Nintendo is historically infamous for being a late adopter of technology when it comes to their games. For instance, home consoles with HD graphic support became mainstream in 2006 with the release of the Xbox 360 and PS3. Nintendo however, decided to focus more on innovation, with the Wii-mote and Nunchuck style of motion-oriented gaming, while HDTVs were still a relatively new product. The big N wouldn’t catch up with their competition until 2012 with release of the HD compatible Wii U.
Jump to present day, and we can see that Nintendo has become better at balancing their innovation with developing trends in gaming, specifically their new focus on smartphone gaming. After their initial smartphone outing, with developer Niantic, became the colossal success of Pokémon Go, Nintendo has decided go it alone and self-develop a game to bring their mushroom munching mascot, Mario to the small screen.
If you’ve been on the iPhone App Store (sorry, Google Play peeps) any time from October to now, then you haven’t been able to escape the Super Mario Run banners that have annexed the top of the store. Then when you click on it, it’s a tempting app to pick up considering the “free” price tag and Mario games being a general crowd pleaser.
So what does the “free” version of Super Mario Run include? Sadly, not terribly much. The disguised trial version of Super Mario Run is nothing more than a tantalizing piece of bait hoping to reel you in for the eventual $10 smacker. You can plan on experiencing everything the demo has to offer in a matter of minutes. There are three short levels to play in single player (plus a measly 10 second trial of a fourth level), a few different levels of the competitive portion of the game, and some decorations you can use to spice up your kingdom.
Once you’ve wrung all the juice out of your demo though, you’re stuck with the ultimatum of buying the full game or leaving your Super Mario Run experience on the floor. If you’re like me however, and have no backbone whatsoever when it comes to Mario, here’s what you can expect from becoming a proud owner of a new app. You get about 45 minutes of new levels, more competitive levels, more decorations, more playable characters, and more coins than you will ever be able to spend.
Now, even though I said that only 45 extra minutes of “Tour Mode”, aka single player, levels come with a full purchase, that’s just the time required for a casual play through of all the worlds. A majority of your playtime will be replaying levels and attempting to ‘yoink’ all five colored coins in a single run. Your first, and easiest, run through a level will have you collect a series of pink coins, then after successfully completing that objective, the level will repopulate with purple coins, then black coins, that each represent an added degree of difficulty. Each time you can victoriously run, jump, hurdle, and vault your way through a level with all 5 challenge coins in tow, you are awarded tickets to participate in the games competitive mode. However, even if you unsuccessfully complete a run, you are still able to keep all the regular golden coins you collect. And thankfully the game comes with a nifty “restart level” button in the case you really screw up a run and want to do a hard reset without having to do a walk of shame all the way to the flagpole. Collecting every collectable coin in the game will definitely present an admirable challenge that you can expect to sink a lot of time into, but if it’s $10 worth of time is up for you to decide.
The premise of this game is going to be instant déjà vu even if you have only dabbled in Mario games. Bowser has kidnapped Peach, wrecked the kingdom, and now Mario and friends need to rescue the princess yada, yada, yada. A lot of the initial challenge of the game will come from getting used to Mario’s new control scheme. It’s easy to be a controller freak and want to be responsible for all of the little plumber’s movements, but sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and let go. He’s 35 years old now and can run aimlessly to the right by himself just fine. In fact, his smartphone presence has made him a little smarter and he will now vault over certain enemies after direct contact instead of keeling over dead at the slightest touch.
The new Super Mario Run gameplay focuses more on precisely timed jumps and bounces to plan the perfect route through a level to collect all of the hidden coins. The black coin levels demand much more elevated levels of concentration and perfection to complete but so far they all seem reasonably doable with enough persistence. Level design is more scattered-brained than other Mario installments, i.e., not all of the worlds have a unifying theme such as desert, cave, jungle, or Lakitu (the a-hole on the cloud that throws the spike covered creatures at you) patrolled. But even if the levels aren’t as cohesive and the design is a little different than past Mario games, it still works and I would even go as far to say that I enjoyed my experience on the other side of the dreaded paywall.
The other half of the Super Mario Run experience is going to be in the competitive “Toad Rally” mode and focus on restoring the Mushroom Kingdom to its originally glory. Playing Toad Rally costs one of the previously mentioned tickets for each time you participate, and tasks you with racing the ghost of another Mario Run player to collect the most amount of coins in about a minutes time. Winning grants you the coins earned and for unknown reasons you also take some of you opponent’s Toad population for ransom. Lose, and you will have to forfeit some of your tiny Toads to the superior player. It’s easy to select the rematch button again after a narrow defeat for a chance at reclaiming your Toads, but on a rare occasion I would have to give up and pick on a different player to get my lost Toads back.
So why exactly are these Toads important? Well, in order to decorate your kingdom with houses, floating ‘?’ blocks, and mysterious warp pipes, you need so many Toads of different colors to unlock them and then you are allowed to buy them with your cache of coins. While most of these decorations are purely cosmetic, the ‘?’ blocks will let you collect Toad Rally tickets or more coins if you give them a poke. Buying houses will let you play mini-games for tickets and coins and speciality houses will unlock new playable characters like Yoshi or the constantly overshadowed Luigi.
The opportunity for playing as new characters is nice for a visual change but the different characters also control a little differently, similarly to how they played in Super Mario Bros. 2, to be more specific. Luigi has a lofty jumps, Peach can float for more distance, and Yoshi gives an extra fluttery kick at the top of its bound. Strangely though, I found myself wishing that each of these characters were strictly appearance changes. Their individual differences in physics doesn’t mesh with the levels that are meant for Mario to roam. Luigi would bound way higher than needed, Peach would float over platforms, and the playable version of Toad, who runs faster than Mario, would outpace invincibility stars and make levels much harder than necessary.
But unlockable characters and buildings aside, a chance to prove your salt in the competitive edge of Mario Run gives a nice yin to the yang to the perfectionist side of single player. However, it still feels like Super Mario Run is missing some substance for a $10 iPhone game. For instance, where is the Fire Flower power up?! And what about water levels? Also, the game only has 6 worlds and a typically Mario game has at least 8 worlds. So hopefully that is a sign of Mario content to come. Although, Nintendo already has my money so they really don’t have much reason to put out any more levels unless they feel so out of kindness.
The free version of Super Mario Run has surely already snuck its way onto your phone, but if you are going to go full Monty and buy the whole game you better plan on playing a lot to get your money’s worth. An enjoyable single player will be where you spend most of your time and satisfy your inner perfectionist. On the other hand, the competitive mode is a fun place to show off, but collecting Toads, coins, and building your kingdom is nearly pointless with no real rewards to appreciate.