Whether you’re a video game fan looking for more games on the go or a stock market analyst fixated on profit margins, you’ve likely spent the last few years wondering when Nintendo would finally break into mobile game development. Earlier this year, the consolemaker dipped their toe into those waters with the Miitomo communication app, but now they’re finally ready to dive into that big blue ocean with their first mobile game, Super Mario Run.
Genre: Mario Runner
Release Date: December 15, 2016
iTunes App Rating: 4+
Super Mario Run is the perfect entry point into the mobile marketplace for Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto and his team have spent more than three decades molding Mario into a character that can jump into any situation, but he’ll always be most at home in a side-scrolling platformer. And even though you only play it with one hand, that’s exactly what Super Mario Run is.
Like other games in the “runner” genre, Mario is always on the move in Super Mario Run. Players can make the plumber jump by tapping on the screen, and pressing down for a longer period of time will make him jump even higher. But Nintendo also spiced up the formula with a series of special blocks to give players a bit more control over the character. Pause Blocks stop Mario in his tracks and often give players a chance to time a jump over a Fire Rod or a Koopa Paratroopa, Dash Blocks rocket Mario across the screen with a long jump, and Reverse Blocks let Mario jump backwards to avoid obstacles or reach nearby platforms.
More traditional bonus items such as Question Blocks, Mushrooms, and Stars are also a big part of Super Mario Run. Even though it can be played with only one hand, the mobile game is swimming in authenticity, and Nintendo has managed to create something that feels just like a Mario game should. Even the graphics (which use the New Super Mario Bros. U style) and sounds are an authentic echo of the franchise’s past.
It’s obvious that Nintendo doesn’t want their fans to think of Super Mario Run as a replacement for a full-fledged (and full-priced) Super Mario game. However, there were plenty of times where the platforming action was so good that I forgot I was playing a mobile game. Whether you’re stomping Goombas or collecting coins after activating a P-Switch, Super Mario Run gets the little things right. And if you’re like me, this attention to detail will also frustrate you… especially during the runs where you wish you could turn around.
Thankfully, those times are few and far between, and the shear replayability of Super Mario Run will keep you coming back to it again and again. Players will need to rescue the Princess in World Tour mode, but first, they’ll have to complete the game’s 24 courses. In addition to reaching the Goal Pole, Nintendo also wants players to search for a set of five Pink Coins hidden in each course. Completing this secondary goal during a single run will unlock a harder-to-capture Purple set of colored coins and a slightly tweaked version of the course. Expert players who collect all five Purple Coins will then get the chance to chase after the elusive Black Coins in a third revision to the course.
Collecting Pink, Purple, and Black Coins and completing courses leads straight into the game’s second mode, Toad Rally. In Toad Rally, players will compete in timed races against the ghost data of other Super Mario Run players. Even for completionists, the World Tour mode won’t offer much of a challenge, which is why Toad Rally will become the go-to destination for most players. Competing against other players is addicting, and impressing your audience of Toads will help you win and serves as incentive to keep playing. The game’s generous allotment of Rally Tickets (the currency needed to play Toad Rally) is appreciated, though why a game with a $10 price tag has a virtual wall around its main competitive mode, even one that’s easily vaulted, is bizarre.
Super Mario Run’s final mode, Kingdom Builder, lets players use their coins to purchase decorations to rebuild the Mushroom Kingdom. But the game’s Shop also offers the opportunity to unlock Bonus Courses and additional characters. It’s a nice diversion after a tough loss in World Tour or Toad Rally, but there’s not enough to Kingdom Builder to make it worth much of your time.
After all the begging and pleading, is Nintendo’s mobile debut worth it? A lot of financial pundits (and quite a few players) will tell you that Nintendo is crazy to want $10 for a mobile app. But fans of the video game icon will get a polished side-scroller in exchange for their hard-earned money, and I think Super Mario Run is well worth every penny.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Super Mario Run was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.