Nintendo’s first non-Nintendo Mario game is here. Now available on iOS and Android, this Mushroom Kingdom-themed runner is everything you would expect from the moustached plumber series – a kidnapped princess, golden coins, bonus levels.
But there’s more to Super Mario Run, besides the fact that Mario, well, just keeps on running. At the same time, it’s not really a quintessential endless runner. There’s a Farmville-esque home screen (called Kingdom Builder) to restore the castle and place decorations, buildings and special items as you level up. Fast-paced online rallies through levels you’ve already completed to pick up colourful toads.
There’s actually quite a bit to do, over and above the World Tour mode which consists of six worlds, each containing four side-scrolling levels.
Each level is familiar which stays true to all the Mario games. You start in a world of pipes and blocks, continue under ground, fly through the air bouncing on giant mushrooms, escape spiky sand-dwellers and battle it out in the castle, fire included. There are ghost mansions and pirate ships, the only scene that’s missing is a flying fish-filled underwater level and I’m actually fine with that because those were always the toughest to master.
There are coins to gather, but these (from what I’ve seen) are primarily used for buying stuff to rebuild the castle. In each level, there are five pink coins to collect. Collect them all and there will more five (more difficult) purple coins to work towards. Got all five? They’re now black. This adds a lot of replayability to the levels because you not only get rewarded for hunting down all the coins (hello rally tickets!), you get to know the ins and outs which really comes in hand when competing in an online rally. And if you connect with friends, you’ll also be able to see how well they did on the different world levels.
A new update to the app means you can even play a friendly-run through with them.
Unlike other mobile runners (Temple Run is the first which pops into my head) where the speed increases in conjunction with the difficulty of the game, Mario sprints along at the same reliable, carefully thought-out pace. He does die, but Nintendo have included two back-to-life bubbles where Mario magically reappears from the ether like Glinda the Good Witch and you can pop him down where you want so he can get back to the race. Time will stand still, just don’t let him fly to the beginning of the map as you’ll definitely run out of time. You can also use these bubbles as and when you want to go back and take a different path or try for a special coin, just tap the on-screen icon.
The only movement you control is jumping. Mario can do high leaps if you press the screen a bit longer, backwards jumps with a slight swipe and wall jumps to. And you’ll have to conquer all of his acrobatic moves if you want to get through the last of the World Tour levels.
I’m really enjoyed Super Mario Run, but do I miss the secrets that you get to uncover in other Mario platformers. The mysterious pipes, magic beanstalks, being able to stop and breathe… if anything I’m still nostalgic for the innovations last seen in Super Mario Bros. 3. (Is a raccoon suit really that hard to add to a game?)
But that said, Super Mario Run does have its quirks. Connect to your Nintendo profile, for example, and you’ll be able to change the player character and download other items. And because you’re forever online (something Mario fans are not happy with) there are continuous and seasonal surprises. I had a Christmas Tree in my Kingdom and am sure more exclusives will come up with time.
And in true Nintendo-style, the Animal Crossing guilt trip which popped up when I closed a rally by mistake was almost expected. (Really Nintendo? One mistake in Toad Rally and my toads are feeling sad and don’t want to stay in my kingdom anymore? Did the 35 odd tickets I spent yesterday on rallies instead of going to the beach mean nothing to you?)
Each mode of Super Mario Run works together – you’ll need to complete the levels to earn rally tickets. If you don’t compete in rallies, you won’t pick up toads. No toads and you won’t be able to level up or place certain items. And you’ll also want the bonus toad houses and whatnot because they replenish and give you more chances at getting rally tickets.
Even when you’ve finished the worlds, something you can probably do in half a day if you just run through each one, you’ll want to go back to learn them and earn tickets. I just wish there was something more you could do with your gold coins because they build up quickly.
The only low-point with Super Mario Run is the price, R150/$10 is expensive for a mobile game. And the fact that you need to be online ALL THE TIME to play it? That also sucks. Goodbye data. I also find myself wondering if this sort of game would have been more successful if Nintendo went the micro-transactions route because, quite frankly, some of the best iOS and Android mobile games come in cheaper than Super Mario Run’s price point. And once you’ve bought the whole game, it can be over pretty quickly if you’re not competitive or collecting everything obsessed.
That said, Super Mario Run is nothing new, but it is a lot of fun. The graphics are crisp, Mario is as you would expect and the level design is brilliant, intricate and planned with the platform in mind. It’s truly exhilarating to speed through certain levels (World 4-2: Slope to Success was my favourite) while others can be tricky at times.
Overall, Super Mario Run is a good (but expensive) add-on to a franchise we know and love. Don’t love Mario? Don’t pay for the game. Rather just download the intro levels and see how you go. But if you’re a fan, you’ll really enjoy Super Mario run. Playing with one hand is only a bonus.