It’s rare, I suspect, to wake up on your 35th birthday feeling young again – but then, Mario is not your typical fellow. Super Mario Bros. 35 takes its strange lead from Tetris 99: another free download (if you are part of Nintendo’s Online thingy) that reinterprets a single-player classic as a massively-multiplayer affair. It’s very interesting, though. Tetris 99 pits you against dozens of other Tetris players, all stuffed in their own Celebrity Squares spots on the edges of the screen, and it really feels like a Battle Royale. Mario does a similar trick, with 34 other players, obv, and it doesn’t feel like a Battle Royale at all. Not to get too cosmic, but this is a Mario game that drives you inward.
I think this is down to the kind of memories I have of Super Mario Bros, the game that Mario 35 repurposes. This is one of my first real memories of a video game place, a place that I learned to live in quite thoroughly through endless cross-legged repetition. Even now I can predict the arrivals of a Goomba or a Bullet Bill. Even now I know that peculiar inertia of Mario as he takes to the air or changes direction.
So to see these places reconfigured puts me right back in the centre of my mind again, deep down, in a sort of fascinated isolation as I try to understand what has changed. The point of Mario 35 is to play Mario better than anyone else. Your victories send enemies – Goombas, Koopas, what have you – onto rival screens while their victories send enemies onto yours. This means that I’ll be playing 1-1 and I’ll suddenly find three ghostly Goombas trotting along where they had never trotted along before, utterly breaking the sequence. Mario is challenging again, and freed from years of what chess players refer to as Memory Tax.