Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Super Mario Bros 35 Review

Developer: Arika
Publisher: Nintendo
Price: Included with Nintendo Switch Online subscription
Available from: Oct 1, 2020 - March 31, 2021

Super Mario Bros is definitely not the game I think of when thinking of games that would make good Battle Royales. Tetris? Yeah, that works. Tetris multiplayer has been a thing since the beginning. Super Mario Bros was never really about multiplayer, though. Super Mario Bros 35 takes the basic idea of Tetris 99 and applies it to something resembling the original NES Super Mario Bros. It’s not exactly the same game. It’s a weird idea that sounds fun on paper, but feels a little half-baked as it is right now.

Super Mario Bros 35 pits you against 34 other online players playing the same SMB levels. The goal of the game is to be the last Mario standing. You’re basically playing Super Mario Bros, but SMB35’s rules radically change the game. When you kill an enemy, they're sent to another player's game, like garbage blocks in multiplayer Tetris. You can even control who you send your garbage to, just like in Tetris 99. If your garbage enemies kill a player, that counts as a KO for you. You start the game with 35 seconds on the clock, and finishing levels, collecting extra items, and killing enemies gives you more time. If you stand still, your time runs out faster, so you can’t win like that! Collecting coins doesn’t give you extra lives. You only get one life in this game. Instead, they let you use a powerup roulette for 20 coins. This might look like Super Mario Bros, but it's a very different game.

The original Super Mario Bros is about platforming and getting to the flagpole. It’s not really about killing enemies or beating the generous time limit. Those are the biggest gameplay elements in SMB35, though. Sure, you still need to do all the same platforming as in the original, but that’s not enough to win. You have to kill enemies to get more time or you will die, and If you can’t kill the enemies that get thrown at you, you’ll probably die too. It's much more action packed than regular SMB. This game almost feels like a run ‘n gun shooter once you get a Fire Flower.

Another weird thing about SMB35 is that the physics don't feel like the NES original. This feels a lot more like Super Mario Maker. Imagine New Super Mario Bros physics in 8-bit SMB if you're not familiar with Super Mario Maker. You can do the Super Jump and bounce really high off enemies, the controls feel less responsive, you go from Fire Mario to Super Mario instead of small Mario when you take damage, Hammer Bros chase you, and other little quirks are introduced when you start dealing with all the extra enemies. Enemies can overlap each other and you can stomp multiple enemies at a time, for example. I’m guessing most people won’t notice these things, but they’re easy to see if you go back and forth between SMB35 and SMB on the NSO NES.

Super Mario Bros 35 uses the same levels as SMB, but you have to unlock them by beating them during a game. This is where things start to go wrong with this game. When you’re starting a game in SMB35, everyone picks a level. I guess this is like throwing your name in a hat. I’m not 100% sure about what’s going on there. Since most people haven’t played the game much, all they can pick is early levels. That means, you’ll be doing a lot of 1-1. I’ve started every game on 1-1. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to always be like that. I might play through 1-1 five or six times in one game since beating a level doesn’t mean you’ll go to the next one in the order they were in the original. I might beat 1-3 and go back to 1-1 again! This gets boring fast. I’ve barely seen anything above 3-1 in any of my games. I guess this will get better as people play the game more, though.

Since everyone is picking early levels, you also get tons of the same Goombas and Koopas. This is also very boring and it can take a while before things start heating up with Cheep Cheeps, Hammer Bros, and Bowsers. Which leads me to the biggest problem with this game, the length of the games. One game might take 15+ minutes if you make it to the last few. That’s way too long. When I finish a game, I never feel like “one more game”, I feel more like “maybe tomorrow”. The problem is that things can actually get less hectic as the games go on because there are less people killing enemies. If you’re one of the last 2 and your opponent goes down a secret pipe, they could despawn a ton of enemies and you’ll be left with only the default enemies. Then you’re pretty much just waiting for someone to fall down a hole or the time to run out. There is a sudden death mechanic that will speed up the timer when the game gets down to the last 2 and some time has passed, though. Games could last hours if it wasn’t for that.

Besides the main game, there is also a Special Battle mode. This mode has a preset order of levels and other conditions, like starting with 100 coins, but it's only available for a limited time. It’s just a special competition kind of thing. Like a Splatfest on a smaller scale or something. And If you don't have SMB's levels engraved into your mind, don't worry, there's a practice mode in here for you. In this mode, you can play any level you've unlocked, as many times as you want, without having to play through the game, like you would in the NES version.

Like a lot of Nintendo games, SMB35 is severely lacking in the options department. The only options available are toggles to use either the d-pad or stick to move and A and B or Y and B to run and jump. You can't set it to use X and A, and you can't turn rumble off either. I had to turn rumble off in the system settings. Super Mario Bros with rumble feels so wrong. At least put in the same options available in Super Mario Maker!

Super Mario Bros 35 can be a lot of fun at times, but it feels unbalanced. Maybe it should be wackier and more hectic, or maybe it should speed up or even get rid of the level unlocking system. Something should be done to make these games more exciting. I wouldn't be opposed to seeing some Mario Maker style stuff in here either. Some wacky items and enemies might spice things up. I'd also like to see original levels made specifically for this game. That would probably work better. Maybe that's best left for a sequel that's not celebrating the 35th anniversary of the original SMB, though.