Super Mario Bros. 35 is an interesting social experiment: Pit 35 players against one another in a contest for survival while playing through classic Super Mario Bros. levels. Unfortunately its charm is already wearing thin.
Out today on Switch for players with a paid subscription to Switch Online, Super Mario Bros. 35 borrows the basic building blocks of last year’s Tetris 99 to turn the decades-old platformer into a competitive battle royale. Enemies you kill are transported to opponents’ screens to cause chaos while you race through levels collecting coins and power-ups and keep adding time to a clock that’s perpetually counting down.
The object isn’t to beat the levels, but to survive them, mining each one for as many resources as possible while navigating the growing army of Goombas, Koopas, and Piranha Plants continually coming your way. As far as I can tell there’s not really any reward for progressing in the game itself, other than being able to collect more coins which in turn seems to make tougher enemies spawn which you can then kill to ratchet up the difficulty for everyone you’re competing against.
That’s fine as far as it goes, and I’ve been having a fun time taking advantage of the secret blocks and pipe warps still buried deep in my brain to try and get a leg up on other players. But a dozen rounds in something’s missing. The moment-to-moment drama still feels like it’s coming from dodging a flying Cheep Cheep rather than from the feeling of other players breathing down my neck as I try to keep pace.
It makes me wish there was a way to directly enter other players’ levels and mess with them by stealing power-ups or jumping on their head — a sort of mash-up of Dark Souls PvP invasions and the original 1983 Mario Bros. arcade game. In Tetris 99, throwing a mess of blocks at an opponent who is already running out of space is nearly guaranteed to be a K.O. Super Mario Bros. 35 doesn’t have anything so directly devious and satisfying. The loot blocks you can punch in exchange for 20 coins only spawn items that help you in your level rather than antagonizing other players. Often I feel more like I’m playing against my own ability to stay focused and nail a jump than against other opponents. That’s an odd feeling to get from a battle royale.
Super Mario Bros. 35 currently has a limited-time mode called Special Battle where you start with a bunch of extra coins and play through the first eight levels from start to finish. It’s set to go away on October 5, so maybe a more exciting mode will replace it at that point. It’s not hard to think of little tweaks that might make each round feel more fresh and tense, but as it stands Super Mario Bros. 35 has been out for less than a day and I’m already starting to get bored of it.