Super Mario Bros. 35 review – Super Mario battle royale

Forget Super Mario 3D All-Stars, the real celebration of Super Mario Bros.’ 35th anniversary turns the original game into a battle royale.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is controversial for many valid reasons but it’s also a pretty weird way to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. Given how unremarkable 35 is as a milestone, especially considering it’s Mario’s 40th next year, it seems pretty obvious that Nintendo was just looking for an excuse to hype up the compilation, and its related merchandise, and thought that would be as good a reason as any.

It’s debatable whether any of the games in 3D All-Stars are even part of the Super Mario Bros. series and given the 3D gameplay they obviously play very differently to the 2D games. There is a special new Game & Watch being released, that recreates the original game exactly, but Super Mario Bros. 35 offers a cheaper alternative for celebrating the classic gameplay while also doing something new with it.

Super Mario Bros. 35 is free-to-play, but only if you subscribe to the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service, which is needed to play most online games and also features a number of free NES and SNES games, as well as Tetris 99 – from which Super Mario Bros. 35 takes a lot of obvious inspiration. Some will resent the need for yet another subscription but at £18 a year, or £3.49 for a month, it’s far from the most expensive service around at the moment.

The battle royale phenomenon has been a peculiar one for gaming, with only a small number of titles becoming anywhere near as popular as Fortnite or Fall Guys and most major publishers being very cautious about trying to compete. But, surprisingly, not Nintendo. Tetris 99, although not technically one of their franchises, was revamped so that instead of playing alone you’re competing with 98 other players and whenever you clear a line you fill up your rivals’ game with extra blocks. Super Mario Bros. 35 works on exactly the same principle but with less players and more goombas.

As in any battle royale game the only objective is to be the last person standing, which requires navigating 2D levels that are close to identical to the original 1985 game. The difference is that 34 other people are trying to do the same thing at the same time and every time they defeat an enemy they send it, or some other obstacle, to another player’s game. (Just like Tetris 99 you can send them randomly, to people who are attacking you, or whoever has the most coins or least amount of time.)

That means that the levels quickly fill up with ghost goombas and other obstructions that have been sent by a rival, in addition to the enemies and obstacles that were already in the level. This is still fairly manageable when you’re only playing World 1-1 but starts to get very difficult on the later levels, especially since you’ve only ever got one life.

The time limit for levels is much stricter than the original game, although you do earn a few extra seconds by defeating enemies and completing a level, so there’s plenty of incentive to power ahead and not just hang back and hope everyone else loses first. Collecting coins still serves a purpose too, since if you get 20 you can buy a question mark block that gifts a random power-up, much like in Mario Kart.

You can also use previously earnt coins to power-up before you start a match, but that seems like a system that could do with a bit of a rethink as while the Fire Flower works in the same way as always it seems very overpowered in the context of Super Mario Bros. 35, where you can just mow down enemies with fireballs for extra time credit.

As with Tetris 99, there is a meta game of sorts, with unlockable player icons as you level up and daily challenges to complete. There’s also a ‘special battle’ on at the moment that’s only going to last till Monday but has unique starting conditions and a specific order of courses, which suggests that Nintendo is going to keep updating the game with new features and twists in the same way they have with Tetris.

Super Mario Bros. 35 is more difficult than Tetris 99, simply because it’s much easier to die and for everything to be over in mere seconds (there is a spectate option though). If you’re familiar with the levels you’re also at a great advantage, especially since, just like any game of that age, the original is already much harder than most modern games. Although developer Arika has rounded off some of the edges to make the experience as accessible as possible, including altering the original physics slightly.

The most obvious problem though is that while Tetris doesn’t deal in pre-set levels, and is different every time, Super Mario Bros. is the opposite. The game does a good job of trying to mix things up in terms of the level order, and the random factor of who you’re playing against, but at the end of the day turning a game with linear levels into a battle royale will always have limited longevity. Especially as while you can vote on what level you want to play you have to unlock it first, which means an awful lot of World 1-1 and 1-2 for your first few hours of play.

The fact that Super Mario Bros. is not inherently well suited to battle royale almost makes the game even more impressive, because it’s still a huge amount of fun – if only in short doses. It’s always a pleasure to come back to Super Mario Bros., in all the myriad ways it’s been re-released and adapted over the years, and considering how old fashioned and borderline unplayable a game from a just a generation ago can seem Super Mario Bros. always appears timeless.

The controls, the level design, and the sheer intrinsic joy of the game is as compelling now as it ever was and getting to play it in this new context is a welcome novelty. You’ll probably tire of Super Mario Bros. 35 after a few days but we’re willing to bet that as long as there are people around to play it they’ll still be enjoying the original Super Mario Bros. in another 35 years, in whatever form it exists then.

Super Mario Bros. 35 review summary

In Short: Super Mario Bros. doesn’t suit the battle royale formula as well as Tetris, but this is still a fun novelty that neatly demonstrates the ageless virtues of the original game.

Pros: The original platforming mechanics are still hugely entertaining and the battle royale additions add a great sense of urgency and unpredictability to the experience.

Cons: Veteran Super Mario Bros. players have a major advantage, even with just one life. Fire Flower seems overpowered and repetition of levels is an intractable problem.

Score: 7/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch
Price: Free with Nintendo Switch Online subscription
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Arika
Release Date: 1st October 2020
Age Rating: 3

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