A few notes – this is my own personal list and are the stuff that I find most tricky. If you find any of these courses easy then I take off my metaphorical hat to you. Just keep in mind that these are personal choices. Secondly, the list won’t include any tracks from Mario Kart, any courses from Super Mario Maker or any ROM-hack courses, like in Kaizo Mario World. Finally, it should be noted that these levels aren’t necessarily bad – they can be well crafted and designed, and indeed some of them are greatly imaginative. To that end I will once again take off the hat that doesn’t exist to Nintendo. They aren’t badly done, they’re just frustratingly difficult.
So on with the list… and if you decide to play any of these levels and end up getting severely apoplectic as a result of their difficulty don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
- NUMBER 10 - World 8-3 (Super Mario Bros.)
Two words: Hammer Bros. Oh dear God, Hammer Bros. The most obnoxious of all enemies in the Mario series. Most enemies don’t really have anything to truly harm you – you just have to hope you don’t hit them – but these bastards have a never ending supply of hammers that curve around to hit you and shred your 1-ups. They’re painfully annoying on their own – but an armada of them is even worse. And that’s what we get in possibly the very first incredibly difficult level in the Mario games. A long line of Hammer Bros run throughout the entire level and you need to get past them. Just hope you came into the level equipped with a Fire Flower or you’re going to have to run for your life underneath them when they jump in order to get past them and to the goal. To add insult to injury items are very well hidden and there are no checkpoints. If you’re millimetres from the end and you get hit you’re starting again from the beginning.
If you collect all the Star Coins scattered throughout the levels in New Super Mario Bros. Wii you’ll be rewarded with a brand new world to play through. Quite a bit of it is difficult but no level is more annoyingly hard than the penultimate level of the game. You’re standing on ice blocks throughout the whole level and throughout your entire run you’ll encounter tons of Piranha Plants… which spit fire and melt your platform. You could blast them with fire of your own but that’ll likely backfire on you and cause you to melt more of your platform as the fireballs will often bounce along the platform. Worse, if you don’t fall to your doom, you’ll land on chomping plants. And to make things even harder the Star Coins in this area are absolutely impossible to get, requiring absolutely precision timing with where you throw your fire. Hope you’re playing with friends or else you’re not getting 100% Star Coins.
Super Mario Sunshine – probably the biggest love it or hate it game in the entire series. Conflicts have arisen over the new mechanics of the game, such as FLUDD which shoots water, and the voice acting that some think works and others think is absolutely silly. One thing that’s hard to dispute is that the game can be rather fiddly at times and nowhere is this more evident than in this level. As the name indicates you’re placed in a pachinko machine and flipped up where you have to get eight red coins using FLUDD to guide you into the pockets. Problem is that your movement with FLUDD isn’t very good and the coins are placed in very hard to reach areas, leading you to miss pockets by mere inches and fall down the bottom of the machine to your death, putting you right back at the start of your mission. You’ll be wondering whether this infernal contraption is really worth negotiating through for a Shine Sprite.
One of the most rage inducing features of Mario games are the auto scrolling levels. Speeding up the level, you have to run in time with the movement of the stage in order to make sure you can progress – it’s pretty worrying when the stage movement can kill you in a game. We commonly see this in the airship levels in the game and the final one from the seminal Super Mario Bros. 3 takes the biscuit as the most annoyingly hard. Hope that you stocked up on your Super Leaves in the previous levels because you’re going to need them for an auto-scroller that is ludicrously fast even by the standards of this game. Additionally the ship is far more compact than the ones found previously in the game and you’re constantly running into Rocky Wrenches who throw wrenches at you. Get to the end of this one and you’ll find defeating Boom Boom at the end to be much more satisfying.
Remember when an entire Mario game didn’t get released in the United States because of how ridiculously hard it was? Nintendo feared that American audiences would reject Mario if the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2, which was very difficult, was released. As such, American audiences instead received a much easier Super Mario Bros. 2, a reskin of Doki Doki Panic. It finally came over to the States in 1993 as a part of the compilation Super Mario All-Stars… and it is indeed fiendishly difficult, consistently hitting you with obstacles and tricky platforming to points where it’s absolutely unfair and almost reminiscent of some of the most infamous ROM hacks (the Poison Mushroom, in particular, can lead you to bloody murder).
There was an abundance of levels to choose from but the most aggravating was this one from the secret worlds gained after beating the game. This one has a lot of similarities with 7-3 from the main game – you need to jump on green springs and get blown by the wind and hope you land on platforms at the right time in order to proceed. But to make matters more frustrating there’s a Lakitu right in your path. Up there with the Hammer Bros. as the most annoying Mario enemy, Lakitu throws Spiny Shells at you in order to hinder your progress, which only serves to make what was already an infuriatingly hard level that more aneurysm inducing. Japan, you were right to keep this one.
This is perhaps the most accurately named level in all of Mario history. Because you need to run. Unlocked from collecting all the Star Coins this level will keep you on the edge of your feet as you try to make a mad dash to the end. There are no real platforms in this bonus stage – instead you have to hit P-switches in order to make the rows of coins turn into platforms. From then you have to make a mad dash to the next P-switch in order to make sure the platforms remain as blocks or else you’re falling to your doom. Like in 9-7 from Wii, the difficulty is only accentuated when you try to pick up the Star Coins. You need precision timing in your jumping and you still need to be very fast in order to keep on running because those P-switches aren’t going to wait for you. This level will make you want to run far away from this game.
Luigi U is arguably the hardest Mario game since The Lost Levels with the annoying physics with Luigi and the ludicrous time limits of 100 seconds per level. Whilst Wendy’s Ice Castle from World 3 nearly made the list due to its abundance of spikes and Thwomps as well as negotiating slippery platforms the level that most stands out as difficult is this level from, once again, the bonus world unlocked from gathering Star Coins. Fire bars usually aren’t too horrible an obstacle – you can dodge them pretty easily if you can get the timing right – but in this game they’re stacked up together all throughout the course. This requires you to be an absolute clairvoyant in knowing where to step, hoping you don’t run smack into the middle of one of the bars. This is one where you need to start with a power-up and hope that you can use whatever invincibility you get from hitting the fire to surge ahead. And good luck with trying to get the Star Coins.
You’re probably noticing a theme here – play through the main game that’s relatively simple and then get greeted with a ball-breakingly difficult set of bonus levels. That all started in Super Mario World, possibly the magnum opus of the series. Find the secret Star Road in the Star World and you’ll be greeted by eight very difficult tracks all named after some radical slang. Outrageous also stands out as difficult because of its barrage of enemies but this level takes the cake in the frustration stakes. Unless you use Yoshi or a Cape Feather you’ll be at a disadvantage as your goal is to navigate through the course as a balloon – you need to constantly be grabbing balloons in order to keep yourself inflated or else you’re plummeting to your death. Add in the fact that there’s a constant stream of enemies, most notably the Charging Chucks which throw baseballs at you, and you’ll find that this course is far from being tubular.
A major feature that began to be added into Mario games around about the time of Super Mario Galaxy 2 was the addition of one final balls to the wall challenge in order to reward the players who had gotten right to the end and unlocked everything in their path. Galaxy 2 already threw one hell of a challenge at you with The Ultimate Test, which forced you to navigate all the way through a greatest hits of the game in a long and winding course, but that at the very least had checkpoints and you could take some hits. The Perfect Run? No checkpoints and you can’t take a hit or else it’s back to the start for you. The sheer length of this course can therefore make it an absolute nightmare to navigate through with just one modicum of life and if you get hit just before the end you’ll be throwing your Wii remote at the TV in sheer frustration.
How does one get harder than perfection? Having to do five times the work. Another absolutely bonkers course to conclude a game, this on paper seems to be easier than The Perfect Run. Sure, it’s once again a long and sprawling course dedicated to all of the things that bothered you in the game, including Goombas, Charging Chucks and fire bars. And once again there are no checkpoints. But this time you can take a hit and you won’t be immediately penalised like in The Perfect Run. So what makes it harder? To complete the game 100%, which I’m sure you’d want to do since you’re at this point, you have to complete it with all of the playable characters – Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach and Rosalina. If you found it nightmarish the first time around you’ll likely convulse with anger and fear once you realise you have to play it another four times. All this extra work ends up with Champions Road just squeaking out ahead of The Perfect Run to become the hardest level in all of Mario.
Do you agree with this list? Which levels in Mario make you rage with frustration and destroy your 1-ups? Comment down below.