Nintendo recently took advantage of the 35th anniversary of its central property Super Mario Bros. to launch a rollout of new and revisited titles featuring everyone’s favorite plumber. The latest release, appropriately titled Super Mario Bros. 35, has been out for a week now. Pitched as a “competitive 35-player online battle where the last Mario standing wins,” the title tasks players with navigating the original game’s courses and defeating enemies along the way; any enemies you bop will be sent to your competitors’ screens to complicate things. It’ll only be available to play on Nintendo Switch Online until March 31st, 2021. But it’s already fallen victim to hackers and cheaters, even as the game itself becomes the latest entry in a strained and fractured relationship between the iconic game company and its most dedicated fans.
First, the hackers. As Polygon reports, the occurrences of players all tying for first place with 99,999 coins in a single match probably isn’t a good sign that Nintendo’s new multiplayer game is working according to plan. Nintendo hasn’t officially responded to requests for clarification of the reported hacking / modding exploits, but they’ve certainly been aggressive enough in taking down examples of such instances on social media. The battle royale game is won by being the last surviving runner, and the coins you rack up along the way can be put towards unlocking player progression, power-ups, and access to different levels. So hacking / modding to get nearly 100,000 coins a pop is obviously an unfair tilt in favor of the cheaters, one which Nintendo will hopefully fix before the game’s limited-time run is up. But that’s the short-term problem; the long-term issue may be harder to patch.
In an extensive NPR write-up, the history of Nintendo’s most iconic titles and the fans who love them is explored. Some of those fans, perhaps the most dedicated, have taken inspiration from the titles themselves and created their own fan-mods from them. At best, this is a fun side-hustle for Nintendo fans to play and pass the time while waiting for new official titles; at a middle-ground, Nintendo steps in to swiftly strike these fan creations down with DMCA copyright claims; and at worst, Nintendo has been anecdotally accused of taking ideas from those very same fan-creations they blocked, only to push their own very similar titles soon after.
Super Mario Bros. 35 is the latest example of the latter. Call it coincidence, call it the price of doing business, Nintendo’s battle royale comes after fan-modder Infernoplus developed their own version of the game dubbed Super Mario Royale. After a DMCA claim from Nintendo, the tongue-in-cheek project was renamed DMCA Royale. Even still, Nintendo wanted it gone and Infernoplus acquiesced. That was last summer. And just a week ago, Nintendo launched their own official version of a Super Mario Bros.-themed battle royale. How about that.
So while hackers will always be an issue, a team of devs on the other side of the software divide can maintain the balance. And as long as game companies make new games, fans of those games will find ways to mod and share them. The thing is, other game companies find ways to celebrate, collaborate, and even promote their fans’ creations; Nintendo chooses to let their lawyers do the talking in most cases. That’s a short-term solution but creates a long-term problem: Keeping passionate and talented fans at arms’ length is a great way to send those same fans running into the arms of more welcoming game companies.