Mario has been growing in popularity since his birth in the 1980s, and the Italian plumber is an icon whose mainstream appeal is second to no one in the gaming industry. He’s the original side-scrolling platform heavy-hitter, and his legacy now continues into 2016 and 2017 with the launch of Super Mario Run, the latest entry in a long list of his many adventures – and the first to feature our hero on mobile phones and smart devices.
Having downloaded the free app via the iTunes store, my first ten minutes with Super Mario Run felt like a typical Mario game, and for a phone-based game, that was a thoroughly refreshing experience. I was able to play through the first world at my leisure, which was a nice look at what the overall tour mode has to offer.
Once you complete world one, however, you’re prompted with a $9.99 in-app purchase to unlock worlds 2-6. This was slightly off-putting at first, as a phone game has rarely been this costly before, but at $2 a world which adds on considerable play time (along with the addition of 50 rally tickets and 5000 coins), most would probably say that is worth it.
The core gameplay of Super Mario Run is somewhat similar to the classic Mario platformers of old, although it comes with a significant twist. Being an auto-runner, the game’s mechanics are more simplistic than franchise veterans will be used to, requiring users simply to tap the screen in order to make Mario jump; his horizontal movement is automatically controlled.
The main tour mode’s objective is in classic Mario style: collect coins, get to the flag at the end of the level, and fight a boss at the end of each world. There is very little room for mistakes, however, as Mario never stops running unless he lands on a moving platform, which halts his momentum and sends him moving slowly in the opposition direction, or what I like to call a pause block. There’s no chance for backtracking unless you run out of hits, which causes Mario to appear in a bubble on screen, moving backwards in the level until you tap the screen to respawn. These bubbles are akin to your lives, and generally you’ll only have three attempts per level – unless you pick up an extra bubble. This adds a level of difficulty to an already tricky game, although it’s forgiving up to a point if you know how to use the game to your advantage.
The story of Super Mario Run, as you might expect, isn’t any different from the standard formula that Nintendo has used for the vast majority of its main series Mario titles. Princess Peach has been captured, and there are a lot of enemies standing between you and her captor, the evil Bowser. We’ve seen it all before with Mario, but it’s a story that works. New players can jump into it without missing anything at all, and veteran players will likely feel nostalgic as they revisit a story that’s almost definitely familiar. It isn’t a rich story in the slightest, and one could argue that there isn’t a story at all, but in the end there is motivation for the character to advance forward towards an end goal, and there is conflict. It’s a very basic story, but it works none the less.
There are special collectable coins within each stage, and three of these sets of five coins per stage – pink, purple, and black – with each set being more difficult to obtain than the last. These coins aren’t required to advance through the story, but add a nice level of difficulty for those who are willing to pursue them.
The objective of the game overall is to build up your kingdom by collecting Toads, Coins, and Rally Tickets, and to bring Princess Peach back to rule over the Mushroom Kingdom once again. Rally tickets and coins can be earned through the campaign, as well as bonus levels and social rewards, and are relatively easy to collect.
The kingdom building within the game is a fairly clever and enjoyable way to personalize your experience. There are plenty of decorations you can buy with coins that will help remove the bleak feeling that overtook the area after Bowser captured the princess. It’s a cute function in the game that allows for a fairly unique hub world created by the player, in which the Toads can thrive.
The aforementioned Toad Rally is a game mode where the player asynchronously faces off against other players in order to impress different coloured spectating Toads, and entice them to join your kingdom. The rallies consist of players attempting to pull off as many tricks as possible, while collecting as many coins as possible, in a short amount of time. It’s a friendly, competitive game type that adds a lot of flare to the game.
The more Toads you’re able to attract to your kingdom, the more potential rewards you’ll have access to. In addition to the decorative items mentioned previously, the store also allows you to redeem coloured Toads for special buildings, which include bonus stages and the homes of new characters, who are unlocked when you place their house in your kingdom.
Each new character comes with their own set of unique abilities: Peach has a floaty jump; Yoshi has a skittering glide; Toad has a slight speed increase, and so on. These come at the cost of hit points, however, as they only have one to Mario’s mushroom-powered maximum of two.
You can choose to play through every stage with any of the characters you’ve unlocked, each of which presents a new challenge and allows you to relearn gameplay strategies to collect those elusive special coins.
There is also a friends list system, which comes along with the newly added Friendly Run, a Toad Rally-type event where the player can race against their friends for fun; no rewards are kept. You can link both your Facebook and Twitter accounts to find potential opponents and expand your friends list. It’s unfortunate that the work you put into your kingdom can’t be seen by other players, however, as you cannot explore your friend’s hub world.
The game is exactly what one would expect from a new Mario game. Same princess, same enemies; same heroic plumber. The color scheme and fluidity is pleasing to the eye, and the audio is appealing to the ears, with a hint of a cheery tone even in the most strenuous of in-game situations. The haunted mansion is slightly spooky, the bosses have a bit of an intimidating flare to them, and it all feels very satisfying. Auto-running gimmick aside, it’s certainly nothing new, but with this series, that’s not a bad thing. The Super Mario Bros. series has prided itself on encompassing a consistent formula that provides a great experience for new gamers, while bringing a feeling of nostalgia to veteran gamers; Super Mario Run falls in line with that tradition beautifully.
The game is incredibly addictive and has great replay value. It will take up quite a bit of your time if you let it, and serves as a great distraction to have when you’re on a long car ride or waiting for a friend. There’s not a lot of commitment to play this game, and that is exactly what a phone-based game should be. It’s quick, it’s addicting, and it’s an entertaining means to occupy your time. It feels like more than another casual phone game, so I do think that a bit of a price should come with it; it is a legitimate, Nintendo-produced Mario game after all.
Super Mario Run implements the vast majority of aspects found in the classic series extremely well, while throwing in a new level of challenge and an online mode that can provide new experiences each time you play. That being said, the five additional worlds you must purchase can be completed fairly quickly, and the title could therefore feel not quite substantial enough to warrant the $10 price tag to some.
Charming Experience That Comes at a Premium Price
The game is fun, addicting, and has a lot of playtime potential, but the price tag that comes with it is a little intimidating to get past.