You’re given five choices on where you want your defeated enemies to go: the right stick lets you pick random, player with the most coins, player with the least amount of time remaining, or players who’ve sent you enemies recently. The left stick lets you select whichever player you want. I use the left stick to my advantage quite a lot, selecting a player in a particularly tricky level and spamming them with enemies to knock them out when they’re at their most vulnerable. I like being able to have some control over where my wave of defeated foes end up, and used strategically, it’s a great way to ruin someone else’s run by overwhelming them with enemies.
Defeating enemies also gives you a time bonus, depending on how you defeat it. For example, shooting an enemy with a fireball gives you a mere extra second; jumping on it gives you two seconds – but if you bounce off and land on another enemy you’ll get three seconds. You can chain the bounces to keep adding more and more time (the highest I’ve gotten is 11). If you already have the Fire Flower and you collect another, that’s 10 seconds extra. Defeating Bowser is another 10 seconds added – and it sends Bowser to someone else’s level to make it extra annoying for them. This is a great touch because it lets you turn lemons into lemonade. If I’m in level 1-2, for example, and I’m getting the brunt of someone’s defeated foes, I can turn that crisis into an opportunity to load up my timer.
Defeating enemies to increase the time meter is another way Super Mario Bros. 35 made me rethink my entire approach to Super Mario Bros. Rather than running past the goombas trapped between columns in 1-2, I jump on every single one of them. I’m more likely to send a koopa shell flying into enemies to rack up the extra time than I traditionally have been. Where an overwhelming deluge of goombas would initially cause anxiety, I now see them as an opportunity to max out my time meter.It took me a few games to realize how important coins and time are early on. I developed a strategy where I’d spend the majority of my run banking time and coins, which helps enormously when it comes down to just you and one other player remaining. Experimenting and figuring this out without an on-screen prompt or Pro-Tip dialogue is the kind of thing I live for. I can’t speak to anyone else’s strategy, but this is what works for me, and just discovering a method to gain a competitive advantage is enormously satisfying.
Getting to the final five competitors sounds the alarm, quite literally: the classic “almost out of time” melody plays and the music tempo speeds up, as if it weren’t already stressful enough to try to navigate the playfield. This is where Super Mario 35 shines. I have played many matches where it came down to me and one other player, and it usually becomes a battle of attrition. The final two matchup sometimes lasts longer than the time it took to knock out the other 33, and it can get unbelievably stressful. Even the earliest castles become a challenge when they’re filled with enemies that wouldn’t otherwise be there. I’ve come in second place more than once because I panicked and missed a jump or made some other boneheaded move. All of this extra pressure makes seizing victory a phenomenal rush and losing a fantastic disappointment – and its kept me coming back again and again.
But that’s a double-edged sword… or whatever has two edges in the Mushroom Kingdom. On the one hand, at first I always felt the need to play just one more round, regardless of whether I came in first or second or even lower. But on the other hand, holy cow am I sick of world 1-1. At the onset of each match, you can vote for a level to start with and I think I can count on one finger the times it wasn’t world 1-1. Please friends, I beg of you, pick a different start level. We can’t keep going on like this.
I also can’t quite figure out how the levels work once you’re actually playing. It’s not like traditional Super Mario Bros., where clearing 1-4 takes you to 2-1. In fact, sometimes clearing 1-4 takes you… to 1-1. Sometimes clearing 3-2 takes you back to 1-1. Even the famous warp zone at the end of 1-2 has been switched up, so instead of the normal world selections you get a random assortment of levels and on more than one occasion 1-1 is in the mix. According to the stage select screen, I’ve cleared World 1-1 136 times. That’s too many, and over twice as many clears as the next most-played level, World 1-2.
This repetition of the early levels in Super Mario Bros. 35 definitely makes it feel less super. After winning another round last night, I didn’t feel that same urgency to return to try and get a back-to-back win. I was feeling burned out and somewhat disinterested in running through 1-1 and 1-2 for the umpteenth time. There’s no thrill at all in unlocking new levels when you know you’re rarely going to see them, if at all.
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There are daily challenges, like “Defeat 30 enemies with a shell in 35-player battle,” as well as a Special Battle that just adds a few different conditions to a set playlist of levels, so it does very little to change things up. For example, you might start with 100 coins and a magic mushroom and run through levels 1-1 through 1-4. That’s it.
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But, similar to battle royale powerhouses PUBG or Fortnite, the prize for winning is the satisfaction of a job well done. That’s it. Oh, you get coins and points to level up, sure, but they don’t really change anything the next time you play. Coins earned from winning can be used to buy power-ups at the start of a new match, but I have over 8,000 coins at this point and the Fire Flower (which is the only power-up you would reasonably want anyway) costs a mere 50. Leveling up gets you new icons to slap on your user profile, but other players only see those at the end of their match.
I’m not trying to downplay the thrill of victory here. It is enormously satisfying to outwit and outlive your opponents. It’s downright cathartic, especially when you’re up against someone of equal skill and standing, each second feeling like an hour of pure stress. But that’s it. I’m mostly okay with that, but it sure would be nice if I could show off just how much I’ve won, if only to strike a little twinge of respect and fear in my competitors when they see me coming.