Nintendo has been adding a number of SNES classics to the eShop this year, and that means the company’s rich history is more accessible than ever. Games like Super Mario World are now available to new players and nostalgic fans alike. Super Mario World isn’t called one of the best games of all time for no reason – the platformer is loved and lauded for everything from its tight controls and mobility, to its music and aesthetic. But level design is what ties all of its other triumphs together. With that in mind, I’ve played through the entire game (again) and picked out the ten most iconic and enjoyable levels in the seminal adventure. Here they are, in order of their appearance.
Yoshi’s Island 1
Yoshi’s Island 1 is rightfully known as the vibrant, absurd and memorable first level to a fantastic game (unless you were dumb and went to Yoshi’s Island 2 first). As you get control of Mario for the first time, you’re immediately greeted by an angry Koopa sliding down a hill in his underwear. Moments like this are how the level design sets you up for some ridiculous, unexpected things that hadn’t been seen in previous Mario games; such as the shock of a giant Banzai Bill coming at you, or wondering why the hell there’s a winged block flying overhead. It also gives you plenty of space to familiarize yourself with the fast, precise controls while telling you about new mechanics and subversively demonstrating what they’re good for.
Donut Plains 1
Donut Plains 1 wants to give you something really cool. It presents you with what is arguably the most fun thing in the game: the cape. The entire level is dedicated to showing off the joy of this item and the powers it gives you. Donut Plains 1 is expansive and filled with enemies, making it weirdly entertaining when you realize that you can just glide over them all. There’s also a big, coin-filled zone where you can master the cape’s flying ability while being rewarded with tons of coins – as long as you don’t run out of time trying to grab them all. The level also incorporates plenty of replay value by adding the first 1-Up block minigame and alternate exits.
Donut Secret House
Speaking of alternate exits, the Donut Secret House is probably the best example of the wacky ghost houses in Super Mario World. It messes with your perception, but it doesn’t do so in an irritating, punishing way like some of the other houses do. This particular house only hides different rewards behind its doors, from 1-Up mushrooms and Dragon Coins to a block that leaves a lengthy trail of coins behind it. Not to mention the cleverly hidden secret boss, and the fact that beating him allows you to access Star Road and make a beeline for Bowser, if you so desire.
Vanilla Secret 3
This refreshing, entertaining little level mixes up the usual rhythm of platforming by throwing in some… dolphins? Yep, dolphins. With cute little goggles on. These guys are basically mobile platforms that randomly leap out of the water to help you across the level. That might sound like unreliable platforming, but the dolphin buddies are actually very well placed, turning it into an original and fun challenge. On the odd chance that you do fall, however, you don’t die immediately. The designers were wise enough to cover the bottom of the stage with water, so that you have the chance to jump back to safety – and out of the way of a huge blowfish.
Chocolate Island 2
Chocolate Island 2 doesn’t seem very remarkable at first, until you realize that it’s the only level in the game that has alternate rooms based on your performance. Getting a certain number of coins or staying under a certain time limit each lead to their own completely different paths. They can also be mixed and matched, allowing you to play one sequence of rooms to beat the level and then discovering new sequences to find different secrets or a different exit.
Wendy O. Koopa’s trial is one of the hardest of the Koopaling’s castles. The quick and deadly skewers, deviously placed buzz saws, and shifting platforms with rotating Sparkies all feel like a big, kinda hilarious middle finger from a game that hasn’t been overly difficult up until this point. Most importantly, though, this perilous castle tests your precision and timing like nothing else in the game so far. It teaches you the kind of skills that you’ll need if you want to have any hope in the extra-challenging Special World.
Sunken Ghost Ship
You may be wondering, “How can another underwater level in a Mario game possibly be good?” Well, the is distinguished by the unique reward it gives you. After you slowly float through yet another underwater area, the game almost seems to say “sorry” by awarding you star power and dropping you through a giant pit of enemies and coins. As you gain 1-Up after 1-Up, you finally hit the bottom and grab a mysterious jewel that opens the Valley of Bowser. There are a lot of strange implications surrounding the ship, too: how did it sink? Why is that jewel here? Are all those Boos actually the crew members? After all, the Super Mario universe has the deepest lore of any video game series ever.
The final Koopalings’ stronghold really forces you to think on your feet. The snakelike moving platform is a long gauntlet of snap decisions and fast reactions, as you narrowly evade the rotating spike balls while balancing on the uncontrollable platform. The level also makes you manipulate your enemies to progress by baiting a Magikoopa to break some block walls for you. Oh, and there’s no checkpoint either, so make sure you’re good enough to do it all in one fell swoop,
Special World - Awesome
Even when you consider the other levels in the Special World, Awesome is the most insane, ridiculous level in the whole game. Every platform is covered in ice. Unforeseeable Koopas kick their shells down at you. Banzai Bills launch at you, one after the other. Cheep Cheeps jump up from the bottom of the screen in completely erratic patterns. You’re constantly running and jumping for your life. This level is manic and unpredictable in a way that can have you gnawing your own tongue, but that ultimately adds to the great sense of relief and fulfillment once you finally beat it.
Special World - Funky
The very last level of Super Mario World is a test of everything that the game has taught you so far. It demands some seriously fast and furious platforming just to get through it before the timer runs out, and that’s not even counting the numerous Sumo Bros, precarious jumps, and the wall of Chargin’ Chucks throwing baseballs at you. But once you get through it all, the game gives you your own little fanfare by spelling out ‘YOU ARE A SUPER PLAYER!!’ in coins as you head for the goal. The deep satisfaction of knowing that you have conquered all of Super Mario World is a feeling that will stick with you for the rest of your gaming career.