Nintendo is (rightfully) going all out with their celebration of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Super Mario Bros. Between re-releases, compilations, and new games, Nintendo is showing a lot of love to their premiere franchise. Among these celebratory games is a new take on the perennial classic itself, Super Mario Bros.
Aptly titled Super Mario Bros. 35, the game is a battle royal-ified remix of the NES classic in a similar vein to what Tetris 99 did to the other most influential video game in history. Super Mario Bros. 35 drops the fitting number of thirty-five players into their own game of Super Mario Bros. But every player is only given a single life, so one wrong move and you’re out of the game. Being a battle royal, the aim is to outlast every other player and be the last Mario standing.
Sounds simple enough, but there are some fun twists added into the mix to keep things fresh, the most obvious being your ability to hinder other players. Your game is of course the most prominent on the screen, but you can see the other thirty-four players’ progress on smaller displays across the screen. You can manually target a specific player by highlighting their screen, or you can target those in a specific category like who has the most coins. Every time you defeat an enemy, that baddie is sent to the targeted player or players. This means that while the game may start out looking like a traditional game of Super Mario Bros., as it goes on you’ll start seeing hoards of enemies in places you wouldn’t expect. World 1-1 becomes a lot more terrifying when waves of Lakitu and Bloopers start invading.
The other big difference is that the levels are in a random order. Though you’ll start your first game in the traditional world 1-1 then move on to 1-2, it won’t take long before the stages start to come out of order and throw a curveball at your progress.It’s quite an unexpected challenge when you finish a stage from world 2 one minute, and then are immediately thrown into a stage from world 7. Once you’ve played a stage, it becomes unlocked to select ahead of time. Though I’m not exactly sure what selecting the stage does, since it seems I still start with 1-1 no matter what I select.
A more noticeable option you can head into battle with is the ability to select a power-up to start a game with (Super Mushroom, Fire Flower or Power Star). But doing so will cost you the coins you get from defeating other players in the game. For your first few games, starting with a power-up feels like a luxury. But it doesn’t take long for you to get so many coins that you can pretty much start with a power-up every time.
The coins you get from eliminating players are separate from the coins you get within the levels themselves though. The coins Mario physically grabs can be used to spin a power-up roulette wheel (20 coins per spin), which can give you one of the three aforementioned power-ups, as well as a POW block, which instantly wipes out every enemy on-screen.
As an added challenge, you’ll start every round with only 35 seconds on the clock (of course). More seconds are earned by defeating enemies, collecting power-ups and completing levels. Enemies will grant even more time if you manage to chain them together with jumps or a Power Star (the Fire Flower may be gloriously overpowered, but defeating consecutive enemies with it won’t build combos for more time, which is a nice compromise).
The game is a lot of fun, but it has some issues: As fun as it is, Super Mario Bros. 35 can get a bit repetitious. This is a game that’s at its best when played in a few short rounds, and doesn’t boast the “just one more game” appeal of other Nintendo multiplayer games or other recent battle royals like Fall Guys. That in itself isn’t too bad, but the game’s sheer insistence on having players replay world 1-1 and 1-2 gets a bit ridiculous. It often feels like entire games are comprised of those first two levels on repeat, with a third random level thrown in on occasion. I get that the first two levels of Super Mario Bros. are probably the two most recognizable levels in video game history, but that’s all the more reason I would like to see the other levels show up more frequently.
Another downside – and this is a baffling one – is Nintendo’s dumbfounding decision to make Super Mario Bros. 35 only available until March 31st, 2021. Super Mario 3D All-Stars, which was also released to commemorate Super Mario Bros’s 35th anniversary, will also be discontinued on that date, to the chagrin of many. But at least with 3D All-Stars I can kind of get it, since it’s a box set of old games. So I can at least see where Nintendo is coming from in releasing 3D All-Stars as a limited time “birthday gift” to the series. But why does Super Mario Bros. 35 have to just disappear after such a short time? I could understand if it were free until March 31st, but why is the entire game only playable until then? Unless that only applies to the game under its current “35” form, and after Mario’s 35th celebration the game adopts a different player count (Super Mario Bros. 99!). But that’s clearly little more than wishful thinking on my part. The sad truth is Super Mario Bros. 35 is a lot of fun, but it’s not here to stay.
Like Tetris 99, Super Mario Bros. 35 proves that you can teach an old game new tricks. And the marriage between all-time classics like Tetris and Super Mario Bros. with the most popular genre of today just makes so much sense. If only Super Mario Bros. 35 didn’t have an expiration date…