When Shigeru Miyamoto took to the stage at Apple's September 2016 event to announce that iOS would be getting the first Super Mario game developed for mobile (excluding Nintendo's own handhelds of course) the hype was off the charts. I mean, come on. It's Mario on your phone at long last! How could you mess that up, right?
Now, after a three-month wait, the hype has sufficiently died down and we finally get a chance to see how Super Mario Run plays on Android devices. While the game is surely fun to play and features most of the familiar elements that make up Super Mario platformer game, it's really hard to justify the cost to unlock the game given the limited content that you're required to play over and over (and over again) just to unlock new characters, mini-games and decorative features.
The full game features 24 levels spread out over 6 worlds in World Tour mode. The level designs are full of nostalgic elements which long-time Mario fans are sure to appreciate, but the difficulty level is way too low. That makes this a great game for kids, but any competent gamer should be able to beat the main game comfortably in a single afternoon. Each level also features three tiers of Challenge Coins to collect, which do ramp up in difficulty. But ultimately it's just another way the game gets you to replay the same levels over and over (and over) again.
The controls are easy to learn but tough to master right away, and things get slightly more interesting once you've unlocked new characters such as Yoshi and Princess Peach.
Control-wise, Super Mario Run was designed to be played with one hand, inspired by the idea of making it comfortable to play in crowded Japanese subway trains. As such, your controls are limited and dead simple: tap to jump. Meanwhile Mario will run across the screen automatically, vault over enemies and low obstacles until he runs into a wall or falls into a pit. This essentially renders most ground enemies harmless — another knock against the overall game difficulty.
On the positive side, the controls are easy to learn but tough to master right away, and things get slightly more interesting once you've unlocked new characters such as Yoshi and Princess Peach. Their special jump abilities certainly add a wrinkle to the standard gameplay along with some much-needed variety when playing Toad Rally.
Play, collect coins, repeat
Ah, Toad Rally. The most divisive mode in the game.
The 'multiplayer' mode for Super Mario Run is where you're likely to spend most of your play time. You race against ghost versions of other players, with the goal of impressing Toads and luring them to your kingdom. To win a Toad Rally, you must collect more coins than your opponent, while simultaneously completing skillful jumps to win over the Toad audience for bonus points.
Whether you love or hate the Toad Rally mode, you will need to play constantly it to collect different color Toads, which in turn allow you to level up and unlock new characters, mini-games, and decorations for your kingdom. Unfortunately, this means you're also stuck replaying looped versions of the same levels over and over again, but for a different purpose this time.
It sort of feels like Toad Tickets were included in the game simply because Nintendo figured mobile games always have two types of in-game currency for players to collect.
It makes the 'multiplayer' mode feel more like an afterthought, and it's akin to racing against a ghost car in Forza; Sure, there are two cars on the track, but there's no interaction with your opponent whatsoever. Hell, there's no way to even be certain the ghost character is even a recording of the player you're supposedly racing against even. Considering the great way Nintendo added simultaneous multiplayer in the New Super Mario Bros. games for Wii, it's more than a bit of a letdown.
To play Toad Rally, you also need to collect Toad Tickets — but you quickly learn that running out of tickets is never really an issue. It's too easy to collect them throughout the game, whether you're going back and collecting Challenge Coins in World Tour or winning them in mini-game huts in your kingdom. Once you've maxed out your Toad Ticket collection at 99, you really begin to question the point of including them at all.
In fact, it sort of feels like they were included in the game simply because Nintendo figured mobile games always have two types of in-game currency for players to collect. They're common enough to be essentially valueless. Besides, I really don't think there ought to be any limitations on gameplay in a $10 paid game.
For a company that's known for innovating and taking risks, Nintendo played things really safe with Super Mario Run. Too safe. The game is only challenging when you're specifically going after a challenge coin goal but otherwise it plays like a nerfed version of the Super Mario platforming fun we all grew up with. Boss Battles, which we've seen Nintendo showcase some great variety from in past Super Mario titles, are a huge letdown in Super Mario Run. Minor spoiler alert, but once you've played through the first two bosses you've essentially played them all. I imagine it's mostly due to the controls limiting the developer's options. Classic Super Mario games were always about skillfully controlling Mario; Super Mario Run is more about timing your jumps and little else.
For a company that's known for innovating and taking risks, Nintendo played things really safe with Super Mario Run.
This pains me to say, but I would almost be more inclined to recommend Super Mario Run if it were a free-to-play game that pressured you into in-app purchases. And I guess, in a way, it is just that. But there's just no way, in my mind, that this game is worth spending $10 to play the same levels over and over (and over) again.
Should you check it out? Absolutely. You can download the app for free, play through the first few levels, check out Toad Rally mode, and add some decorations for your kingdom. And if you really fall in love with the gameplay and kingdom building aspects, you'll enjoy everything else included in the full game. Otherwise, you're bound to become bored due to the lack of variety and repetitive gameplay.