Just as I don't think anyone predicted Tetris 99, the battle royale version of Tetris (which I quite enjoyed), I don't think anyone predictedSuper Mario Bros. 35, a Nintendo Switch Online free to play release with a similar setup but is based on the original NES Super Mario Bros. game and was released as part of that game's 35th anniversary.

The setup of Super Mario Bros. 35 should feel familiar to anyone who's played Tetris 99. You're one against many (in this case, 34 instead of 98), and your job is to outlast everyone else. In an ingenious adaptation of Tetris's versus mechanics, in Super Mario Bros. 35 the enemies you defeat in your playthrough of a level gets dropped into someone else's. Like Tetris this can be a hindrance, but it can also be a benefit since you can turn around and defeat those enemies to send them back to your opponents. In this game you also have to worry about dying and running out of time, and defeating enemies earns you back some time. You also only get one life, but powerups are plentiful and by earning coins you can activate an item rouelette at anytime (assuming you have enough coins to buy one). As in Tetris 99 you also have the option to target specific opponents based on the lowest remaining time, etc., but in general I didn't bother with that.

At its best the game ends up having a similar feel as the superb Super Mario Maker 2 in terms of the mayhem caused by unexpected enemies being dumped into random stages, such as flying Cheep Cheeps or Bloopers appearing in land stages and Koopa Troopas appearing underwater. It's also a lot of fun to tear through hordes of enemies with fireballs (easily the best powerup of the game) and a Super Star. The game is a lot of fun in general in short bursts, but the main mode ends up being a drag because each player picks a stage that they've unlocked to be included in the pool of possible stages that will be chosen from, and most players only have the first couple of stages unlocked. This means you'll end up playing the same two stages over and over again. Unlocking new stages is a chore, although the special mode makes this easier. There's been a regular parade of special modes (only one active at any time), each featuring a variation of the regular mode, e.g. start off with a certain powerup or with a certain number of coins. The special modes feature subsets of all the 32 possible stages, and as in the main mode, beating a stage unlocks it for you to choose from in the future. There's also a practice mode where you can play any stage that you want.

As a long-time Super Mario Bros. vet I have a built-in advantage over young 'uns who may have never played the game before, and it's not too hard for me to be one of the last people standing. The last parts of a match get to be a big slog, though. Without a lot of players the number of enemies you can send to or receive from your opponent gets much smaller, and so when there are a few people left it takes a long time before anyone emerges as the winner. In most cases it becomes more a matter of time running out than losing from making a platforming mistake, and it seems like with a little tweaking to the game mechanics this could have been a little more polished.

The game is set to shut down on March 31 of this year, which seems like a bizarre decision on Nintendo's part, although it remains to be seen if the game will pop up again in some form in the future. Overall this was a fun little curiosity, but with the original NES Super Mario Bros. game available on pretty much every Nintendo platform and Super Mario Maker 2 providing much more variety, this isn't a game that I felt compelled to spend a ton of time on. It's easy to recommend for people with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to try out, especially if you haven't already mastered the original NES, but it's not one that I'm going to miss too much when it gets shut down.

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