The reveal of Super Mario Run was one of the most surprising moments for gamers in 2016. Nintendo did a 180, embracing mobile gaming after ignoring that platform for years. Now that Mario’s phone debut is downloadable, was the move worth it? Does Nintendo’s mascot make a smooth transition into a single-button runner like Super Mario Run?
The app certainly takes some of its best cues from modern Mario platformers, but the transition doesn't aim too high. Don't mistakenly think Nintendo waited all this time because they finally came across a revolutionary concept. The developers found a smart, uniquely Mario approach to the genre of the endless runner, though the stages are certainly not "endless." Super Mario Run meets expectations for the app without going much farther.
Not-So-New Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Run isn't a mere reskin of Temple Run or Jetpack Joyride. The 24 core stages are laid out just as you'd see in any other 2D Mario game of the last decade. Mario has to jump on Goombas, go through pipes, and avoid bottomless pits to make it to the flagpole at the end of a stage. Now he just does that while always moving forward, and all the player can do is tap the screen to make him jump.
It's a simplification of the routine seen in the many New Super Mario Bros. games of recent years. You've got to be ready to avoid enemies at just the right time, as well as time your jumps especially if you want to find a secret path or hidden coin. Running at full tilt doesn't give you the same chance to explore as in other Mario games, but there's still the itch to keep replaying stages. That's mainly thanks to some collectible coins hidden throughout each stage.
The gameplay and visuals both evoke the safe, reliable design of the New Super Mario Bros. franchise. It's smart to tie Super Mario Run to such a blockbuster brand, but it's disappointing to see so many reused visuals. The music, backgrounds, and stage design are ripped directly from New Super Mario Bros. U, making this mobile adventure not feel particularly unique.
Bite-Sized Is Too Small
Nintendo has difficulty balancing what it wants out of Super Mario Run. The price point presents the app as a premium download in a sea of shovelware. However, the developers also want to create a smaller experience to fit the device. That leaves Super Mario Run trapped in the middle.
If you play Super Mario Run like a traditional Mario title, you'll be done soon enough. You'll blast through all six worlds and have vanquished Bowser in a couple of hours. Depending on how often you revisit the app, you'll be finished with the main game fast and then be faced with replaying each world over and over for the coin challenges.
There are other distractions, like a base-building mechanic to use all the coins you collect. Rebuilding the Mushroom Kingdom is fun at first, but gets formulaic fast. And to truly expand your castle, you're going to spend lots of time in the Toad Rally mode.
Get Ready To Grind Toads
The real meat of Super Mario Run's post-game content is Toad Rally. This mode is a legit endless runner that pushes you to beat the scores of other players. Doing better earns you more Toads, more Toads expand your kingdom, expanding your kingdom unlocks new characters. That's the cycle you'll quickly become familiar with.
The cycle of replaying Toad Rally over and over becomes what you'll remember that game for because the grind is essential to doing anything post-game. It's enjoyable but gets tiresome when you know it's your only option for base building. And it stings that you can lose toads from your population for failing at a rally. It can get a bit frustrating to lose progress over one missed jump of mistake, making the grind less attractive the more you play it.
Super Mario Run becomes more of an endurance test as you engage with it. And the less you like Toad Rally, the less you'll open the app, only wanting to revisit about 10 minutes a day, if that.
Should You Play Super Mario Run?
If you love Mario Games: The app translates most of what makes Mario one of the most beloved franchises in gaming, but not all of it. Much of the depth and replay value gets lost in the transition, though it's mostly fun for a few hours.
If you love endless runners: Super Mario Run doesn't add a ton of new ideas to the genre, but it's a high-quality app that brings the sheen of a console release to mobile. The need for grinding might eventually turn you off.
Plumber On The Run
Mario's arrival on iOS is an admirable start, but it's not enough to be the game changer you would expect from Nintendo. There's definite room for improvement and more content that hopefully will be added in updates down the line. Until then, Super Mario Run is a cute distraction that wears you out by relying on grinding to boost replayability.