Reflections on Super Mario’s 35th anniversaryBy Matthew Martin| February 23, 2021 Video Game Blogs This year marks four years since the Nintendo Switch was released worldwide. In that time, the system has been a tremendous hit, soaring up the sales charts to the point where it is on pace to best the Nintendo Wii for the company’s most successful home release. It needs only twenty-million more sales to top the 100 million mark, eclipsing the Wii, though it will need some help if it’s going to beat the Nintendo DS’ 150 million sales mark. In the past we’ve taken this anniversary and notated some missing features that the Switch is still lacking. You can read the past two articles here… Nintendo Switch: One Year Later – What it needs Nintendo’s Switch is turning three…here’s what it (still) lacks A few things have been remedied; many things remain unreleased. Speaking of anniversaries, for the better part of a year, Nintendo has been celebrating the 35th birthday of their mascot, Mario. As the anniversary draws to a close, let’s look back on the content that was released to honor the plumber, and critically judge Nintendo the way all spoiled gamers do… SUPER MARIO BROS. GAME AND WATCH One of the more novel ways the anniversary was celebrated was with this beautiful Game and Watch retro-style portable game system. Featuring a pixel-perfect port of the original Super Mario Bros. (as well as the original, and much harder, sequel, Super Mario Bros. 2), this system was pitched as a limited run novelty; the kind of thing you’d place on your desk or nightstand, maybe occasionally play a level or two, but mostly display as a collector’s item. Odds are, if you’re the kind of buyer who picked one up, you probably picked up two, knowing how rare they’re likely to be in a decade or so. Almost immediately after it was launched was it hacked and cracked but unlike the NES/SNES mini consoles, there’s not much that can be done with it in terms of emulation, at least not without jumping through a ton of hoops. Nintendo wanted this to be a celebration of their roots, combining the Game and Watch system that first propelled them to portable popularity, with the side-scrolling platformer that propelled them to video game dominance. 10/10 – I won’t deduct points for what it doesn’t do or doesn’t have, since it is exactly what it claims to be; it’s a Game and Watch that plays Super Mario Bros. The price is steep, but as a short-run collector’s item, I’ve seen worse sticker prices. SUPER MARIO 35 The origins of this battle royale remix game are two-fold. First, there was Tetris 99, an online multiplayer deathmatch Tetris game where you compete against 99 other players simultaneously. As a long-time Tetris lover (I’ve been playing it since I was old enough to hold a controller in the late-80s and Tetris Effect is one of my most-played games of the past few years), the concept was brilliant in its simplicity. Not long after release, a handful of intrepid game designers applied a similar gimmick to Super Mario Bros, entitled Super Mario Royale. As you might expect, once Nintendo got wind of it, they shut the game down. And then, low and behold, a few months later, it was time to celebrate Mario’s anniversary, and along comes Super Mario 35, which basically took the concept first used in Tetris 99, and first applied to Mario in Super Mario Royale, and made it an official Nintendo release. Personally, I found the experience a bit limiting compared to Tetris99, which lends itself better to that format, since Tetris is already designed for dual-screen competitive play. I would have preferred a Mario-focused take on the NES Remix games that came out for the Wii U. This wasn’t bad, but the fun wears off a bit more quickly than I would like. 7/10 – Fun at first, but it struggles to sustain interest SUPER MARIO 3D ALL-STARS Long-anticipated and expected, Nintendo finally released Mario’s first three 3D platformers as one $60 package. Unfortunately, the end result is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, these are the games as they were on the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and Wii, only outputting to 1080p, and with a few minor but necessary control tweaks. Other than that, there’s nothing else to them. Sure, the original SNES version of Super Mario All-Stars only featured the games, but they also featured the games completely recreated in a 16bit format. Those weren’t enhanced ports, they were remakes. It’s not really fair to compare that to this. This is a trio of enhanced ports of games that have already been enhanced in better ways by non-Nintendo sources. The absence of Galaxy 2 is notable, as is the omission of widescreen support in the N64 and Gamecube games (again, a feature already available through emulation). Sunshine is just as much the buggy mess as it was on Gamecube, and the motion controls for Galaxy being adapted to the Switch’s gyro is only barely serviceable. Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, but considering how many fan projects are out there that turn Mario 64 into something that looks as good, if not better, than Odyssey, as well as Galaxy looking like a modern game on the Dolphin Emulator, it’s hard not to be disappointed when Nintendo does the absolute bare minimum and then charges the full retail price for it. 8/10 – At the end of the day, they’re still three 3D Mario games in one package. One is the forerunner to almost every modern 3D platformer, one is an endlessly innovative, fun, and surprising action game, and the other is Mario Sunshine, thrown in there as a freebie. SUPER MARIO 3D WORLD Nintendo’s final 35th Anniversary celebration release (unless they drop a surprise on us just before the March 31 deadline expires) is a port of a Wii U title. The Big N has been re-releasing WiiU games left and right from day one of the Switch’s lifespan (Breath of the Wild was a dual release with the WiiU, you’ll remember). It makes sense, considering how few people ever bought the half-baked system between 2012-2016. Nintendo perhaps thought, back in 2013, that the struggling WiiU just needed a big Mario game to turn things around. After all, the 3DS struggled mightily out of the gate, but bounced back in a big way after a price cut and the release of Super Mario 3D Land. In the same vein, Nintendo’s newest Mario title was basically a souped-up version of 3D Land, blending a classic 2D Mario level design with a full three-dimensional playground. The result was popular on the 3DS, selling thirteen million copies, but that same success did not translate to the WiiU. 3D World only sold about six million units, and while that equated to one out of every two Wii U owners buying a copy of the game, it wasn’t enough to save the system itself from sinking. Porting the game to the Switch was only a matter of time, as too much money and resources were poured into it for Nintendo just to see let it disappear on the WiiU. No sales data is out yet for the game, but it is all but guaranteed to sell over ten million units, and likely more due to the extra content. What that means is many people who never played the game will get a chance to experience what was on its way to being the most underrated, underappreciated, forgotten gem games ever made by Nintendo. 3D World is an almost perfect title, with clever level design, fun gameplay, sharp visuals, memorable boss fights, and tons of content. There’s a level of polish here that only a first-party Nintendo game can produce, and it’s a joy to play whether alone or with friends. If I was rating the WiiU version, I’d give it a 10/10. On the Switch, things are a bit murkier. But for one difference, the game experience here is the same as it was on the WiiU. The only difference is the new version is much, much faster. I don’t mean faster in terms of processing; I mean the characters move like their pants are on fire. Character speed was apparently a complaint that other gamers had about the original but it never bothered me a bit since each of the four playable characters has their own attribute (toad is fastest but has the worst jump, Luigi has the highest jump but is the slipperiest, Peach can float, but is the slowest, and Mario’s the all-arounder). Now, everyone moves twice as fast as in the previous version, which almost makes them a bit out of control considering how the levels were initially designed around a slower moveset. It’s almost like a 3D Sonic game, in that you move in and out of either feeling almost out of control and actually being out of control. It’s not the first time a Nintendo re-release has been tweaked to its own detriment (Majora’s Mask 3D on the 3DS screwed around with the Deku Scrub running, almost breaking the game in some places), but it is the most noticeable. Maybe I shouldn’t complain about Nintendo leaving the 3D All-Stars games relatively untouched. 9/10 – Still a very fun game, but one that’s let down by a very un-Mario-like commitment to character speed. It takes longer to get used to it, as a result, but by the time you do, you can enjoy a game that remains a gem almost a decade after release. BOWSER‘S FURY This is a mini-masterpiece of a game. Bowser’s Fury is a five-hour marathon full of fun sequences, surprisingly challenging trials, and a recurring boss fight that makes the jaw drop. The mascot has been featured in several different kinds of 3D action games. 64, Sunshine, and Odyssey put an emphasis on exploring a wide-open stage multiple times, fulfilling various objectives in order to get a special token (a sun, moon, or star, depending on the game). The Galaxy games took the same mission-based approach and worked them into several smaller stages, with a hair more linearity to them. You still felt like you were exploring and discovering the collectibles along the way, but there was more of a sense of “progression” to it all. The 3D Land/World games are considered the odd ducks of the franchise, which is funny to me as I found them to be the most faithful representations of the 2D games I grew up loving. 3D World did for Super Mario World what Metroid Prime did for Super Metroid, or what Ocarina of Time did for A Link to the Past: It took the same basic gameplay, level design, enemy list, powerups, etc, and translated it into 3D. Because there have been so many different styles of gameplay between Mario 64 and 3D World, fans have never settled on which is the definitive. I think a consensus will quickly form around Bowser’s Fury, however. What this game does is combine the best of everything before it. There is a huge world to explore, just like in the 64, Sunshine, Odyssey games. In fact, the world is the most impressive thing about the game: There’s just one of them. No more jumping in and out of paintings, or ink blotches, or sailing to the new level on an airship. There’s just the world and sprinkled throughout it are dozens of little missions and challenges to accomplish, which change and evolve on the fly as you move about the adventure. The world is clustered into smaller pockets of challenging whimsy, akin to the worlds in Mario Galaxy 1-2, with collectibles to find as you solve the puzzles, defeat the mini-bosses, move about the stage with precise control, etc. The sheer variety in what is, ultimately, a five-hour game, is remarkable. The overall aesthetic and feel comes from the 3D Land/World games: The world is filled with goombas, Koopa Troopas, spinies, pokies, piranha plants, and more, and running around the environment feels like running around a stage in Super Mario World for the SNES, only in 3D. So well polished is it that I can only hope Nintendo is treating it as a test-run for what the next 3D Mario adventure will look like. 10/10 – Bowser’s Fury is so effortlessly well-made, charming, and fun, it’s one of the best things Nintendo has produced and is one heck of a way to wrap up their mascot’s thirty-fifth birthday. That’s it for Mario. Now bring on Zelda 35 and Metroid 35!