When designing one-off levels, it’s good advice to give the player the first Super Mushroom in an easy and safe environment. If you number your levels so a player knows there’s a progression, it’s understandable to make later levels more difficult. If the player likes your level design, even if a bit difficult, they will want to check your other levels, and will play through them in order.
The Lost Levels, Japan’s Super Mario Bros. 2, presented more challenging levels than Super Mario Bros. This is seen right from the start, as World 1-1’s first Super Mushroom is tricky to obtain. Rather than the ease of Super Mario Bros., where World 1-1 was designed to force the player to grab the first Super Mushroom, The Lost Levels makes the player work for this prize.
This design tells the player, don’t expect everything to be handed to you. For the rest of the level, the player faces threats (including Poison Mushrooms, not seen in Super Mario Maker). The only other chance for a power-up is a choice between a Super Mushroom that will likely fall into a hole before a first-time player realizes it, and the underground sub area’s power-up hidden in the ceiling bricks, with only invisible ?-blocks to hint at its existence.
The Lost Levels makes it more difficult in 1-2, repeating the Super Mushroom hidden in a ceiling block.
If you miss the Super Mushroom, you have another chance at the set of stairs almost immediately after, except that area has four hidden item blocks: Poison Mushroom, Super Mushroom, Poison Mushroom, Super Mushroom.
Too add insult, 1-3 doesn’t even have a Super Mushroom until near the end of the level, and it’s easy to lose it to a hole. This difficult-to-grab Super Mushroom is repeated in 1-4.
The placement of a Super Mushroom’s ?-block at the edge of a platform is the easiest way to let a playing know, “You need to know how to jump and move in the air to get through this level.”
World 2-4 is one of many that hides the Super Mushroom not in bricks, but in a hidden ?-block. This level places the block in a location that the player will hit it or miss it depending on how they climb the stairs.
Here, when the player does manage to reveal the Super Mushroom, it turns and takes the stairs down into the lava, if the player is not fast enough to go back and grab it.
If you want your level to reproduce the first Super Mushroom of World 4-2, expect a lot of early deaths.
It’s actually not as difficult as it may seem. Just stand next to the ground-level Bullet Bill cannon to keep it from firing, hit the block and return to that spot, and wait for the Super Mushroom to drop. Duck to ensure you don’t get hit from the lower Bullet Bill oncoming from the left. The difficulty lies in the player’s frenzy preventing them from catching this easy solution.
Notable is the placement of the ?-block having two squares underneath rather than three. This was necessary to create a difficult situation for the player. The blocks to the right are likely lowered to keep a clear appearance.
In World 5-2, the only thing worse than the invisible block placement of the Super Mushroom is the obvious Super Mushroom location soon after — which actually houses a Poison Mushroom.
A tricky jump is required in World B-4 just to reach the ?-block, then there’s the race to grab the Super Mushroom before it falls into the lava.
If you already have a Super Mushroom when you begin B-4, just skip the ?-Block. It’s not worth the hassle to get the Fire Flower while dodging the fire bar.
Another claustrophobic area is in World C-1.
Here, one gets the feeling (thanks to an inability to scroll the screen to the left) that the player is only welcome to reach the power-up if they are small Mario. It’s difficult to squeeze in otherwise.
The Lost Levels presented difficulties intended for players who’d completed Super Mario Bros. and wanted a greater challenge. You can do the same in Super Mario Maker, creating your own set of difficult levels. However, consider starting off with easier levels before ramping up the difficulty. You don’t want to lose potential players because they landed on your World 1-3 level and couldn’t get very far in three tries.