Can we talk about how important it is when numbers go up?
Today’s title is all about special numbers. Super Mario Bros. 35 is a “limited time” Nintendo Switch title celebrating the 35th anniversary of our favorite plumber, Jump Man. Ol’ J.M. made his debut in Donkey Kong back in 1981, but he was established as super/mushroom-based in 1985, so that’s the game we’re going to celebrate. And that’s an important title! Super Mario Bros. introduced Princess Peach, Bowser, the Mushroom Kingdom, and, oh yeah, it kind of sold thousands of gaming consoles to an eager generation of gamers (what? You didn’t think ROB has responsible for the redemption of gaming, did you?). Super Mario Bros. was a revelation in 1985, and it seems only appropriate that that be celebrated in the same way we revel in other important events like Arbor Day or National Squeezings Month.
And now the videogame that was Super Mario Bros. has finally become a game.
Super Mario Bros. 35 is simultaneously the most creative thing Nintendo has released, and its most banal. For years, men, women, and a few extraordinarily gifted bears have been speed-running Super Mario Bros. Hell, even before we had the term “speed-run”, we had people racing each other to beat Bowser. It may not have been online, but we could stick two CRTVs in the same room and see who could be the first to rescue that pink blob of pixels squatting at the finish line. Or maybe we could just wait and see who could get off the NES’s blue flashing screen first. Whatever! Point is that Super Mario Bros. 35 has turned Super Mario Bros. into a competitive sport, and, while that may not have always been the intention when Miyamoto first married mushroom to man, it is an evolution of an aspect of Mario that has always been there. Should every game get the battle royale/racing time treatment? No, of course not. But we already did Tetris, so we may as well hop on the Mario train and full steam ahead.
But don’t worry, this isn’t just a straight Mario race for the prize, Super Mario Bros. 35 offers a variety of new quality of life improvements to separate itself from simply wiring 35 different versions of Nesticle together. The most important new feature in Super Mario Bros. 35 is how it allows you to be a jerk to your friends and neighbors. Whenever one of Mario’s enemies is defeated in SMB35, it is “sent” to another player as a relentless, undead version of its already menacing self. This means that World 1-1 may wind up crowded with 30 continuous goombas, or, if your opponent is particularly unfriendly, seven different pairs of Hammer Bros. And, lest you think these zombie opponents are little more than their usual, 35-year-old selves, some of these ghost creatures have new behaviors, like those previously mentioned Hammer Bros. tearing turtle ass through the stage if you dare attempt to sneak by their stationed positions. And Bowser! Big, bad Bowser can appear in any stage, and his fireballs can be a nuisance in even the most submerged of levels. And, lest you think you can perform some manner of pacifist run, so everyone can just be content with the koopa troopas they already have, the timer of Super Mario Bros. 35 has been tweaked so you must commit turtle murder to accrue enough seconds to finish even the first level. Mario’s more elegant moves can be performed to earn extra time (like bowling a buzzy beetle through a strike’s worth of goombas), but, worst comes to worst, you can just fireball everything that shows up in Mario’s periphery. And thus are those poor creatures sent “at” other players, and the circle of death continues…
And it will likely not surprise a single person to hear me extoll the virtues of such a game. Yes, gentle reader, I enjoy Super Mario Bros. 35. It is the experience I have been chasing for the last 35 years. It is Super Mario Bros., yes, but it is also a new undertaking every time. I have memorized the ins and outs of 1-1, but this is the first time it has included an army of bloopers (at least that I can remember, shut-up, nerds, if I’m wrong). And, yes, SMB35 provides a number of good vibes because I consistently put myself in the top ten, and definitely have scored the top ranking on more than one occasion. Does this mean I am a Super Mario Bros. champion? No. It simply means that I am likely better than everyone reading this article, and you peons better line up to lick clean my sneakers that have unfortunately been muddied by my deigning to meet you plebes halfway. There need be no Super Mario All-Stars, I am the only Super Mario All-Star this world needs. Super Mario Bros. 35 compliments my usual speed-based Mario playstyle, and it literally compliments me every time I successfully earn the highest ranking. What’s not to like?
Well, there is the little matter of not having any idea how to make progress.
Super Mario Bros. 35 seems to imply that it unlocks the whole of Super Mario Bros. over the course of traditional play. Assuming you can survive just one stage in SMB35 (which is a big assumption, considering how many players seem to feed Mario to the nearest goomba), you’ll unlock other levels upon seeing your final ranking. 1-2 or 1-3 seem to be gimmes, but maybe you’ll even score the whole of World 2, too. From there, further stages are unlocked, which allows for a greater number of challenges to enjoy. You would not ever see a single Hammer Bros. without 3-1, and 2-2 is the home of so many aquatic nuisances. Unlocking more stages means more monsters to menace your opponents, so this is much more than a cosmetic unlock, as you need some fresh attack sources after running through 1-1’s limited challengers a thousand times.
And, despite my stellar rankings in Mario, I have no idea how to unlock further levels. I mean, sometimes new levels are unlocked… but why? Was it because I chose to have Mario think about later stages at the start? Was it because other players choose Mario’s thoughts in a manner that agreed with mine? Did I level up? Did I play against someone with a higher level? Was it unlocked by play time? Or the time it took for me to score a victory? Was it unlocked as a consolation prize after I came so close to actually winning? Was it because I wished to the right Mario gods during this particular run (I hear Geno is being very generous this year)? I have no idea! I have absolutely no clue how a player is supposed to unlock new stages, and I haven’t seen a single world past six. Is this part of the limited time release nature of SMB35? Is Nintendo getting off on withholding? Is it possible to cram any more rhetorical questions into this paragraph? Maybe!?
And this is all a terrible shame, because one underrated but absolutely essential piece of Super Mario Bros. was how it all clearly defined progression in 1985. We absolutely take it for granted today, but back in the day of excessively reused assets and limited graphics, it was difficult to ever determine if you were making progress. Is there an “ending” for Asteroids? Pitfall? Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and even Donkey Kong all had loops that quickly blended together as you desperately tried to survive. Donkey Kong Jr. had a bizarre progression method in its American arcade incarnation, and had additional levels “unlock” as you completed more and more loops. And did that work at all? Did people just assume DK Jr. was like his old man, and one loop meant you saw it all? Even when there’s a “round counter”, games of yore were terrible about properly conveying progression.
But Super Mario Bros.! Now there was a game where you knew where you stood! You have to rescue a princess, and she’s at the end of world 8. Everything before that? Clearly labeled and categorized. You know you’re heading to another castle after every rescued Toad. World 2-2 isn’t a punishment, it’s just the next stepping stone between World 1 and World 3. The skies didn’t get black because you did something wrong, this spot is just a little dark. And there simply could not be the Super Mario 2-D staple/innovation of Warp Zones without this measured development. You know you have to reach World 8, and you can use these hidden warp pipes to get there. It’s going to save so much time!
How do you get to World 8 in Super Mario Bros. 35? I have no idea. I have ranked first repeatedly, leveled up continually, and am sitting on a cache of coins that would put Wario to shame (editor’s note: incorrect, Wario is incapable of feeling shame). But do any of these clearly delineated measures of success get me any closer to the princess? Not as far as I can tell. I feel like I have mastered a great breadth of Super Mario Bros. 35, but I have no idea how to make any sequential progress. There are stages to be unlocked! And it looks like they are going to continue to be as inaccessible right up until we see Super Mario Bros. 2 – 35 (now with more Clawgrips!). World 8 may as well not exist, as I have no idea how to get there. And it is profoundly demoralizing to have lost something that was so basic and observable in 1985.
Super Mario Bros. 35 is a celebration of 35 years of Super Mario Bros., but it forgot one of Super Mario Bros.’ most important innovations. All these numbers going up are great, but how about increasing that world counter?
FGC #536 Super Mario Bros. 35
- System: Nintendo Switch! It’s the only Nintendo console around!
- Number of players: Two. Wait, no. 35. Sorry. Forgot for a moment.
- Just play the gig man: One thing that Super Mario Bros. 35 has taught us is that there is no universe where the starman theme was ever meant to be played in its “sped up” incarnation. That is audible cancer, and I hope it is patched out and replaced with, I don’t know, Kirby’s lollipop theme.
- Favorite Level: I will repeat World 1-2 over and over again given the choice. Literally, in fact, as using the warp pipe there often randomly generates the opportunity to re-roll the stage. It may be because of the easy powerups and starman, or it may be because I like blue goombas. Either one works.
- I thought We Had an Arrangement: I have encountered World 4-4. It is an endlessly repeating maze if you don’t know the proper route. And, assuming I haven’t gone completely deaf, it drops any helpful tones for indicating you’re going the right way. I thought we agreed some aural feedback was a good idea back in 1993! Particularly during a race! Nintendo, see me after class.
- Further Leveling: You can unlock a variety of Mario sprites as your player icon. I’m happy with repping my buzzy beetle pride, but I really want a rare pull to be… I don’t know… Let’s say the yo-yo from StarTropics. Yeah, that should confuse all the other players into thinking there are more secrets abound.
- Did you know? Buzzy Beetle first appears in 4-2. Its premiere is, oddly enough, the only instance of a Buzzy Beetle appearing underground in Super Mario Bros. (1).
- Would I play again: As long as this game is available to play, I will play it.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Parappa the Rappa 2! One would have to assume some believing will be involved in our future. Please look forward to it!