I've been enjoying the slow trickle of NES games being added to the Switch Online service. Sure, it's no Virtual Console, but I'm happy to just kind of get a surprise handful of "free" games each month now. It also serves as a weird impetus to play stuff that I probably wouldn't otherwise. Case in point - The Lost Levels.
I should put up the disclaimer that the Super Mario Bros 2 we got in the US is actually one of my favorite Mario Bros games period. As insane as this might sound, I probably like it more than Super Mario Bros 3. I certainly revisit it more often. And in truth, I didn't even know that a more traditional Super Mario Bros 2 existed in Japan until it was localized as part of Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES.
I remember getting All-Stars for Christmas in 1993 and being really excited to play this new-to-me game, now dubbed "The Lost Levels." And I also remember being really underwhelmed when I finally played it and moving on pretty quickly.
And that was the last time I played The Lost Levels. December, 1993. Even when that Wii All-Stars compilation was released (and seriously lacking Super Mario World), I didn't even bother re-playing Lost Levels then. I don't know. I just used it as an excuse to revisit Super Mario Bros 2 and 3 in their 16-bit reimagined glory.
But something about The Lost Levels rolling out to Switch piqued my interest. I think it's the fact that (correct me if I'm wrong) this is the first time that the original 8-bit version of the game has been released in the US. It's kind of neat to see Fami box art in the games list, with the US title of The Lost Levels. Of course, any real localization efforts are clearly minimal given that the title screen itself just reads "Super Mario Bros 2." But whatevs.
So yeah, I fired it up while my wife was watching a movie last night and... I'm still pretty underwhelmed. Look, the original Super Mario Bros is an undoubted classic. However, if I'm being honest I think that for me personally, I kind of think of the game highly because of its historic importance. And I don't just mean gaming history - I mean, my own history as a gamer. Before the NES dropped I had a Commodore 64 and an Atari 2600. Those were the primitive games that I knew. And when a friend got a NES and showed me Super Mario Bros for the first time, it blew my young mind properly. That game (and a small handful of others - Ice Hockey, Excitebike, etc) were responsible for making me beg my parents for a NES and turning me into a video game junky from a young age.
I played the hell out of the original back then - as we all did. So everything about it remains iconic. Yet, when I revisit it every few years, I find that it's more a nostalgia thing. It's like going back to see an old friend. It's comforting, but at the same time it's not quite as fun to me as Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros 2. Those are the ones I go back to the most because I just love playing them.
So now playing Lost Levels feels to me like... I don't know. Like playing a ROM-hack of Super Mario Bros. It's like the first game but stripped of those things that give me the tinges of nostalgia. The familiarity of the levels is gone. And dickish things like poison mushrooms are present. You can totally argue that those dickish inclusions are what makes the game so interesting - and I could even agree. But I just don't find myself having much fun playing it.
I mean, there's whole crops of games that have grown out of indie scenes in the decades since that could be inspired by The Lost Levels to a degree. I'm talking about pure masochism and trial and error fueled romps. Things like I Want To Be The Guy, or whatever. You could probably write dissertations on how The Lost Levels is the true progenitor to Dark Souls. But I'm not sure how much that would even really matter to me if I'm not actually having any fun.
That's a lot of background just to say that I fired the game up again for the first time in 26 years and found out I still don't really like it. But it is what it is. I played for an hour or so and it felt like torture. I kept getting annoyed, and rolling my eyes, and finally decided to move on. But on that note, I guess it's interesting that you could look at this game as sort of the beginning of these uber hard trial-and-error platformers that are still pretty popular today.
New Super Luigi Bros definitely, at least. So maybe that's the interesting take-away here. That this brutally difficult and not-so-impressive game from 1986 was deemed too difficult for North American audiences so buried and replaced by a completely different game. And then finally it was doled out in the US as a bonus on a compilation in 1993 and most gamers agreed that, "yep, this is way too difficult to even be fun." But somehow, the game's inner logic was revisited in 2013 to illustrate that maybe Nintendo was actually way more hardcore than most modern gamers gave them credit for. Maybe that's the interesting thing to note here? Well. At least it got me thinking.