Case in point for my previous claim: World 7-3 sends you into a reprise of World 2-3, but one that’s far, far more difficult than what you dealt with the first time around. Once again, you have a bridge stage following an underwater level, but the gauntlet of flying Cheap-Cheaps is several orders of magnitude more difficult to pass through than the one that appeared five worlds ago.
This time, the Cheap-Cheaps come leaping in batches of three or four at a time. They arc high into the air before plummeting, carefully matched to your velocity: If you run full-tilt, you’ll always pass right beneath them. Unfortunately, that’s not really possible this time around. Not only is the ground more uneven here than it was in 2-3, the entire stage is patrolled by Koopa Troopas. And so, you’re constantly jumping — and every time you jump, you forfeit the advantage of running at breakneck speed. The arc of your leaps is quite likely to cause you to collide with a Cheap-Cheap as it plummets downward.
And even if you have fireballs this time around — which means you can fry Koopas as you dash ahead, clearing out the way — eventually you’ll encounter Koopa Paratroopas, which flutter back and forth high enough above the ground that your fireballs won’t hit them. Small Mario again has a small advantage here in that he can run beneath these guys, but the air is so thick with Cheap-Cheaps it’s hard to see that vulnerable state as a particularly wise strategic move.
Honestly, this is one of the few instances in which Super Mario Bros. verges on unfairness. The Cheap-Cheap storm flies fast and thick from behind you, and if you don’t keep on the move it’s quite likely you’ll be hit by one, unavoidably, for having the audacity to pause even slightly. By simply tweaking the fishes’ rising arc so that they come up somewhat behind Mario, the designers could have made this stage much more fair. Instead, the thrill of its breathless momentum is somewhat undermined by the frustration caused by the high likelihood of a fatal split-second collision you can’t possibly predict or avoid.
Another castle maze, World 7-4 can be downright infuriating until you figure out its disarmingly straightforward patterns. As with the previous maze level, World 7-4 consists of an intro, a conclusion, and two maze segments in between.
The intro is easy enough: Two dropping platforms over lava, punctuated by a Podooboo. Once you enter the mazes portions, though, you’re confronted by a series of broken platform fragments. You can’t simply breeze through these fragmented segments, though; each one plays a part in the maze design. The level at which you pass through each bit of the maze sections determines your success of failure. And you need to navigate each portion without so much as setting foot in the wrong area lest you be forced to start all over again.
The patterns are pretty simple, really: Top-middle-bottom, then bottom-middle-top. Yeah, it’s actually that easy. But of course, you have to figure that out first, and that can take a while. Thankfully the clock on this stage is pretty generous, so you have time to sort it out… though fire bar spinning in the middle of the narrow platforms that link the two mazes can be a real danger if you let yourself grow impatient as you repeatedly fail the maze.
In the end, you face off against another Fake Bowser. This one chucks hammers again, but instead of cramping your jumps with a low-hanging wall he instead lets a Podooboo do the dirty work. It’s timed so that you’ll almost certainly smash into it if you just take a running jump to try and get past Bowser. So this time you need to work your way between both Bowser’s hammers and the leaping Podooboo. You know — just in case the past few levels weren’t difficult enough. His magic destroyed with fire, World 7-4’s Bowser unsurprisingly reveals himself to be a Hammer Bro.