Boom-Boom with and defeat him without any trouble. Speaking of Boom-Boom, while he doesn't do anything new here, the slippery floor in his chamber can make the fight a bit more difficult than usual.
Level 6-4: Here we go again. More platforming in the sky with ice as well as spinning ones that can send you to your doom, donut blocks, and platforms that travel on tricky, rotating paths. The power-ups and 1-Ups are tricky to get, either requiring you to do some rather hazardous jumping in their respective spots or build up your P-Meter and fly where there's not much room to do so. And while there is a coin heaven here as well, the Jump Block that leads to it is also very hard to get to. There's also a Fire Chomp and series of those rotating platforms you must deal with at the home stretch so, again, watch what you're doing.
Level 6-5: Thank God, it's not another platforming level. However, this level forces you to make your way out of an underground section filled with those pesky Ice Block-throwing Buster Beetles, white hopping Piranha Plants, and Koopas with Raccoon Mario, the only way you can do so. While you can get a Super Leaf right at the start by the use of a pipe, you'll still have to deal with those aggravating Buster Beetles and if you use the pipe at the very end of the level, you'll just end up back at the start so don't do that. Right before that pipe, you have to fly up to an upper level with a Koopa shell and use it to knock the hopping little Piranha Plants out of your way so you can get to the exit pipe. This may sound simple enough but you have to get rid of some Buster Beetles before you can safely get said Koopa shell and it's hard to do so without killing the Koopa, which will force you to come back around. I must admit that this level really had me stumped the first time but I eventually did figure out what you're supposed to do (didn't make it any easier, though).
Level 6-6: Another underground level, this one is even worse than the last one. Most of it involves you swimming in an underground lake infested with Cheep-Cheeps and if you don't have a Fire Flower on you, it can extremely frustrating. You'll also have to swim around Piranha Plants underwater, jump over a series of small pools that have a bothersome Cheep-Cheep leaping from one to the next (I lost so many power-ups and lives to these enemies while playing this level that I was absolutely livid after a point), deal with those spiked ball-throwing enemies known as Spikes, and, worst of all, go through a passageway full of those annoying enemies (by that I mean Spikes and those jumping Cheep-Cheeps) in order to get to the exit pipe. While there are a couple of power-ups, I usually can't do this level without taking a hit and losing said power-up, which makes this level even harder than it already is. I'm willing to bet that you'll be screaming at your television before you finish this level.
Level 6-7: More platforming in the sky, only this time the ice platforms have mostly (though not completely) have been replaced with the donut lifts that fall after you stand on them for a little while. And, naturally, it's an auto-scrolling level. Not much else to say about this level other than it's another series of tricky jumps and the items are very hard to get without getting yourself killed. While you can make a special Mushroom House appear on the map if you get 78 coins, that's another difficult feat to pull off due to where a lot of the coins are placed (i.e. underneath donut lifts that have nothing is directly below them and you have to jump safety as soon as you get them).However, if you exit the main level as Fire Mario, you can use your fireballs to thaw out some frozen coins before you leave the stage completely.
Fortress 2: You had to know that a castle made completely of ice was coming in this world and, man, is this one loaded to the brim with hazards. Besides the slippery ice and pitfalls, you have Thwomps that move horizontally, Boos (often in the same place as Thwomps), and energy orbs. To get past the Thwomps, you often have to make them move and then quickly get past them while they're resetting for another attack. There's one section where you have to make a Thwomp spring his trap and quickly run and slide through a tight squeeze before he gets himself back into place. Even worse is a spot where you have to contend with a Thwomp, a Boo, and an orb all at once. As if the other traps were actually too easy! And once again, the fight with Boom-Boom takes place in a chamber with a slippery floor as well as a ledge against the wall that will spell your doom if he traps you underneath it. Do not fall for that.
Level 6-8: Believe it or not, this isn't a snowy or icy level! Instead, it's a good old-fashioned grassy hill level, with Koopas and white hopping Piranha Plants as the hazards. As you can probably guess, compared to what you've been through leading up to it, this level is a cinch, with spots where you can rack up points with Koopa shells and Ice Blocks, use said blocks to reveal and activate power-ups and a switch to turn a floating bundle of bricks into coins, and so on. I guess after all the hell they put you through in this level, the game designers decided that if you made it this far, you deserve a breather. Enjoy it, though, because it won't last long.
Level 6-9: Here's another level where you can either take a shortcut or go the longer and more difficult route. At the very beginning of the level, if you have a Raccoon Suit or a P-Wing, you can fly up to the top of the big ice structure (the item block up there has a 1-Up) and go down the other side where the exit is. If you can't do that, though, you'll have to go through a tricky underground area, most of which is underwater and filled with annoying aquatic enemies, including Bloopers if I remember correctly. While you can get out of the water, the upper level isn't much better since there are many spots that contain those little Muncher Piranha Plants. There are some rewards here, including a few power-ups (albeit ones that are hard to get), an underwater pipe that leads to a room filled with coins and three 1-Ups (you have to be wearing a Frog Suit to go down it, though), and a switch at one point that can turn the nearby Munchers into coins. Those goodies aside, though, this level is pretty hard and you'll probably end up having to play through it many times.
Level 6-10: For the most part, this is a typical ground-based ice and snow level, though what it makes it distinct are the myriad of frozen coins and Munchers that are here. If you're Fire Mario, you can use fireballs to thaw out the coins and get a little extra cash (though it's hard not to thaw the Munchers when they're right next to the coins). You'll have to deal with some more Buster Beetles here as well but the frustration is worth it when you activate this vine near the beginning of the level and climb up to a hidden switch that turns an enormous tower of bricks next to into a tower of coins (you can also thaw out the Munchers turned coins for a little more bling). One pipe that has frozen Munchers above it can be reached after you hit that switch. After you make your way through the Munchers that are now coins, you can go down the pipe into a zig-zagging slide-like room that has coins as well as a Hammer Suit. Unfortunately, though, for all the rewards that this level has for you, it has one rather difficult challenge right before the end: a spinning platform in a gap between two icy blocks that have Koopas on them. Just try to figure out how tricky it is to clear this obstacle without getting killed or at least taking a hit. My only advice is don't rush through this hurdle or you will pay for it.
Fortress 3: Yes, there are three damn fortress levels in this world and this one is the worst without a shadow of a doubt. There are only two rooms before the boss but they're both tricky, especially the first one, which is downright nightmarish. You'll probably faint when you realize what you have to do here. It's pretty much an obstacle course, with every hazard that appear in the levels thrown at except for lava: spikes that alternate being on the floor and the ceiling, rotating energy orbs, Boos (both by themselves as well as in those platforms), Thwomps, and, a new hurdle, conveyor belts that you have to fight against while you're having to look out for the other traps and enemies. There are many spots where you have to deal with two hurdles at once, especially a ridiculously hard spot near the end where you have to cross over two platforms with Boos in them as well as watch out for orbs. It's insane. A Hammer Suit comes in quite handy here since it's the only thing that can dispense with the enemies here. If you don't have one, you're in quite a pickle because there's only one power-up here, a Super Leaf, it won't do you any good against these enemies. There's a 1-Up here but since you have to fly up to it and there isn't a lot of room to build up speed, it's best to just let it go. The second room involves you falling down to a rising floor along with three Boos. Try to get to the right of the room when you first fall down there and then keep your eyes on the ghosts so they won't come at you. If you land on the left, you'll have to lure them into a suitable position and then hop over them to get to the right. (It's hard to get all three of them in a spot where you can jump over them without taking damage.) Boom-Boom is going to be leaping a lot this time around but the numerous suspended blocks in the room give you a lot of cover to dodge those attacks as well as places to jump down on him from.
Airship: Finally, we've come to the end of this world but, predictably, the last level is another challenging one. While rocket engines are the only "enemy" here, there are a bunch of gaps where it looks as if you have to use the tricky Bolt Lifts in order to get across. However, if you wait for the other end of the gaps to scroll into view, you will see that you can indeed make those gaps with some powered up jumps. This, however, can be just as tricky as using the Bolt Lifts so you have to keep your mind on what you're doing as well as continue to watch the screen. Lemmy Koopa is obviously a fan of the circus because he balances on a ball while attacking you. He will create balls that bounce around the room and try to hit you. Although you can indeed jump on them without taking damage and using as boosts to get up to Lemmy, you should mainly ignore the balls and use them only when you have to. Otherwise, just keep jumping on Lemmy, avoid his shell attacks, and, once again, you come out on top.

World 7: Pipe Maze. Nearing the end of the game, the worlds not only start to get longer but more complex as well. This one in particular is quite confusing to navigate since there are so many pipes on the map that you have to use to go from one of the little connected islands that make up this world to the other. While some will lead you to the next batch of levels, others will lead to Mushroom Houses or, frustratingly, to dead ends, forcing you to go back and pick another pipe. The Hammer Bros. on the map screen are now replaced by big Piranha Plants and if you're forced to traverse through these little challenges, you'll find yourself having to make your way through a long stretch of pipes infested with all the different types of Piranha Plants, particularly the Munchers, who go in and out of their pipes in patterns and you have to carefully keep an eye on them and hop from one section to another to avoid getting bitten. And, as you can probably guess, most of the actual levels here have this same type of design and they're both challenging and rather confusing as well. In other words, we're really getting down to the nitty-gritty here.
Level 7-1: This world pulls no punches from the beginning. You have to make your up a vertically-placed system of pipes, being careful of which pipes you choose to go in because some will lead you in circles, and you also have to deal with a bunch of Koopas and Piranha Plants. This is a level where if you go all the way to one side of the screen, you'll come out the other. While that can be helpful, enemies can do that too so you have to keep that in mind. There's only one power-up here and you have to use a Koopa shell to activate it while making sure not to get caught in the ricocheting shell's path, and the three 1-Ups here are all quite tricky to get as well. There's one little space in the middle of pipes that you have to use Raccoon or Tanooki Mario to get to it but by the time you figure out where you were supposed to be positioned to do so, you'll probably decide to heck with it and move on. The section before the exit pipe can cause you take a hit because you have to use a pipe to get up to it but there are two Koopas patrolling that section and if you don't watch the top of the screen to see where they are due to their feet, you may end up coming out of the pipe and running right into them. Let this level set the tone for the rest of the world.
Level 7-2: A callback to the levels of Desert Hill, this is another level that has two distinct sections: an upper one with a lot pipes that are filled with Piranha Plants as well as some Koopas and a lower section, a good majority of which is underwater, that is filled with coins. The coins down there are activated by a switch and you only have a few seconds to grab all of them before they turn back into bricks. Needless to say, it's a good idea to break out the Frog Suit again if you decide to go for all the coins in the underwater section. Other tricky parts of this level include a section where you will have to go to the surface in order to make a bridge of Jump Blocks appear in order to clear a gap and the very end, where you have to find the right pipe in a sea of pipes that are infested with fireball-spitting Venus Flytraps. It took me a long time and a lot of frustration, particularly because I kept taking hits, before I finally discovered that it's the lowest pipe in the last part of this section.
Level 7-3: Another hill level, this one gives you an opportunity to be invincible throughout its entirety if you manage to activate all of the Invincibility Stars after grabbing the first one at the very beginning of the level. Trust me, it's a good idea to try that because, otherwise, this level is very frustrating, with the first half involving you to work your way down some sloping hills, some of which contain Spinies, which you can't defeat with the slide technique if you're not invincible, and the second half forcing you to deal with Lakitu whilst while doing a series of jumps as well as dealing with other enemies. Make no mistake, you'll probably be pulling your hair out with how difficult this stage is, particularly since all you'll get is coins if you miss one of the stars and the only other power-up is not only hard to get but is right in the spot where Lakitu first shows up (he's killed me a bunch of times while I've been trying to get that power-up). And, remember, Lakitu will follow you all the way to the very end unless you momentarily incapacitate him. Such an awful level!
Level 7-4: Another underwater stage and this one is kind of an asshole at the very beginning because there's a secret area that you can access as Raccoon Mario but all it contains is a couple of 1-Ups and not a shortcut to the end. And you'll be wishing that it did have one because this could possibly be the most difficult underwater level in the entire game. It's a scrolling level, for one thing. It's filled with all sorts of the underwater enemies that you hate, like Bloopers, Big Bertha, a huge school of Jelectros at the halfway point that you have to navigate through, and the introduction of a new type of Cheep-Cheep that swims extremely fast and, of course, tends to travel in big groups. And, of course, there are plenty of awkwardly-placed obstacles like blocks and pillars that can cause you to either swim right into an enemy or get crushed by the scrolling screen. It's a completely nightmarish clusterfuck of a level. While it's a good idea to bring the Frog Suit so you can swm more accurately, the Fire Flower allows you to clear enemies out of your way so you have to pick your poison for lack of a better term. Either way, it's an awful level.
Level 7-5: Oh, God, these levels are so hard to describe through mere words! Here's another pipe maze, with this one that actually scrolls to the right, and involves you having to navigate the pipes while avoiding Koopas and Bob-Ombs (didn't expect to see them here), making invisible blocks appear so you can cross over gaps (which often involve you having to retrace steps in order to get back to the beginning of those gaps), and there are even spots where making these blocks visible can trap you in a corner with an enemy. And as you've probably guessed, the power-ups and 1-Ups here are equally as tricky to get. All I can say is take your time, try to keep a cool head, and you'll eventually come out on top.
Fortress 1: As you've probably guessed, the castle levels are just as complex as the typical ones. If you went through the Piranha Plant level on the same island as the castle, you will have acquired a P-Wing and that will come in handy here. You begin in a room filled with bricks and a switch that you can use to turn them all into coins, allowing you to collect a few extra lives if you're lucky. And if you didn't get the P-Wing, the switch will activate a door that leads to a secret room that contains a Tanooki Suit. You'll have to jump back to the solid platform as soon as you hit the switch to make it here and, trust me, it's worth going for because you'll need to be able to fly to reach Boom-Boom. The pipe that leads to him is on the ceiling of the ballroom following the brick room and if you don't have a flying suit, you'll have to keep going around the castle in loop until you do get one. The room after this is filled with lava and the upper right pipe in it eventually leads back to the brick room so this place does loop. It took me a while to figure out how to beat this castle and by the time I finally figured out the trick with the flying suit, I didn't have much time left so I had to beat Boom-Boom as quickly as I could in order to move on. It's no use talking about Boom-Boom again since by this point, you should know how he attacks. Same old stuff.
Level 7-6: Another vertically scrolling level, this one involves you using a series of platforms whose direction you can control to make it to the top of this large space. There are plenty of obstacles like Koopas and Paratroopas, Piranha Plants, and spikes to make your job tougher but the fact that this is a level where you can go from one side of the screen to the other does give you an advantage. Many is the time where you'll have to get off your lift while it goes through an obstacle and then get back on it before it leaves you behind or ride on the lift from one side of the screen to the other in order to reach a pipe. It's a very tricky and delicate task to master and its a sure thing that you'll probably make some mistakes and lose some lives the first times you attempt it.
Level 7-7: My initial reaction to this level? "Okay, you guys are just being complete sadistic assholes now!" This level is nothing more than a long row of pipes with Munchers in them and the only to get across it without getting yourself killed is with the help of the Invincibility Stars that are present in the item blocks here. You have to run like there's no tomorrow once you grab the first star and, what's worse, they don't make it easy to grab some of the others. One forces you to do a ducking slide underneath it as well as jumping and hitting it to activate it and others have long spaces in-between them, making it to wear you're almost out of invincibility when you get to the next one. They also put some pipes that you have to jump over in your way just to slow you down even more. By the time you finally reach the end of this level, I wouldn't be surprised if you yell, "Hallelujah!" What a cruel level!
Level 7-8: This is a normal side-scrolling level but, that said, it still has a lot of pipes infested with Piranha Plants and Venus Flytraps as well as Patooies and other types of biting plants on the ground. This level isn't as difficult as what's come before it but it's still frustrating, with the enemies placed in the most awkward positions, tricky jumps that include waiting for Piranha Plants to go inside their pipes before you jump as well as a row of Munchers where you don't have that many spaces to use to jump across. Fortunately, though, there's a coin heaven here as well as a pipe that leads to a room with a Hammer Suit, so that makes up for the annoyances in this level.
Level 7-9: Here's another pipe maze, although this one is completely different from the ones that you encountered in this world. This is a much more complex version of a puzzle that you encountered earlier in the game, where you jump through a crack in order to enter this twisting and turning pipe structure, eventually making yourself to the other side. It's a rather lengthy maze as well, so you have to keep an eye on your time limit while progressing through it. There are a few enemies here but I've never found them to be that challenging. The main risk here is getting lost in the maze and timing out and while there are coins and power-ups here, I find it more productive to simply try to find the exit pipe rather than go item-hunting.
Fortress 2: Piranha Plant-infested pipes, lava, Thwomps, orbs, and Boos all come together in this castle to make it very challenging. Needless to say, you have to keep your eye on what you're doing while jumping across the pipes and avoiding the enemies. A Hammer Suit is very, very useful here but if you don't have one, there is an Invincibility Star (just don't fall into the lava trying to get it) and a Super Leaf here to make things a little bit easier on you. The latter power-up comes in really handy in getting to the exit pipe, which is underneath an overhang that you need to jump off and then curve around under it. The floating technique makes that maneuver much less tricky. Right before you get to Boom-Boom, though, you have to make your way through a difficult trap. You have to run a slide underneath two low-hanging whiles that have those orbs circling around them and after you get under the second wall, you have to be careful not to get crushed by a Thwomp that's on the other side. Obviously if you're not Super Mario, sliding doesn't matter but it's always to be at least that powered up before you face Boom-Boom.
Airship: After getting through another Piranha Plant level (which is best tackled with an Invincibility Star from your inventory), you come across this world's airship level. It's the longest airship level yet and while there are no cannons or Bullet Bill turrets, there are a lot of tricky jumps involving the Bolt Lifts, rocket engines, and Rocky Wrenches. While you can make some of these jumps without using those lifts if you power up, especially if you're Raccoon Mario, there are others where you'll more than likely have to use the lifts, unless you've become a true wiz at the game's jump controls by this point. There are two power-ups in this level but both are tricky to get. In any case, you'll eventually face Ludwig von Koopa, who has the power to paralyze you at certain points. The effect only lasts for a few seconds so once it wears off, make your move and hit Ludwig. However, the floor is kind of uneven, making it hard to deal with both Ludwig's paralyzing abilities as well as his shell attacks after you stomp on him. As with all bosses and challenges in this game, just keep at him and you'll eventually beat him and move on to the final world.

World 8: Bowser's Castle. It's been a long and difficult journey but we've finally made it to the final world, which is basically Hell (just look at the way map screen looks and tell me it doesn't look as such), where we can trounce Bowser for all the trouble he's given us. As the final world, this one is markedly different from the past ones. Instead of taking up multiple screen spaces that scroll over when you reach them, this one is comprised of four separate screens, each with their twists and turns. While there are no Hammer Bros. or anything similar on the paths, save for those big locks in front of some pipes, there are no Mushroom Houses either (although you will receive items at the end of certain levels). And finally, there are only a few typical levels leading up to Bowser's castle. There are a couple of levels similar to the airships as well as some trap levels in the middle of the second screen but other than that, there are only two normal levels and one fortress (all of which are really hard and frustrating, I might add) before you finally get to the final confrontation with Bowser.
Bowser's Tank Force: Similar to the Airship levels, this is a scrolling level where you have to jump over a long line of tanks in order to reach the end, all the while dodging an onslaught of cannons, Bob-Ombs, flamethrowers, and Rocky Wrenches. The best strategy is not to rush but wait for whatever is in front of you to scroll into view or otherwise you'll end up taking a hit from something that's relatively easily to avoid. There's one power-up on the back of one of the later tanks but since you have to slide under it if you're Super Mario, it's not worth the risk since it puts you right in the line of fire of the next tank's cannon. And the next to last tank has a HUGE cannon that fires cannonballs that are just as big so the minute that thing comes into view, jump on top of it before it fires. While you may be alarmed to see a pipe on the last tank that typically means you'll have to fight a boss, all it is a Boomerang Brother and if you're at least Super Mario, you can trounce him without much trouble.
Bowser's Navy: Now you have to make your way across a series of boats that are armed to the teeth. Mainly, all you do here is avoid a bunch of cannonfire while you make your way through the level but there's so much of it in some spots that you can very easily get overwhelmed. What's more, there's a power-up at the very beginning but it's underneath an overhang that has cannons underneath it as well as cannons to the right. While it is the sole power-up here, it's very difficult to grab without either getting yourself hit for your trouble or getting hit and losing the power-up right after you grab it. Unless you really need it, I suggest ignoring it. There are also spots where you can swim underneath the boats but you'll lose a life if you get pushed down too far. You have to tap the Jump Button like crazy in order to pull this trick off. I personally never try it and just stick to making my way across the boats. The boss here is Boom-Boom so do you what you should be very good at doing by this point and bash his head in.
Hand Traps: These are spaces in the middle of the second map screen that you have to cross over in order to make it further into the world but more than likely, you'll end up getting pulled into a short but tricky level by gigantic hands. However, since you receive a Super Leaf at the end of each of these levels, it can be a good idea to actually take on these levels. The first trap is a small castle level where you have to face a Fire Brother, a Boomerang Brother, and a Sledge Brother in that order. The good thing is that after the Fire Brother is a couple of platforms made of bricks and some of them contain coins and a power-up. If you're Super Mario, said power-up will be a Fire Flower and you can use it to easily dispense with the other brothers. The second trap is a series of platforms over a lake of lava that's spitting out Podoboos. Simple enough and you should be used to this type of obstacle by now. The third and final trap is the longest and most difficult, requiring you to make your way across another series of platforms over lava that's spouting out a swarm of flying Cheep-Cheeps. The good news is that, if you're Super Mario, the item block here will contain a Fire Flower that makes dealing with these annoying fish much easier. The bad news is that, not only is that block so high up that getting the flower is very difficult, but also if you're at least powered up to Super Mario, there's a spot right after it where you'll have to run and slide under a low-hanging block, which is made all the more tricky by the Cheep-Cheeps. Just keep moving and dodging those annoying fish is the only real advice for this level.
Bowser's Airforce: The last airship level in the game, this one involves you jumping from one mini-airship to another, most of which have either Rocky Wrenches or rocket engines aboard them. As you've no doubt guessed, a Raccoon or Tanooki Suit comes in very handy here with their gliding abilities and there are some long jumps here that are made easier with those abilities. Heck, if you have a P-Wing in your inventory, use it to glide completely across this hellish stage. If none of these options are available to you (and there are no power-ups to be found here as well), then it's a sure bet that you'll probably lose quite a few lives before you finally beat this level. You have to fight Boom-Boom again at the end as well and this is an instance where he flies (which, given the nature of this  level, shouldn't be surprising) so, all in all, this is a very frustrating level if you don't have any flying power-ups to give you some extra help.
Level 8-1: This level is packed with Bullet Bill turrets as well as Venus Flytrap infested pipes, Koopas and Paratroopas, and Boos. This a level that gave me so many problems and caused me to game over quite a few times before I finally got past it. If you're Raccoon Mario when you first enter, you can fly up at the start to a switch that turns the wall behind you into a bunch of coins and believe me, it'll very helpful to get as many coins and extra lives as you can because this level eats them up very quickly. There are a couple of power-ups here that are hard to grab (the second of which, I swear, I have never been able to grab without immediately taking a hit from the turret you have to get under and losing it) but that's balanced out by an Invincibility Star which, if you're quick enough, you can use to take out a Boo that will otherwise complicate things even more, and a 1-Up Mushroom (although, you have to chase after it and be careful not to run into enemies while you're trying to get it). Finally, there are a couple of tricky spots leading to the exit where you'll have to use an invisible block to get make it out from in-between a couple of stacked turrets and take a running leap onto a Jump Block to make it over to a pipe (of course, you have to watch out for the Piranha Plant that's in there as well). If this level doesn't drive you screaming mad, then you're a better player than me.
Level 8-2: While this level is also very difficult, if you let yourself sink down into the quicksand at the beginning, you'll not only find a secret area with two pipes that lead to either a power-up or a bunch of coins depending on which one you choose, but after you grab the goodies, you'll come out near the end of the level. Unfortunately for me, I didn't discover that until after many frustrating and fatal attempts to make it through this level fairly. This level contains more Venus Flytraps, the return of the Angry Sun, and some tricky jumping areas. Namely, that Angry Sun will continue to try to get you while you're having to jump across a series of Jump Blocks unless you manage to get rid of him and while there's a spot where you can use a switch to turn coins into blocks that make avoiding him easier, it's still a difficult task. He comes back near the end as well so there's that too. My advice is, if you're like me and you're sick of getting killed so much, take that shortcut at the beginning, grab some items, and then make your way across the very last stretch of the level which, while a bit tricky, isn't nearly as difficult as what you have to deal with in the middle of it.
Fortress: As the last of these Fortress levels, this one is, without a doubt, the most confusing and difficult one imaginable. Not only is every conceivable enemy, trap, and hazard that you've faced in these levels here but it's also a castle that has two sides of it that you must navigate in order to find the door that leads to Boom-Boom. While the front side is chocked full of numerous enemies and traps, the first half of the back side has Podoboo-spewing lava as well as conveyor belts that you have to use to cross over it. The amount of doors, both visible as well as invisible which you have to activate with a switch, will absolutely make your head spin and in fact, the door that leads to Boom-Boom is of the latter kind. It's over to the right of the very last switch you come across but because another door pops up to the left of the switch as well as the fact that the correct door wasn't visible on the screen due to my position at the time, I kept going in the wrong one and found myself on a wild goose chase. I was absolutely stumped and I could not for the life of me figure out where the hell I was supposed to go. And man, did I feel like a dumbass when I finally found that damn door! As if you hadn't had enough trouble already, you have to fight Boom-Boom on a conveyor belt, which can make this fight plenty difficult. This was undeniably the worst level in the game in my opinion.
Bowser's Army: You have to face one last onslaught of Bowser's troops before you can take the Koopa King on himself. This is a short level but it's obvious that Bowser is desperate seeing as how you're faced with a virtually relentless onslaught of cannons, Bob-Ombs, and Rocky Wrenches on these tanks. There aren't many spaces where you can take a break and there are no power-ups so you have to keep yourself on your toes. You fight Boom-Boom for the last time at the end of this level so be sure to give him hell for all the trouble he's caused you throughout the game!
Bowser's Castle: The path to Bowser in his castle is not only tricky but there comes a point where you have to be careful about what path you take. At the beginning, you have to deal with statues of Bowser that shoot lasers at you (dodging these things is very difficult) and then you have to go up a flight of steps on one side and then back down on the other while avoiding several rotating orbs (there is a 1-Up in this spot and it's easy to get so you'd best take it while you can). Eventually, you come to a large room with lava on the ground and donut lifts in the air that you have to jump across in order to reach one of three ledges. The top and bottom ledges eventually lead to Bowser (the door on the bottom one is harder to get to) while the middle one has a power-up waiting for you. Both doors lead to a room that has more Bowser statues in it as well as platforms above lava (one of which has donut lifts) that finally lead to Bowser. Bowser also starts shooting his fire breath at you by this point so you have to dodge that too. One you finally do reach Bowser, you actually have to make him defeat himself. You have to make him crash down on these bricks in the middle of the room and after he goes through three in one spot, he'll fall down a large hole. However, it's hard to get him to jump in the same spot more than once so you have to keep running around and dodging his slam attacks as well as his fireballs until he finally sends himself falling into oblivion. It's also a good idea to be as powered up as possible when you fight him because it's very likely that you will take hits due to his unpredictable jumping and fire-blowing patterns. As always, you have to keep your wits about you and you'll eventually beat him and rescue Princess Toadstool. (Incidentally, the princess tries to fool you by saying that, "Our princess is in another castle," but quickly says, "Just kidding!" Can you imagine the reaction of players back in the day after they had gone through this game, beaten Bowser, and were then greeted by that? They probably almost had a heart attack!)

In conclusion, while I may not have been capable of understanding how popular it was when it was originally released, I can now saw that I understand why Super Mario Bros. 3 is such a beloved game. It's packed with all sorts of challenging levels, intriguing bits of gameplay, items and other  features that have become standards of the Mario franchise in the years since, introduced some aspects that were revolutionary at the time but have since become commonplace in both Mario as well as video games in general, and, above everything else, is a very fun game and it really does feel as if you've accomplished something once you beat it. If you've never played it, it probably won't surprise you when I say that you need pick it up. It most definitely was a high-mark of the classic NES back in the day.