There are those retro games, those absolute classics that you just have to have played. But foolishly overlooked when they had reached the zenith of gaming culture. And now, many, many years later, they’re just a bit silly. For me, Super Mario Bros. for the NES is such a game.
Actually, I love all the games in the Mario series. When I was eight, Super Mario World in a playmate’s bedroom lifted me out of the world of analog gaming and into a digital universe that has stuck with me to this day. A few years later, in 1997, Nintendo’s promotional VHS tape with the intro to Super Mario 64 ran in continuous rotation in my parents’ living room until my yearning wish for my own console was fulfilled with Nintendo 64. I could forgive Nintendo for the little slip-up with Sunshine, but the Galaxy games and, last but not least, the magnificent Super Mario Odyssey were just as appealing to me as the often unjustly discredited New Super Mario Bros. series. The other two NES spin-offs, the quirky Super Mario Bros. 2 and the more varied Super Mario Bros. 3, would also climb high in my personal all-time best-of rankings.
But alas, the debut.
Sure, I can appreciate how special it must have been in the 1986 gaming landscape to guide the bearded pixellated plumber through the vague idea of a plot. For me, however, the a thousand times quoted world 1-1 is simply a rather basic sequence of the usual Mario elements. And after all the exuberant adventures of the modern era, the game is above all slow, choppy, monotonous and also only manageably creative. In short: I don’t particularly enjoy it and have never been able to find the motivation to rescue the princess from the clutches of King Bowser.
When Nintendo invited me to celebrate Mario’s 35th birthday this year, I was of course blown away. With Mario 3D Collection, I was able to relive my youth in the 64-bit mushroom kingdom and once again (and finally with proper button controls) put myself in the care of the Lumas, and with Mario Kart Live I was allowed to turn my living room into a playground. But the best part was the game I wasn’t really interested in – and which Nintendo gave me as a free gift: Super Mario Bros. 35. The basic idea of turning a Mario game into a battle royale seemed rather odd to me at first. But practice taught me better: Suddenly, the monotonous levels of the first game became competitive battlegrounds, where every second and every defeated enemy counts. Where once the linear design bored me, now surprising avalanches of enemies make me break out in a sweat.
Game critic Seth Macy of IGN.com complained in his review, “I was feeling burned out and somewhat disinterested in running through 1-1 and 1-2 for the umpteenth time.” I, on the other hand, feel the other way around. The anonymous competition with other players transforms the dusty levels from historical objects of contemplation into a contemporary gaming experience. I don’t see the game as what it once was, but lose myself in the competition for first place. The eternal trope of saving the princess? Done. On the other hand, how much more awesome is it to simultaneously face off against five Bowsers who have surprisingly appeared in the middle of a level, while to the left and right the nameless competitors go game-over thanks to the Goomba armies I’ve unleashed on them!
Super Mario Bros. 35 leads a strange existence. It combines gaming romance with modern-day gameplay, celebrates the history of a pop culture icon, and is set to disappear from consoles in just a few months. Because as Nintendo announced at launch, the service will come to an end as early as March 31, 2021. Those who want to re-encounter Super Mario Bros. itself by meeting other Marios should use the remaining time.
Developer Arika has already shown with Tetris 99 that they can transfer classic games into the battle royale genre. With Super Mario Bros. 35, they proved that no approach is too far-fetched for them – so this author now wishes for the ultimate chaotic showdown in Super Street Fighter II 50!
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