Super Mario Run Review: Give The Plumber A Hand
Ever since Super Mario Run was announced in September, Nintendo fans and mobile gamers across the globe have been waiting somewhat impatiently for the title to make its debut on the App Store. It's a landmark release, considering this is the first "proper" Mario game (and Nintendo property aside from Miitomo) to grace mobile devices.
The concept? Distill Mario games to their simplest elements while melding them with ideas culled from one of the most popular mobile games out there: endless runners. Now that the game's out in the wild, is it a breath of fresh air or is it on life support at the onset?
Run For Your Life
Super Mario Run takes everything you know about Mario games and simplifies it in a way that everyone can understand. The biggest caveat is that Mario, inspired by the speedrunners of the world according to Shigeru Miyamoto, is always running from left to right across the screen. You'll need to tap the screen to make Mario jump, and hold your tap longer to get him to jump higher. He can vault over enemies or stomp on them just like in the games, and can even wall jump, utilize special blocks to pause the action, get boosts of speed, or even reverse in some situations.
You do all this with but one finger, utilizing shorter and longer taps with finesse as Mario vaults over the heads of Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and various other enemies from the Mario universe. It's truly hypnotizing watching Mario move in such a way that paints him as even more of an athletic character than usual. Watching him scramble up the edge of a well-placed question blog or somersaulting in the air is just plain fun to see. Watching him pull off these moves and knowing you were responsible for it by your button presses feels great -- better than, say, even how New Super Mario Bros. feels on the Nintendo 3DS.
Running Around The (Mario) World
Everything about Super Mario Run feels classic, yet with new mechanics to keep things fresh. You're running after Princess Toadstool, who has (of course) been kidnapped again.
As you venture across the six main worlds with four levels apiece, you get a sampling of the various areas that generally comprise Mario platformers: Deserts, haunted houses replete with sneaky Boos, platform-heavy cloud locales, and Lakitu even makes an appearance to make things more difficult for you. There's a good variety when it comes to different vistas, even if they do feel a bit samey compared to what we've seen in the past.
The fact that different philosophies are present in the various worlds is a boon for the game, however. There are puzzle-solving elements in the Boo levels where you'll need to make use of running in different directions or use trial and error to figure out which door you'll need to open to advance. In the cloud levels you'll need to stop the action for a moment via special pause blocks so you can calculate the best trajectory for your jump. Mario will stick a landing right in the front of moving platforms to give you the best possible advantage you can get when it comes to these areas, which is more than the regular series ever did for you.
These moments make the game feel much fresher than most of the other levels, which can be challenging, but mostly rely on typical platforming mechanics and speedrun ideology to accomplish what they set out to do. Coupled with the fact that you could technically play with one hand (though I vastly preferred holding my iPhone 7 Plus with one hand and tapping with the other) this makes Super Mario Run feel as effortless and efficient as any Mario game ever has. It works for you, rather than against you. Because of this, the game can be completed in a matter of an hour or two depending on how skilled you are. Those wondering if they should pay the $10 price tag to breeze through it should keep that in mind if looking for something meatier akin to Mario's usual hits.
Rallying for More
If you complete the main game quickly like I did, you'll then want to take in the Toad Rally mode as well as Kingdom Builder, which both act as appetizers for the main course, though aren't particularly dense. Toad Rally lets you compete against shadow Marios in a sort of time trial event to see how many Toads you can get to come cheer for you as you rack up the coinage. You'll also be randomly matched with another player around the world if you choose to do so, but you'll need Toad Rally Tickets to compete. These are earned by completing levels in the main game, competing in Rallies, and playing Bonus Games that you can access via your main world hub. There's not a lot to these Rallies, but they can get you additional Toads for your kingdom, which will end up making it look a lot more homey as you progress.
The Kingdom Builder is exactly what it sounds like. You can purchase additional items from the in-game store with coins earned throughout the game. There is no additional in-game currency you need to purchase, so once you spend the $10 to unlock the entirety of the game, you can just purchase decor for the kingdom with the coins you've worked to get. This can range from question blocks that may be placed in the environment that offer daily bonuses to Mario-esque items that simply offer an aesthetic upgrade for the kingdom. There's honestly not a lot going on for either mode, which acts as window dressing for the main game. You won't spend much time here, especially if competing is your thing. That's where Toad Rally mode will really pull you in.
A Powered-Up Runner
Super Mario Run can be looked at in two different ways: a mobile game that's inspired by all of the rest of the endless runners out there, and a Mario title. As a Mario title, it's obviously going to be less of an engaging adventure than normal since it's so stripped-down. As a mobile game, it's excellent, save for its extremely short playtime and $9.99 price tag that will undoubtedly scare some users away. However, it's an extremely polished speedrunner's dream, and an absolutely fantastic first mobile release for Nintendo. It's a great way to introduce newbies to Mario or gaming in general, and while it's a bit short on content for now, I can see a series of updates making it even better as we head into 2017.