“Countdown to Drop Dow” served as the grand send-off for my extended hands-on session. This course took me back to World 2, Fluff-Puff Peaks. This was the most difficult of all the stages I played, thanks in large part to the level’s main gimmick, the Dropdown Countdown Lifts. These special platforms display a number on them, and each time you land on it, the number depletes. Once it reaches zero, it dumps whatever or whoever is on top of the platform.
As you ride around on Dropdown Countdown Lifts, the course offers plenty of reasons to want to jump, but you need to manage your actions wisely; too many false moves, and it’s down to the pit Mario goes. Thankfully, if you leave the Lift for a short period of time, the number replenishes. That is little assurance when you’re playing co-op, as the added characters only makes this already-tricky stage even more difficult as more characters land on the Lifts.
But it’s not just when player-characters land on the Dropdown Countdown Lifts that the number depletes. And the devious designers over at Nintendo know this, which is why the second half of the stage introduces a little chaos in the form of a Spiny-throwing Lakitu. This is when it pays to have a power-up that can clear out Spinies who have hitched a ride or, ideally, take them out before they reach the platform in the first place. I found the best tactic was to take the Lakitu out when you encounter a higher platform and use his cloud to soar above the platforms for as long as possible.
The stage also features Melon Piranha Plants, a special variation of one of Mario’s most iconic enemies. Instead of snapping at Mario or spitting fireballs, these melon-themed monsters merely spit black melon seeds out. These seeds can’t damage you, but they can push you in directions you may not want. However, I found success in bouncing off the seeds as I would airborne enemies to reach new heights.
After playing through the trickiest level of my play session, I had high hopes for the Wonder Effect, but it was surprisingly tame by comparison. Rather than some wild transformation or over-the-top challenge, Mario transports to a new area where he must free-fall to find the Wonder Seed. As you skydive, stars fall next to you, granting you invincibility against enemies like the Smogrins. There’s a timer, but neither time I played the stage really gave me reason to believe I was ever at risk of running out of time.
Though Countdown to Drop Down was the most challenging level I played, it was far from something I would describe as overly difficult. I know 2D Mario games typically feature a relatively steady difficulty ramp-up, and this level is merely in the second world. I’m hopeful that later stages will test my mettle as somebody who has been experiencing 2D Mario platformers since the first time he picked up an NES controller in the early ’90s.
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