Super Mario Run Review — A Strong First Step

on December 21, 2016 5:22 PM

Super Mario Run is a bit of a contentious battleground at the moment. While the game has received immediate success and interest among the App Store, Nintendo shares have tanked since release and App Store reviews have been middling at best. However, apart from the ever-raging discussion of Nintendo’s decision to make the title always online or the game’s fee structure, how does Nintendo’s first real foray into mobile gaming fare?

Equal parts endless runner, platformer, and puzzle game, Super Mario Run teeters somewhere between light romp, heavy grind-a-thon, and a surprising challenge for those who go searching for it. While the game is free to download for all, there is a one-time transaction fee which unlocks just under 90% of the campaign levels.

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Super Mario Run is broken up into three distinct components: World Tour, Toad Rally, Kingdom Builder and the newly-added Friendly Run.

World Tour is the traditional Super Mario campaign, adapted to the touch controls of an iPhone. Mario will run endlessly from right to left, and players are able to jump and vault enemies/obstacles with a touch of the screen. Holding your finger on the screen will prompt higher and longer jumps, and players are able to wall kick – per standard Mario protocol. The gameplay feels natural and will hook players instantly, even though it is a substantial departure from every Mario game prior.

While it would be enough to have the 24 levels in World Tour – which took me roughly an hour and a half to breeze through – Super Mario Run adds extra functionality by way of in-level objectives. Each of the 24 different levels have three sets of colored coins (pink, purple, and black) which are increasingly difficult to root out. More importantly, the coins utilize the level design, challenging players to take paths that otherwise may not have been considered. After spending nearly 20 minutes trying to collect all the pink coins, you unlock the purple coin level, followed by the black coin level.

The additional challenge adds substantial replay value – sometimes making a quick three-minute level last up to a half hour – while also changing the formula from a traditional platforming endless runner to more of a puzzle oriented game. As much as I enjoy Toad Rally, World Tour seems to be the mode I constantly return to for extended play.

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Where World Tour acts as the game’s campaign, Toad Rally is Super Mario Run‘s version of multiplayer. Offering five different opponents, players choose to face off against CPU ghosts in remixed levels to collect the most coins in a minute. The more coins you get, the more toads you “rally” to come join your kingdom in the Kingdom Builder mode – a necessary currency.

Equal parts skill and luck, Toad Rally is wildly satisfying when you are trouncing your opponent and phone-tossing levels of frustrating when things aren’t going your way. While typically the best player will win the toads in the end, there is a few moments where an opponent will best you on a rotating item block, getting a Power Star when you are stuck with some lousy mushrooms.

However, unlike World Tour, Toad Rally requires its own brand of currency – Toad Rally Tickets – that cap out at 99. You earn said tickets by winning Toad Rally, collecting the all Pink Coins from World Tour levels, winning them in Bonus Games (more on this later), or purchasing them with My Nintendo rewards. In all my time with the game I haven’t run out of tickets (or for that matter, fallen under 80). However, I can’t really identify the logic on limiting the tickets as a game design choice – you can’t purchase them via micro-transactions (which Super Mario Run thankfully steers clear from) and they seem to just artificially frustrate people who want to invest serious time into the game.

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Toad Rally’s rewards – the Toads themselves – are put into use in Kingdom Builder, a place where people can design their own Mushroom Kingdom to their hearts content. In Kingdom Builder, Toads act as both a currency and a means of leveling. In order to build Princess Peach’s castle, players will need to amass Toads (of any color); meanwhile, players will need to target specific-colored Toads to unlock buildings in the Shop for decorations, buildings, or special items.

For instance, while some standard decorations – a Green Hill Pair or Poinsettias – may cost anywhere from 200 to 500 coins, Luigi’s House (which unlocks Luigi as a playable character) requires you are flush with 150 Green and Purple Toads. This currency system gives Toad Rally some extra pressure and a new layer of depth – when playing Toad Rally you have to focus on levels which will have certain Toads in the audience. While winning will net you some new Toads, losing will set you back support in your Kingdom.

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Kingdom Builder is mostly an aesthetic hub which has little significance on play, besides some minor end-game content and mini-games that offer coins and Toad Rally Tickets every few hours. This is where I expect to find most updates in the future – Super Mario Run is currently sporting Poinsettias, Christmas Trees and Mario Snow Globes for the holiday season.

Last is Super Mario Run‘s latest mode – Friendly Run. A modification of Toad Rally, Friendly Run lets you compete against people in your friends list up to a daily five game maximum. Unlike Toad Rally, Friendly Run is both penalty and reward free – coins and Toads earned in the races aren’t added or subtracted from your grand total. That said, I love the option to thoroughly cream the co-founder at DualShockers.

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Take that, Al!

At the end of the day, Super Mario Run is ultimately derivative – what is actually original anymore on the App Store? I  couldn’t possibly say that Super Mario Run is the best game on mobile devices, let alone the best 2D platforming or endless runner title. With that said, the game adds unquestionable polish rarely seen in mobile games – the Nintendo Seal of Quality runs as true in the App Store as it does console games.

Another thing that needs to be mentioned is Super Mario Run‘s always online decision. Over the past week playing the game somewhat casually in public bathrooms, trips to work, and sitting around bars, I’ve managed to only use roughly 108MB of data. However large data usage is a valid complaint for many — if your data budget is extremely limited or you don’t have regular access to wifi, the necessary always-online decision is something to take into consideration.

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It’s a shame that the game is facing a gut-wrenching negative reaction from those in the App Store ecosystem, simply due to the fact Nintendo dared to raise the price tag. Given the layout of the game, it would have been easy enough for Nintendo to release the entire game for free, all while nickel-and-diming users for decorations, Toad Rally Tickets or coins. But I’ve certainly gotten my $10 worth – especially because I don’t have to worry about unending microtransactions that have plagued my experience with Pokemon GO.

Super Mario Run isn’t breaking the mold for App Store games, but it does have a certain Nintendo quality, charm and polish that is frankly unmistakable. A unique twist on the Mario formula, Nintendo has been able to substantively add to the genre in a meaningful way. Everyone with an iPhone should go ahead and try the title – even if they don’t end up investing in the $10 entry fee.

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