Like most Nintendo fans, I couldn’t wait to see what the company had up its sleeves in celebration of our boy Mario’s 35th birthday. Sure, I wasn’t going to bake the moustachioed plumber a cake but I did have a handful of coins, ready for action. Of course, Super Mario 3D All-Stars jumped straight to the top of the must-have list – a chance to relive three of the most enjoyable Mario games doesn’t come around every generation.
And while the upcoming release of Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is shrouded in secrecy, we’re suckers for mystery and the thought of seeing Mario dressed up like a cat has us halfway sold. Even Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is an intriguing enough prospect for us to ignore the fact you need a large room with wooden floors and absolutely no small children, priceless vases or animals to make it work.
Alongside all those spotlight-demanding releases was the free-to-play Super Mario Bros. 35 , a battle royale version of the first-ever Super Mario Bros. game. Sure, it sounds a bit shit, but trust us, it’s anything but. More competitive than Mario Kart and inspiring more good times than the very best of Mario Party, it’s perhaps the most enjoyable Mario game of all time.
Thirty-five years ago, the original Super Mario Bros. changed everything. Not only is it one of the best-selling games of all time – it shifted 40million physical copies on the NES alone, and has been available on every Nintendo home console since – but it’s also one of the most important. Intuitive, engaging and infuriating, it set a standard that every franchise from Sonic The Hedgehog to Crash Bandicoot has tried to live up to. Revisiting it now, it feels a bit clunky and there are definitely better classic Mario platformers but it’s still a classic.
Super Mario Bros. 35 takes everything that was brilliant about the original and electrifies it. Like every platformer, the game is simple enough – jump on the bad guys, don’t fall down the holes and reach the end of the level. With 35, though, you’re playing against 34 other people in real time. Last Mario standing, wins.
You get time added to the clock for every squished goomba or kicked koopa, and every vanquished enemy is sent to one of the other players to deal with. You can target them specifically (based on least time, most coins or everyone who is targeting you, if you’re in the mood for carnage) or you can send them at random. Every 20 coins can be traded in for a spin of the power-up roulette wheel, which is vital to survive to the later levels, and it’s super quick to pick up exactly what’s going on with World 1-1 acting as a trial-by-fire tutorial.
Like the hugely enjoyable Tetris 99, Super Mario Bros. 35 isn’t a test of speed. It’s a game of endurance. The clock keeps you moving forward, desperately hunting out more Koopa Paratroopas to add a few more seconds to your game, penalising you for staying still too long and trying to wait out the chaos. It’s a game that forces you to participate. With Daily Challenges, the occasional Special Battle and different opponents, it’s also a game that’s constantly surprising.
Even when organising a battle royale, Nintendo values teamwork. Before the game begins, each player selects a level they’ve already beaten to be played at random throughout the match. You unlock new levels by beating them, so Mario etiquette suggests you always select the most advanced level and give new players the chance to unlock it for themselves. Likewise, as soon as you succumb to that surprise Cheep Cheep, you can either watch the rest of the match and pick up some tips in the process or jump straight into a new battle. There’s no pointless waiting around and no sore loser rage-quitting that impacts anyone else. It’s maximum fun. Against all the odds, Nintendo has made the perfect online multiplayer… if only we could have some of that in the next Animal Crossing: New Horizons update.
The game is designed to be easy to pick up and dive right in, but the most challenging part of it, is putting it back down. I’ve already lost countless productive afternoons trying to crack a top three finish and my girlfriend has been forced to trade Alexa’s Sleep Sounds for the tap of the B button alongside the occasional whispered swear when two Bowsers show up on World 1-2 and send Mario to a fiery grave. She might be counting down the days to March when, according to Nintendo, the game will disappear forever, but I’m already dreading it. The celebration might be over by then but Super Mario Bros. 35 is a party that everyone should always be able to enjoy.