It is not every day Nintendo allows their mascot to roam outside their Nintendo platforms. The Japanese company is known to be very protective of its intellectual properties, keeping them on both home consoles such as the Nintendo Wii U or portable systems that include the Nintendo 3DS. Not a single tinge of Mario on a mobile phone has ever seen the light of day.
This brings us to the surprising announcement for Super Mario Run. It presents a rare opportunity for a gamer to experience a Mario game on a non-Nintendo system. It is also a free one at that, available on Apple’s iOS and at a later date for Google Android.
While Super Mario Run does not share the same gaming platform as its predecessor and is optimized for the mobile platform, it still has many common elements, such as the iconic green pipes, mushroom power-ups and brick blocks. There is nothing new to the story though. Similar to most Mario games, Mario’s eternal nemesis and the game’s villain, Bowser, kidnaps Princess Peach (again). Once more, Mario sets off to save the damsel in distress. Except this time, the Princess bakes a cake to persuade Mario to join a party. You would think kidnapping the Princess was enough for Bowser but no, he had to have the cake and perhaps ate it too.
Super Mario Run plays a lot like a regular Mario game. With bright saturated colors in the game levels, Super Mario Run retains the same look and feel of a full-fledged Mario game. The game is optimized for the mobile platform by removing the need for a directional pad. Mario is pretty much a one-directional character, automatically running forward without any input. The game is played by simply using one finger to tap on the screen to make Mario air glide or wall jump.
It might look simple at first glance, but as I explored deeper, the game actually lists 27 different type of moves one can perform in the game. One of the most frequently used move controls the height of Mario’s jump by pressing and holding one finger on the screen. There are other moves that require interaction with the game’s environment. Examples of these would be the mid-air spin, wall jumping, back flipping or the pause block to allow Mario to stand still,
Fortunately, the game is rather forgiving in some ways. Mario automatically jumps over shorter enemies, making him immune to them. You can also tap the screen in the middle of the automatic jump, causing Mario to bear his full weight and deliver death from above to the enemies below.
Mario will also grab nearby ledges, reducing the chances of falling off a cliff. Even if Mario does fall off a cliff or is defeated by an enemy, he will return in a bubble. The player will need to quickly pop the bubble and ensure that Mario lands on a safe place. Mario is not invincible though, he is only given two safety bubbles. Third time’s not the charm as it will be game over for the plumber.
The Single Player Tour Mode
In the Tour mode, Mario would need to clear obstacles, defeat enemies and reach the end of the level within the given time limit. In some levels, you are given 60 seconds to complete the course. As you advance onto more complex levels, the game increases the time limit to 90 seconds. You could rush through the level and reach the goal easily. But for the perfectionist who wants to truly clear the level, you need to collect coloured coins scattered in different parts of the level. Collecting five pink coins will unlock purple coins that appear in harder to reach places. Similarly, collecting all five purple coins will unlock black coins located at even harder to reach places. This makes Super Mario Run easy to play but hard to master, making it a game with high replay value.
Building a Mushroom Kingdom
Super Mario has a city building element where players can create buildings and add decorative items to their kingdom. Some buildings have special effects that award bonus resources such as gold and rally tickets, while others unlock more playable characters such as Luigi and Yoshi. As more Toads populate the kingdom, you can unlock more buildings and level up your castle. Some buildings, however, can only be unlocked by having Toads of specific colours.
The Multi-player Toad Rally Mode
You can get more Toads through the multiplayer Toad Rally mode, which turns the game into an endless runner race. Players compete with another player’s virtual run to collect the most coins. You can also earn coins by performing stylish actions or being the first player to clear a check point on the map. Throughout the race, you’ll notice Toad supporters cheering for you or your competitor. These supporters will eventually join the winner’s town. Losing comes with consequences as a small amount of the loser’s Toads will leave the kingdom.
There is a limit to how many opponents a players can challenge as a Toad Rally Race ticket is needed to challenge an opponent. However, an additional Toad Rally ticket is not needed to re-challenge an opponent who has just defeated you. If you add a friend to the game, you would see them as opponents to challenge in the Toad Rally Mode. Also, you could do a practice run with them without any rewards or penalty for winning or losing.
Enter the Paid Zone
Super Mario Run is free to download but has limited features. The free version only allows you to try out the first three levels of the game which results in limiting other parts of the game, and you can only receive red Toads in Toad Rally mode.
At first glance, purchasing the game for US$9.99 will only unlock 21 more levels from the six worlds and give you more coins and rally tickets. But it’s actually the beginning of a chain reaction to unlock even more content which was previously unavailable in the free-to-play mode.
Progressing through the paid levels will unlock more types of levels for the arena. Clearing these levels bring different coloured Toads to join your Kingdom. That, in turn, unlocks different types of buildings for you to construct. Having some of these new buildings in the kingdom will unlock more playable characters such as Luigi, Toadette and Yoshi. Also, you will need access to the 21 paid levels to complete all levels, which will unlock Princess Peach as a playable character. These new playable characters aren’t just re-reskins of Mario as they have their own unique special abilities. Another thing which impressed me was how each level was designed to have a unique theme to it, and introduce new type of enemies and obstacles to dodge, this makes each level a new and refreshing experience and the game did not felt repetitive at all.
Linking the Nintendo Account
Don’t have a Nintendo account? You really should create one because linking it with Super Mario Run comes with various rewards. For example, you can immediately obtain a new character, Toad. A linked Nintendo account also unlocks daily quest and weekly quest, both of which reward the player with points when they are completed. Also, players can get more points every time they clear a world in the chapter, or add friends in the game. The collected points are used to unlock Nintendo account exclusive items such a gold Mario statue to decorate your kingdom.
Super Mario Run successfully converts a Mario experience into a mobile optimized game. It has very tight and responsive controls, allowing players to test their screen tapping skill.
The story, like all Mario games, is pretty much the same old premise about a plumber saving a damsel in distress. The game has impressive visuals, as seen from the colourful environment and sharp character models.
However, I felt the price point of US$9.99 to unlock 21 additional levels and three characters a bit steep. Since each level takes between 60 to 90 seconds to clear, I could complete all the levels easily within a few hours. Although there is some replayability for me to collect all coloured coins, I was not very motivated to do so as there were no rewards for collecting just some of the coloured coins. The reward only comes in when you have collected ALL the coins in each level. Also, after trying out the new characters, I realized that Mario was still my favourite character to use as the other characters are not able to use the red mushroom power up to grow larger.
For all its bells and whistles, Super Mario Run is definitely more appealing to the fan than an average consumer. With its high price point, short playtime, and a lack of distinct characters, it appears Super Mario Run might not make it that far.