Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
The Lost Levels box art shows Mario holding the two-finger V sign inside an inscribed circle. Above, red Japanese text reads the title text: "Super Mario Bros. 2". The Nintendo logo and an award ribbon are displayed in opposite corners.
Japanese cover art
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D4
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Takashi Tezuka
Shigeru Miyamoto
Producer(s) Shigeru Miyamoto
Designer(s) Shigeru Miyamoto[1]
Programmer(s) Toshihiko Nakago
Kazuaki Morita
Composer(s) Koji Kondo
Series Super Mario
Platform(s) Family Computer Disk System
  • JP: June 3, 1986
Genre(s) Platform
Mode(s) Single-player

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is a 1986 side-scrolling platform game developed and published by Nintendo as the first sequel to their 1985 bestseller Super Mario Bros. The games are similar in style and gameplay, apart from a steep increase in difficulty. Like the original, Mario or Luigi venture to rescue the Princess from Bowser. Unlike the original, the game has no two-player option and Luigi is differentiated from his twin plumber brother with reduced ground friction and increased jump height. The Lost Levels also introduces setbacks such as poison mushroom power-ups, counterproductive level warps, and mid-air wind gusts. The game has 32 levels across eight worlds as well as 20 bonus levels.

The Lost Levels was first released in Japan for the Famicom Disk System as Super Mario Bros. 2[a] on June 3, 1986, following the success of its predecessor. It was developed by Nintendo R&D4—the team led by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto—and designed for players who had mastered the original. Nintendo of America deemed the title too difficult for its North American audience and instead chose another game as the region's Super Mario Bros. 2: a retrofitted version of the Japanese Doki Doki Panic. North America first experienced The Lost Levels, as the Japanese sequel became known, in the 1993 Super Nintendo Entertainment System compilation Super Mario All-Stars. It was later ported to the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Virtual Console (Wii, Nintendo 3DS, and Wii U), and Nintendo Switch.

The title is known for its intense difficulty, which contributes to its reputation as a black sheep in the franchise. Reviewers viewed The Lost Levels as an extension of the original release, especially its difficulty progression. Journalists appreciated the game's challenge when spectating speedruns, and recognized the game as a precursor to the franchise's subculture in which fans create and share ROM hacks featuring nearly impossible levels. This sequel gave Luigi his first character traits and introduced the poison mushroom item, which has since been used throughout the Mario franchise. The Lost Levels was the most popular game on the Disk System, for which it sold about 2.5 million copies. It is remembered among the most difficult games by Nintendo and in the video game medium, and among the least important games in the Mario series.


Mario, viewed in profile, faces to the right of the screen, with question mark boxes and a dark mushroom floating overhead and a green pipe in the ground nearby. The screen is mostly blue sky.
Screenshot of gameplay from the 1986 Japanese release, showing a poison mushroom

The Lost Levels is a side-scrolling platform game similar in style and gameplay to the original 1985 Super Mario Bros., save for an increase in difficulty.[2][3][4][5] As in the original, Mario (or Luigi) ventures to rescue the Princess from Bowser.[4] The player jumps between platforms, avoids enemy and inanimate obstacles, finds hidden secrets (such as warp zones and vertical vines), and collects power-ups like the mushroom (which makes Mario grow), the Fire Flower (which lets Mario throw fireballs), and the Invincibility Star.[2] Unlike the original, there is no two-player mode[6] but at the title screen, the player chooses between the twin plumber characters. Their abilities are differentiated for the first time: Luigi, designed for skilled players, has less ground friction and higher jump height,[2] while Mario is faster.[6]

The game continues the difficulty progression from the end of its predecessor.[2] The Lost Levels introduces irritants including poison mushrooms, level warps that set the player farther back in the game, and wind gusts that redirect the player's course mid-air.[3] The poison mushroom, in particular, works as an anti-mushroom, shrinking or killing the player-character.[7] Some of the game's levels require "split-second" precision[3] and others require the player to jump on invisible blocks.[8] There were also some graphical changes from its predecessor,[5][9] though their soundtracks are identical.[2] After each boss fight, Toad tells Mario that "our princess is in another castle".[3] The main game has 32 levels[1] across eight worlds and five bonus worlds. A hidden World 9 is accessible if the player does not use a warp zone. Bonus worlds A through D are accessible when the player plays through the game eight times, for a total of 52 levels.[2]


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The game's director, designer, and composer pictured together in 2015: Takashi Tezuka, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Koji Kondo

The original Super Mario Bros. was released in North America in October 1985. Within four months, it had sold tens of millions of Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom in Japan) video game consoles and signaled the end of the 1983 video game crash.[10] When developing a version of the game for Nintendo's coin-operated arcade machine, the VS. System, the team experimented with new, challenging level designs. They enjoyed these new levels, and thought that Super Mario devotees would too.[11] Shigeru Miyamoto, who created the Mario franchise and directed Super Mario Bros., no longer had time to design games by himself, given his responsibilities leading Nintendo's R&D4 division and their work on The Legend of Zelda.[3] Thus, the Super Mario sequel was delegated to its predecessor's assistant director, Takashi Tezuka, as his directorial debut.[12][13] He worked with Miyamoto and the R&D4 team[14][2] to develop a sequel based on the same underlying technology,[7] including some levels directly from Vs. Super Mario Bros.[3]

The Lost Levels, originally released in Japan as Super Mario Bros. 2[4] on June 3, 1986, was similar in style to Super Mario Bros. but much more difficult in gameplay—"nails-from-diamonds hard", as Jon Irwin described it in his book on the sequels.[12] Tezuka felt that Japanese players had mastered the original game, and so needed a more challenging sequel.[12] Recognizing that the game might be too difficult for newcomers, the team labeled the game's packaging: "For Super Players".[11] They also added a trick to earn infinite lives as preparation for the game's difficulty.[11] Commercials for The Lost Levels in Japan featured players failing at the game and screaming in frustration at their television.[12] After Zelda, The Lost Levels was the second release for the Famicom Disk System, an add-on external disk drive with more spacious and less expensive disks than the Famicom cartridges.[3]

When evaluated for release outside of Japan, Nintendo of America believed The Lost Levels was too difficult and frustrating for the recovering American market and declined its release.[3][15] Howard Phillips, who evaluated games for Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa, felt that the game was unfairly difficult, even beyond the unofficial moniker of "Nintendo Hard" that the company's other games sometimes garnered.[12] His opinion was that The Lost Levels would not sell well in the American market.[14][12] "Few games were more stymieing", he later recalled of the game. "Not having fun is bad when you're a company selling fun."[12]

Nintendo instead released a retrofitted version of Doki Doki Panic as the region’s Super Mario Bros. 2 in October 1988.[16] Doki Doki Panic had originally been developed by Miyamoto and Kensuke Tanabe as a modified take on a Super Mario Bros. game. Instead of Mario graphics, Miyamoto collaborated with Fuji Television to license characters from its Yūme Kojo ‘87 and it was released in Japan as a standalone game in July 10, 1987.[17] Miyamoto spent more time on Doki Doki Panic than on The Lost Levels.[3] Doki Doki Panic's characters and artwork were modified to match Super Mario Bros. before being released in America, and the re-skinned release became known as the "big aberration" in the Super Mario series.[3] The American Super Mario Bros. 2 was later released in Japan as Super Mario USA.[16]


A white and red Famicom unit sits atop a candy red Famicom Disk System unit with black insertable disk drive. Two rectangular controllers, each with a D-pad and two black buttons, fit into the Famicom.
The Lost Levels was the second game released for the Famicom Disk System (attached below the Famicom, as pictured)

Nintendo "cleaned up" parts of the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 and released it in later Super Mario collections as The Lost Levels.[3] Its North American debut in the 1993 Super Mario All-Stars collection for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System[4] featured updated graphics (including increased visibility for the poison mushroom[6]) and more frequent checkpoints to save player progress.[7] According to All-Stars developers, the compilation was created because Miyamoto felt The Lost Levels had not reached a wide audience and wanted more players to experience it.[18] All-Stars was rereleased as a Limited Edition for the Nintendo Wii console in remembrance of Super Mario Bros.'s 25th anniversary in 2010.[16] The Lost Levels was edited to fit the handheld Game Boy Color screen as an unlockable bonus in the 1999 Super Mario Bros. Deluxe: the visible screen is cropped and some features are omitted, such as the wind and five bonus worlds.[19][20] The Lost Levels was rereleased in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance on the third volume of Nintendo's Japan-only Famicom Mini compilation cartridges.[21]

Nintendo's digital Virtual Console platform brought the unedited 1986 Japanese release to North America for the first time.[2][6] The Lost Levels was released for Nintendo's Wii Virtual Console digital platform in 2007 (partially in support of Nintendo's Hanabi Festival[6]), and the 3DS version followed in 2012.[22][2] The Wii U Virtual Console release came to Japan in 2013, and to Europe and North America the next year.[22] The Lost Levels was also included in Nintendo classic game compilations including the 2014 NES Remix 2 (Wii U)[23] Ultimate NES Remix (3DS),[24] and the Nintendo Switch Online NES catalog for the Nintendo Switch in 2019.[25] In late 2020, Nintendo included The Lost Levels in a limited edition Game & Watch device similar to the Game Boy Micro.[26][27]

Reception and legacy

Review scores
Publication Score
Eurogamer Wii: 8/10[6]
GameSpot Wii: 6.5/10[7]
IGN 3DS: 8.5/10[2]
Nintendo Life Wii U: 8/10[22]

At the time of its release, The Lost Levels topped Famicom Tsūshin's charts.[12] The game was the most popular game on the Disk System, for which it sold about 2.5 million copies.[1] Retrospective critics viewed The Lost Levels as an expansion of the original,[2][1][5][6] akin to extra challenge levels tacked on its end.[2] Despite their similarities, the sequel is distinguished by its notorious difficulty.[22] 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die summarized the game as both "familiar and mysterious" and "simply rather unfair".[8] The Lost Levels replaced the original's accessible level designs with "insanely tough obstacle courses"[3] as if designed to intentionally frustrate and punish players beginning with its first poison mushroom.[28][22][2]

Retrospective reviewers recommended the game for those who mastered the original, or those who would appreciate a painful challenge.[22][6][29] Casual Mario fans, GameZone wrote, would not find much to enjoy.[29] Nintendo Life's reviewer felt that while the original was designed for recklessness, its sequel taught patience, and despite its difficulty, remained both "fiendishly clever" and fun.[22] On the other hand, GamesRadar felt that the game was an unoriginal, boring retread, and apart from its "pointlessly cruel" difficulty, not worthy of the player's time.[30] GamesRadar and IGN agreed with Nintendo of America's choice against releasing the harder game in the 1980s,[30][2] though Eurogamer thought that The Lost Levels was "technically a much better game" than the Doki Doki Panic-based Super Mario Bros. 2 the American market received instead.[6]

The Lost Levels is remembered among the most difficult games by Nintendo and in the video game medium.[31][32] Three decades after the game's release, Kotaku wrote that the demanding player precision required in The Lost Levels made fast playthroughs (speedruns) "remarkably fun" to spectate.[15] NES Remix 2 (2014), a compilation title for the Wii U, similarly segmented The Lost Levels into speedrun challenges, which made the challenging gameplay more palatable.[23] Many years after the release of The Lost Levels, fans of the series would modify Mario games to challenge each other with nearly impossible levels. The challenges of The Lost Levels presaged this community, and according to IGN, The Lost Levels shares more in common with this subculture than with the Mario series itself.[2] Indeed, the sequel is remembered as a black sheep in the franchise[8][22] and a reminder of imbalanced gameplay in Nintendo's history.[8]

Luigi received his first distinctive character traits in The Lost Levels: less ground friction, and the ability to jump farther.[3] IGN considered this change to be the game's most significant, though the controls remained "cramped" and "crippled" with either character.[2] The game's poison mushroom item, with its character-impairing effects, became a staple of the Mario franchise.[41] Some of the Lost Levels appeared in a 1986 promotional release of Super Mario Bros., in which Nintendo modified in-game assets to fit themes from the Japanese radio show All Night Nippon.[42] Journalists have ranked The Lost Levels among the least important in the Mario series[43][44] and of Nintendo's top games.[28]