While Super Mario Bros. is certainly respected, its oft respected mo’ as a historical artifact than a game that’s still enjoyable to play — which is too bad, as I think the game is still excellent, much better than any o’ the New Super Mario Bros. games, despite all the technological advancements they have. Unfortunately, with this comes a major underestimation o’ Super Mario Bros.’s level design, which while not the best in the entire genre, was definitely the best o’ its time, by a large factor. Tho this game lacked all the sexy gimmicks Super Mario Bros. 3 had & oft had to resort to copypasta just to fit e’erything in such a tiny cartridge, Super Mario Bros. made up for this with strikingly subtle complexity & variety in its layouts & set the groundwork for what games like Super Mario Bros. 3 & the Donkey Kong Country trilogy would be able to do.
In some ways, Super Mario Bros. was actually better than later 2-D Mario games, e’en Super Mario Bros. 3: it was much mo’ consistent in allowing players to play thru levels @ their own pace, rarely forcing them to slow down, in contrast to some o’ the slogging autoscrollers Super Mario Bros. 3 subjected its players to. As much as the castle levels in Super Mario Bros. were weaker than its main levels, they were much better than the borefests that were Super Mario Bros. 3’s airship levels, which were remarkably e’en mo’ repetitive, e’en tho that game didn’t resort to any exact copypasta.
Super Mario Bros. managed to find the perfect balance ’tween the short, fast-paced, challenge-oriented arcade games o’ the past & those longer, slower, mo’ puzzle-oriented console games that it kickstarted. Its levels being fast-paced didn’t stop them from being full o’ secrets that offered mo’ patient players a reason to stop & explore, as well as a reason to go back & play thru the game mo’ than once — something very important in a medium like console gaming wherein people paid much higher prices to permanently own the game, rather than pay a quarter to rent it for a few minutes.
As an extra note, while they won’t affect relative rankings, I’ll be taking the time to critique the red-coin & Yoshi Egg locations in the Game Boy Color remake, Super Mario Bros. Deluxe.
32. World 4-4
Not including the 1 water level the player has to play twice, castles are, generally, the weakest levels in the game. Despite their threatening appearance, they’re usually not the hardest levels, either, as the firebars move consistently like clockwork, Bowser’s flames are so slow you can easily react to them, & Podoboos you can usually just wait for them to get out o’ your way. Breather levels are fine & all, but having the castle levels that end each world be breather levels feels counterintuitive & seems to just sap the drama from what should be thrilling, grand challenges.
But moreo’er, they just show a lack o’ creativity relative to normal levels, with a striking lack o’ variety: get used to those aforementioned firebars, Podoboos, & Bowser flames, ’cause they’re the bulk o’ e’ery castle ’cept 8-4. Added to this is an e’en mo’ striking plethora o’ copy-pasted elements, specially the holes @ the end o’ e’ery castle level ( ’cept, ’gain, 8-4 ), which are all the same even level with each other — presumably so they could compress their data & save memory. ’Gain, tho, it seems weird that the developers would choose castle levels, which should be some o’ the most important levels, to skimp on, & not, say, the 3rd level in each world, which tend to be some o’ the strongest levels.
Perhaps the weakest part o’ the castle levels is that they don’t have the best elements o’ Super Mario Bros. levels: the hidden secrets & bonuses. They’re just straightforward challenges. This isn’t by itself a crime: Super Mario 64, which has an e’en greater focus on exploring for secrets, does something similar with its Bowser stages, & those stages are great. But those stages are actually mo’ challenging than regular levels, unlike Super Mario Bros.’s relatively easy castle levels, & they have actual variety & creativity.
Add to this the fact that these levels are far less colorful, being mostly black & gray, with only the red fire & lava to spice things up a li’l. Tho the All-Stars versions have cool, giant paintings o’ Bowser ( repeated multiple times, ’cause Bowser’s just that much o’ a narcissist ) in the background, e’en they keep a monotonous dusty gray all o’er the foreground & background. In fact, since they lack the blackdrop, they’re e’en grayer.
4-4 is a particularly empty castle level for halfway thru the game, @ the end o’ the same world that introduced the notorious Lakitu & started 4-2 with its somewhat-less-infamous tricky opening. This level clearly banked on its introduction o’ the maze gimmick, which was, indeed, probably confusing for 1st-time players, specially on the original NES version, which gave no audible indication that players had gone the wrong direction, nor any indication @ all that going in any particular direction determined the player looping thru the same setpieces — tho the way the level breaks into conspicuous branching paths, which is rare in a game whose levels mainly go left to right, probably acted as a major clue. Then ’gain, considering how much previous castle levels borrowed from other castles, it wouldn’t surprise me if it took players a few runs thru to realize something stinky going on.
What the maze gimmick isn’t is fun or interesting, since it’s just trial-&-error whittling down the answers, & it’s not any funner or mo’ interesting when you already know the path to go down, as it makes most o’ the level mo’ frivolous than the very 1st level. They don’t e’en make the hardest paths the right paths, which would’ve been an intuitive clue. I guess I do kind o’ like the way you have to go back a bit & zigzag downward for the 2nd maze & I also kinda like the weird block formation before this.
Legit the most challenging part o’ this level is the ending bridge, where they put a firebar & a Podobo, tho it’s certainly not the most interesting arrangement, lacking a ceiling or elevator. E’en the sequence o’ pits before the bridge is the lamest o’ all castles: ¡there’s just 1 hole with ground @ the bottom! You’d think halfway thru the game it’d be safe to have lava pits, since they had 1 2 worlds ago. In fact, this level has a shocking lack o’ pits, which are all small & easy to jump o’er. I legit think it’d be mo’ likely for a player to fall in a pit or die in any way in 1-1.
While the 2nd & 4th red coin location in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe are interesting, it’s lame that you have to intentionally fail the maze to get the 1st & 3rd coins.
A’least they put the Yoshi egg round the most recognizable landmark.
31. World 7-2
Speaking o’ water levels… Yes, water levels have ne’er been the best levels in platformers, & this especially applies to Super Mario Bros., a game that had platforming physics still better than many contemporary platformers, but with very backward swimming physics that have not aged well. How fast the player falls & how high they go when you press the A button feels very inconsistent, specially when near holes, which warp your movement in ways that might’ve seemed clever in abstract from a technical standpoint, but just feel bad in terms o’ actually playing.
While water levels’ layouts are arguably mo’ intricate than castle levels, these intricacies don’t do much but slow you down, since you can just swim round them, & there’s no chance o’ being sucked into a pit ’less you’re playing the Super Mario Bros. Deluxe version & going for red coins placed right next to the bottom o’ a hole. It doesn’t seem like they programmed in hitting ?-blocks underwater ( tho they did in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, as there’s a Yoshi egg block in these levels, just like e’ery other level ), nor are there any pipes with bonus areas, or any other secrets. No, you just go straight thru, weaving round the debris & dodging the whopping 2 enemy types.
Dealing with these enemies is particularly annoying. Technically, it’s easy if you go slowly, as the Bloopers for some reason are too dumb to hit you when you’re on the ground; ¿but who wants to go slowly? As much as I praise Super Mario Bros. for its positive influences on the platformer genre, I’m not happy it introduced the nonsensical trope o’ being hurt by hitting an enemy from ’bove, which, in addition to not making any sense, makes dealing with enemies boring & the challenge o’ the water levels very lopsided. While the fire flower certainly helped you in normal levels, you could still deal with most enemies by stomping on them. But underwater, without fireballs all you can do is dodge enemies; & thanks to their erratic, random movement patterns, that oft involves waiting round for them to get out o’ your way. I’ve seen e’en speedrunners sometimes get stymied by enemies being in the wrong place @ the wrong time, forcing them to wait.
The only positive thing I can think to say ’bout these water levels is that they’re rare & exotic, specially aesthetically, with their pink coral & music. But while the coral is fresh to see, the water is the same tiles seen in ground levels & the green rocks all o’er the level don’t look much different from the brown rocks in ground levels. The water music is probably the weakest song in the game. Mo’ importantly, tho, they ruin what novelty these stages might have in an e’en greater way than Super Mario 64 did with its 2 water levels by repeating this stage twice. & these levels have the least variance ’mong all cloned levels.
You’re so limited in what you can do in these levels, getting the score challenge in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe’s challenge mode for these levels devolves into just beating these levels quickly. That might seem questionably to judge a Super Mario Bros. level for its weakness in a remake, but this weakness stems from a weakness o’ the original layout — after all, the red coins in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe a’least mitigate the boringness o’ these levels just the li’lest o’ bits. Tho not by much, as they’re not in the most interesting locations — with maybe the exception o’ the cheap trick o’ putting 1 near the bottom, where you can easily get sucked down into the abyss.
The Yoshi Egg is in a much mo’ interesting place than 2-2, tho, in that giant pit, which is the most interesting landmark in the level.
30. World 2-2
2-2 is just 7-2, but with fewer enemies. Since that means fewer annoyances that slow you down mo’ than challenge you, that makes the original slightly better. Plus, in world 2 getting to play such a radically different kind o’ gameplay was refreshing ’nough to make what feels like the equivalent o’ a bad minigame forgiveable.
The red coins aren’t in any mo’ interesting locations, & they once ’gain have 1 near the abyss.
The Yoshi Egg is hidden in a seemingly arbitrary place, which is odd: you’d think they’d make the easier level have the mo’ iconic — & therefore easier to locate — location & the harder version have the mo’ subtle variation.
29. World 7-4
A much better use o’ the maze mechanic than 4-4, with mo’ memorable paths, like the 1 that makes you go from the bottom to the top & the tricky 2nd path where you have to leap high up without getting hit by the firebar & weave ’long the middle section under a low ceiling with many potholes that make you fall into the bottom path.
There’s also the surprisingly tricky 1st section with the quick-falling elevator platforms surrounded by Podoboos.
But despite these, this level’s still sparse compared to other castles & has a weak ending, which is just flat ground with holes you can hide in to keep you save from Bowser’s flames. It’s hardly any different from 1-4, & this is the penultimate world. Bowser’s bridge also has nothing ’bove to impede you, with just a single Podoboo to accompany him. From a difficulty standard, it’s e’en worse than 4-4, since by this point having such an easy castle is just farcical. But, truly, the problem isn’t easiness: it’s possible to have brain-dead easy levels near the very end that are good if they’re interesting. But just like 4-4, this level is just dull & repetitive. It has 2 interesting setpieces, which is 1 mo’ than 4-4 has, but far less than nearly e’ery other level has.
While the 1st red coin near the bottom o’ the 2nd elevator is tricky to get, the rest aren’t interesting, & ’gain the game makes you fail a maze 2 times for 2 red coins.
& it seems like they put the Yoshi egg in the least interesting place they could.
28. World 4-1
The infamous introduction to Lakitu & apparently the original contender for 1st level o’ the game, which shocks some people, but shouldn’t, as e’en me @ 10 years ol’ quickly realized that, e’en mo’ than the leaping Cheep-Cheep levels, you can just run thru most o’ the level, jumping o’er e’ery pipe that gets in your way, while Lakitu throws its eggs uselessly ’hind you. It’s certainly fortunate that they replaced this with the current 1-1 as the opening not so much ’cause this level is too hard as ’cause this level is not nearly as interesting, being mostly flat land & scattered pipes & ?-blocks.
Howe’er, e’en tho Lakitu is less interesting than the leaping Cheep-Cheep gimmick, this level is a bit mo’ interesting with its several scattered ?-blocks enticing players to waste their time while Lakitu swarms the level with Spiny eggs ( note that they go out o’ their way to make these blocks ?-blocks when other levels would’ve had most o’ them be bricks — they truly want you to hit all these ) & the long block formations near the middle, whose bottom line can trip new players up & force them to go backward ( where they will likely meet a newborn Spiny ) or risk jumping with such a low ceiling & possibly falling into the pit in the middle.
Strangely, this level’s hardest part is the middle, with the tall pipes that make you time your jumps mo’ precisely to clear them & their Piranha Plants, while round the end o’ the level the pipes get shorter for some reason. This especially applies to Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, which stunts Mario & Luigi’s jump height ( presumably ’cause their NES & SNES jump height are nearly the entirety o’ the Game Boy Color’s tiny screen height ), making it impossible to clear these middle pipes while Piranha Plants are up.
Most o’ the red coins make good use o’ the otherwise pointless ?-blocks, specially the multicoin block just before the flagpole.
The Yoshi egg, in contrast, is garbage, just ’bove an arbitary hidden ?-block out in the vast wilderness before the staircase. I guess it does add challenge, since you have to jump round while Lakitu’s throwing Spiny eggs e’erywhere.
27. World 2-3
This level doesn’t have the most intricate layout or any secrets ( well, outside Super Mario Bros. Deluxe’s challenge mode ), but the rare hopping fish gimmick does make this level stand out & does add thrill on its own, e’en without many setpieces. They do spice up the arrangements with a few green hills, & this level does have that section @ the end with the 3 small bridges broken up with holes; but I still feel they could’ve done a lot mo’ with this level. ¿Were there technical limitations that prevented them from adding mo’ bricks or pipes?
These levels also stand out by being primarily made up o’ bridges, a setpiece that’s very rare outside o’ castle endings. The background in the All-Stars version is specially notable, with its out-o’-place sandy dunes & Goomba towers.
They did a’least make the good call to make these 3rd levels o’ their worlds, so that players can give themselves the extra challenge o’ trying to jump for all the coins while weaving ’tween Cheep Cheep so they can get the hidden 1-up in the next world.
Being such a simple level, it doesn’t offer many interesting places for red coins, tho they do have 1 in a tricky jump just before the long palm-tree platform. The final red coin position on the ground right before the flagpole is lame, tho. A’least they added an invisible coin block gainst the back o’ the staircase so you can get back up to jump high ’nough to reach the top o’ the flagpole; if not, players would probably have to get the red coin medal & score medal separately.
I kind o’ like how they put the Yoshi egg in this easier version o’ this level on the long palm-tree platform, which stands out ’mong all the other elements, while 7-3’s egg is somewhere on the bridge, much harder to distinguish from other bridges.
26. World 7-3
7-3 is just 2-3, but with Koopas added in. This leaves me torn, as it does make the level a bit mo’ interesting by itself; but where it is in level sequence, much later than its twin, it’s much easier than its surrounding levels. That said, such “breather levels” can be useful for adding pleasant surprises & keeping the difficulty curve from getting too monotonous. So o’erall, I would consider this level an improvement o’er its twin. Still, I wish they could’ve created a mo’ complicated level to mesh with the hopping Cheep Cheep, like they do with Lakitu in 6-1.
Actually, half o’ me is morbidly curious ’bout if it’d have been possible to have a Lakitu with the hopping fish & whether that would’ve been awesome or horrible.
You can tell they used up what few ideas for red coins they had in 2-3, as they’re e’en worse here. 2 o’ them just require finding random invisible coins to go high ’nough to reach them.
25. World 6-4
6-4 is just 1-4 but with a few extra firebars, Podoboos, & Bowser now throwing hammers. While the extra firebars in the middle do make this section much mo’ intricate ( tho for some reason Super Mario Bros. Deluxe removes the 1st extra firebar ), the extra firebars & the Podoboos @ the beginning only pointlessly slow you down, & the extra firebar in the central hallway is just as laughably useless as the others. They don’t make this level much mo’ challenging — not ’nough for world 6. 1-4 may be simplistic, but it has a good ’scuse & benefits from being the 1st castle players will play, where these elements are fresh. By world 6, playing 1-4 ’gain, but with a few extra dangers, has neither o’ these benefits & is just a joke. “Breather levels” are useful when used in the right place @ the right time, but a world-ending castle is a questionable 1, specially in a game that already had castle levels that, on average, are easier than most normal levels.
It has a slightly better Yoshi egg placement than 1-4, but it’s still far from the most inspired location.
& the red coin placements are less interesting: they’re mostly just high up, exploiting the inferior camera in a cheap way.
24. World 3-4
3-4 may not be a true copy, but many o’ its elements are very similar to those found in 1-4 & 2-4, but with setpieces repeated extra times to make it a li’l harder.
We get that in its strongest form @ the beginning, where we’re hit with 3 copies o’ the same 3-block-wide platform from the beginning o’ 1-4, not e’en @ different heights like 2-4’s platfors, all with the same firebar going the same direction @ the same speed. But ’stead o’ a ?-block o’er any o’ these platforms, we just have Podoboos jumping up & down in the surrounding lava, which could look somewhat like a mix o’ what 1-4 & 2-4 started with if you squint hard ’nough @ it; but since these elements are so common, & are combined several other times, too, it’s hard to get much interest out o’ them. I s’pose it does add extra challenge in that you can’t just wait fore’er for Podoboos to be in just the right place before jumping while the firebar clock is ticking toward you.
Next we have the same kind o’ firebar jumps players did in 1-4, but now a block higher & all the harder version with 2 firebars per block, the final pair differing only in their relative position & timing, adding the slightest extra challenge.
The only setpiece worth talking ’bout is the 3-?-block formation with a power-up in the middle, which, if you release a mushroom, it can be easy to drop it into the lava. The same setpiece will be repeated soon in 4-2, tho, so e’en that doesn’t help this level feel in any way unique or vital to this game.
That said, the red coins are all in great locations, requiring precise high jumps off the edge o’ firebar-manned steps & low jumps o’er lava.
The Yoshi egg’s location feels arbitrary, tho: it’s just ’mong a bunch o’ invisible blocks in a wide-open empty space that’s hard to discern from the rest o’ the level.
23. World 2-4
The very 1st section that introduces Podoboos is much weaker than the 1st section that introduced firebars in 1-4. Maybe it would’ve been too trollish to put a Podoboo under the ?-block ( in fact, here I should admit that, in general, Podoboos are much weaker enemies than firebars, acting as just a place to wait for when it’s safe to pass thru, whereas firebars can a’least be placed in tricky arrangements ), but they could’ve done something mo’ interesting than just 3 platforms, 2 Podoboos @ the edges, & a ?-block in the middle. 5-4, ’course, puts a firebar there to add difficulty; but why they need to wait several worlds later to add difficulty in a way that the previous castle did is a mystery to me.
The useless firebar hall in 1-4 has now been split into 2 wherein the player has to estimate which path is safest, with the missing firebar @ the beginning telegraphing the bottom hallway as the safest. While the top hallway forces the player to wait round mo’ for the firebars to get out o’ your way, the bottom is essentially the equivalent to the hall in 1-4. On 1 hand, giving the player a split path is a li’l mo’ interesting; on the other, making the only alternative to 1-4’s straight run thru be the “challenge” o’ waiting mo’ is less fun.
The strongest part is the following elevator section, which is, if anything, perhaps too hard for this early in the game, specially the part just after it with a firebar &, most likely, 1 o’ Bowser’s flame taking up the only other formerly safe space. I would’ve left the firebar out in the earlier 2-4 version to better balance this castle level & add variety ’tween this & its twin, 5-4.
In contrast to this, after that is some pointless section with a block just sitting there, which is obviously just there ’cause it will have a firebar in the inevitable harder copy later. I would say that keeping the firebar here would’ve been mo’ useful than the previous, but e’en with the firebar it’s not an interesting setpiece, so it would’ve been better to just leave out this section in both versions entirely.
It’s odd that they start the ending gauntlet with jumps o’er lava & then make things easier by changing to jumps o’er safe ground.
I also question why they gave so li’l space round the platform ’bove Bowser in such an early level.
This level is a mix o’ setpieces too simple & too challenging for such a level & most o’ it feels like dead space & repeating setpieces so recently experienced in 1-4. A big problem with this level is it feels like too much o’ it is just setting up the added twists in its harder clone, 5-4, than being its own level. The elevator section almost made me rank it higher than 1-4, but 1-4’s strong start & middle are worth mo’ than it, so like Phil Leotardo, I compromised & put it ’tween 6-4 & 1-4.
The red coin locations aren’t too bad, ’cept the 2nd ( tho part o’ me’s glad they didn’t make it so that you had to take a certain path during the fork to get it ). I particularly like the 1 up in the elevators, making, well, elevating actually useful.
The Yoshi egg e’en makes use o’ the otherwise useless firebar block without its firebar.
22. World 5-3
5-3 is just 1-3, but with randomly-generated Bullet Bills & slightly smaller elevator platforms. Unlike the Bullet Bills who shoot from cannons & actually have some strategy to them, these are basically just repainted flames from the castle levels that range from being ordinary obstacles you have to deal with e’ery so oft to obstacles that are way out o’ the way & feel pointless to, on thankfully rare occassions, unlucky situations where you’re struck while already in the midst o’ a jump & it’s too late to change course. Granted, you can avoid these by only jumping just after a Bullet Bill has passed, before it has time to come round ’gain; ¿but who wants to stop & go so oft? 1-3 doesn’t have this problem, since there’s no luck factor in it @ all. Despite this, the Bullet Bills don’t add ’nough extra challenge to make this level fit in with world 5 — certainly not after difficulty bumps like 5-1 & 5-2.
Since this level is so simple & since 1-3 used all the halfway interesting locations, 5-3’s red coin placements are laughably lame: ¡3 o’ them are just floating out in the open, all scrunched together in the middle!
The Yoshi Egg’s location is strikingly e’en worse than the already bad location in 1-3: 5-3’s is @ the end, past the staircase, which has nothing to do with the main level & is too easy to locate after using Yoshi’s egg finder ( ’cause it looks nothing like the rest o’ the level ). The whole point o’ the egg finder is that it challenges you to remember the level to remember where the small screen they show you is; but that’s trivial when it’s the flagpole screen.
21. World 1-4
As you can imagine, the 1st castle level is the least challenging & complex castle level — tho I have to admit, having the firebar under the ?-block is a strong setpiece in which to introduce the firebars, & the arrangements near the middle, specially the 2 next to each other, forcing the player to weave round them, is also no slouch.
After this is a long passageway that looks dangerous, as it’s full o’ firebars, but you can usually just run thru with the firebars timed so that they’re out o’ the way when you reach them. Unlike later levels, this ease works much better in such an early level & does a great job o’ keeping such an early level exciting while still keeping it relatively easy.
Less interesting is the big area full o’ hidden coin blocks, which I guess could, on rare occasions, cause some cheap bullshit hits if you bonk 1 while trying to dodge Bowser’s fire — but that’s hardly a good element to have in the 1st castle, or anywhere, truly. These are only useful otherwise in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe’s challenge mode, where 1 o’ them hides the Yoshi egg; ¿but on any other version, who’s going to waste their time jumping round like an idiot for up to 6 coins?
The red coin locations are all strong, tho, specially the ones right next to firebars, forcing you to run in & out to grab them before the firebar swoops back round to hit you.
20. World 5-4
In contrast to 1-4 vs. 6-4, 5-4 is an improvement o’er its twin, 2-4. The 1st area is a combination o’ 1-4 & 2-4’s opening, but set up in a way that you can rush thru.
Similarly, while the 2nd hallways are mo’ challenging with mo’ firebars, you can still rush thru the bottom path without stopping with a well-timed duck jump.
The arrangement that now has a firebar after the elevator section is a bit silly with the lower passage; — ¿why would anyone want to go under it for those 3 coins when there’s such a high chance o’ getting hit — but I do quite like the challenge dynamic wherein it can be quite a challenge to jump o’er or e’en just not run into if you let yourself fall into that area, but can be easy to clear with a long jump straight o’er that whole lower section — with the caveat that this might open you to getting hit by 1 o’ Bowser’s flames.
In fact, 5-4 may be the hardest castle in the game, strangely ’nough. It’s certainly harder than the jokes that are 6-4 & 7-4. That said, it’s still just a minorly improved copy-pasta o’ an already not-very-good level, & it’s certainly not the most interesting castle level.
Unlike 2-4, this level is rude ’nough to force you to take the top path to get a red coin… which is the easiest path, so you want to take it, anyway.
I do prefer the last 2 red coins, tho — specially the way you have to actually dig for the red coin ’mong all the bricks while dodging Bowser’s attacks, rather than just having the red coin be awkwardly next to the bricks. I like how they add the extra challenge by making you slide under the firebar going toward you for the 4th coin.
The Yoshi Egg location is just dumb & arbitrary, howe’er & is right next to the 4th red coin, to boot, but doesn’t e’en take advantage o’ its danger. ¿Wouldn’t it be mo’ interesting if you had to hit & jump on the hidden ?-block ’bove this firebar block in 2-4, but with the firebar now there? I would’ve forgiven them for having the Yoshi Egg in the same place in both levels — it would’ve felt like a clever twist.
19. World 1-3
1-3 falls into that awkward middle o’ not being the kind o’ memorable introductions as 1-1 & 1-2, or e’en 1-4 after it, nor being as complex or intricate as later levels. With all the pits, it almost feels too difficult for how early it is, specially compared to the easier castle level after it, but not much mo’ difficult that it’s as striking as other palm-tree levels. The most interesting thing, other than its introduction o’ its fresh bright green hills tileset so soon after introducing the world to the normal o’erworld & underground tilesets, is the different staircase @ the end; & e’en then, it doesn’t serve much o’ a difference in terms o’ gameplay.
There are a few interesting setpieces, like the 3 times you jump up a high cliff guarded by a Goomba or Red Koopa, & to some extent they have multiple paths, such as the top & bottom palm trees near the middle.
There are also side areas, like the top palm tree with 4 coins & a Red Koopa & the lower area under the flying Red Paratroopa near the end, which could also serve as a safety net — tho why it’d be important to have 1 after plenty o’ unguarded pits is a mystery. ’Twas a smart decision to add the secret mechanic wherein you need to collect all the coins in the 3rd level o’ a world to unlock the hidden 1-up in the next world, as the need to collect coins is the only use for many o’ these side areas, tho the way they integrated this mechanic in such an obscure manner that would make few actually bother to do so feels awkward & is an example o’ how Super Mario Bros. was platformers still naively trying to find their footing leaving the arcade world & entering mo’ in-depth console gameplay.
Some o’ the elements feel forced or thrown in, tho. ¿Why is the 1st elevator moving up & down there? It doesn’t fit with the level theme & doesn’t accomplish anything, since you could reach the top hill without it & certainly the bottom hill without it.
The red coins do serve as a way to legitimize some o’ the aforementioned frivolous setpieces, like the high cliff near the beginning, the low cliff near the end, & the 1st elevator.
The Yoshi Egg’s in a nondescript place, tho — so nondescript the developers felt the need to add an extra cloud background ’hind it to make it stand out mo’.
18. World 3-2
3-2 is a striking step down in complexity & variety, not only compared to its immediate predecessor, but also to possibly e’ery other non-castle level, being mainly flat ground with long lines o’ Koopas & Goombas. On the other hand, this level trades that lack o’ variety for a greater level o’ thematic coherence, focusing so tightly on what we might later call the “gimmick” o’ kicking Koopas @ other enemies. It’s obviously not the 1st time the game gives you the opportunity to do so, but this is the 1st level that practically screams @ you to do so with its straight lines o’ enemies. While 3-1 gives you a tricky opportunity to nab a rare 1-up thru hitting 8 enemies in a row with a Koopa shell, this level introduces this properly with the 1st line o’ enemies, with just the right # o’ enemies to get a 1-up @ the end, making it stupidly easy to get the 1-up — tho also easy to lose it ’gain after the shell ricochets off the block just after the last Koopa. Considering they repeat this setup almost verbatim in 5-1, it’s surprising they don’t make this version easier by putting a pit @ the end.
This level is perfectly inconsistent ’bout where it gives players the opportunity to rack up extra lives. Just after the 1st opportunity, the level seems to offer ’nother opportunity right after, with a Koopa followed by 2 Goombas, but then pulls the rug out from under the player by having a wall early. They follow this with a Koopa in a tiny hole with an infinite-coin block not worth hitting, & then a hopping Paratroopa, who is also followed by too few enemies to win a 1-up from it, making taking the effort to clip its wings & kick its shell pointless, & then, when the level gets it into your head that kicking shells into enemies isn’t going to net you 1-ups anymo’, they twist this expectation & follow this with a section with a Koopa followed by 8 enemies, tho made e’en mo’ challenging than the hopping Paratroopa by putting the 1st Koopa so near the edge that the player has to speedrun to get there & kick it from the left in time — & e’en then it can be an awkward maneuver that leaves the player mo’ likely to get hurt. Finally, they follow this up with 1 mo’ section with a Koopa, followed by… not ’nough enemies to net a 1-up. All o’ these twists exhibit a perfect counterexample to the lazy mainstream view that all levels in all video games should follow a straight difficulty curve upward in regards to the evolution o’ setpiece challenges, but can, in fact, benefit from surprise ups & downs to keep players from getting bored.
Still, this level is perhaps too obsessed with its theme — which, to be honest, isn’t all that interesting, & isn’t e’en unique to this level. There are many other levels with gimmicks just as good if not better that also do a better job o’ balancing these gimmicks with other elements for variety. E’en something as o’erused as a bonus underground room — e’en if ’twere just a copy o’ 1 from ’nother level — would’ve improved this level. A’least this level is brief ’nough that its focus doesn’t become tedious.
Unfortunately, such a simple level doesn’t provide a fertile ground for red coin locations: they’re mostly just thrown out in the open. Many are just high up, requiring you to jump up other blocks to reach them or make mightly leaps. the 1st is literally just right on the ground.
The Yoshi Egg’s location is stupid: it’s @ the top o’ a pyramid o’ hidden ?-blocks that weren’t there in the original version in an indistinct place. Worse, they put a red coin round there — which, now that I think ’bout it, a’least acts as a hint that these ?-blocks are here.
17. World 8-1
8-1 is a mixed bag: it has a few excellent, tricky sections that remind you why it starts the final world, such as the plot pockmarked with holes & swarming with Paratroopas, the staircase broken up with several holes ( which you’re likely to be rushing up, due to this level’s length & tight time limit ), & the infamous 1-block jump surrounded by long chasms you have to run-jump o’er without stopping on the single block.
Howe’er, the designers felt the need to make this the longest level in the game, & filled most o’ that length with what feels like padding, just long lengths o’ basic enemies you’ve dispatched with ease many times before, oft with a shell you can kick to dispatch them all in 1 swoop, with just the need to jump o’er the shell when it ricochets back, as if you haven’t already done that many times mo’ than half the game ago.
Some sections, like the Koopa ’tween the 2 walls, where you’ll ne’er have any reason to go, are just baffling.
The red coin locations are all great, tho, & take advantage o’ notable setpieces for challenges, such as putting 1 ’bove 1 o’ the many potholes in 1 section or in the easy-to-miss multicoin brick round the middle.
They e’en make the small pit with the Koopa walking back & forth less useless by putting a red coin there, giving players a reason to go in there.
The Yoshi Egg is also in the perfect place, the most memorable place in the whole level: right on that single block surrounded by vast chasms.
16. World 8-3
I’m torn on this level. It’s so memorable, specially the way it just unrelentingly sics Hammer Bro after Hammer Bro after you, the hardest enemy in the game. It’s fitting for the final non-castle level. The brick castle backgrounds, unique to this level, also makes this level stand out — specially in a final world that so far had shown the least aesthetic variety, with both 8-1 & 8-2 having the same graphic style as the 1st level — & drive home that this is the lead up to the final castle.
That said, the level is very basic, 1-note, & repetitive. They focus a bit too much on the Hammer Bro theme, just straight-up copy-pasting them o’er flat ground 5 times @ the end. Granted, that does make them mo’ challenging, since you can’t just run under & bump them from below. They have some challenge variance in that they give you a Koopa whose shell you can kick & maybe ( if they don’t jump o’er the shell ) dispatch the Hammer Bros, while the final pair leave you with nothing but yourself to fend gainst them. The problem is, they don’t e’en go all that hard on you: the 2 pairs o’ brick platforms, with Hammer Bros. no harder to dispatch than when you 1st encountered them in this way back in 3-1, each have a power-up, giving you a relatively easy way to get a Fire Flower, allowing you to plow thru the rest o’ the level.
The best part o’ this level is probably the final “staircase”, the ultimate version: it’s so broken up, it’s barely e’en a “staircase”, but just a scatter o’ single blocks.
1 subtly strong element I do want to bring up is the staircase near the middle, which isn’t notable by itself, but does act as a stealth setup to the beginning o’ 8-4, which also has a downward staircase, but 1 where you actually have to steadily go down them without falling into the pit. Here you can mostly ignore the staircase, howe’er, as the hole after it is short ’nough to clear from the top o’ the staircase.
Tho the new gray wall background in All-Stars with parallax scrolling looks nicer than the 1 made out o’ regular bricks in the NES original, it ruins the effect o’ the multicoin block near the end, which is s’posed to be hidden ’mong the brick background, but stands out gainst the scrolling gray background.
This level is simple ’nough that it doesn’t have many great places for red coins, but the developers did certainly try. I specially like the red coin high up on the final staircase, requiring the player to make a dangerous leap back to get it, as well as the 1 on the downward staircase near the middle, forcing the player to go down the staircase like in 8-4.
Howe’er, the 1st red coin is the stupidest red coin in the game: it’s way up on the 1st screen & requires you to hit a hidden ?-block @ the far left to reach it. This could be in any level & it’d fit as well, that’s how generic it is.
Actually, the Yoshi Egg is pretty much the same, also requiring a hidden ?-block to reach ’nother hidden block, but thrown somewhere near the middle o’ the level. I guess that makes it harder to find. ’Cept not really, since finding 2 invisible ?-blocks isn’t much harder than finding 1: once you find that 1 that wasn’t in the original game, you have a good inkling where the other is.
15. World 1-1
It’s hard to appreciate 1-1, not the least ’cause e’ery game critic can’t stop creaming themselves o’er it — tho, funny ’nough, for the short period in which ’twas playable, Super Mario Bros. 35 made its players loath this level due to its ubiquity. It’s certainly o’errated in that the public tends to treat this as the only level worthy o’ discussion.
Many o’ the points o’ praise critics offer this level make mo’ sense in pure abstract principle rather than its actual implementation, such as the lavish praise so many critics give to the way this level has those mini staircases with ground ’tween them & then yet ’nother set, tho with an extra block on the left side & a hole ’tween them, the former presumably acting as training wheels for the latter. They talk ’bout this setpiece as if it’s the only time this game e’er does such a thing — probably ’cause they act as if this is the only level that exists. What they rarely mention is that there are plenty o’ bottomless pits before this section in this level, rendering the need for these training wheels nonsensical. The only interesting use for this safe spot is in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, where they hide the Yoshi egg there.
I’m also skeptical o’ much o’ the armchair psychological assumptions for how players will “naturally” react to this or that setpiece. Take the 1st block formation: e’eryone talks ’bout the Goomba under the blocks & how this is perfectly set up so that you’ll naturally try to jump & bonk your head, releasing a mushroom, as well as likely die to the Goomba. Ignoring the questionable level design o’ having what they seem to depict as a beginner’s trap… ¿Have these people actually played this game? If you play 1-1, you’ll find that the Goomba goes past the ?-block long before you have a chance to jump o’er them, e’en if you’re running.
But despite my qualms with the o’erwrought way so many critics talk ’bout this level, I won’t criticize it too much. It is good for a 1st level: better than the 1st level in many platformers, e’en many other Mario games. In fact, ’mong traditional Mario games ( not including Donkey Kong Country or Wario Land 3, both o’ which I’d say had better 1st levels ), I’d say only Super Mario Bros. 3 bested it. It’s certainly better than the level they originally planned to be the 1st level, what is now 4-1. I’ve oft said that making good easy levels takes much mo’ skill than making a good hard level, as you need to make the level simple & easy without being too basic & dull, specially to veterans playing the game a 2nd time. Since, as stated in the intro, people were paying what in today’s money would be mo’ than $100 for the special ability to play this game as many times as they wanted, replay value was vital.
But while I can’t deny that that opening brick-?-brick-?-brick formation with the single ?-block higher up is an iconic formation, people oft miss the less brilliant parts o’ this level. For instance, the pipe section just after is quite repetitive. Perhaps this is to better hide the shortcut; perhaps these pipes are meant to offer practice for dealing with enemies in tight spaces, while also giving the player an easy way to skip the enemies completely by just jumping from pipe to pipe. 1-2 does the latter a bit better with less repetition & it makes much mo’ sense for that level to focus so much on pipes, being an actual sewer level.
The next setpiece seems to exists to introduce enemies that come @ you from ’bove & offers a way for players to learn that they can bonk enemies from below ( which players @ the time should’ve guessed, coming just after Mario Bros., where this was the default ). 1 minor quibble: I think they shouldn’t have shown their hand so much by making the mushroom block a conspicuous ?-block, but should’ve double-dipped & used this setpiece to introduce power-ups in regular bricks by making that block, which the player is likely to hit, anyway, when they try bonking a Goomba, a brick. My other quibble is that I think they could’ve made the gap after this setpiece a bit bigger, since they offer a higher route to mo’ easily pass it, anyway. A gap this small makes this set o’ training wheels almost as laughable as the aforementioned practice staircases.
What I’m surprised critics are less oft to note is the Starman hidden in a brick round the middle o’ the level, giving the player a way to safely plow thru the rest o’ the level ( which, conveniently, is much mo’ enemy-saturated that what came before ), giving a win-win for the level designer similar to the aforementioned shortcut by making the level easier but doing so in a way that makes the level mo’ exciting. This use is much mo’ interesting than the shortcut, not only ’cause it feels mo’ creative, but also ’cause it doesn’t just involve skipping the level: you feel like you’re playing thru the level but as an all-powerful god. So great is this technique that Rare did their own spin in the 1st level o’ Donkey Kong Country with Rambi. This version does have a bit mo’ urgency, tho, thanks to its limited duration, & this level takes advantage o’ this to create a twist: several ?-blocks scattered thruout the next area, 1 o’ which has a power-up, so that the player has to choose whether or not to hurry to the end with their invincibility or squander it slowly checking all the blocks for goodies. Granted, there’s a small chance the player doesn’t have full Fire Flower by this point.
Unfortunately, this level ends weakly. After the silly mini staircases, we have 1 mo’ formation o’ bricks & a lone ?-block with a coin, a formation much simpler & less memorable ( & less symmetrical ) than the very 1st formation, & 2 Goombas. It’s not terrible, ’course. Just… shrug. Maybe the developers figured that players were likely to rush thru this section, anyway, & didn’t feel like it’d be worth the effort to make this last section grade A material.
So you can see why this level is in the middle o’ my rankings: it has a mix o’ strong elements padded out with some weak filler.
As a testament to how basic this level is, quite a few red coins feel thrown in. The only 1 I really like is the 1 in that lone ?-block near the end that’s otherwise frivolous.
14. World 5-1
5-1 is mostly a superior version o’ 3-2, with the only weakness being the lack o’ the difficulty twists with the shell kicking for 1-ups: here, all the sections with several enemies that start with a Koopa — as well as 1 with a Koopa after 3 Goombas — offer an opportunity for a 1-up, tho the final 1 can easily be sabotaged if the player still has the star or squashes 1 o’ the opening Goombas before the Koopa later on.
Howe’er, this level does do a better job o’ balancing out the 1-note gimmick o’ kicking shells @ enemies by adding Bullet Bills & a few mo’ vertical-oriented setpieces, adding much needed variety. I particularly like the tricky section with the Bullet Bill blaster under the Piranha Plant pipe, forcing the player to choose ’tween a high jump timed gainst a Piranha Plant or a jump under a low ceiling timed gainst a Bullet Bill shot. E’en the ending staircase is changed up a bit — tho not in a particularly meaningful way: the hole in it just leads to flat, solid ground & falling in doesn’t e’en so much as screw you out o’ a high flagpole grab, as you can easily jump back up.
This level e’en gave a good hiding place for its obligatory hidden 1-up: rather than just being an arbitrary hidden ?-block in the middle o’ nowhere, it’s in a brick ’mong a row o’ them in a conspicuous place that seems otherwise pointless.
I’m half & half on aesthetics: 3-2’s night sky vs. this level’s wintry gray pipes. On 1 hand, the night palette is less rare, pervading both worlds 3 & 6; on the other, this level doesn’t e’en bother to make the ground gray, like in 6-3. In Super Mario All-Stars, this level is definitely less interesting visually than 3-2, since that remake makes 3-1 & 3-2 snowy, too. Still, this level does look better than a lot o’ the regular outside levels, & any attempt @ creating visual variety is appreciated in a game with limited technology that didn’t offer many opportunities.
Most o’ the red coin locations are meh — a lot o’ them are just very high up. I do like the 1 next to the 3-block-high wall that requires a tricky low jump to get & the 1 on the high-up pipe.
The Yoshi Egg is in as good a place as I could think to put it. Yes, it’s the staircase, but unlike 5-3, it’s a much different staircase & the Yoshi Egg location is in the part that makes it different. Furthermo’, most o’ this level doesn’t look radically different from the staircase section like 5-3.
As some bonus trivia: for some reason this level starts with a small castle ’stead o’ a big castle, the only level after a castle level to do so. This is almost certainly an o’ersight — 1 I ne’er noticed in the decades I’ve played this game till, well, right now. Funny ’nough, this error is kept in both Super Mario All-Stars & Super Mario Bros. Deluxe.
13. World 6-1
A much, much mo’ interesting use o’ Lakitu than 4-1, not just due to the mo’ exotic night sky, but also due to the mo’ interesting block arrangements that actually do a bit better o’ a job getting in your way, specially all the staircases, easy to snag gainst — specially the 1 with the backward-L-shaped hole in it — & offering greater elevation to Spinies, making it harder to jump o’er them.
I like the awkward position o’ the 2nd mushroom, which requires you to stop & go back a bit to get it, which is the last thing you want to do with Spinies being dropped all o’er.
I also like how the 1-up is hidden in a similar fashion, in a suspicious alcove to the left that you’d have no reason to go into otherwise. Part o’ me feels like it would’ve been better after the mushroom put the idea in the player’s head; but one could say it works e’en better they way they set it up as a replay bonus ( whether on a subsequent run or if they died — which is far from unlikely ) for those who remember the mushroom location.
I also like how these 2 sections make good use o’ the need for downward-sloping terrain after the staircases ( since the technical limitations required levels to be a flat, straight line rightward & couldn’t just keep going upward ), making them interesting, when they could’ve easily been generic filler.
This level has some subtly strong red coin locations, such as 1 right next to a downward step & a hole that’s easy to stumble in, 1 in the pit in the middle staircase, & 1 in the multicoin brick sandwiched ’tween 2 other rows o’ bricks. E’en the 1 that requires the 2 hidden ?-blocks is clever, since those hidden ?-blocks are actually in the original NES version, so it rewards players deeply familiar with the original, rather than just being an arbitrary invented twist that gaslights familiar players.
On the other hand, this level also has the dumbest Yoshi Egg location, which is similar to 8-3’s dumbest red coin location e’er: yes, it’s on the 1st screen & requires not 1, but 2 hidden ?-blocks to reach. But just like 8-3’s Yoshi Egg, it doesn’t make it harder, it just wastes extra time finding ?-blocks whose locations are obvious once you find the 1st, since there’s only so much space round the 1st you can reach from the 1st. & like 5-3’s Yoshi Egg, this Egg location is stupid ’cause it’s not e’en challenging to find from the egg finder, since that castle @ the beginning is obviously the beginning, as it is in e’ery non-castle level ( well, ’cept 1-1 ).
12. World 8-2
Probably the hardest level in the game, specially with the opening staircase with 2 Paratroopas, a Spiny, & a Lakitu. The last 3rd is also full o’ tricky arrangements, such as the crowd o’ Paratroopas o’er the lone shooter surrounded by a small & large gap, the staircase with li’l space before it with 2 Goombas on it, & the ending staircase full o’ holes & Paratroopas. These aren’t mindboggling, but they do make the level memorable to me, a’least.
There’s also the infamous 2 single blocks o’ ground with 1-block-wide empty space ’tween them before a large chasm, wherein I think you’re expected to run on the uneven ground & jump @ the end to make it, which requires the player to know they can just run o’er 1-block-wide gaps ( as well as that they don’t fall straight into that gap when going down from the pipe ), which would seem unfair; howe’er, I found you can actually just run & jump off the pipe.
They do balance out this level’s difficulty with the rare 1-up that respawns after you die & is guaranteed no matter how many coins you got in any earlier level. This 1-up is notable in that its setpiece is the 1st instance o’ a common puzzle in Mario games: the 1-up that you have to follow ’long with so it doesn’t despawn till you reach the end o’ the brick ceiling & can finally collect it. There’s a good reason they reuse this puzzle: ’twas a clever way to make players earn their extra life. Technically, this isn’t the 1st time this game does this sort o’ thing: 4-2 does something similar near the end with a regular mushroom. Howe’er, its section is shorter & can be avoided if the player is already big & get a stationary fire flower ’stead. This version’s a much grander evolution on that concept.
That said, I feel the level devolves into just a bunch o’ enemies & shooters in uninspired patterns round the middle. This would be fine if they kept Lakitu thruout the whole level, as the previous 2 levels with Lakitu held back from the norm o’ challenging layouts to balance out gainst Lakuti constantly hovering o’er the players shoulder. Having a straight challenging level with Lakitu would’ve been a particularly interesting challenge spike; but alas, Lakuti flies out o’ there right after the 1st few screens, making their appearance @ the beginning feel pointless.
The Super Mario All-Stars version is a notable visual improvement with its autumnal red hills in the background, which adds some much needed variety to a world where 3/4 o’ the levels are all the regular o’erworld tileset & palette in the NES version.
Half o’ the red coin locations are good, half are not. I like the 1 in the pit with the Buzzy Beetle, giving you a reason to go down there, & the tricky-to-hit brick just after the long brick row.
I don’t like the 1 high ’bove the infamous 2-block jump near the middle, as it telegraphs the fact that you can just leap clear o’er it. If anything, I think it would’ve been better if they put the red coin down on 1 o’ the small blocks.
& while I like the idea o’ having a red coin up on the brick ceiling with the 1-up, I don’t like how you have to find a random invisible ?-block that isn’t there in the original to reach up there.
& then there’s the red coin in the bonus room, which is in a brick that’s impossible to reach without a, sigh, hidden ?-block that wasn’t there in the original. I guess it’s to make this very obscure to find, which is somewhat fitting for such an end-game level. But a game that didn’t need to rely on unfairness to make its last world hard shouldn’t be degraded into pulling such cheap tricks to create fake difficulty, specially when the “difficulty” is just hunting round for hidden ?-blocks.
The Yoshi egg’s place is… fine. It’s not the most memorable place; but maybe that’s the point — to make it harder to find with the Yoshi egg finder.
11. World 3-3
3-3 is a middle point ’tween the simplistic 1-3 & 5-3 & the much mo’ complex 4-3 & 6-3 later on, tho as you can see by its ranking, I’d put this closer to the latter than the former. While the former 2 levels didn’t leave much to talk ’bout, 3-3 implements many mo’ notable setpieces with far less repetition. In fact, most o’ the interesting elements o’ 1-3/5-3 are in this level, too, but mixed in with new elements:
You start by going from a low palm tree to a high palm tree guarded by a Goomba, which is done 2 or 3 times in 1-3/5-3.
& then you have the low palm trees of the main path with extra coins. The 2nd & 3rd instances are mo’ interesting than the 2 in 1-3/5-3 in that they have the player go back a bit, & for the 2nd instance if they want to collect the coins on the upper path, they need to retrace their steps & jump back up.
In addition to these, you have 3 thin hills that make a great tutorial for running o’er single-block holes, with a safety net below & coins spread ’mong the palm trees ’bove to in a straight line on the ground to encourage such movement.
This level introduces scale lifts, which are used much mo’ in 4-3 & 6-3. The 2 instances in this level are perfect as a tutorial: the 1st is surrounded by palm trees, including 1 ’tween the 2 platforms, rendering it mostly unnecessary — which is to say, easy to avoid if not feeling up to its challenges — while the 2nd use replaces the ending staircase, challenging players to figure out how to use the scale lift correctly to reach the top o’ the flagpole, but not punishing players with mo’ than that for failing to do so.
The red coin locations are decent, tho I think some o’ them could’ve been improved, such as the 4th coin, which could’ve been somewhere ’bove the elevator just before its current location, & the 5th, which could’ve a’least required you to move the scales in some way before you can get it, rather than just being right there on the bottommost 1.
The Yoshi Egg location is both in a generic place & requires an extra hidden ?-block that wasn’t there in the original. The beginning castle & ending flagpole are the only places that could’ve been worse.
10. World 7-1
While mostly just a ramping up o’ elements introduced earlier in the game, including 2 pairs o’ straight brick floors with matching Hammer Bro pairs ( tho the 2nd pair o’ brick floors are shorter ), this level manages to squeeze in a few interesting setpieces. For 1, it has the most interesting arrangements o’ Bullet Bill shooters, which isn’t saying much, since they’re surprisingly rare in this game. The 1st half or so o’ the level is just an onslaught, specially if the player makes the mistake o’ going after the 4 ?-blocks ’tween 2 shooters & a hopping Paratroopa, only to find coins, or the hard-to-reach power-up in the leftmost brick on the high-up brick ceiling — which, if a mushroom, will fall right in a nest o’ shooters.
There’s ’nother somewhat tricky power-up near the end ’bove a spring boxed in by 2 brick platforms on both sides & a Bullet Bill shooter that can snipe you while you’re bouncing. Small players can take the safer route o’ just jumping from the highest brick platform, safely ’bove the shooter.
The fakeout staircase before the real staircase is interesting in theory, I guess, but kind o’ just padding in practice. I also feel like they could’ve done mo’ with the real staircase than have a single Buzzy Beetle. For such a ramp-up in difficulty as this level is, this ending, far less dangerous than the ending to many previous levels, just feels like a letdown. Since the level focuses so much on Bullet Bill shooters, it seems to me obvious to have Bullet Bill shooters embedded in the final staircase for extra peril — an idea this game & its Japanese sequel surprisingly ne’er implement ( tho D-3 o’ Lost Levels does come close with a series o’ shooters spaced apart going upward in a vaguely staircase shape @ the end ).
This level has OK red coins, with 2 hidden in bricks round Hammer Bros., forcing players to stop & deal with them, rather than just rush thru. The other 2 are in random ?-blocks & bricks that otherwise serve no major purpose. Putting a red coin in the easy to forget underground room is a good idea, but putting it way up high & demanding the player to find a hidden ?-block to reach it is kinda lame.
I don’t get why the Yoshi egg needed you to reveal a hidden ?-block to reach it, either. I feel the egg should’ve been round the Hammer Bros, or perhaps in the Bullet Bill onslaught.
9. World 5-2
A level full o’ variety, including not just a sky bonus, but also an underwater bonus ( tho not the only or best level to do so ). In fact, this water section is better than any o’ the actual water levels in this game, with elevators & tighter coral arrangements.
Despite all this variety, this level creates some level o’ cohesion on its main path thru the general focus on Hammer Bros., an enemy that appeared once as a pair in 3-1, but which is truly developed here, where you start out facing a much harder to dodge or dispatch Hammer Bros on a short staircase.
In fact, this level also has something o’ a focus on staircases, too, with 4 staircases: the 1st with a Bullet Bill shooter perched ’bove, making climbing precarious; the aforementioned mo’ dangerous staircase guarded with a Hammer Bro, & 2 staircases broken up with bottomless pits, the 1 @ the end with 2 & manned by a hopping Paratroopa.
Super Mario Bros. Deluxe makes the underwater bonus relevant by putting a red coin there. I also found it fitting that they put 1 in the multi-coin brick 1 block off the ground, giving players an advantage if they’re small, as it can be hard to hit, specially the 10 times necessary to unlock the red coin, when you need to slide under there ’cause the player’s too big.
The Yoshi egg location is decent, too. For some reason they added the top o’ a snowed-on tree ’bove the block under the hidden Yoshi egg block, which probably wasn’t necessary to make this setpiece noticeable, but I appreciate the extra effort.
8. World 2-1
2-1 is an underrated level with subtly interesting arrangements from start to finish:
You have that hole near the beginning with the 2 Koopas & the hidden block & the 1-up brick ’bove ( unlike most other hidden blocks, this 1 is cleverly hinted @ by the bricks ’bove, since you’d need a block somewhere here to be able to hit them from below ).
You have the introduction o’ the beanstalk leading up to coin heaven, ’nother cool idea that’s become so well-known that it’s easy to take it for granted.
You have a much mo’ interesting use o’ Piranha Plant pipes than 1-2 with bricks with a power-up ’bove, which, if it releases a mushroom, can actually be somewhat tricky to get, leading straight for the Piranha Plant, & then a pit.
& then you have the final staircase replaced by a tall wall & a spring to bounce you high up to reach it, a fantastic, memorable way to introduce the springboard.
My only nitpick with this level is that it has that awkward middleground o’ enemy spam, where there’s several enemies where they don’t make much o’ a difference ( ¿are 2 Koopas in that beginning hole much mo’ dangerous than just 1? ), but they don’t give you ’nough to allow you to chain kill with a Koopa shell for an extra life, which is lame. This game is keen on cockblocking 1-up chains, which I guess is to keep the game difficult. I don’t think that’s a good reason, tho, since chaining for 1-ups takes some skill, e’en when you can do it, & they give you an, if anything, easier way to get unlimited 1-ups later with the infinite lives trick using the Koopa on the staircase, anyway ( note: this technically isn’t a glitch, since the developers claim they knew ’bout it before publication & deliberately left it in ).
The red coin locations are fine, tho not remarkable. I do like the 1 @ the end near the spring, giving you more o’ a reason to use it.
The Yoshi egg’s location is interesting in that they not only added new hidden ?-blocks to reach the brick that hides it, they added high background fences. Unlike 5-2’s extra background element, this extra background, which is 8 blocks, is much mo’ conspicuous, & this setpiece, otherwise, was generic & would be hard to find without it.
7. World 3-1
This level feels like 2-1, but in many ways stronger. For 1, it introduces the night theme & spruces itself up e’en mo’ with the bridge & water ( tho why you can’t swim in this water when you were just swimming in water 3 levels ago is a mystery ).
& while it doesn’t introduce coin heaven, the coin heaven it does feature is mo’ intricate & interesting than the simple 1 that 2-1 does introduce.
But o’erall, this level has mo’ intricate block setups & greater enemy variety, including the introduction to the infamous Hammer Bros, hardest enemies in the game, with their classic 2-row setup o’ brick floors that they would jump up & down, allowing players with tight timing a way to bonk them from below, but also allowing Hammer Bros a way to jump down on players.
To ease players into this new, much mo’ difficult enemy, the developers put a hidden Starman not long before so, but not in an obvious place. In fact, the brick you need to hit to reveal it is positioned in just the right way to make it subtly tricky to get, forcing players to earn their easy mode to some extent.
The opening with the 3 ?-blocks high up, 1 o’ which has a mushroom, & the 2 Paratroopas patrolling the main ground, is an underrated opening, perfect for a middle level that has the feel o’ gradually revving up difficulty.
The bonus room right after has an interesting diagonal arrangement o’ bricks & secretly offers mo’ than just coins & a quick path thru by hiding a power-up in 1 o’ the seemingly innocuous bricks. It’s impossible to reach while small, which would be a dick move normally; but since it comes so soon after a power-up, such an unlikely scenario seems like a justified mockery o’ a player who somehow let them get hit by the 1 Piranha Plant or Goomba after the previous power-up.
E’en tho 3-2 throws kicking shells @ enemies in the player’s face, I like how 3-1 includes a subtly-placed section that allows players to do so to rack up a life, rewarding players who’d played the game before & remember the next level.
Finally, tho not as interesting as the spring & the wall, they do minorly spice up the classic staircase by adding 2 Koopas, creating a section that ended up being far mo’ iconic thanks to the famous infinite-lives trick this enables.
As for the red coins, I have to shout out the devious-to-find red coin in the underground bonus room, in a brick that seems random, till you realize it’s directly opposite the power-up brick.
The Yoshi egg is also cleverly hid in an already-existing brick, rather than a newly-created ?-block — & it’s a brick that’s difficult & dangerous to try hitting.
6. World 8-4
Definitely the best castle level in the game, & the only 1 that implemented the maze mechanic in an interesting way, focusing mo’ on taking the right pipe to the next section than taking the right vague “path”.
This level also has the most variety o’ any castle level, pulling together various gimmicks & mechanics from previous levels, with an underwater section & a section with hopping fish, making it feel somewhat like a final exam level. I feel like the single Hammer Bro just before the large leap o’er the Podoboo-infested lava pool, & then the final Bowser, is mo’ effective than all the Hammer Bros. in 8-3.
I do have qualms with the invisible block needed to reach the pipe in the 2nd maze section; howe’er, I mean, it is a conspicuous pipe, & there’s no other way to get up there, so the player probably has to assume there’s an invisible block somewhere. It’s too bad they hadn’t implemented enemy bouncing yet, as I feel requiring the player to bounce off 1 o’ the 2 hopping Paratroopas that come by would’ve been mo’ effective.
I do like the subtle difficulty o’ the 1st jump off the downward steps under a low ceiling o’er the vast pit o’ lava, challenging players to go down the steps without stumbling too far & falling in. It’s a clever twist that you start the level going down a staircase, rather than ending going up, & fits with the idea o’ descending a hellish environment.
Almost all the red coins are in places that require tricky jumps, such as the 1st right on the edge o’ the staircase, the 1 ’bove the moving platform o’er lava, & the 1 high ’bove the final ax, while the 4th is hidden well high up in the water area — somewhere you don’t want to be lingering round to explore. But the 3rd red coin is lame: ’mong hidden ?-blocks after intentionally flubbing the maze with the leaping Cheep Cheep.
The Yoshi egg, in the water section, is certainly in a memorable place, & makes use o’ the empty top portion o’ the beginning screen.
5. World 1-2
It says something ’bout how much better 1-2 is than 1-1 that e’en tho ’twas ’bout just as ubiquitous as 1-1 in the sadly deceased Super Mario Bros. 35 it hadn’t earned nearly the notoriety as its predecessor. While 1-1 is a relatively simple, straightforward level not too far from this game’s arcade roots that doesn’t take too many playthrus to fully appreciate, 1-2 ramps up not so much the raw challenge as the complexity &, mo’ importantly, hidden secrets. After all, while 1-1 has bricks o’er a Goomba & 2 staircases, this level has the far mo’ famous & exponentially cleverer warp zone.
For instance, we have much weirder block formations, such as the moustache formation o’ bricks near the beginning, hiding a star so well that I didn’t e’en know ’bout it till Super Mario Bros. 35 made it important for high scoring, followed by a Tetris-block shape that seems arbitrary, but actually has an important gameplay role: allowing small players to slip under while large players can break the bricks ’bove & go up & round. This wastes time for those who collected the Starman, granting an advantage to small players, tho big players can mitigate this advantage by run ducking under. After this we have Goombas falling down on you from different heights.
’Course, going the top path is usually how players realize they can break bricks all the way to the ceiling & run under the UI & ’bove the whole level to find the warp zone. It’s so well-known that it’s easy to take for granted, but I do like the silly meta humor communicated thru gameplay, rather than cringy dialogue boxes, as most modern Mario games would do, & the way this rewards clever, curious players.
This section is then followed by 2 cool hook-shaped brick formations, 1 with coins ’bove it, & the other hiding a powerup @ the top o’ its tip, with Goombas that drop down on you from various heights.
The weakest part, unless you count the very 1st screen with the basic line o’ ?-blocks & 2 Goombas, is the middle, with just a few pipes & Goombas & Piranha Plants. I think there’s 3 Goombas @ the beginning to slow the player down so they don’t rush straight into the 1st Piranha Plant, since this is where they’re introduced, but I think the Piranha Plants are almost always already up by the time you get here, anyway. The seemingly superfluous Goomba in the hole ’tween the 2nd & 3rd pipe is maybe there to keep that hole from being too safe & to encourage players to practice jumping from Piranha Plant pipe to Piranha Plant pipe. The bonus in the 1st pipe with the 2 layers o’ coins & the multicoin block @ the end is mo’ interesting than the 1 in 1-1, but not too much mo’.
Near the end we have yet ’nother copy o’ the staircase from 1-1, but this time with 2 Goombas, & then the introduction of elevator platforms. As common with introductions, they’re not used in the most interesting o’ ways, tho they do make use o’ the upward-moving elevators to make it very easy to reach the warp zone. I’d say too easy, since it makes finding the warp zone obvious, ruining the clever secret ’hind it.
The red coins are all in very clever places, challenging you to explore places you likely wouldn’t, such as the easy-to-miss bonus room & on top o’ the moustache-shaped brick formation. The most cleverly placed red coin is way up on the high brick formation ’bove & to the right o’ the 2nd power-up, which is usually only used for dropping a Goomba down on you.
The Yoshi egg’s location is ’bove the pipe exit, which perhaps isn’t the best hiding spot, but is somewhat clever a twist, as players are unlikely to have a reason to go up there, which is technically a dead end.
Since warp zones don’t work with Super Mario Bros. Deluxe’s Challenge Mode, they replaced it with a brand new section that makes you zigzag downward. It’s a cool way to give curious players bonus points — which they’ll need if they want the demanding score medal.
4. World 6-2
An incredibly underrated level. Yes, it’s mostly just pipes with Piranha Plants, the most common enemy in the game; but this level is the apex o’ pipe arrangements, going up high & down low, some e’en floating in the air, 1 e’en embedded in the final staircase, which is a perfect way to integrate this level’s theme while creating a new twist to the common level ending.
& as an extra, before that is a mini staircase o’ pipes, all with Piranha Plants.
Monotony on the main area is spared with a sprinkling o’ brick formations & other enemies in choice places, such as Goombas & Buzzy Beetles that threaten to fall on you from high up ( that is, ’less you climb up the treacherous pipes to take that upper path ). The black evening background makes the black Buzzy Beetles feel particularly treacherous.
Monotony is spared e’en mo’ by offering not just the underworld bonus from 5-2 & the coin heaven from 3-1, but also the underground bonus rooms from 4-1 & 4-2. While this blatant copypasta would be eyebrow-raising if ’twere the normal path ( tho 5-1 also copies 4-2’s bonus room ), since it’s bonus, I don’t think it’s a problem, & I have to admire the fact that this level has the most environmental variety o’ any level — it has e’ery environment in this game but a castle.
While this level can create situations where a normal player might have to wait for Piranha Plants to go back down if they don’t have a fire flower ( if they do they can plow thru e’erything & feel great ), the situations where you are nearly forced to are surprisingly rare, while most other parts you can speed thru with just the right well-timed jumps.
I like where they hide the Yoshi egg in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, but I don’t like how they redundantly put a red coin right next to it.
The rest are in decent places — tho I find the fact that they replace the power-up brick with a red coin in the 2nd underground bonus kinda dickish, specially since you can’t start Challenge Mode big, so there’s no way to become fiery in the Challenge Mode for this level. O well: by that point the player’s near the end, anyway. I just wish a’least 1 level put a red coin in coin heaven.
3. World 4-2
While 4-1 ramps up the difficulty with a mo’ complex enemy type in a straightforward level, 4-2 ramps up difficulty in terms o’ platforming, starting with an infamously tricky arrangement o’ blocks forcing players to run & jump onto & off small blocks & forcing players to choose aiming on a single block to jump o’er the somewhat large gap after it or run & jump off the 2-block floor o’er a wider gap.
The other famous setpiece o’ this level is the beanstalk — something you wouldn’t expect to find in a sewer. This beanstalk is trickier to get, tho, e’en if you know it’s there: in order to reach it to hit it from below, you need to hit invisible blocks, but be wary not to hit the 1 right below the beanstalk’s brick or else you’ll have a much harder time hitting the beanstalk brick. It’s admittedly a bit o’ a trial-&-error BS for new players, but assauged a bit by the fact that you can still technically hit the beanstalk brick e’en if you reveal all the invisible blocks, specially if you’re small ( which is admittedly unlikely coming right after 2 power-ups ).
This level provides a particularly interesting combination o’ repeating a pattern & twisting it: both sewer levels have warp zones, both by going o’er the top o’ the level, but this level twists it by making the main warp just go to world 5, while hiding this warp zone, using a beanstalk that was previously introduced purely for bonus games, to reach a different warp zone mo’ in line with the 1st warp zone, allowing you to skip up to 3 worlds ’gain, ’cept this warp zone has a fresh new paint job, not high up in the clouds, as would be ’bove an o’erworld level, but on the o’erworld level, which is ’bove the sewers. This warp zone & the level that comes naturally after 4-2 are the only areas that use the mushroom tileset, tying them in a way that implies that this warp zone naturally comes before 4-3 — a part o’ this mushroom forest that’d be blocked off by the entrance & exit to 4-2 if not for the beanstalk.
But, truly, all the setpieces in this level are great & memorable. I particularly want to note:
The ending with the jump under a very low ceiling, which is very easy to flub ( specially in All-Stars, with its botched brick physics that suck you in as you break them ), but which offers the trick o’ a single block down below you can jump up from ’stead.
The section low down after the final elevator with a low ceiling o’ bricks o’er a pair o’ Koopas & a power-up in the leftmost brick, which you have to follow to the end if it’s a mushroom.
All the cramped pits with Koopas & Buzzy Beetles in them ’tween pipes ( 1 o’ which gifts curious players with a Starman ).
The red coins aren’t placed all that well: the 1st & last are in places you’re likely to go, anyway. The 4th does make the kinda pointless final elevator useful, tho.
The Yoshi egg, howe’er, does a good job o’ making the hole ’tween the final upward pipe & staircase with a Buzzy Beetle inside useful for once.
2. World 4-3
Yes, I changed my mind from the article I wrote years ago. You have no idea how much I had to rewrite this & #1’s level descriptions, going back & forth — they were that close.
Despite this game taking place in the Mushroom Kingdom & having plenty o’ mushrooms in ?-blocks, the terrain is rarely composed o’ mushrooms, but more oft those contradictory blocks that are a mix o’ natural cracked rock & unnatural perfect square shape ( or grass, if playing Super Mario All-Stars ). This level & the beanstalk bonus in 4-2 are the only exceptions. Thus, this level immediately gets a major boost for having the most exotic visuals. & having much mo’ red & yellow & a li’l less brown & green certainly makes the level feel mo’ colorful than most other daytime levels, ’specially in All-Stars with the mushroom platforms in the background.
But e’en without the visuals, this level ranks high for having such an intricate layout that is entertaining just to look @, with hills going up & down, challenging players’ jumping prowess mo’ than any time before, while the scale lifts & moving elevators are placed just right to add complexity to your movement without forcing you to stop.
The level e’en rewards you for going backward with the 2nd mushroom hill, easy to forget, used for holding coins, which are ’course not necessary for beating the game, but necessary if the player wants a chance to get the hidden 1-up in world 5.
Just after the 3rd mushroom hill, you see a mushroom tower @ just the right height to stymie you. It grants alternate routes, but unlike the other levels, the alternate routes aren’t arbitrary, but have different challenges: if you go below the mushroom tower, you have to jump low ’nough not to bonk your head on it, but high ’nough to make it to the next platform under it; to go ’bove the tower, you must run & jump high ’nough to reach it.
& in this level, the red Koopa is, for once, a greater hindrance than the green Koopas, as you have to time jumps so that you don’t run into them during their patrol back & forth o’er the mushroom. Thanks to the timing & placement o’ the red Koopas on the 2nd mushroom, the jump to it will leave li’l space & time to jump o’er them before they reach you ( which is very tricky to pull off in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, thanks to its much smaller screen, allowing e’en less reaction time ).
The ending is 1 o’ the few without the iconic staircase, replaced by a platform moving up & down. This does not make reaching the flagpole harder in the slightest, but it does make reaching the top o’ the flagpole a bit harder, & makes doing so while getting 6 fireworks much harder, which those gaming for the score medal in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe’s challenge mode will know all too well. ’Mong the 3 levels with the teetertotter scales in this game, this is the weakest ending, specially compared to 6-3’s series o’ falling platforms. I think 4-3 should’ve had a series o’ mushroom hills leading to the flagpole, since this feels mo’ in line with this level’s theme, while 6-3 should’ve kept to the falling platforms @ the end & lost the hill.
This, as well as the repetitiveness o’ the very similar last 3 scale lifts, the last 2 being the exact same, & the empty space that is the long mushroom hill before the final elevator, made this level not quite as good as the #1 spot.
The red coins are all placed well, either requiring tricky jumps or use o’ the scale lifts, or placed in easy-to-skip hills, like the bottom o’ the crowd near the middle. I’m mixed on the 1st red coin: I like the tricky jump it makes you pull off, but I don’t like how there’s a Red Koopa positioned just right on the next platform below to come in & hit you with, as far as I know, no way to jump out o’ its way in time — it reaches the very edge by the time you get there, so you either smack into it or fall off the edge. As far as I know, you have to scoot the camera o’er & wait for the Red Koopa to come into view from offscreen, which is not only slow, but also requires you to know ahead o’ time that that Koopa is there in the 1st place. Beginning players are virtually guaranteed to get killed here.
& unfortunately, the Yoshi egg is in what is perhaps the least interesting place you could put it in the level.
1. World 6-3
1st, while not as impressive as an almost-unique tileset, this level does deserve props for its unique wintry all-gray palette ( which is, devastatingly, completely lost in Super Mario All-Stars, making this level look no different from 3-3 ).
But like 4-3, this level doesn’t need good aesthetics to be good, as it has an e’en mo’ intricate layout, with e’en mo’ places where the terrain branches top & bottom — such as near the beginning where you can jump o’er the spring & leap ’long the low hills or use the spring to leap high up & use the moving platforms. & the springs & falling platforms add e’en mo’ variety than 4-3. Like with 4-3, none o’ this level’s complex layout stops you from zooming & leaping thru with minimal delay if you’re skilled ’nough.
I specially like the moving platform under the lone ?-block with a mushroom, the only power-up in this level & 1 that makes you work to earn it, specially if you’re small & it releases an antsy mushroom vulnerable to the gaping pit surrounding it on all sides.
The other highlight is the 4 succession o’ quick-falling elevators right near the end — tho I think we could’ve gone without the final hill & just stuck to the elevators, giving the player no breath before the final jump to the flagpole.
Coins are carefully placed to force you to make use of otherwise easily-skippable pieces, such as the 1st elevator, or to take risky moves, like fall down from the left side o’ the 1st scale lift or let fall the 2nd elevator platform during the final gauntlet, if the player wants a chance @ the hidden 1-up in world 7. Unlike 4-3, which pretty much forces you to wait on the left platform on the 1st scale lift to get 1 coin, this level requires much less waiting round to get all the coins, making e’en coin collection much mo’ fast-paced.
The 1 major weakness this level has compared to 4-3 is that I prefer the Red Koopas o’er the random Bullet Bills — tho actually strategically placed Bill shooters would’ve been a major improvement o’er both. That said, neither the Red Koopas in 4-3 nor the Bullet Bills here make quite ’nough o’ an impact to make up for the other differences.
The red coins in this level are devilishly placed — specially the last, which can be gotten in various tricky ways, depending on how good the player is with the physics, but was most likely meant to be gotten by letting the last platform fall low ’nough to jump & get it without bonking gainst the bottom o’ the final palm-tree platform — a case where Super Mario Bros. Deluxe takes advantage o’ the final palm-tree hill.
The Yoshi egg also adds value to an easy-to-neglect part o’ the level, hidden down @ the bottom o’ a crowd o’ hills.
Worlds from Worst to Best
As a bonus, let’s rank the worlds, too:
Putting this here is a no-brainer: 3/4 o’ its levels are in the bottom 10 & not only are 2 o’ its levels copies o’ earlier levels, but with some o’ the least changes out o’ all the clones. They’re e’en placed in the same exact sequence. That these levels were not good to begin with makes them e’en less exciting to see a 2nd time. End this world with an underwhelmingly sparse castle & you have a world far too underwhelming to be the penultimate world. The most shining part o’ this world is the 1st level, & e’en that doesn’t stand out much from earlier levels, making this whole world feel somewhat like padding before the game truly gets going in the final world.
While this world has stronger levels than e’en some later worlds, as a whole, this may be 1 o’ the most forgettable worlds in the game. Having 2 clones o’ earlier levels to top it off doesn’t help. The slight wintry touch to the palette o’ its 1st 2 levels doesn’t do much to help it stand out, either, specially since world 3 already did this with a night sky, to boot.
While this world doesn’t have the strongest levels — in fact, 2 o’ them are near the bottom — it deserves credit for keeping up the diversity o’ levels still so early in the game.
After 2 worlds full o’ new idea after new idea, world 3 starts with a new black-skied night theme — a minor palette shift, but still beyond what one might have expected @ the time. While world 3’s levels aren’t the best, there is a greater consistency o’ quality compared to worlds lower on the list.
Like world 2, the 1st world does an admirable job o’ keeping each o’ its levels feeling different from each other, when it’d be so easy to coast off the still unfamiliarity new players would have with this game to wait till later for mo’ exotic ideas. This world has much stronger levels than world 2 & somewhat better levels than world 3, which almost beat this world for this spot, howe’er.
World 4 is an interesting duality o’ quality. In fact, ’twas while writing this that I noticed how close I came to having the worst level be just after the best level if I kept 4-3 in the #1 place, as originally expected. & then you have the weak 4-1 vs. the very strong 4-2. That said, I give extra points to this world for its variety o’ memorable elements, such as the great warp zone in 4-2 & the unique mushroom-hill tileset in 4-3. E’en 4-1 has Lakitu — & hell, e’en 4-4 has the maze, as lame as it is. World 4 may be 1 o’ the most memorable worlds in the game ( which, granted, is probably helped by being the highest world you can reach from the warp zone in 1-2, making it 1 o’ the few worlds played in any% speedruns ).
A memorable end to the game, despite how monotonous its level themes can feel compared to the high variety this game reaches in most o’ its worlds. E’en if 8-1 & 8-3 aren’t the most interesting layouts, 8-1’s sheer length & 8-3’s onslaught o’ Hammer Bros & brick-wall backgrounds make them memorable, & 8-4 is 1 o’ the best o’ Mario games’ final levels.
A stealthily strong world, starting with a strong Lakitu level, followed by the ultimate pipe level, & then the ultimate level in the game. Only the castle is a low point, & e’en then, it’s far from the worst castle level. Not only does this world have the rare black-skied evening theme o’er most its levels, its 3rd level adds a unique wintry all-gray cast.