I want a competitive multiplayer platformer. I’ve wanted one for as long as I can remember. A Mario-esque game with a battle mode where you can jump on your opponent to defeat them, just like with any other Goomba- or Koopa-esque monster. But, your opponent can jump on you too, so you need to evade them while trying to hit them first!
I’ve been gaming for decades now, all the way back to Pokémon Red and Blue on my GameBoy Color. I also had Super Mario Bros. Deluxe on that GameBoy, and that was where my love for platformers began. I’ve played most of the “core” Super Mario games since then—64, Galaxy, Odyssey, and so on. And at some point in those early years—maybe after the hundredth Goomba stomped, maybe after the thousandth—the idea of it being a human opponent struck me and never let me go.
Super Paper Mario was the first time that desire was remotely fulfilled, and was what showed me that this desire of mine—already ancient at that point—was genuinely possible. A boss fight against a human-sized opponent whose main attack was to jump on you, and you did damage by jumping on them! All that was missing was an actual human being behind the controls of the boss, but this was proof-of-concept enough. The dream could be a reality.
A year or two ago, I discovered New Super Mario Bros. – Mario Vs Luigi. A fan remake of the Download Play multiplayer mode of New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS. I used to play that multiplayer mode a lot with my sister when we were kids, though neither of us were very good at it, and the gameplay wasn’t anything special at the time.
Just a race to be the first to collect stars that randomly spawn throughout each small-but-infinitely-looping level. Each level had a few things that could potentially kill you (Goombas, Koopas, bottomless pits), but the main action was that if you jumped on an opponent, it would knock them down and they’d drop a star or two. Simple, casual PvP gaming. About what you’d expect from Nintendo’s first go at a thing named “Mario Vs. Luigi.”
The fan remake took that foundation and unlocked so much of its hidden potential.
NSMB:MvL allows matches of up to 10 players (not just 2) and gives you total control over the settings of each match—how many stars until someone wins, how many lives until you’re out, , a match timer, how many coins you need to collect to get a random power-up (always 8 in the original, but now as low as 1!). And most importantly? Five additional custom maps, and the addition of the power-ups from from New Super Mario Bros. Wii: the Propeller Suit and the Ice Flower.
This was it. This was the multiplayer competitive platformer I had been looking for all along. I had finally found it, and I eagerly dove in and became maybe a little too addicted to this little game for probably way too long.
The custom maps are so much better designed for actual competition, to the point that the original maps just seem downright bad and bland in comparison. Top tier among them is “Jungle,” the map inspired by NSMB World 4’s forest theme, with poison water in every pit. It’s pretty common to log into NSMB:MvL and find a room where the settings are 99 stars and 1 to 3 lives. Just a straight up deathmatch battle royale, where the star collecting doesn’t matter at all anymore, and it’s all about killing and/or out-surviving your opponents. Finally.
And I can’t praise this remake sufficiently without mentioning the Ice Flower that was ported over from NSMBWii. Ice Mario (or Ice Luigi, if you prefer Luigi’s slightly altered stats) is the strongest yet most well-balanced power-up in the game, the thing that ties it all together and (in my opinion) makes competitive play remotely viable in the first place. In a game that’s so tied down in its non-lethal foundations, the ability to freeze an opponent, pick them up, and throw them into a bottomless pit to kill them is an absolutely necessary breath of fresh air.
And yet… For everything that NSMB:MvL improves on the original, it’s still stuck with the framework that the original gave it. The default power-up, the Super Mushroom, is basically worthless, because most things do knockdown damage rather than lethal damage. Jumped on by an opponent? Knocked down, lose a star. Get hit by a fireball? Knocked down, lose a star. The original maps are a slog to try to hold deathmatches on, even with the one new item that can help you kill someone.
And the Blue Shell power-up from NSMB DS? Sure, that one can do lethal damage too, but it also gives you near invulnerability, so it falls more on the “unfun and unfair” section of the strategy spectrum.
And so, NSMB:MvL isn’t the end of my long search. Not yet. But it is the closest I’ve ever come, and it’s helped me figure out a lot more of exactly what I want in this dream game of mine. For one thing, it needs to be balanced around multiplayer battle royale type gameplay from the get-go, especially with respect to whatever power-ups the game will have, or what movesets its characters will have. And it probably can’t be as simple as “jumping on someone = they die,” because that would mean very, VERY short matches, so Mario Vs. Luigi at least got that part right.
But I have zero intention to keep waiting for someone else to make this dream game of mine. For the last several months, I’ve been learning game development with Unity as a hobby—with the ultimate goal of taking matters into my own hands and making the competitive multiplayer fighting platformer game I’ve always wanted.
I’m nowhere near skilled enough to make it yet. I have to work my way there, proving myself with many smaller projects first, before I can even begin to think of tackling things like multiplayer functionality. But I have the goal, and that puts the rest of my journey into perspective. One way or another, I know I’ll figure out how to get there.
It’s just a matter of time.