Super Mario Run Review: Nintendo nails its mobile landing

At the outset, it’s amazing Super Mario Run even exists.

Nintendo, the Japanese gaming giant behind the Mario franchise, is a stoic, slow-moving video game developer and hardware manufacturer that rarely moves its business practices in line with the broader, faster-moving video game industry. Some might even go so far as to say that while Nintendo still releases some of the most polished, top reviewed titles in video games (just take a look at the Wii U’s stellar library), its hardware offerings are often years behind its competitors.

With Nintendo’s upcoming handheld-console hybrid Switch console still looming close on the horizon, the release of Super Mario Run is a fascinating move by the struggling gaming giant.

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Super Mario Run iOS launch marks a fundamental shift in the way the Japanese developer views platforms it hasn’t manufactured. The release of a mobile version of a core Nintendo franchise is one of few instances where an entry in one of the company’s iconic series has made its way to gaming device not manufactured by the Japanese company.

Bringing an iconic franchise that prides itself on balance, precise control and intricate level design to mobile, is a difficult task that few developers beyond Nintendo could accomplish with any degree of success. To Nintendo and DeNA’s credit, Mario feels right at home on mobile in Super Mario Run for Apple’s line of iOS devices, though the game still suffers from a number of flaws.

Surprisingly accurate controls

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The most impressive thing about Super Mario Run is the admirable attempt Nintendo has made at translating the Mario franchise’s classic 2D gameplay to mobile. Rather than just port the series’ standard controls to Apple’s iOS platform, Mario runs automatically from left to right. Tapping the screen causes the plumber to jump, which allows him to break blocks, collect coins and smash enemies, all core mechanics of the now over 30-year-old franchise.

For those familiar with mobile gaming, Super Mario Run is an endless runner, but not in the traditional sense. Each stage has been carefully handcrafted and feels like it could belong in a more traditional side-scroller.

For the most part, this simplified control scheme works well in Run, though fans of classic Mario Games will likely be put off by the fact that Mario is always moving forward. There’s no way to go backward in Super Mario Run unless you die and turn into a bubble (more on that later).

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Given the limited input options when it comes to touchscreen mobile games, as well as the inaccuracy that stems from an on-screen d-pad and buttons — anyone who’s played a more conventional 2D platformer on mobile knows what I’m talking about — Super Mario Run’s controls are the best possible outcome for a 2D platformer designed for a smartphone.

Players will spend most of their time with Super Mario Run playing World Tour mode. Similar to a standard Mario adventure, World Tour spans 24 levels across six different worlds, though individual stages are random and worlds do not stick to a specific theme.

Every stage has the look and feel of a classic Mario title, and save for a few exceptions (all the Ghost Houses are brutal), Run’s level design is on par with what fans of the series have grown to expect. Franchise mainstays like Ghost Houses, deserts, platform-focused stages and other known Mushroom Kingdom territories, appear frequently through the brief but expertly crafted and polished campaign.

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All in, Super Mario Run’s core World Tour Mode can be completed in just a few hours. If you want to collect all the various coins present in each stage (which has three levels of difficulty), World Tour mode is extended significantly and also becomes more difficult. While I typically have no interest in collectibles in a Mario title, I found myself spending hours vying for red and purple coins in Super Mario Run.

Visually, Nintendo’s clean, colourful and all-around charming art style, which received a fresh coat of paint with the release of New Super Mario Bros. for the DS back in 2006, makes a return in Super Mario Run. I’d even go so far as to say that Super Mario Run’s visuals rival that of more recent Wii U entries in the series.

Adapting the formula

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Mario’s familiar formula, however, has been changed in ways that could frustrate long-time fans of the series. Characters now automatically vault over enemies. For example, running into a Goomba or Koopa will no longer hurt Mario. Instead, the plucky plumber vaults over the enemy, stomping on their head in the process, boosting the jump, but only if you’ve timed your screen tap perfectly.

This new mechanic could take some getting used to for some, though it makes sense in the context of Super Mario Run’s one-button control scheme. The game also ditches the traditional life system featured in most Mario titles for a “bubbles” mechanic that’s reminiscent of crying Mario from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.

If Mario falls into a pit or perishes in another way, a bubble will ensnare Mario and drop him in an area of the map behind you. This system can be used to your advantage when hunting for coins in specific levels. It’s also more forgiving than the traditional lives system featured in almost every other Mario title ever released.

Welcome to Toad Rally

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Super Mario Run’s other main gameplay mode is Toad Rally, a game type that pits players against one another in asynchronous “ghost” multiplayer. This portion of Super Mario Run is likely where most players will get the bulk of enjoyment from Nintendo’s first serious foray into mobile.

During a race, whichever player snags the most coins and attracts more Toads (with spectators cheering you on), accomplished by chaining together enemy kills and fancy platforming skills, emerges the winner. Toad Rally is fast paced, chaotic and is the only way to level up your Mushroom land in Super Mario Run’s third mode, Kingdom Builder. The only downfall of Toad Rally is the fact that it requires tickets to play. While you start off with a large number of tickets in the game, the items quickly dwindle and are replenished sparingly. Only after unlocking double question mark boxes was I able to earn a steady supply of Toad Rally tickets, but getting to this can take a significant time investment.

While Toad Rally is entertaining, the act of actually unlocking new Super Mario Run features through this mode quickly begins to feel like a grind. Levelling up your kingdom can require hundreds of multi-coloured toads in some cases. In Kingdom Builder, Super Mario Run’s most disappointing feature, players are able to create buildings and other items in order to unlock new playable characters — Peach, Toad and Luigi etc — as well as special levels.

That price though

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Nintendo’s first serious mobile gaming offering — I don’t really count Miitomo as a ‘real’ game — is an impressive and arguably very successful first attempt at bringing the series to mobile. Super Mario Run feels like a Mario title in every sense, though it’s difficult to deny that for the game’s hefty $13.99 CAD price tag, many players will expect a more in-depth experience, especially from World Tour mode.

While free-to-play has become the norm in the mobile gaming industry, Nintendo opted to go the route of a one-time payment with Super Mario Run, an admirable move by the company that should be applauded. The game’s hefty price tag, however, doesn’t feel justified when the actual amount of content players end up getting in Super Mario Run, is taken into consideration. Rumours also point to the fact that Nintendo has no plans to release additional downloadable content for the game.

The fact that Super Mario Run always requires an internet connection, could be considered a major issue with the game by some. While Nintendo’s fear of piracy is valid, there are less intrusive methods of digital rights management (DRM), especially considering piracy is less of a problem on iOS. Depending on where you plan to play Super Mario Run — for example on the subway, or another location where internet connectivity is spotty — this could be a deal breaker.

Comments

  • AKDISQUS

    Nice ad, how much Nintendo pay you guys? The game has a mere 2.5 stars on app store, I rather take that anecdote than this adreview.

    • Zach Gilbert

      We don’t do sponsored content. In the event that we begin making sponsored content it will be clearly displayed that the content has been sponsored by a third-party.

    • Most of those reviews are based simply on the game’s price tag, which is wildly unfair. People hit level 3 and then are shocked that for once they actually need to fork over real-world dollars for a title. These are also likely the same individuals that decry free-to-play is the downfall of modern gaming as we know it.

      I feel that Super Mario Run is a tremendous accomplishment on Nintendo’s part and a refreshing shift for the company. Does it have issues? Totally. Could it be cheaper? Yes. I discuss all this in my review.

    • Rev0lver

      The price, internet connection requirement and crashes dominate the one star reviews. Few of them even mention the gameplay.

    • That’s what I’ve seen in most of the user reviews, though I haven’t run into any crashing issues.

    • Smanny

      Patrick even you have to admit that this Mario run game is Nintendo only in backing and name. But in no way is it the same Mario Bros in game play at all. Also to say that with on screen controls it was the only way that Nintendo could have brought it to mobile. I will stop you right there. Nintendo could have added a number of input different methods, or better yet allowed users to choose from a number of different input methods. Apples smartphones all have gyroscopes and accelerometers. Plus they could have allowed Bluetooth game controllers as well. So to sum it up. This game is half @$$. I hope Nintendo will add the real game play to their next mobile version. Because this is definitely disappointing to all those that played the original versions. Look the original Wii used a 90 mm CPU that was clocked at 243 MHz and it was rated at 12 gigaflops. So most smartphones fly past that speed. For crying out loud most smart watches today have more processing power than the Wii.

    • Shawn

      Have you tried it with a gamepad? It might work. But the point is this: if you want a full console Mario game, buy a console. This is a phone game, and needs to be different. I don’t want to bring a gamepad with me everywhere. Your demand for ideological purity on a smartphone app would lead to games that few would want to play.

    • First, that’s not at all true. Miyamoto and Nintendo were heavily involved in the development of Super Mario Run. Just because DeNA was a partner doesn’t mean the developer handled the bulk of the game’s creation, that’s a common misconception about Super Mario Run.

      Second, the Mario franchise is about accuracy, timing and fast reflexes. A touch-based dpad would never work and an accelerometer or gyroscope would make matters even worse. Yes, a Bluetooth gamepad could have solved the problem, but then Nintendo’s limiting the game’s audience significantly.

      2D sidescrollers are about much more than graphics. For what it is, Super Mario Run looks great and is about on par with the Wii U platforming Mario titles that have been released.

    • Smanny

      You are all about trying to justifying this Mario run game. Even to the point at the end where you state that is about on par with the Wii U platforming Mario titles. So please where are the Mario run games on the Wii or Wii U? Oh, wait there are none.

      Now as trying to say that on screen would never work, and the accelerometer and gyroscope would make things worse. How do you know? Did they try it? No they didn’t. Did they add in Bluetooth controller support? Nope, they didn’t. Are you a programmer Patrick? I am, and I know if you put the effort in to these options, then they certainly can work. Also what could have helped as well is multiple game play options. Sure some will hate on screen controls, some will hate Bluetooth controllers, and some will hate using an accelerometer and gyroscope. But if you offer multiple options, then users can find one option that will work for them.

      When I posted the information in regards to the Wii specs. I was trying to convey that most smartphones today go far beyond the speed of the Wii. Which a number of titles were actually really great on the Wii. I guess that is why you see some Mario Bros clone games on some platforms like Android, or the PC. For that matter you can also find some SNES emulators as well.

    • David Prince

      So far I am really enjoying SMR and have no problem paying $14 to unlock the full game.

      The last “free” game I was playing would charge double that just for one character. It was really a pay to win game that just keeps getting worse with the money grabbing.

      Even though the game was more aggravating than fun, I didn’t want to give up after spending close to $100 on new characters and upgrades.

      It seems like a lot of people expect a great game for cheap or free. I can still remember paying $5+ to rent a video game for the NIGHT!

    • Jo

      You do realize that they talk about everything mobile related, and that technically, if they stopped talking about anything being sold, they would most likely close down their blog (which we don’t want). If you don’t like something, just don’t read it. It’s pretty simple.

    • Brad Fortin

      “I don’t agree with you, SOMEONE MUST HAVE PAID YOU TO DISAGREE WITH ME!” Great flawgic.

    • AKDISQUS

      Uhhh the game has bad rating and only 4% of downloaders paid for the game. So shove it up your a*s.

    • Brad Fortin

      The Switch To iOS app on Android also has a bad rating but in both cases it has nothing to do with the quality of the app. The overwhelming majority of the negative Super Mario Run reviews are just complaints about the price and have nothing to do with the gameplay.

      And what’s with the unwarranted aggression? Has someone been shoving things up your a*s lately and you want others to feel your pain?

  • AppleBerrySandwich

    What a rip off. No way.

  • John W

    To me i was so excited about this game UNTIL i found out it is an endless running game. As soon as i saw that the likelihood of me downloading it went down the tubes. If they had only ported super mario 1 ,2 or 3 and updated the graphics a bit i am sure they would sell like hot cakes.

    • Shawn

      I wouldn’t want to play those on a phone with touchscreen. Besides, I already have those. It’s not an endless runner. For one, it hands and end to each level. But they are carefully made levels with multiple paths and lots of challenges. Give it a shot. But it’s not a full console 2D Mario game. But it shouldn’t be.

    • And it would basically be unplayable. You can’t recreate a dpad on a touchscreen and have it be accurate enough to enjoy a game like the Super Mario bros. series.

  • fruvous

    The requirement for it to be online to use is a deal breaker.

    • Shawn

      That’s a shame, because it’s otherwise a fun game.

  • Baines

    Downloaded it, played it, and it was AWFUL. It’s not worth the purchase price, in fact, it’s not even worth your time if it’s free. For me, there is no doubt that Super Mario Galaxy was worth $60, and this game isn’t worth s$!%. I agree with the comments below, this is just the Mario brand smeared on garbage.

    • Brad Fortin

      What did you find so awful about it?

  • Shawn

    I stole a relative’s iPhone and downloaded the app. The 3.5 free levels were a lot of fun. It’s Mario boiled down to it’s basic gameplay. Great replayability. I cannot wait until it’s on Android so I can buy the full thing.

  • Six. I plan to review every level in the game.

  • Brad Fortin

    Great review of a good game. I find the “just a few hours” of gameplay is only true if you race your way through the game, but if you try to be a completionist the gameplay will easily extend to a few days or weeks. I’m just disappointed there’s no way to control the running direction, like a sideways swipe along the giant empty portion at the bottom of the screen.

  • Andrew Holt

    I can’t find this game anywhere in the Play store. Is it not compatible with the Galaxy S7?

    • It’s only available on iOS. Nintendo says the game is coming to Android soon though.

  • Gewurttraminer

    It seems to me that this may be a better game for the Apple TV platform where game controllers can be used. As far as those claiming BT controllers could’ve been used with an iOS device I’d argue that’s rather silly. Certainly with an iPhone and to a lesser extent an iPad which you’d have to prop up somewhere like a laptop in order to play. Plus, I don’t even think controllers are supported by iPads anyways and the same goes for iPhones.
    It’s a good effort for their first foray into mobile gaming like this and probably should’ve been priced around $10. Those complaining excessively about price seem to think quality items should come for free. Lots of skinflints post on this site looking for something for nothing.

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