Mario has come to iOS. The days of people making due with wannabes and knock-offs on the app store are over. Super Mario Run is the first time the icon has graced a non-Nintendo platform since Mario Teaches Typing 2 on PC and it’s been received with a lot of fanfare and a healthy amount of criticism. The game is Nintendo’s first real attempt at an actual game for mobile devices, following the May release of the experimental social media app, Miitomo. Let’s get the easy question out of the way, “is it any good?” The answer to that is “yes” but how good and your expectations will define how much it’s worth to you.
Super Mario Run (SMR) has been erroneously labeled an “endless runner” by many. It very much has an end. Mario runs forward automatically. The skill comes in knowing when and where to jump to collect the most coins and finish the level in style. With six worlds, each containing four levels, a straight play through will last most players less than a couple of hours. That said, SMR is rich in replay value. In the same way titles like Star Fox 64 send the player back to collect trinkets and discover secrets, SMR encourages multiple playthroughs. There are three sets of five coins to collect in every level. The pink coins are visible from the start and are fairly easy to collect once you’ve mastered the basics, the purple coins are revealed later and are more difficult to get at while the black coins are deceptively hidden and harder still. All this is just the World Tour mode, structured in very traditional Super Mario Bros. fashion. What SMR brings to the franchise is Kingdom Builder and Toad Rally. The story is that Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach once more and laid waste the Mushroom Kingdom. Your Job as Mario is not only to save the princess again but to return the native Toad population back to their ravaged homeland by rebuilding the kingdom brick by brick. You’ll do this by collecting coins in levels and impressing Toads during Toad Rally. Toad Rally has you running through levels while racing the ghosts of friends and strangers, but it’s not your standard time trial run. The most important aspect of Toad Rally is collecting more coins than your opponent and attracting Toads by performing tricks and pulling off the run as seamlessly as possible. The trick aspect of SMR, coupled by the perpetual motion of moving forward makes the game feel almost like a Sonic the Hedgehog title. A flawless and stylish run though one of SMR’s levels invokes a rhythm that fans of SEGA’s mascot would greatly appreciate. In fact, many of SMR’s mechanics upend long standing Mario Bros. dogma. For example, Mario automatically vaults over enemies if he runs directly into them and players are limited to two lives per level. These differences take some getting used to and experienced Mario players may have some adjusting to do.
Of course, as a mobile game, monetization was a key concern when SMR was first announced. While the App Store lists the title as ‘free’ this label is misleading. The free download gets you the first three levels and nothing more. The game costs $13.99 CAD to unlock in full. This may seem like a steep price tag relative to other mobile titles but keep in mind that SMR does NOT contain any microtransactions or ‘pay to win’ downloads. $13.99 gets you the whole game and considering the fact that the New Super Mario Bros. titles on 3DS and Wii U cost over $40 each, SMR delivers the goods. Another less forgivable offense is the fact that SMR must be played with an online connection present. For a one handed game that encourages you to play on the go, this is a baffling offense as most subway undergrounds lack cell service. When you do have cell service, SMR is hungry for your data. It’s not nearly the data hog as Facebook, Twitter or even Pokemon Go but it consumes a lot more cellular data than it has any right or need to. While a connection is needed for Toad Rally most of the game should be playable without a need to be connected. The only reason for it seems to be for copy protection and to prevent hacking which I’m not sure is that big of an issue, at least on iOS.
All said, Super Mario Run is a fun game that’s worth the very reasonable asking price of $13.99 but it’s hampered by the security and data limitations of the platform it’s on. It’s not a fully fledged Mario title, feeling like a experimental side project, but its clever design will keep many coming back for more. It does what Nintendo said it set out to do with its mobile initiative, it provides a taste of the ‘real thing’ available on its own hardware.