35 years ago Nintendo released a game called Super Mario Bros, a basic platform game where had you control the titular Mario as he travels through the Mushroom Kingdom trying to rescue Princess Peach. This wasn’t the first game Mario was in, that honour goes to Donkey Kong released in 1981. Although Mario wasn’t recognised in this game, and was simply called ‘Jump man’, it would begin the process into creating what would create Super Mario Bros, and begin his legacy into becoming one of the most important video game characters of all time. Super Mario Bros was met with critical acclaim for its precise controls, level design, and music. It has since become one of the most important video games of all time, with the first stage (World 1-1) becoming a standard in understanding level design. The game (along with the simplicity of the NES) helped popularise home console gaming, and helped revitalise a fractured market after the video game crash of 1983. Super Mario Bros is a landmark title in the history of video games, and to commemorate its 35th anniversary Nintendo has given us a bunch of announcements and launches to celebrate the Italian plumber. Super Mario All Stars was finally released on the SNES games for the Switch app, Super Mario 3D world is getting a Switch port, and Super Mario 3D All Stars, a collection of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy would be getting a collection release on the Switch. But for the original game, Nintendo has done something a bit different. An online battle game that pits you against 34 other players as you play through the original levels of Super Mario Bros. It’s a very strange concept, but arguably something different and refreshing than just a standard re-release, but is it worth your time?
The Original Super Mario Bros had a very straightforward layout. You go from left to right to get to the goal whilst jumping over obstacles and avoiding Goombas and Koopas. There were power ups to obtain, coins to collect and a few secrets to find, but that’s sort of it really – Not that this is a bad thing. Super Mario Bros simplicity is one of its major strengths. But this simplicity has gotten a lot of more chaotic when you add another 34 players to the mix. The game plays exactly as you expect it to, like Super Mario Bros. What’s changed is there is now another 34 players playing at the same time as you in their own worlds, and the goal is to complete each level before the timer ends, and survive. This isn’t just a normal race though as while you’ll be avoiding all the goombas and koopas the game throws at you, whilst also avoiding all the other goombas and koopas other players throw at you. Every time you defeat an enemy, it gets sent to another plyers game, so instead of the standard 2-3 Goombas you can expect in world 1-1, you can expect many more and become overwhelmed by what’s been thrown at you. You also get to control where your enemies get sent, with the option to send it to players who are attacking you, people on the lowest time, players with the most coins or any player at random. There is a layer of strategy involved as you need to figure out if you want to make it harder for people doing better than you, attack the attackers and make it easier for you, or go for the people who are struggling and wipe them out. It can become quite chaotic with levels sometime getting swamped with enemies making it harder on levels you can normally just run through, which is the point. You’ve got to play it a bit safer at the expense of some time, but speeding up means you might run into the many enemies that have been sent your way. The idea is nearly identical to another Nintendo Online game, Tetris 99, which pits you against 98 other Tetris players with the lines you clear getting sent to other Tetris players games, filling up their Tetris stacks. But while I feel it works well in Tetris, Super Mario Bros 35 can be a bit of a mess.
For most of the time you’re playing the standard Super Mario with more enemies, and for that reason it doesn’t feel like I’m really against other players, just a more generic ‘hard mode’ of the original Super Mario game. Defeating enemies gains you more time, whilst also sending those enemies to other peoples levels, but I never felt like the enemies I sent were having any huge impact to the other players and the time you gain isn’t that much off an issue with the power ups ability. Like in the original Mario you collect coins, and every 20 coins you can activate a bonus ‘?’ block that will grant you a power up such as a mushroom, POW block or invincibility star. But the most overpowered item in this game is the fire flower, as it allows you to destroy everything in your path sending them to other players whilst gaining loads of time on your clock. The timer alone never felt overbearing as I rarely got to a point where I was rushing to finish levels, with ample time to get to the goal. The enemies do get in your way, and it can be annoying, but nothing that the fire flower can’t handle, or can be easily jumped over due to the games simplistic AI. If you do end up getting knocked out the game due to a bad jump or running into a goomba then its game over – and these can get pretty annoying. You’re knocked out, back to the menu, and then it’ll take another minute or two to get back into another game that you might play for a few minutes before another miss timed jump or hoard of goombas sends you back to the menu screen – and I know that’s the point, you’re meant to knock other players out by assaulting them with your squashed goombas and it’s meant to challenge you by changing up what you expect from a Mario level. Its just that the games overall problem is it doesn’t seem to suit this ‘battle style’ system, and that the idea was possibly rushed out in the last few months to offer something new for Super Marios 35th birthday. Tetris 99 doesn’t suffer from this problem as a mistake or surge of Tetris blocks makes things a bit more difficult and you need to work fast to correct that problem. Super Mario punishes you for one mistake and it’s game over. Of course the argument could just be ‘get better’ which is always a fair argument but doesn’t hold any ground when every playthrough is going to be different. You could argue that’s a good thing as it adds variety, but a good point isn’t much when its main problem is that Super Mario Bros doesn’t really work as a battle type game. I don’t feel like I’m battling other players, the power ups can be overpowered, the enemies are either an onslaught or a cake walk and a minor mistake resets you right back to the start.
A part of me just thinks that maybe they should’ve released Super Mario Bros for free on the Switch – but then I remembered they already have, and Super Mario All Stars on the SNES Switch games has an upgraded of the game too. Despite all my criticisms the game does work and you can have a decent time on it as it is an interesting way to play Super Mario, is functional and works for most part, just not for long before you get fed up of waiting and waiting for new games due to minor slip ups. The game is also free for Nintendo Switch Online customers so that’s a bonus too. But for whatever reason it will only be available until next March, being one of Nintendos new ways to make hype by making limited edition versions of games.
It will be interesting to see if they expand on this idea in the future with other Mario games, but I’m sort of hoping they don’t. This is an interesting attempt to try something new, I just don’t think it works. If you’ve got a Switch and the online service then its probably worth getting just to see what all the hype is about. Maybe you’ll have a great time and be coming first place every time and I’m totally in the wrong. For me however, it’s a fine game, with an interesting take that you can have some fun on, but I feel is broken because Mario was never made with this game type in mind.