Super Mario Run (iOS) Review

Super Mario Run launched last year and pleasantly surprised me. No only was the gameplay a lot more challenging than I anticipated but the level design did not suffer at all from the new “non-stop” control scheme.

The game is split up into two main modes: World Tour and Toad Rally.

World Tour

Tour is the standard world progression we are used to in Mario games. There are six worlds currently and each world has four stages. The last stage on each world is the usual Castle or Airship with a Boss at the end.

Each stage has five pink coins to collect. Once all pink coins are gathered in a stage (within a single run through), five purple coins become available to collect within that same stage in harder or just alternate locations. Once all five purple coins are collected, black coins become available in even harder locations. For players that just wish to go through all the stages a few times and be done, this will not mean much. Yet, for players that love to collect everything and enjoy the challenge, this will add a lot of replay value. This coin structure effectively makes every stage in the game function as three different stages.

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World Tour provides the classic stage based Mario experience.

Toad Rally

Rally is the game’s asynchronous multiplayer feature. Using Rally Tickets obtained through World Tour, amongst other sources, players can go against other players in a straight out race to see who can collect more coins and be more “flashy” overall during the race. It is surprisingly addictive and rewarding. Winning increases the amount of Toads you have in your little version of Mushroom Kingdom and serves as your player ranking. Losing decreases the amount of Toads you have. The amount won or lost is proportional to the difference between your Toad count and your opponent’s Toad count. Do not fret though, players get to select who they want to challenge from a list, usually filtered to show some weaker opponents, some around the same ranking and some stronger. How the game decides the behavior and performance of opponent’s AI is still a mystery to me. It could be using recorded data from that player’s last run or just calculating it on the go using variables.

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Toad Rally is a very addictive take on player versus player asynchronous play.

Mushroom Kingdom

Aside from bragging rights, gathering coins during Rallies (and World Tour) allow you to buy buildings and other decoration/landscape type items to “rebuild” the Mushroom Kingdom. Most structures available at first are only cosmetic; offering no gameplay benefits. This is perfectly fine for players who enjoy building and customizing their own space. For players looking for more incentive, completing different in-game feats (like clearing all the World Tour stages or collecting all the special coins of one color) will unlock different kinds of buildings, some of which actually offer rewards. For example, there are buildings and other decorations that offer chances to obtain coins and Rally Tickets every eight hours!

The Free and The Paid

The game can be downloaded for free and the free version offers a lot more than I excepted it would. Aside from the standard tutorial level, players are allowed free reign to the games first three levels on World Tour. They can also Toad Rally to their hearts content, granted they do not run out of Rally Tickets. Considering that each level has three different tiers of special coins to collect, free version players have plenty to do before hitting the pay wall.

When players reach the game’s first Castle (stage four), they are offered the ability to play twenty seconds of the stage or just go ahead and pay. Paying will immediately unlock the rest of World Tour (all six worlds) and also provide the players with a few extra bonuses like a ton of coins (to buy Mushroom Kingdom stuff) and Toad Rally tickets (awesome!). Based on Nintendo statements, this will be the only time the game will ask for money and, almost a year in, the statement has held true.

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Mushroom Kingdom serves as the game’s hub area. Players can decorate it as well as gain bonuses when they unlock special buildings.

Level Design

So, why pay ten dollars for a mobile game? The quality is there. This is the Mario we know and love but, at the same time, it is seriously different and much more challenging; akin to watching crazy speed runs of side-scrolling platformers. Because the game keeps the playable character in constant motion most of the time, players have to quickly make decision after decision to successfully navigate the levels while avoiding hazards, beating up baddies and collecting coins. The first few stages are pretty straight forward and generally easy to get through. Beyond, though, the challenge ramps up noticeably, more than I have ever seen from a Mario platformer. It makes the game frustrating but also rewarding. Once certain mechanics “click”, the game just feels really good and satisfying.

Look, this is not a standard mobile “always running” randomly generated platformer. These are carefully crafted Nintendo caliber stages designed and tuned specifically for this new control scheme. It is impressive how the team has been able to create something so ultimately new to the Mario series while, at the same time, keeping it so familiar. If you take the venture and buy the app, you will be very surprised when the first haunted house stage rolls around and the entire game formula gets thrown on its head.

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Ghost House levels break the flow of the “constant running” formula with added verticality and door puzzles.

The app costs what it does because real development time went into designing what is, by all means, a “bite-sized” version of a standard Mario game. For perspective, Super Mario Run has twenty four stages with double to triple playability. Super Mario Brothers U has about eighty-two stages with single to double playability. That is about a third of the content for only a tenth of the cost! Toad Rally is just frosting; a fantastic added bonus that has proven much more addictive and entertaining than I foresaw.

Challenge

I touched on this earlier: the game is hard! It should get a bit easier with time as instincts get honed and the game’s mechanics become more second nature. But, overall, it is challenging in a way no Mario game has ever been before. There is a fearlessness from Nintendo in regards to this game. First Mario game outside Nintendo hardware. No fluffy mittens when it comes to level design and difficulty. It is a side of Mario I have not seen before. I like it! It reminds me of playing the original Super Mario Brothers when I was little. When stages, especially in the latter worlds, were really hard at first. Players were kept constantly in motion and on their toes. Deaths were constant. Success was truly earned.

For a long time, whether by growing up and having skills improved or the games being designed to be easier, this level of challenge has just not been there. This little “one handed” Mario game is doing it.

Mobile Tropes

Did Nintendo create an amazing mobile game and yet forget to provide the standard tropes of the mobile genre? The answer is “no”. Beyond Toad Rally with its competitive nature and player ranking system, the game also offers daily challenges and long term achievements; all with individual rewards. So, if collecting the special coins on each stage is not your thing, there is still plenty of replay value encouraged by the game’s “Challenges” and “Missions”.

Conclusion

Frankly, nothing is lost from going on the App Store and downloading the free portion of the game. What it offers will give players a good glimpse of the game and its features. If what you find is even remotely fun, pay to unlock the rest. The game only gets better and more challenging beyond the pay wall. And, to me, the experience was well worth it.

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