New Super Mario Bros. Wii has arrived, and for some reason my life's a little happier. I love the Mario series, as you may have read over the weekend, with a particular fondness for the 2D games. There's just something about designing and running through an expertly-crafted obstacle course, which has always been the Mario games' bread and butter. Using character abilities and movement as a base, you can create all sorts of enemies and environmental obstacles the mind can conjure up...and then put unique twists on those. There are way too many to choose from, but here are Five of my Favorite 2D Mario Levels. Let me know yours in the comments below! (Images courtesy of MarioWiki.com and NESmaps.com.)
Number Five: World 4-2, Super Mario Bros. 2
World 4 of Super Mario Bros. 2 is the requisite ice-based world that introduces slippery surfaces into the Mario series. And they wasted no time taking full advantage of the missing traction. The three levels of World 4 almost demanded that you pick Princess Peach as your character because if you messed up near a gap, her floating ability allowed for a quick recovery. World 4-2 was an especially demanding test of reaction time and platforming skills, as it sent a flock of Beezos at full speed as you hopped over and slid under them in avoidance. Make it past that part, though, and you'll get to hang out with some whales, hopping from blowhole to blowhole...another good reason to use the floaty Princess.
Number Four: World 4-1, Super Mario Bros. 3
The shock value alone of SMB3's World 4, aka "Giant Land" is reason enough to put on this list. Up until that point, we had five years of predictable (and manageable) sprite sizes...not anymore! Starting with 4-1's giant Piranha Plants, Goombas, Koopas, and terrain, your standard tactics had to change. Piranha Plants didn't care if you were standing next to the pipe, they'd sprout up anyway. The Raccoon Tail wouldn't break blocks you couldn't jump underneath, so you'd have to use giant Koopa shells, and because everything's just bigger, you had to change your jump timing. Though we've labeled this entry as 4-1, just consider the opening level as representative for the entirety of Giant Land.
Number Three: Tubular, Super Mario World
Oh, Tubular. I hate you so much. Tubular is the second level in Super Mario World's "Special" group of hidden levels, which is nested within the first group of hidden levels, Star Road. What makes Tubular so incredibly challenging is that for 95% of the level, there's no ground. What you have to do is grab a Balloon Mario power-up and float sluggishly through a minefield of Charging Chucks and Volcano Plants...while renewing the Balloon power-up through the entire course. It's the ultimate test of patience, pattern recognition, timing, and the ability to keep a calm head. I may have sacrificed hundreds of Italian lives at your feet, Tubular, but I had the last laugh.
Number Two: World 8-2, Super Mario Bros.
If you were talented (or lucky) enough to make it past 8-1 in time, you didn't get much of a repreive in the next level. While not as long as 8-1, 8-2 throws you right into the fire on the opening staircase. Timing the Paratroopa's descent is easy on its own, but Lakitu's there to muck things up. Grabbing the 1-UP mushroom after each death helps you tread water from a lives standpoint, but you still have a section of Bullet Bills to contend with before getting to "The Jump." You know, the one where you have to stand at the exact far edge of the pipe and pray to your deity of choice that you have enough speed to clear the gap. If you make it, congratulations...you have an even more difficult staircase to jump up before the end flag. Oh, and time's almost out.
Number One: Bowser's Airship, Super Mario Bros. 3
I'm going to cheat a bit on this one, because it's really three courses sharing the same theme. Before even getting to the first proper level of SMB3's final World 8, you had to run the gauntlet of Bowser's armed forces: the Tank, the Fleet, and the Airship. Levels where the screen automatically scrolled have always been the most challenging Mario courses, because the margin for error is greatly reduced. But if you weren't on top of your game and using every Mario skill you've learned to that point...these three levels chewed you up and spat you out. It's no wonder that "cheating" strategies popped up for the Fleet (swim under it) and the Airship (use a P-Wing and fly over it).