In the gaming world, it doesn’t get more iconic than Super Mario Bros. 35 years ago, Nintendo revolutionized gaming with this classic and rode its success to complete domination of the 1980s home console market. Every generation of gamer ever since has been introduced to Super Mario Bros. in a new way. It’s been included on Super Mario All Stars, ported to Game Boy Advance, and been a staple of the virtual console on every generation since. But Super Mario Bros. 35 isn’t a port; it’s a game-changer. You play against 34 other players in an online Super Mario battle royal. While this may not sound like that big a difference: mamma mia, this is a fresh new experience!
Super Mario Bros. 35 is available free for Nintendo Online subscribers on the Nintendo Eshop.
STORY – SORRY MARIO, BUT OUR STORY IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE
Super Mario games have never been story-heavy experiences. Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario has to save her, each and every time. Except for this time. Forget being in another castle; the Princess isn’t even in this game! This speaks to the complete overhaul that Super Mario Bros. has undergone here. It’s not about saving anyone; it’s not about linear progression, it’s not a speed run. Super Mario Bros. 35 is about one thing and one thing alone, kill or be killed.
GAMEPLAY – A WHOLE NEW GAME
Super Mario Bros. 35 is a battle royal, similar to Tetris 99. You play against 34 other people and compete to be the last one standing. Since you’re reading a gaming website, I’ll assume you’re familiar with Super Mario Bros, so here’s a quick rundown of the new features in Super Mario Bros 35.
Instead of progressing through each level, you go through them in a random order, and everyone votes on levels before each game like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I was disappointed in this feature at first, but quickly realized that I was missing the point. Random levels ensure a healthy balance of enemy types, and since every enemy you stomp or fireball gets sent to another player’s screen, that balance is key. Coins get an overhaul too, instead of getting a one up for every 100, every 20 coins gets you a chance to win an item.
I was skeptical of this game going in because while I’m old enough that Super Mario Bros. is pretty much muscle memory to me, I’ve never been a speedrunner. This felt like the kind of game that I was going to lose at hard, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this version rewards improvisation, rather than memorization. Knowing the layouts of the levels is important, but the battle system quickly makes things chaotic in a way you can’t prepare for.
The battle system is simple and chaotic, yet deep enough to require strategy. You can target players randomly, try and take on the alpha dog by targeting ‘most coins’, pick off some stragglers by targeting ‘lowest time’, or play defense by targeting ‘attackers’. You can also target opponents manually, which I found myself doing toward the end of matches. I loved slowing down and thinking to myself, “Who’s in a castle? Who’s in a water level?”. These drastically impact how I played and who I targeted. For maximum chaos, I usually found myself targeting ‘attackers’. Every enemy you send out will come back to you when another player defeats it, and it gets more and more fun the more it starts to stack up.
Having your screen littered with enemies isn’t just fun, it’s useful too. As the matches get longer, the clock ticks down faster, and every enemy defeated gives you crucial extra seconds. Plus, if a player is taken out by an enemy that you sent them, you get all their coins and remaining time. But deep down, getting a star and plowing through dozens of enemies at a time and fighting three Bowsers at once is just a total rush. 35 can be an absolute 8-bit bloodbath, and I love it.
Mowing down as many enemies as you can is balanced out by collecting coins for the item roulette wheel. Every 20 coins give you a chance at a fire flower, mushroom, pow block or star. Green mushrooms keep their importance by giving you 20 coins instead of a one-up (there are no extra lives or second chances here) Should I risk all my coins for a potential fire flower, or try and get one from an item box? Not an easy call when Bowser or a hammer brother could show up at any time. Because coins and enemies tend to rarely be in the same place at the same time, this mechanic really makes you decide moment to moment between playing defense and playing offense. Having so many split-second decisions to make on the fly took Mario’s intensity up a notch higher than he’s ever been.
The end result is a totally new way to play a timeless classic. While the original Super Mario Bros. is masterfully designed, a lot of the things that made it revolutionary 35 years ago have become old hat. Nintendo has found a way here to truly breathe so much new life into its flagship game. I truly cannot heap enough praise them for their imagination and craftsmanship here.
My only quibble with Super Mario Bros. 35 is that the game doesn’t give you any real explanation. Much like Tetris 99, this game has no tutorial or explainer for the targeting system. There’s no explanation of how levels are unlocked, or how the level selection process works, either. This is a drawback because I’ve found myself repeating the same levels over and over, really wanting to unlock new ones, but I don’t know how. Just a quick text box the first time you turn the game on would have done wonders here.
In addition to the regular 35 player battle, there is also a special battle this week that starts you out with a mushroom and 35 coins. There are daily challenges as well in regular battles. All this additional content should keep players engaged on a regular basis until this game (inexplicably) goes away in March 2021.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – DON’T FIX WHAT’S NOT BROKEN
There’s not much to say about the graphics and audio here; they are all pixel-perfect recreations of the 1985 classic. There are a lot of great little touches, though. Every sprite and asset, as well as every frame of animation is unlockable as a player icon as you level up. While the menu screen isn’t especially informative, it is clean and well designed. The new music composed for the title screen and lobby is a fun touch as well.
During gameplay, it’s easy to see how your 34 competitors are faring at all times. Much of the time, the action is too frenetic to really focus on this, but that kind of clarity does become important the deeper into a match you get. After the disappointing online performance of Super Mario Maker 2, I was keeping an eye out for stuttering or framerate issues, but after logging some serious hours, I’m happy to report I haven’t come across any at all. Super Mario Bros. 35 looks great and runs smoothly.
Super Mario Bros. 35 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.