You’re reading Warped Pipes, the series where I try to sort out a timeline of events for the Super Mario video game franchise. In the last article, this series hit a major milestone with Super Mario Bros. Well, just one game later, things are about to get screwy. Let’s talk about....
Of course, if you’re a fan of the Mario franchise, you probably already know the story behind this game. The Lost Levels is actually the true sequel to Super Mario Bros. However, Nintendo at the time felt that the game would be too difficult and frustrating for Western audiences (having played it, I don’t really disagree with that sentiment) and released a very different Super Mario Bros. 2 in those territories instead (more on that in a future entry).
Western players didn’t get a taste of this true Super Mario Bros. 2 until the release of the SNES compilation game Super Mario All-Stars, which renamed it The Lost Levels. Years later, the original NES version did get a release in the West through Nintendo’s Virtual Console service.
That’s more detail than I would typically give about a game’s release, but I think it is important context in this odd case.
According to the All-Stars manual, the game has the same story as Super Mario Bros. but takes place in a Mushroom Kingdom that is under even tighter control by the Koopa forces. The Japanese Virtual Console website for the game also states that Lost Levels takes place in a “parallel world” to Super Mario Bros.
This matches what we see in the game, with Mario and Luigi setting off on the exact same quest to rescue Princess Toadstool we saw them undertake previously. This version of the Mushroom Kingdom is at once familiar and strange. The geography of the world appears to be the same, since the Deluxe version uses the same world map for both Lost Levels and Super Mario Bros., but the individual locales have changed quite a bit. This is a more dangerous Mushroom Kingdom where the brothers are as likely to find Poison Mushrooms as they are Super Mushrooms and where the Piranha Plants that infest the pipes are even more present and voracious.
Another new element is the forceful winds that blow across parts of the kingdom. Mario and Luigi use these gusts to cross chasms they couldn’t have hoped to jump past previously.
“World 8" is perhaps the most different of the provinces we have become familiar with and now exists largely within the sky, held aloft by clouds.
Despite these differences, the quest still follows essentially the same series of events, with the brothers storming the castles, killing the King Koopa impostors, and rescuing the Mushroom Retainers.
In the final castle, just before facing the true King Koopa, our heroes encounter what appears to be a blue-colored version of the King. The plumbers defeat this large blue Koopa and move on to face their true foe. As in Super Mario Bros. they defeat Bowser and save the Princess who, this time, greets them with a poem (and kisses them in the All-Stars version):
Peace is paved
With kingdom saved
Hurrah to Mario (Luigi)
Our only hero
This ends your trip
Of a long friendship
Except, this isn’t actually where their trip ends. If the plumbers completed this journey without warping across the land, they are sent to a ninth province, referred to as Fantasy World.
This strange land appears to be flooded and features structures and creatures not normally found underwater. Here again, the brothers face a Blue King Koopa, although outside the usual confines of a castle.
After making it out of Fantasy World, our heroes must travel across four more regions to complete their journey. The first three of these play out like the previous worlds, with the plumbers facing King Koopa impostors and finding Mushroom Retainers in the castles.
In the castle of the fourth region, Mario and Luigi face the Blue Koopa again, for the last time. Once again, the Princess is saved and Mushroom Kingdom along with her.
There is a lot to parse here. Thankfully, timeline placement isn’t one of them. The manuals for the various versions of the game make it quite clear: The Lost Levels occurs in a parallel timeline to Super Mario Bros. It is like a strange reflection of the story we are familiar with. The origin of this alternate timeline and whether any other games are a part of it remain unknown at this time, making its existence the first major mystery for Warped Pipes to chip away at.
Outside of that, there is still a lot of weirdness going on here. Firstly, did the brothers actually even go on this journey together? Unlike its predecessor, The Lost Levels does not have a multiplayer mode and instead has players choose which character to play as at the start of the game. Also to the same point, the Princess specifically says “Our only hero” in the game’s conclusion. Is it possible that both brothers undertake this journey but separately and that only one succeeds in actually saving the Princess? Or are there even more timelines at work here then we realize? This will definitely be something to ponder moving forward.
Next, let’s talk about that Blue King Koopa. Accounts on the identity of this so-called “Blue Bowser” vary, with some stating that he is another impostor, some stating he is the King’s younger brother, and some claiming his identity to be unknown besides that he is another member of the King Koopa’s race. This is the only game where the character makes an appearance, so we also don’t know whether or not he only exists in the alternate timeline.
I personally think that Blue Bowser is a blood relative of the King and that his existence is central to the strange events that occur after the day was seemingly won. Allow me to explain...
Fantasy World, as its name might imply, is a surreal dream-like realm that bucks the normal laws of Mario’s world. Creatures that normally soar through the sky instead glide through the water unbothered by the lack of air and underwater flagpoles stand defiantly. The fact that Blue Bowser is encountered here is telling as to who sent the plumbers to this strange plane of existence.
I believe Fantasy World is a limbo of sorts, as evidenced by players endlessly looping through it in the Famicom version of Lost Levels. Perhaps this limbo exists only in the mind of Mario/Luigi or maybe it is some eldritch pocket dimension. Regardless, it seems that Blue Bowser sends the heroes here as part of his elaborate coup. When the plumbers finally emerge from this realm, they find that the Princess is, yet again, in another castle. When they finally reach that castle, who do they find guarding her but Blue Bowser?
My interpretation is that Blue Bowser is an opportunist who used both sides to his advantage. He helped the King take over the Mushroom Kingdom and then allowed Mario and Luigi to defeat the regent Koopa before sending them to Fantasy World and stealing away the Princess himself. Blue Bowser cleverly planned a coup within a coup and he very nearly won the Kingdom as a result.
Besides confirming that the Super Mario games exist in a multiverse, there are a number of things we learn from The Lost Levels.
- There appear to be more castles/provinces in the Mushroom Kingdom beyond the eight we have previously been familiar with, at least in this new timeline. Because this part of the game is not included in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, we don’t have a sense of where these lands are located geographically relative to the other regions.
- Fantasy World appears to be reachable using magic and this may extend to the main timeline. Fantasy World was inspired by Minus World, a strange world reached by a glitch if Mario or Luigi perform specific movements in Super Mario Bros. In other words, performing a certain ritual can send someone to a bizarre underwater realm in both timelines.
- Bowser, or King Koopa, is seemingly not entirely unique in his physiology and there may be many more similar large Koopas like him.
- We also begin to see the brothers’ physiology diverge here, with Luigi jumping higher but having unsure footing compared to Mario. We will see this happen in the main timeline as well but it appears this difference emerged earlier in the alternate timeline.
I have placed The Lost Levels as the only game so far in an alternate timeline, which I have represented as a reflection of the prime timeline below.
In the next mainline article, I’ll tackle the very different Game & Watch version of Super Mario Bros. Before that, I’ll have another short article discussing some more non-canon games. Thanks for reading!
Click here to view all entries in the Warped Pipes series.
Want to support what I’m doing? Leave me a tip!