A quest to run from left to right seems limited. How many ways can such a simple goal be presented? Surely thirty-two will suffice. When Super Mario Bros. released in October 1985, nearly thirty long years ago, the nation’s children (and their parents) began playing what would become one of the most influential videogames in history. To them, these eight worlds comprising four levels each were brand-new, unprecedented. Now they seem like blueprints for the future. Thirty-two levels was not enough.
Not counting remakes and compilations, nine traditional Super Mario Bros. games have released since 1985; this means two-dimensional side-scrolling adventures in the style of the original. (The Game Boy Super Mario Land games are, I argue, an entirely different beast altogether, the birthchildren of Gunpei Yokoi straying far afield, with bizarre and refreshing irreverence, from Shigeru Miyamoto’s original.)
With Super Mario Maker approaching, we’ve studied up on the past so as to better create a pleasing, surprising, or punishing future. Some stages are iconic. Some, infuriating. Some introduced us to items or mechanics destined for repeatable greatness; some allowed us a glimpse at something never to return.
Truth be told, nearly every Super Mario level has a hint of ingenuity or modicum of brilliance; a dozen people could list a dozen different lists with no overlap and all would be correct. But today, these are the best 2D Super Mario levels, in no particular order.
Since 2003, Jon Irwin has been paid to write about film, techno, ice cream, wine, golf, drag-racing, French children and videogames. His first book, Super Mario Bros. 2, was published last year by Boss Fight Books. Follow along: @WinWinIrwin.