When Nintendo announced it was going to be creating games for mobile devices, the very first franchise that popped into my head was Super Mario Bros. The difficulty was that the previous games in the series had relied so heavily on pinpoint precision controls and utilizing a touchscreen for action platform games had been pretty terrible. That’s why it made sense when Nintendo showed off Super Mario Run at Apple’s press conference and it was an automatic scrolling game. It eliminated the need for players to move Mario, as the game would do that for them. And the touchscreen seemed more than capable of handling the jumping mechanics. Although I had never played any “Runner” games before on my iPhone, I was mildly excited to give this one a try.
The first thing you need to know about Super Mario Run is that it’s not a typical Mario game. In fact, as a longtime fan of Mario games since the original Donkey Kong, I had to unlearn some of the basic gameplay mechanics that had been engrained in my muscle memory. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that simply letting Mario run through the course he would automatically vault over certain enemies on the screen without any interaction from me. For over thirty years I’ve been trained to stomp on the enemies, but here Mario can do some fancy parkour moves and get by on his own. In fact, allowing him to do this and then jumping can often result in some fancy acrobatics that allow Mario to reach new heights. I would be lying if I said this all immediately clicked with me. In fact, even after going through all of the game’s worlds I still catch myself trying to jump on every enemy like a traditional Mario game.
The other important difference in Super Mario Run is that the goal isn’t to simply beat each course and make it to the end. Instead, you’re challenged with trying to make it to the end before the time runs out with as many coins as you can possibly nab. There are five special colored coins scattered throughout that add more challenge to the process of collecting them all. What’s intriguing here is that many times the levels will have upper and lower routes to take, each harboring its own set of coins to collect. At first I was content with simply choosing the path that had more coins, but about half way through the game I realized that there is a unique mechanic in this game that expert players will use to grab more coins: the bubble.
We’ve seen the bubble in the recent New Super Mario Bros. games and 3D World, where the player gets placed in a bubble if they die and floats through the level until they’re ready to join back in the action. In this instance, bubbles count as extra lives and so you can actually go through part of a stage and collect the coins, then tap the bubble icon, which sends Mario floating backwards through the level until you tap again to pop him out. This is a strategic maneuver that must be used wisely to be successful. It allows players to take a different route and collect extra coins that otherwise would have been impossible to get, but it effectively uses up a life. It takes away a safety net that might be needed later in the level if the player messes up. This risk reward system works quite well in the game and is a layer of sophistication I didn’t expect.
Like most games, the more you play the more you unlock. Super Mario Run has a rewarding system in place that counts how many enemies you killed in each level. The game keeps a running total, and once you’ve killed a set number of an enemy type, you essentially level up that enemy so they then reward the player with more coins upon defeat. So, the more you play, the more coins will possible to eke out of each individual level. If you’ve linked up with your friends you can see how many coins they have gotten on the different stages and if they have an impossibly high number, then you can bet they’ve probably leveled up the enemies to receive more coinage.
Gamers can also participate in Toad Rally. This mode pits you against the ghost character of another player. The course continues to warp around on itself until the timer hits zero, so it’s a mad rush to collect as many coins as possible. Toads like it if you perform some slick moves, so you’ll want to be as fancy as you can be with your jumping techniques and wall jumps to impress them and earn more points. Collecting Toads unlocks more items to place in your own Mario Kingdom that you can build up. Toad Rally can be fun if you have friends linked, but it’s less so if you’re simply playing strangers. It’s a competitive mode that might hook some players, but I found it somewhat lacking.
As far as presentation goes, the graphics and music are ripped straight out of the New Super Mario Bros. series of games. If you’ve played any of them, then you know exactly what to expect. The models are very nicely rendered on the iPhone and iPad’s retina displays, but I can’t help but think the game looks rather bland. I think this has to do with very static backgrounds that don’t feature much parallax scrolling. The game lacks the depth that I’m used to seeing in the backgrounds, and as such it loses some of its luster. The music is the typical Mario fare found in the 2D series of late. I much prefer the big band style of music and orchestrated tracks found in games like Super Mario Galaxy and 3D World, but it’s understandable why Nintendo went with the more simplistic musical tracks for a mobile game. The game looks and sounds fine, but it’s nothing fans haven’t seen and heard before.
Probably the most surprising element of Super Mario Run is its challenge level. The game moves at a somewhat fast clip, especially in some of the later stages, which causes a bit of panic to set in. There are some special switches, like pause blocks, that allow you to take a breath and time your jumps, but for the most part the game just keeps on moving right along, sometimes dragging you behind in the process. When I first saw the game demo back in September I thought it might be a “beginner Mario” game that maybe my three-year-old niece could play to learn Mario. After playing a few courses it quickly became obvious that this game is somewhat difficult, with strategic placement of pits, enemies, and obstacles. Don’t get me wrong, for veteran Mario players the game won’t present too much of a challenge to simply beat the stages. But, that’s not the point of this game. Much like Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s not about the making it to the end of each level, it’s about what you have in your possession and the amount of time it takes you to get there. While I can appreciate this type of game design, I enjoy Mario games for the exploration, secrets, and to see what waits in the next world. That’s mostly ripped out of this game, which is heavily focused on playing the same levels over and over again until you get the most coins you can. So, it’s essentially a high score gaming experience, which harkens back to the ‘80s arcade era of games. This might appeal to many players, but for me it’s not my favorite type of experience.
Super Mario Run is a fun game and will most likely be worth your $10 if you enjoy honing your technique and memorizing the levels to achieve the top score. There are 24 different levels, which is a bit light when compared to a typical 2D Mario game. Then again, those cost $40 to $60, so I feel the amount of content in this game is commensurate with the pricing. It won’t be for everyone, so that’s why it’s nice there is a free download that allows players to try the first three levels for free. It hasn’t held my attention like a typical Mario game does, but it’s a nice way to kill time on the go.
Super Mario Run Review
- Graphics - 6/106/10
- Sound - 6/106/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
Super Mario Run isn’t your typical Mario platforming game. Its smaller set of levels require multiple plays to earn what is essentially a high score. The feeling of exploration and secrets are heavily dialed down here, and the game is instead focused on efficiently collecting coins in as short a time as possible. Some longtime gameplay mechanics have changed, the visuals and audio are simply “OK”, and the game didn’t hold my interest like a typical Mario title. Try before you buy.
User Review( votes)