Let's Rate the Secret Levels!
Editorials / Features
As any long time Waluigious readers may well remember, there was a post a few months back with ratings and thoughts on the first levels in various Mario games, and whether they were iconic, fun or just obnoxious. Well, here's a new idea, I'll rate the secret levels! Yep, all those levels you unlock after you beat the final boss or find various secrets in Mario games, and whether they're fun, well designed or just plain unfair.

Super Mario World: Special World

Also known as 'I hate Tubular so much' and the world of old age surfer slang, these levels ranged from the interesting to the outright boring. Levels 1, 3, 4, 5 and 8 probably could have been a bit more epic (I wonder how much of Funky's development time was spent writing out 'You are a Super Player' in coins?)

But Tubular and Outrageous? ***. To some, the fun kind, to others, the kind that ends with consoles flying out of windows. But give the special world some credit here, the levels are fairly enjoyable in general, require little more than standard platforming except for Tubular, and you do get a nice autumn themed overhaul of Dinosaur Land when you beat them all (and a time attack in the GBA version).

 Super Mario World Special World*** in Mario level form.

Plus, one quote from Mario Wiki which will give nightmares:

In the unreleased game Super Mario's Wacky Worlds, the title "Tubular" would have referred to a collection of three worlds,

Could be worse. Super Mario World, with now all 72 levels being a version of Tubular!

Super Mario Land 2: Side Levels

Aka, run in a straight line from left to right in some of the most linear experiences known to man, these levels weren't particularly interesting in any way known to man. They weren't hard, they weren't particularly fun, and they really just made it feel like 'I'm a complete sucker for going looking for secret exits', especially as the secret exits were harder to reach than the levels.

On the bright side, at least it changes the map around. Nothing beats watching the moon's face as a star slams into it's head (and the smile changes to a frown), or the circling, spinning Boos in the Pumpkin Zone map.


Super Mario 64: Side Levels

Fun in most cases, but definitely rushed to fit a deadline. The Tower of the Wing Cap (and yes, I still refer to it as that) was fairly impressive, but had the most dull red coin placement known to humanity, having them all in a nice circle. Which made the red Bob-omb telling you where the coins are in the DS version kinda cruel, because to talk to it, you basically admittedly you failed miserably at reaching the coins, and had to leave to actually get them (and you look at how useless the map is with this kind of level layout).

The other switch levels are better, although a bit short and bland, the Secret Aquarium was probably the second worst designed level in the Nintendo 64 original, and everyone loves the Secret Slide. Just don't mention Over the Rainbows... That level was evil, and has caused enough That One Level entries on TV Tropes to last a lifetime (and you fall back into the castle grounds when you mess up).

The DS version was all over the place. Big Boo Battle was a complete misnomer and a wasted opportunity (it certainly feels nothing like a haunted house), Goomboss Battle should have been an seven star full level and Chief Chilly Challenge was rougly what you'd expect a Bowser style level to be like.

Then you've got the just plain badly done other optional levels. Sunshine Isles is probably the second worst Super Mario Sunshine homage attempt in Mario history (it comes just after the mind numbingly awful Palm Shore, and just a bit worse than Starshine Beach from Galaxy 2), taking none of the ideas from Sunshine other than the misplaced music and a tropical beach. Battle Fort had more potential, but was basically phoned in last minute level design wise, turning a fun level which could have had an interesting boss to a silver star mission.

Super Mario Sunshine: Secret Levels

A divided set, some are pretty good. The slide, Turbo Nozzle and tall grass levels are pretty cool and fun to play (although like always, none make any sense in the slightest scientifically). But then, from the darkest depths of scrappydom, alongside Tubular come two insanely cruel levels, the pinball machine level, and the dreaded Storm Drain level. Okay, the latter's not as hard itself, but getting to the island by riding on boats with an aquaphobic Yoshi is something that never, ever needs to return in a Mario game.


Nice music though:

Above: The horrors of the hardest parts of Mario put to music.

Super Mario Galaxy: Trial Galaxies and Grand Finale

Three fun levels, one complete waste of time. To put it nicely, this is where the game decides to take the three least fun gimmicks, and build a whole level around each. Of course, since most people only had a passing expertise of this stuff and the early levels with them were flat, easy and quite fun, this was like first learning how to fly three feet off the ground, then being throw out a plane at a couple of thousand feet without a parachute.

But boy was it fun when you mastered these levels, and more so when you went online to post the videos on Youtube. They at least made you look good to an audience, even if secretly you were desperately hating whoever thought putting badly implemented motion control gimmicks into a space minefield was a good idea.

Sadly, then came the Grand Finale Galaxy. Which is neither grand, not particularly final looking, being a repeat of the tiny area in the intro except with more characters and less airships blowing things up all around you. Because after 120 stars worth of ***, 120 more and harder Cosmic Clones as Luigi and beating Bowser two or three times, we wanted to have the final level being a near impossible to die purple coin hunt around Toad Town? Man, someone wasted a really good name here.

That's it? What a rip off!

Hands up, who thinks the Grand Finale name should have gone to Galaxy 2's Grandmaster Galaxy? It's certainly more grand, and more of a finale.

New Super Mario Bros Wii: World 9

Not bad, but still about 70% recycled content. Seriously, the whole game until then has basically a gimmick per level, then 9-1,2,4,5 and 6 basically reuse bits and pieces from earlier. So, just like Special World in Super Mario World then.

However, it did have some original content. World 9-3 brought into homing Bullet Bills and Banzai Bills, and right from the ROM hack world to the published video game one. World 9-7 brought back Munchers, frozen blocks and some obscure enemies from Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga. And world 8 at least brought in gigantic Bullet Bills called King Bills that tore down huge chunks of the level.

Bowser's military gets serious.

So a fairly good effort then, I must admit.

Super Mario Galaxy 2: World S

Now with 75% content moved wholesale from the original Super Mario Galaxy. Indeed, the old levels were about as ridiculous as can get, with Nintendo apparently forgetting that 'last game in the series released about three years ago' is not at all 'retro' in any sense of the word.

Mario Squared is awful. It brings back a hated mission, and probably exists solely for that purpose. I mean, it's pretty much 'Luigi's Purple Coins; the level'.

Rolling Coaster is fun, unless you have very poor control of the Star Ball mechanics, in the sense of some people I know online *cough*.

Twisty Trials is cool, although probably the worst ever choice from a Mario Sunshine throwback (okay, maybe it's the fact all other levels in said game are on land rather than in the middle of the sky).

Stone Cyclone probably shouldn't have been brought back in the first place.

Boss Blitz is cool, but very, very lazy design.. They didn't even try with the Green Stars and Comet Medal...

Flip Out is quite cool, although it's a bit of a let down that you need about 110 odd stars to play through said level.

But then there's the Grandmaster Galaxy. Which to me at least is probably the best final level for a Mario game ever, and is so much better designed than many of the others on the list. You see, it's pretty much all platforming and combat, there's no real gimmicks to the point you'll die due to a shoddy control scheme, and really, it's the ultimate level in that everything that goes wrong is ultimately your fault. You messed up. There's no other explanation for dying here, and it's the ultimate old school Mario level.

You've gone through all these scenarios and such before, you're not thrown into a cheap little minefield of death in the style of Tubular or the Bubble Blast Galaxy. In this sense, it's probably one of the best designed levels on the list.

Awesomeness in level form.

All in all, Galaxy 2's secret levels range from the excellent to the rather lazy.

Yoshi's Island: Secret and Extra Levels

Also known as 'proto Kaizo, Nintendo published edition', and would be a whole lot more tolerable with save states. But seriously, these levels are quite interesting, and in general they're quite fun, but have way too many sections which are only hard due to cheap design decisions.

Kamek's Revenge is the one level people like to hate here. It's generally quite fun... up until the skiing. Because for some reason I cannot fathom, someone at Nintendo thought: 'you know what would be really fun, to make people replay the skiing section when this mess up the helicopter one!'

The last fun section in Kamek's Revenge.

Eh, the others are better. The Impossible Maze? is a pretty clever level what with all the puzzles and all. And Ultimate Castle Challenge/Castle's Masterpiece Set is probably my second favourite level in the game, purely because of how awesome the whole concept is.

But then comes the GBA version's secret levels. Remember Crazy Maze Days/Endless World of Yoshis? Good God, it's just like a bad Kaizo ROM hack. Heck, I can even see the SMW Central rejection log text as someone plays through this level... blind jumps, fast scrolling, unfairness, lack of reset doors, level remakes...

It starts with a section just like the end of this video, except with Flying Wigglers:

Then you get the blind free fall section you have to do THREE freaking times. The spikes are instant kill you know!

Come on, who else hates this section?

God, getting 100% here is ***. Sadly, it made a perfect prototype for the secret levels in the next game on the list...

Yoshi's Island DS: Secret and Extra Levels

Always going to be a bad thing, Artoon horribly suck at level design, and have about the same sense of design skills as a bunch of amateurs making Mario World hacks to annoy Youtube LPers. Even with the cut off.

But still, let's look at them and review them seperately. Yoshi Tower is basicall Toxic Tower from Donkey Kong Country 2, except possible to get stuck forever and forced to die via rising lava (and with a cheap little red coin right before the goal ring, that comes down about five seconds after you get there and have likely decided to end the level).

Yikes Boiling Hot is pretty much platform ***. Seriously here, you go back three rooms due to dying if you're unlucky, and can easily get trapped between a rock and a hard place. There's also the trick lava flow section when knocking down a required platform sends down a wave of lava... about ten seconds after, at which point Yoshi will likely be underneath said level! Back you go four rooms!

A Light in the Dark is *** incarnate. Dark rooms, arrow ***, spikes and skiing in the dark with blind jumps. Heck, here's a fun fact... I put a copy of just three rooms of this in my Kaizo hack, and it was harder than most of the levels that were meant to be super hard and unfair.

Number Ball Special is just boring. It looks like a n00b Youtube level.

Yoshi's Island Easter Eggs is murder. It's Endless World of Yoshis v. 2.0. Fast arrow ***, switch on/off gimmicks, quick light changes and egg powered platforms which get more people stuck forever than old school text adventure games, it shows just why Artoon should never design a level again.

Oh, and extra levels? Not great. The worst one is Let There Be Light. Good God, P Switch jumping in a game without save states? That's hard enough with slow down, let alone without it! There's even cut off...

Not a fun set of levels, and it shows just how cheap Artoon's idea of difficulty is. More so, you literally can't find people playing them on Youtube, so it even scared away the internet, something even I Wanna Be the Guy and Kaizo Mario World failed at...

Wario Land series: Secret Levels

A fairly good series for secrets, the series usually does quite well with secret levels, if they exist at all. Wario Land 2 was excellent here, whole chapters were unlocked by finding secret exits, complete with alternate endings and new boss fights. Heck, you even unlocked one by falling asleep at the beginning of the game!

The next few games had no secret levels, but they got brought back in Shake It, where they were fairly good. In fact, I'd say the secret levels were better than the normal ones, and would go as far to say Boogie Mansion, Prism Prison and Launchpad Labyrinth should have been normal levels.

Derailed Express and Neon City too.

They also have better level themes...

But in general, secret levels tended to be more interesting than normal ones, so what were your favourites? Heck, I even bet someone out there likes this:

But those are the ratings for various secret levels, so which did everyone else enjoy and hate?

Because secret levels can be awesome if done correctly.

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