Super Mario Bros. 35, Nintendo's Mario-themed battle royale game, takes me way back. Not just because the game loops players through classic Super Mario Bros. levels, but because it gets my heart racing. As I creep closer to the coveted Number One spot, my heart threatens to explode out of my chest. I haven't felt like this while playing a Mario game since I was a grade schooler.
For me, much of Super Mario Bros. 35's excitement lies in its unpredictability. Familiar levels become upside-down death traps as other combatants send their defeated enemies to your own playfield. Like most Mario fans, I've played the original Super Mario Bros. to death. I know what's around every corner, and I know which enemies will get underfoot. But Super Mario Bros. 35's chaos restores a sense of childhood wonder to Super Mario Bros. because now I don't know what's around the corner. I don't know what enemies I'm going to face at any given moment. Familiar levels are now as uncertain as they were when I fumbled through Super Mario Bros. as an eight-year-old. And thus, my heart doth start to race.
There's another, albeit stranger, reason why Super Mario Bros. 35 turns me into a kid again, and it revolves around the ancient lore of Super Mario Bros.'s Minus World. Players can visit the fabled Minus World if they perform some brick-smashing trickery in world 1-2. If done correctly, the game will dump the player into "World -1," a water level that loops endlessly. The "how" and "why" of the glitch is a bit complicated, and smarter people than me can explain it better than I can.
The existence of the Minus World was top-tier playground lore. We talked in awe about additional worlds supposedly hidden in the depths of Super Mario Bros. cartridge—and there was always that one kid who found them all with the help of his Uncle from Nintendo™. "There are lots of hidden Mario levels," they'd crow, "and I've seen them all! In one of them, Princess Toadstool is naked!"
There's a surprising kernel of truth to this boast, minus the naked Princess. The North American version of Super Mario Bros. only has one Minus World—the water level—but Japan is a much different story. Since Super Mario Bros. was available on the Famicom Disk System, the disk format allowed for some much stranger, much more varied versions of the Minus World. Again, the how and why is a little complicated, but you can find explanations. The important thing is, Japanese Super Mario Bros.'s Minus Worlds are filled with extreme oddities like sky-swimming, headless Bowsers, and eyeless Princess Toadstool sprites. ("Oh, you wanted to see me naked, child? How about I take your eyes so you can never see again?")
Every time I fight for my life in Super Mario Bros. 35, I remember the stories, the rumors, and the early YouTube videos that outlined Mario's Minus World adventures on the Famicom. When a game becomes as familiar as an old friend, it can be extremely unsettling to see Bowser leaping up and down in the sky, breathing fire at the clouds. I relive that exact sense of unease when Super Mario Bros. 35 bars my way with a grey-shelled Bowser in World 1-1. The big dumb turtle king has no right to be outside his castle, but Super Mario Bros. 35 isn't about to tell him that. But seeing Bowser outside of his usual post drives me even harder to erase him. Die, monster! You seriously don't belong in this world.
I've played a lot of battle royale games, but Super Mario Bros. 35 is the first one that's really resonated with me. I'm determined to get better at instead of shrugging, walking away, and leaving the fun to the adepts as usual. Its unique competitive structure its refreshing—and its unforeseen ability to hit me with unconventional nostalgia like a shot of adrenaline to my heart is creepy but I approve nonetheless.