The first time I played Super Mario Bros. 35, I was the first one eliminated. I mistimed my jump on the first Goomba in World 1-1, and I died. My wife laughed at me and reminded me of the time, on an early date, when we played Super Mario World and I died in the first world’s Yellow Switch Palace.
There are some video games that I’ve played enough that my fingers will usually do what I want them to do. Apparently Super Mario Bros. is not one of them. I remember waiting in line with my parents to buy Super Mario Bros. 2—I would’ve been five and a half—so I’ve been playing this series forever. But I still die on World 1-1 Goombas.
No matter. Super Mario Bros. 35, the new battle royale game on Nintendo Switch Online, is a hoot. Mario 35 pits you against 34 opponents, all playing the original Super Mario Bros. Players have a limited amount of time but can add to their clock by killing enemies. Defeated enemies are then thrown into opponents’ Mario stages, meaning your level 1-1 might be full of Hammer Bros or Bowsers. You can use the coins you collect to get a random power-up.
Some reviewers have found this tedious. In a negative assessment of the game at Ars Technica, Kyle Orland says the game repeats early levels too often—after a few hours, he’d only unlocked seven of the game’s 32 levels. Orland believes the fire flower is too overpowered. (He also says the game’s controls are a bit sticky and take some time getting used to; maybe that Goomba death wasn’t my fault at all!) Philly video game writer Ethan Gach says the game’s novelty wears off quickly; the drama is more about playing Super Mario Bros. than playing the 34 opponents.
These reviews aren’t wrong; games like Fall Guys offer more variety. But I don’t care. The repetitiveness of Super Mario Bros. is why I enjoy it. I like playing World 1-1, followed by 1-2, followed by 1-1 again after I use the warp zone in the second level. I’ve only been killed by that first Goomba a few more times.
I’m reminded of Tim Rogers’s description of the simplicity of Mega Man X games in his review of 20XX: You dash, you jump, you shoot. Rogers says his favorite thing in Mega Man games is holding down a button to charge a shot. Mario 35 isn’t a procedurally generated masterpiece like 20XX, but I feel the same way about those familiar button. It feels good. Though I’m not very good at side-scrolling Mario games, I’ve been doing the button presses long enough that they activate the pleasure centers in my brain. So long, cocaine!
I’ve played Mario 35 for five hours and have improved over time. I finished third once. Then I got a second. Finally, on a run where I literally stopped in a safe place at one point to answer the door for the pizza guy, I won. I took a break to eat then won again on my very next run. I was so happy I made my wife take a picture.
Though I haven’t won again since, the game remains satisfying. I like that it’s sort of mindless. I want to zone out and play some easy Mario levels in a slightly different way. I will play this all the time, or until it goes away on March 31, 2021, as Nintendo says. Hopefully by then I’ll have a few more wins.