Super Mario Bros. 35 is one of those games that you’d probably be less than impressed by if you had to pay actual money for it, but as a free download to members of the Nintendo Switch Online service, it’s a perfectly serviceable bit of fun that is also refreshingly free of the microtransactions that often plague games in the “free to play” genre. As someone who has never really bought into the whole “battle royale” concept, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this game, and I sunk some considerable time into it over the past week.
I have an interesting relationship with my Switch, all told, as I both like it as well as resent it, almost in equal measure. The fact remains that nearly a year after I got it, I still only own four games for the console itself, mainly because there just aren’t enough games out there that I really want for it. However, the SNES and NES emulators that come with the online membership have saved the device from being little more than an absurdly expensive paperweight, with games like Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World giving me a continued desire to keep booting the console up for another enjoyable trip down memory lane. Considering that, it shouldn’t really be much surprise that Super Mario Bros. 35 tickled my fancy in a way that other games on the system have thus far failed to do.
Super Mario Bros. 35 sees you playing the classic levels from the first Super Mario Bros. but with a significant twist as 34 other players play alongside you at the same time. Everyone starts out with 35 seconds on the clock, and the idea is to last as long as you can whilst completing level after level. Killing enemies and collecting power-ups will see your time increase, and collecting coins will allow you to earn a random bonus item, such as a Fire Flower or a Starman, when things look bleak. As a result, you will have to weigh up collecting power-ups and coins with defeating enemies and completing the stage as quickly as you can before you run out of time, thus adding tactical elements to the whole process.
Do you attempt to try and essentially speed run every level, or do you hunker down and start killing enemies to increase your time and ensure you collect enough coins so that you always have an opportunity to pick up an emergency item if you need it? It’s this aspect that I found most enjoyable about the game, especially as you’ll come to know certain levels inside and out, thus meaning that when things look like they’re taking a turn for the worse, you can right the ship reasonably quickly, provided the next level is one that has the nooks and crannies you need to get back on your feet.
What will make each level more difficult though is that the enemies you kill will be transported to other players’ screens and vice-versa, thus bowling Yorkers that you’re not expecting at a moment’s notice. For instance, World 4-1 is difficult enough due to Lakitu riding above and chucking countless amounts of Spinys at you, but imagine the stage also including up to four Bowsers as well due to four other players defeating him in a castle stage and then sending him to your screen at the same time? I hate the Lakitu levels as it is, so seeing multiple copies of the game’s main villain prowling the stage as well left me wanting to tear my hair out.
You are capable of dishing out some pain to your rival players as well though, and you are given the option of specifically choosing which screen you want to mess with by using the left stick. Alternatively, you can use the right stick to point to four specific settings, and the game will handle the rest. You can either target those that specifically are attacking you, the players with the least time remaining on their clock, the players with the most coins or just leave it for the game to randomly deliver the critters amongst the surviving players. It does add an additional tactical element though, which is nice.
Sadly, I was unable to win a match during my playthrough of Super Mario Bros. 35, but I did finish in the top three a couple of times, and at worst I usually finished in the middle of the pack. I think the main critique you could send the game’s way is that it doesn’t take long to see everything it has to offer, which is probably why Nintendo have made it a timed release. Obviously, I would prefer that the game stay up just because I like seeing games preserved in some manner, but chances are most players will have gotten their fill of it by the time March rolls around. Again, if this was a game you’d have to pay for, then that would be more of a knock against it, but as a free download to people who already have the online service, Super Mario Bros. 35 is a decent little game.
It’s always nice to be reminded too that World 1-1 is probably still the best opening level to a video game ever. I really can’t think of a better one when it comes to showing you what a particular game is all about when it comes to core gameplay, shortcuts, power-ups and hidden goodies. Honestly, budding game designers should study this level. It’s both simple and complex at the same time, with lots going on both superficially and under the surface. There’s a reason most people at the very least know what the first level of Super Mario Bros. entails, even if they’ve never actually played it themselves.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 1st October 2020