Nintendo has released an absolute deluge of content featuring their flagship “Super Mario” character in celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the original release of “Super Mario Bros.” on the Nintendo Entertainment System. At the beginning of October, “Super Mario Bros. 35” made its way onto the Nintendo Switch eShop as a free download for all Nintendo Switch Online members. This title seeks to reintroduce the original gameplay of that classic “Mario” experience back into a modern gaming space, both for players who have fond memories of crowding around their NES consoles 35 years ago and those who wouldn’t be born until much later. With a modern release comes a modern twist, and here that twist is massive online multiplayer functionality.
Make no mistake, at its core “Super Mario Bros. 35” looks and plays nearly identically to that original game, but that tried and true gameplay has been adapted into a “battle-royale” style contest with up to 35 players to be the last Mario standing. Players are tasked with making their way through classic “Super Mario Bros.” stages, all while keeping their timer from ticking down to zero by defeating enemies, collecting power-ups, and doing anything it takes to add more precious seconds to the clock. Players can use a basic, four-option targeting system consisting of random, attackers, lowest time, and most coins settings to send all of the enemies that they defeat as they play to invade the screens of other players. Enemies are flying around between screens constantly leading to situations in which normally safe corridors can suddenly be utterly overrun with Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Lakitus, and more. It can all get very chaotic very quickly, but thankfully the game’s targeting system tends to take care of offensive play, automatically freeing up players to focus on navigating the absolute lunacy that they are often presented with.
Perhaps the greatest strength of “Super Mario Bros. 35” is the way it rewards skillful play. Defeating more enemies in your game means sending more obstacles to your opponents, making it ever more likely that they will become overwhelmed and get KO'ed. Players who go out of their way to collect coins are also at an advantage, as the game allows you to spend 20 coins to roll a Mario Kart-style item wheel for an extra power-up. Being able to adapt to any situation and keep a level head when surrounded by threats is the real key to victory in “Super Mario Bros. 35," and the lack of any in-game purchases whatsoever means that concerns of the game creating a “pay-to-win” online ecosystem is not an issue.
Unfortunately, while the gameplay itself may be fantastic, it’s in everything surrounding that core gameplay where “Super Mario Bros. 35” begins to crumble a bit. For an online multiplayer game, this title doesn’t do a particularly good job at making players feel like they’re part of a large, interconnected ecosystem. Matches are entirely one and done affairs, and there’s no way to see the usernames of past people you’ve played with, follow other players or integrate your Nintendo Switch Friend List. There’s absolutely no option for you and a friend, whether through local or online play, to join the same match together. The only hope for something like this to happen would be for you and your friend to join at the exact same time and pray that the game just so happens to place you in the same room out of potentially thousands.
The game also lacks a sense of progression. Through the course of a match, every player who is eliminated has their current coin total added into a pot, which is then awarded to the eventual winner of that game along with a set amount of bonus coins. However, the only thing that these coins can be used for is to provide yourself with advantages at the beginning of a match, such as starting off the game as “Fire Mario.” This ends up being a moot point though, as not only is it easy to find power-ups during actual gameplay, but the items are also incredibly cheap to purchase. Many players will likely end up with thousands of coins that they simply can’t spend, and when the only thing that completing matches rewards you with is more coins, it all begins to feel a bit aimless.
“Super Mario Bros. 35” is a very novel concept and a fantastic example of putting a modern twist on a time-tested retro base. The gameplay itself is strong, with the fast-paced platforming of the original “Super Mario Bros.” being successfully merged with a simple and intuitive multiplayer battle system. However, this is also a title that I can see a lot of people burning out on very quickly, as there are no real systems at play here to keep competitors coming back for more. If you’re looking for a way to step back to the very beginning of Mario’s storied past, “Super Mario Bros. 35” is certainly worth a download, but the longevity that each player sees from it is almost sure to vary wildly.