The Lost Levels and the Art of the Level Pack
New Super Luigi U has earned its fair share of comparisons to Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. The Lost Levels was almost entirely made of assets from the first Super Mario Bros., while New Super Luigi U is a pack of new levels for New Super Mario Bros. U. The Lost Levels was also much harder than Super Mario Bros., and Nintendo promises that Luigi U provides a challenge for experienced players. To top it all off, Luigi jumps higher and has less friction in Luigi U—a distinction introduced in The Lost Levels. So, before jumping into New Super Luigi U, let's take a look at The Lost Levels to gain some perspective.
The Lost Levels appears not to have a sense of identity because it shares almost all of its enemies, powerups and blocks with the original Super Mario Bros. However, it's more than just Super Mario Bros. with the difficulty cranked up to 11. The Lost Levels finds its identity as an opposition to Super Mario Bros. Its opening sequence contains two mushrooms that make this point perfectly.
The first mushroom in a Mario game is typically in a clearly marked ? block and freely given to the player. Not so here; the very first mushroom is hidden within an ambiguously marked brick block that could just as easily be nothing. What's more, you have to earn it; it's trapped inside a cage of blocks, and if you don't want to face a koopa in an enclosed space, you'll need to knock it out of the cage by bumping it from below.
The step-by-step process of earning the first mushroom in The Lost Levels.
In Super Mario Bros., you could always make mushrooms jump by bonking them from below, but doing so was never necessary. This is just one of the unconventional skills the player will need in The Lost Levels that's made possible by the Super Mario Bros. engine. For instance, in Super Mario Bros., you could add distance to your jump by bouncing on an enemy along the way, but it was never necessary. In The Lost Levels, it's a required skill. The Lost Levels takes those unwritten rules of decency and systematically breaks them.
It verges on deception. Super Mario Bros. gave the player certain expectations, and The Lost Levels picks up those expectations by adopting the same look and feel. When it breaks those rules of decency, The Lost Levels goes back on those expectations.
The second mushroom in the game is as close as The Lost Levels gets to a literal lie. In Super Mario Bros., everything that comes out of a ? block is good for you. However, the second mushroom of The Lost Levels emerges from a ? block, and it's a poisonous mushroom. Suddenly, there are items that are bad for you.
And this spirit runs throughout The Lost Levels. On one hand, it makes the game unfair and unapproachable to many players. On the other hand, it shows self-awareness. After all, in order to break those implicit rules set by Super Mario Bros., it's got to find them first. (Did you realize you had assumed that all items were helpful?) In so doing, The Lost Levels is able to take familiar elements and give them new meaning. Now that they can contain poison, ? blocks are no longer boons, they're gambles.
As for New Super Luigi U, Nintendo has mentioned that each stage must be completed in 100 seconds or less. Maybe the small time limit is a similar attempt to reorganize and reinterpret familiar elements.