What’s The Most Difficult Mainline Mario Game?

What is the most difficult mainline Mario game?
Image: Nintendo Life

Ah, Mario. Between mainline releases, while we are angrily plugging away at our 102nd attempt of a Souls-like’s final boss or backtracking through the tunnels of a mind-melting Metroidvania, our thoughts are prone to Wonder (yes, get used to that one being thrown around) to the sweet simplicity of your punchy platforming. Because Mario games are easy, right? Just a little something to switch your mind off to, right?

Playing Super Mario Bros. Wonder over the past few days, we have been reminded that, sometimes, those thoughts are wrong and, more pressingly, they have been for a while.

Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. In the grand scheme of boss rushes and precision platformers, Mario games are, for the most part, a relatively straightforward affair. Sure, some levels might take a few attempts, and the difficulty certainly steps up a gear for those who want to grab every collectable, secret exit and flagpole, but it is generally a cakewalk from A to B (or left to right). The leaps are not too aggravating, the bosses are nothing to cry over, and the level of challenge (at least, for the #ProGamers out there, ahem) is kept to a minimum.

However, these broad brushstrokes aren’t any suggestion that all mainline Mario games are a walk in the park. Many titles to have popped out of the Nintendo pipeline over the best part of the past 40 years have had their individual challenges.

Mario Wonder Jump! Jump! Jump!
Will this endless rhythm ever leave our heads? — Image: Nintendo Life

While Super Mario Bros. Wonder is largely very easy for a Mario game, there are a handful of sections that jump out to us as being a bit of a jump. Several members of the NL team have bumped up against the rapid rhythm of the ‘Jump! Jump! Jump!’ challenges — a block that we are sure we’re not the only ones to stumble over — and there is one particular dastardly dash at the end of the game which surely deserves a seat in the ‘Break Your Controller Over A Mario Level’ hall of fame, though that may be a little early to discuss here.

These new discoveries have reminded us just how tricky Mario can be and, indeed, has been. Anyone who has played through a handful of the plumber’s platformers will surely have experienced this first-hand whether it’s in a particularly difficult objective or a lengthy level that pushed your jump skills to their limits.

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan) is, of course, the granddaddy of challenging Mario games — famously deemed too difficult for Western audiences, and we can still see why — but even the most unassuming titles can come with a difficulty spike that sits among the series’ most frustrating. And Super Mario Bros. 3‘s late-game airship levels bring back nightmares for us.

In terms of more modern entries, we remember Super Mario Galaxy‘s ‘Rocky Road’ giving us particular grief when we were unfortunate enough to stumble across it back in 2007. Perilous drops and lasers?! You’re having us on. That level was then trumped by the sequel‘s ‘Grandmaster Galaxy’ which reminded us that true difficulty is a drink best served ridiculously long and with a stabbing pain of failure on the first 30 sips.

Similarly, Super Mario 3D World opted for the ‘challenging level but made really, really long’ approach with ‘Champion’s Road’ and even the ‘New’ series, despite feeling rather drab, had its fair share of challenges to close up your DS and put it in a draw never to be touched again — let’s not forget that New Super Mario Bros. 2 had it’s fittingly-named ‘Impossible Pack’ DLC.

Mario Galaxy Floor
The less said about Galaxy’s disappearing floor levels, the better… — Image: Nintendo Life

Heck, what about the challenges that are not necessarily a product of level design but instead of console capabilities? We’d be lying if we said that there were full sections of coin-collecting Super Mario Sunshine challenges that brought us close to tears of frustration when that darn camera just wouldn’t sit where we wanted it to and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on the Game Boy had its fair share of slightly blurry platforming problems.

All this is to say that, yes, much of the experience of playing a Mario game can be breezed through in a perfectly pleasant 10 hours, but a sense of challenge is never too far from home. And so, with Wonder fresh in our minds, we thought that we would put it up to a vote and ask you which Mario game you found the most difficult.

We have listed each mainline entry for you to pick between below (including Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island), so why not relive some platforming trauma and let us know which game caused you the most grief?

Which title did you vote for? Is there a specific level that had you pulling your hair out? Let us know in the comments.

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