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.