It’s no big surprise that Nintendo’s decided to wade into the mobile arena given the riches to be made there. Their first effort, Miitomo, got a decent share of attention given it was actually a social network in an age where such things are gradually dying off, and history will fondly recall the Great Pokémon Go Craze of Summer 2016.
Now we’ve got Super Mario Run, the first appearance of Nintendo’s beloved mascot on your phone, tablet, or other iOS-playing device. Our mustachioed hero should bounce his way to Android soon, but for now he’s strictly Apple only.
Super Mario Run is, at heart, an auto-running take on the New Super Mario Bros. series, not unlike fellow platforming champ Rayman’s successful Rayman Jungle Run spin-offs. You’ve got your floaty physics, your wall-jumping and so on, same as you’d expect on a console or handheld version of Mario, but here it’s all tied together with a one-button interface. Tap the screen to make Mario jump. Tap it when he’s touching a wall to wall-jump. Tap it when he’s auto-vaulting over an enemy to make him stomp it, or just stomp enemies in traditional Mario fashion. That’s it, that’s the basics.
It’s a pretty polished experience, as you’d expect from a Nintendo game, but you won’t be faulted for questioning Super Mario Run’s depth. The various levels certainly lack the sort of challenge you’d expect from a main-line Mario game. You’re safe from many obstacles that might have proven an issue in other titles; Mario automatically hurdles over Goombas and Koopas, for instance, only taking damage if you hit them at an disadvantageous angle during a jump. Mario will also automatically avoid smaller gaps and climb up smaller ledges. It feels like an easier game all around.
The heart of Run, however, lies in plumbing (get it?) all 24 levels to get the most out of them that you can. The key to this lies in the special colored coins scattered around. Collecting all the pink coins in a level – which is likely to be harder than you’d expect thanks to Mario’s inability to run backwards – unlocks a set of purple coins for that level, which are placed in even more devious locations. Collecting all of those will let you try and collect the absolutely brutal black coins. Completing every level in the game is one thing, but actually mastering Super Mario Run is another entirely.
Completion will earn you rewards that can be used in the Mushroom Kingdom-building segment of the game that serves as a hub. You can also advance your kingdom by doing well in the pseudo-multiplayer Toad Rally mode. Here you’ll select an opponent and race through a course, grabbing as many coins and pulling off as many cool stunts as possible in order to impress a crowd of Toads. The winner will have those Toads move into their kingdom, which allows you to access new and more impressive structures, but you can lose Toads if you’re beaten by your opponent as well.
Your opponent can’t directly interfere with you during a Toad Rally race, so winning boils down to mapping out the ideal “line” through each Rally level and performing to the best of your ability; I ended up finding this the most enjoyable part of Super Mario Run, one that’s worth the price of admission all on its lonesome.
Speaking of that price, you’ve probably already heard that while Run is a free game, you’ll need to drop $10 for full access to all of the content. This, of course, has made the Internet lose its koopa mind, but I think we’re pretty much past caring what the Internet thinks, right? It’s not a bad price for a highly-polished, fully-featured platformer, especially if you’re willing to go the distance with the game to collect everything and reach for the stars in Toad Rally. It’s certainly a better deal than most mobile games out there; thank the invincibility stars that there’s no Mario Gems microtransaction system or whatever.
With that in mind, if you go into Super Mario Run aware that you’re getting a $10 mobile game rather than a fully-fledged Mario extravaganza, you’ll probably be pleased with the results. The level design is solid and finding the colored coins helps keep each stage feeling fresh, while the multiplayer mode encourages you to keep improving. As a casual train-riding experience, you could certainly do worse, and the game’s best trait might be that it’s kind to your wallet where many other mobile titles won’t be.