Does Super Mario Bros. 35 Measure Up to the Success of Tetris 99?

Nintendo made several announcements as part of the celebration of 35 years of Mario, like a re-release of three beloved games that’s weirdly only available for six months and another nail in the coffin of the Wii U with the Switch port of Super Mario 3D World. But the news that piqued my interest the most was Super Mario Bros. 35.

Made by the same folks who brought us Tetris 99, Mario 35 follows a familiar formula: you’re matched up against other players, and your goal is to eliminate them all battle royale style to be the last player standing. The layout is similar to T99 as well, with your screen taking up the middle third, and tiny versions of the other players surrounding it on both sides, along with some other information in the HUD.

Defeating enemies in M35, whether by fire flower or star or jumping on their dumb heads, sends those enemies to another player to make them deal with it (much like the junk for clearing lines in Tetris). You can target individual players with the right stick, but most folks will probably use the handy presets to seek out those running out of time or the ones with the most coins. And like T99, this makes for a rapid-fire, fun experience — most games last 10-15 minutes if you don’t get eliminated quickly, perfect for the Switch’s portable nature.

The primary difference, of course, is that Mario is a platformer and Tetris is a puzzle game. That makes it a bit difficult to compare the two at times, but you can definitely see the overlap. Tetris gets frantic as the number of players dwindles and pieces drop more quickly, forcing quick decision making as junk is being hurled your way. In Mario, assuming you don’t run into a Goomba or plunge off a cliff yourself, you usually die in one of two ways:

  • You run out of time, which speeds up once the game is down to the final five players. You gain time by defeating enemies and completing levels, so stars or consecutive head stomps are the best way to build up your time bank.
  • You make it to the final few players and watch in horror as 300 Lakitus and Bowsers and Hammer Bros. start being passed between the survivors. Clever players will start to seek out more difficult levels and enemies toward the end, and one person can end up having dozens of foes on the screen at a time. Of course, if they kill those enemies, they get sent to another player to deal with, and…
Ah, so this is what hell looks like.

Your last line of defense against such tomfoolery are the random items you can buy for 20 coins. Players can activate these at any time with a simple button press, which starts a Mario Kart-esque roulette that will settle on mushrooms, fire flowers, stars or POW blocks. Sometimes these can serve as critical protection when you take a hit and become small Mario; other times you desperately need a POW or star to get out of a tight spot and are instead given a mushroom you already had. But in a way, this just serves to add to the chaotic energy of the game, even if it can be a bit frustrating at times.

I’ve enjoyed my time with Mario 35 so far, winning a couple games in the process, but I’m not sure it has quite as much depth as Tetris 99. For me, T99 strikes a perfect balance between controlled chaos and skillful play — once you understand how the badges work and how junk is distributed, the majority of the randomness is removed from the equation. There are times when Mario 35 feels like you’re just blasting a million Goombas and Koopa Troopas with fireballs while waiting for other players to make a silly mistake. But both offer a really accessible experience and Mario pushes a similar wave of nostalgia when you see that familiar 1-1 level start. Just, uh, be prepared to see 1-1 a lot while you play.

Considering that it’s free for Switch owners with the online service (albeit also for only six months???), it’s certainly worth a quick download for anyone who has played Mario games in the past. There’s plenty of potential here for additional game modes and options if Nintendo decides to expand on the formula; Mario 3 and Super Mario World seem like they would fit the mold easily. But as a base experience, Nintendo fans have another quirky hit on their hands with Super Mario Bros. 35.

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