The Super Mario series has proven to be one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. Not only have these games remained innovative and challenging for over twenty years, many gamers’ first experience with Super Mario 64 will still qualify as one of their most memorable moments in gaming. Even people that have never in their life put their hands on a video game controller know who Mario and Luigi are, and probably have a pretty good idea who Princess Peach, Bowser, and Yoshi are, too. That sort of legacy isn’t earned by making a bunch of shoddy titles. The Mario series has continued to push platforming to evolve along with it and even though there are literally hundreds of dazzling levels from Mario games, there are also a small collection of clunkers, too. With the Nintendo Switch now on shelves and the console’s Super Mario Odyssey eventually adding more content to the Mario canon, in honor of the series’ less graceful moments, here are the 20 Worst Designed Levels In The Super Mario Franchise’s History.
20 “Wing Mario Over the Rainbow” – (Super Mario 64)
Super Mario 64’s Wing Cap is a great addition to the Mario canon, even if it can be very hard to control. Mario 64, overall, does a good job at making its various red coin challenges just the right amount of frustrating. One element that makes collecting red coins a whole lot more difficult? Trying to nab them in the middle of the sky. It makes sense why a wing cap-based red coin challenge is in this game, it's just a shame that the flying mechanics weren't nailed down a little better. A few coins that are way up there are a real headache and there are numerous approaches to this level that can screw over Mario right from the start. Nothing is worse than Mario dipping inches below touching a coin and realizing that he's lost his maximum height. Playing as 3D Mario has been pure bliss, but some concepts will always seem better in 2D.
Originally, “The Big House in the Sky” star from Super Mario 64’s Rainbow Ride level was filling this spot, but we felt "Wing Mario Over The Rainbow" just edged past it in terms of frustration.
19 World 7-4 (Super Mario Bros.)
In the earlier Mario Bros. titles, gameplay tricks and creativity in level design were how these titles stood out before graphics were ever a selling point. The areas where Mario titles could really show off their ingenuity were the castles. That being said, the one present in World 7-4 is the stuff of nightmares. It's designed the way video games are in Hell.
A lot of Bowser castles appear to be simple, that is until Mario has been barreling through it for ten minutes and not having gotten anywhere. A number of castles require Mario to travel through the level in a certain "order" or he's doomed to keep going, but 7-4's pattern is just so damn confusing - how were gamers honestly expected to figure it out, especially in the pre-Internet days? At least when the game was re-released in Super Mario All-Stars, there were brief visual hints added to help people out. Even now, surely some gamers are stuck in that castle, hoping Mario will one day reach the end.
18 “A-Maze-ing Emergency Exit” – Hazy Maze Cave (Super Mario 64)
As gorgeous a game as Mario 64 is, Hazy Maze Cave is a very dank, gross level. That's sort of its point, but it doesn't change the fact that the world contains some of the dreariest stars in the game. In addition to the level’s already dark color palette, Hazy Maze Cave is a world that is also held back by the infernal maze that is central to so many of its stars. The reason that Hazy Maze Cave’s maze is so hazy is because of poisonous fog drifting through the labyrinth. Granted, Mario donning the metal cap will keep him invulnerable to the poison, but there’s something deeply frustrating about trying to navigate through an environment that is hurting Mario for every extra second that he takes on his mission. In all honestly, either this star or “Navigating the Toxic Maze” both qualify here, but “A-Maze-ing” makes the grade because it's somehow even more obtuse.
17 "Vanilla Secret 3" – World 3-C (Super Mario World)
Super Mario World embraced the novel idea of levels and worlds that were secret except to the most adventurous of gamers. This tradition would carry through for the majority of Mario games that followed. Super Mario World’s extra levels tend to either test gamers’ endurance, or go in the complete opposite direction, with them instead indulging in the more peaceful, serene aspects of platforming. Vanilla Secret 3 definitely falls into the latter, with the level being one of the most confusing, sparse stages that Super Mario World has to offer. The level has plenty of friendly dolphins and…well, that’s about it. Yes, very strangely the level basically sees Mario and Yoshi traversing the water by jumping atop a bunch of dolphins. There’s one sole enemy in the level, a porcupuffer, for those that attempt to swim rather than dolphin-hop through things. With minimal danger and a healthy amount of coins present, Vanilla Secret 3 feels more like a weird vacation for Mario and Yoshi.
16 World 2-Quicksand (Super Mario Bros. 3)
Super Mario Bros. 3 decides to get a little creative when it comes to the enemies of their desert world. There are plenty of new sand-centric foes now at Mario’s disposal, but this level in particular actually has the sun take him on. Maybe the blazing star is angry that Mario is clearing the level so easily, or maybe he’s just really hot and frustrated, too. This sun will chase you around for the second half of the level, never leaving Mario alone unless he’s able to be extinguished with a Koopa shell. World 8-2 also brings back the Angry Sun enemy, but some well-placed warp pipes leave that stage feeling a lot easier than this one. Plus, there’s also a huge tornado in the level’s center, designed to toss gamers back.
In addition to the level's environment setting out to kill Mario, there's also a particularly difficult jump to clear in the middle of the level. It's a quicksand pit that's filled with venus fire-traps that Mario is definitely going to fall into unless he takes a running jump to acquire the perfect momentum.
15 “Poochy Ain’t Stupid” – Extra 1 (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island)
The Poochy character might not have made a drastic impact on the Yoshi side of games in the Mario universe, but he still makes for an interesting addition to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Although, after playing through the “Poochy Ain’t Stupid” level, gamers might be left wishing that the character never existed in the first place. Gamers who receive 100s in all of a World’s levels in Yoshi’s Island will unlock that World’s Extra level. “Poochy Ain’t Stupid” is a curious deviation since the level is an auto-scroller that sees Yoshi and Baby Mario being repeatedly pushed into lava traps, with Poochy needed to guide everyone to safety. All auto-scrolling levels have a bit of a jittery quality to them, but this one is especially frustrating. Poochy might not be stupid, but that doesn’t mean that gamers still can’t hate him with a fiery passion.
14 14. “Yoshi’s Fruit Adventure” - Ricco Harbour (Super Mario Sunshine)
In spite of the many things that this game does differently than usual Mario games, Super Mario Sunshine gets a lot more flak than it deserves. Any game that’s the follow-up to Super Mario 64 is inherently going to receive a bunch of criticism, but a healthy amount of gamers fully attacked Sunshine, with levels like “Yoshi’s Fruit Adventure” acting as pretty clear reasons why. This level is a platforming disaster, plain and simple. The stage requires obtaining Yoshi and using his fruit juice spraying ability to hit leaping cheep cheeps from the water. Hitting the cheep cheeps will turn them into platforms, which are then used to continually ascend higher to reach the goal. There are a lot of issues here. For one, hitting and landing on these targets can be difficult on its own. Then there’s the issue of running out of juice and being stranded. Plus, it’s essential to have the right type of juice (purple juice creates horizontally moving platforms, with pink juice making them move vertically). Adding Yoshi to Super Mario Sunshine is a decision that excited a lot of people, but it’s levels like this that remind gamers how problematic and demanding the character can be.
13 100 Coin Star – Lethal Lava Land (Super Mario 64)
So there’s nothing actually wrong with Super Mario 64’s Lethal Lava Land per se, it’s just that the level really looks like a haphazard mess. It’s almost like the game’s team decided, “Okay, a lava level!” and then forgot to figure anything else out until the last minute. The level’s lava aesthetic certainly is made clear, but other than that this level is just random land masses and enemies plopped in the middle of lava. There’s technically level design going on here, but is there really? Mario sort of just cruises along on a shell until he comes across some land, investigates the tiny area, and then does more of the same. The stage’s 100 Coin Star feels like the most appropriate one to single out here since it will force gamers to explore most of the level and see how barren it really is. There’s a creative idea in the form of a volcano in the middle of the level, but maybe setting up a level entirely within a volcano would have had more structure than some weird lava grid that features some horned cannonball baddies. Also, people just love levels where touching the ground inflicts health damage!
12 “Mini-Planet Daredevil Run” – Battle Belt Galaxy (Super Mario Galaxy 2)
One of the ways in which Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel attempt to make previous levels seem shiny and new again comes in the form of Prankster Comets. Prankster Comets inject new challenges into old stages by adding elements like a time limit, race, or coin collection to the madness, but one of the most aggravating Prankster Comets are no doubt the Daredevil Comets that crop up in both games. These will require gamers to re-play an old boss battle or level, only this time with a single notch of health, meaning Mario must beat it without taking any damage. These stars are rather controversial in the first place, as many people agree that Mario games are not about arduous enemy gauntlets and boss rushes. A star that could have gone to new inspired forms of platforming instead lazily comes down to tip-toeing around bosses. The enemies found in Battle Belt might start off as not posing as much of a challenge, but soon Mario will be up against enemies like undergrunts, boos, and a collection of awful silver chomps. Remember when taking damage could be part of the fun?
11 “Ground Work” – World e-25 (Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3)
Nintendo certainly deserves credit for all of the weird add-ons and ambitious peripherals that they implemented into their consoles over time. One such example is the e-reader function that was present on the Game Boy Advance. Even though it’s entirely possible to be a huge GBA fan and have no idea that this feature existed, some titles (usually first party Nintendo games) did find inspired ways to involve e-reader cards. In the case of the system’s Super Mario Bros. 3 port, Super Mario Advance 4, this came in the form of new levels!
There are 38 e-reader levels that are exclusive to Super Mario Advance 4, and while the majority of the extra stages feature creative new environments to work through, level e-25, “Ground Work,” is a frustrating exception. Remember that sand you had to dig through in Super Mario Bros. 2? Well this level decides to migrate that idea over to SMB3, with the results being fairly unmemorable. Mario just keeps digging downward until reaching his exist, with there being four Advance Coins hiding throughout. The only e-reader level less fulfilling than this is the e-Castle, which is essentially just a glorified museum of Mario’s World-e progress.
10 "Go to Town for Red Coins" – Wet-Dry World (Super Mario 64)
Wet-Dry World is a world that asks, “What if the most frustrating aspects of a Zelda game were put into a Mario level?” Water temples have become a constant source of PTSD for fans of the Zelda series, with Mario 64 deciding to borrow the series’ element of raising and lowering water levels to reach a desired destination. Constantly playing with Wet-Dry World’s water levels is a good way to slow this level down and hold it back from greatness. It’s also a huge space, but it feels daunting trying to cover every corner of the area rather than exciting. Wet-Dry World is also split into an upper and lower section, with the lower one involving an underwater town that Mario must visit to find the level’s red coins. The town is a dark, uninspired area to get lost in, which isn’t helped any by the fact that Mario has a lengthy underwater swim that’s necessary to reach the space. If the entry point doesn’t drown Mario, the tedium involved with finding the red coins in Underwater Sticksville very well might.
9 “Secret of the Village Underside” - Pianta Village (Super Mario Sunshine)
Oh boy, does this level just suck. It’s somewhat ironic that the entire point of Super Mario Sunshine was to bestow Mario with a radically new gameplay mechanic (F.L.U.D.D.), yet it’s also the element that a lot of gamers took exception with. Therefore, it’d make sense that the handful of levels in the game that require Mario to get a shine sprite FLUDD-less would appease gamers and be platforming heaven, but the opposite actually applies. “Secret of the Village Underside” looks like it should be easy, but it’s one of those levels where even stocking Mario with 50 lives is going to quickly see him reaching single digits.
This level is full of a bunch of chucksters, who are supposed to toss Mario across the level to reach the shine sprite. That’s it. However, actually getting the chucksters to cooperate is extremely difficult. This level comes down to intense patience and timing, but even after that, the angles and distance that the chuksters hurl Mario is still going to drive gamers insane. Far too often Mario will get hurled in the exact opposite way that’s intended, almost as if they’re enjoying it!
8 “Purple Coins on the Rainbow Road” – Rolling Coaster Galaxy (Super Mario Galaxy 2)
It’s already been established how aggravating certain Prankster Comets from the Galaxy titles can be to gamers, but they can be especially problematic when they’re appearing as Purple Star Comets. It’s one thing to make it through a frustrating level, but it’s a challenge of a whole other caliber when Mario is expected to do it all again plus grab 100 random purple coins while he’s at it.
Many gamers have made their hate for “Luigi’s Purple Coins” well known, and while it’s a challenging star, it’s at least one that has Mario on his own two feet. The Rolling Coaster Galaxy sees Mario stuck atop of a rolling ball that’s a little too similar to Super Monkey Ball’s gameplay. However, while Super Monkey Ball is fun, this is not. Wii titles would constantly shoehorn motion controls into their gameplay, with Galaxy’s Star Ball rolling challenges being an especially troublesome implementation of the idea. Mastering the fluidity of moving Mario’s ball around is very stressful, let alone then trying to obtain 100 coins on the precarious platform. Motion controls can be a dream when pulled off correctly, but these challenges acted as a reminder that many kinks were still present.
7 World 6-4 (The Lost Levels)
Taking a page from out of Super Mario Bros.’ sadism manual, the game’s sequel repeats one of its predecessor’s most notorious tricks. The castle at the end of Lost Levels’ sixth world is a frustrating stage that can act as a purgatory for certain gamers if they don’t become savvy to the right platforming pattern. Not only is it a little derivative for Nintendo to make gamers have to go through something as evil as this for a second time, it’s also just plain mean. World 6-4’s trick might lose a few points for originality, but it’s undeniably an even harder version of what’s going on in Super Mario Bros.’ World 7-4 situation. Not only does the pattern become even more complicated this time, there’s also less help to give gamers guidance. The original Super Mario Bros. is at least aided by re-releases of the game altering World 7-4 to make it less punishing, but Lost Levels doesn’t receive the same treatment. With how challenging Lost Levels is on its own right, it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising to see how much gamers are left to hang out to dry with this one.
6 “The Watermelon Festival” - Gelato Beach (Super Mario Sunshine)
This certain challenge from Super Mario Sunshine’s Gelato Beach is another large trigger for those that have worked their way through the Gamecube-era Mario game. Perhaps what is so upsetting about “The Watermelon Festival” shine sprite is that it has so little to do with platforming. It’s an objective that feels more suited for some resource gathering PlayStation title. The objective here is to roll a watermelon over to the proper Delfino. This seems like it shouldn’t be too difficult, only if the watermelon comes in contact with another watermelon, falls in water, or encounters a quacker, it’ll break and it’s back to start for Mario. Not only that, but there are several watermelon in the level and it’s unclear which is the right target melon to move, as well as figuring out where its destination is. Mastering this comes down to determining the simplest route, but even then it requires much vigilance for spraying incoming quackers as well as moving the watermelon in tiny incremental steps so as to not knock it in the water. The whole exercise is enough of a pain to make gamers never want to eat watermelon again in real life.
5 “The Galaxy’s Greatest Wave” – Loodeeswoop Galaxy (Super Mario Galaxy)
Super Mario Galaxy’s manta ray surfing levels are very much the yin to the game’s ball rolling yang. Both of these challenges rely upon the game’s motion controls, with them both being frustrating in the same way, too. It mostly comes down to personal preference regarding whether ball rolling or manta ray surfing is the more challenging of the two, but ray surfing adds an aggravating time limit to its conditions. Mario needs to pilot and steer a manta ray through a water course in three minutes. That’s not a ton of time for the course, especially since Mario runs the risk of falling off the track completely if he’s moving too fast. It’s very difficult to tap into that perfect middle speed. Figuring out how to master the motion controls in order to race effectively can take forever for certain gamers. Some might say that the similarly controlled Fluzzard races in Galaxy 2 are more upsetting, but ray surfing is a lot rougher around the edges. Less humane, too.
4 World 6-5 (Super Mario Bros. 3)
Super Mario Bros. 3’s World 6-5 is the sort of masochistic video game level that would become the standard for countless unfair imitations in Super Mario Maker. Suddenly it became all the rage to design levels that are just filled with intricate obstacles that require hair-pin platforming precision to complete. New Super Mario Maker levels might have the express purpose of overwhelming gamers, but that wasn’t Nintendo’s intention back with World 6-5. They just had high expectations of their gaming audience.
The entirety of World 6-5 isn’t that bad, but the path to its exit can drive gamers insane. A very tricky puzzle at the end of the level requires Mario to be Raccoon Mario and then obtain a Koopa shell. After doing this, Mario is expected to fly up a passage, while holding the Koopa shell, only to release it while in the air in order to destroy some blocks on a ledge above. This is a very demanding task to pull off (one that sees many gamers taping down buttons and pausing mid-game to pull off the necessary steps) and one that is going to require a bunch of attempts to successfully complete.
3 “Tubular” – World 9-2 (Super Mario World)
Super Mario World’s main worlds are plenty challenging in their own right, but for gamers savvy enough to reach the game’s secret ninth world, Secret Zone, the difficulty gets knocked up in some ridiculous ways. A lot of these Secret Zone levels incorporate the use of a colored Yoshi as some sort of added obstacle. Granted, Tubular can certainly be completed with the help of a Blue Yoshi in tow, but it’s clear that the level’s design has other plans for Mario. Most of this level takes place in the air, with Mario being required to reach three successive power balloons that will allow him to stay inflated and floating through the level. The skies are quite filled with enemies and dangers, making maneuvering the hot air-filled Mario a bigger challenge than normal. Additionally, enough speed must be used that Mario is actually reaching the next power balloon in time and not just plummeting to his doom. A lot of patience and precision are required in Tubular (but not too much, as there are only 300 seconds on the clock). Even though it’s not the final stage of World 9, it’s often seen as the most aggravating.
2 “Pachinko Machine Level” - Delfino Plaza (Super Mario Sunshine)
This. Level. Is. Hell.
If someone has played Super Mario Sunshine, then they’ve got deep-seated hatred for this level, plain and simple. This red coin challenge might think it’s being all cute by taking on the form of an innocent pachinko machine, but it’s actually a stage designed by Satan himself in order to drive gamers mad. Mario just needs to get the eight coins (really only five, since three are freebies) spread throughout the colossal pachinko machine, it’s only that doing so is a near-impossible feat of platforming. Mario needs to progressively fall down the machine, relying on the structure’s pegs and limited FLUDD powers to maneuver into the necessary slots and hatches. This might not sound that difficult, but the physics in play here are just atrocious. Mario can be so close to his target, make a fraction of a movement, only for the peg or wall siding to forcefully bounce Mario away. There is no way to successfully predict Mario’s movements here, which makes all of this extremely tedious while also feeling unproductive. Even after getting all the red coins, Mario still needs to reach the shine sprite, a final act which sees far too many dying.
1 Corona Mountain (Super Mario Sunshine)
Corona Mountain might not be the worst Mario level of all time, or even the worst Super Mario Sunshine level, but the fact that this is the game’s swan song and final level means makes it sting even more than usual. Most Mario games conclude with some dazzling achievement in platforming, but Corona Mountain just leaves gamers with a weird taste in their mouth and the regretful takeaway of “that was it?” Corona Mountain takes place inside of a volcano, which means there’s lava a-plenty here. There are also many obstacles which run the risk of instantly killing Mario. Working through all of this lava is a considerable pain, but by far the level’s biggest misfire is the boat portion towards its end. Mario must steer a boat using his FLUDD momentum. This wouldn’t be that bad if the boat actually obeyed the laws of physics, but it simply doesn’t, making this particularly aggravating. Furthermore, if the boat bumps into anything, it’ll just sink and kill Mario. This means accuracy is key, which isn’t helpful when the means of transportation is a renegade rowboat. Gamers are left with the impression that the boat is more intimidating than Bowser!
But what levels through Mario’s history make you want to throw a Koopa shell through the television screen? Are the New Super Mario Bros. titles not doing the trick for you? Are there even more Super Mario Sunshine atrocities that need addressing? Less? Take a warp pipe to the comments section and sound off below!