Format: iOS (reviewed)
Released: December 15, 2016
Full copy purchased
Whatever one may think of Super Mario Run (and let’s get this out of the way now – I’m not impressed), it’s a landmark title marking the Mario series’ debut on iOS devices. While not Nintendo’s first foray into the mobile gaming market, it represents the first time one of the company’s historic brands has appeared with what we could charitably call a full-fledged game.
Important it may be, but it’s not exactly great.
I’m a fan of the “endless runner” genre but Nintendo’s tepid take on the idea, focusing more on repetitive social challenges than engaging content, doesn’t do enough to keep me hooked. What’s more, it’s nowhere near worth the ten dollar asking price that it unveils after several stages of masquerading as a free-to-play game.
Like most “runner” games, chirping plumber Mario automatically moves through each stage and the player taps to make him jump. The longer a finger’s held down, the higher he jumps, and tapping again while in mid-air allows him to get a little boost from a spin-move.
Rather than directly take damage from enemies, Mario autonomously hops over them, but a quick tap of the screen lets him stomp them for extra coins. This doesn’t mean Koopa Troopers and Goombas aren’t dangerous – Mario only vaults them if he’s had a bit of time to start running, so badly timed jumps might land him in trouble.
Mushrooms negate damage as one might expect, though taking a hit without the obligatory power-up doesn’t mean instant death. Instead, Mario loses some collected coins and is shunted back a little ways, undoing progress and making each level’s strict timer more of a threat. When playing a course in Tour mode (the campaign, ostensibly), this can happen only twice before death is final and the level needs restarting.
Tour mode offers six worlds with four stages as Mario encounters the usual foes and works to save Princess Peach from Bowser once again. Courses themselves aren’t particularly lengthy or challenging, and you’ll pretty much have the “story” completed within the hour if you cared to blast through it in a single go.
Replay value is contrived with special colored coins that unlock extra courses, encouraging players to return to completed levels and grab anything they missed. There are also other characters to unlock, though many of them trade-off the ability to use mushrooms for some additional jumping ability – an ability that’s not good enough to make up for the loss of the mushroom’s advantages.
Anything discussed already is fluff because the real core of Super Mario Run is Toad Rally.
Everything in this game is built to support Toad Rally, a quasi-competitive game about collecting Toads and building things. This is where Nintendo put all its attention and it shows in just how brief the more traditional mode is.
Sadly, priorities were clearly misplaced.
By spending tickets – earned in bonus games and offered as login rewards – players can take on Toad Rally courses, which are randomized “remix” versions of the stages found in Tour mode. The big twist is that recorded gameplay of another player’s run will appear as a “ghost” in the stage while the game tallies up the amount of coins they’ve accrued.
The point of Toad Rally is to pick up more coins than the player you’ve been pitted against. There are no lives to be lost, but every time you take a hit you’ll lose coins and precious seconds of progress, giving your ghostly opponent the advantage.
If you can keep collecting coins without taking too many hits you’ll enter Coin Rush and be able to nab the many additional doubloons that spew out into the stage. Invincibility Stars are also hidden in Toad Rally stages, granting not just invulnerability but a free Coin Rush as well. Should you perform particularly well, Toads will cheer you on and may grant bonus coins at the end.
Honestly? I hate writing about this game.
Winners of a Toad Rally course will acquire Toads, growing a populous of fungus-faced friends that can be used to build a personalized Mushroom Kingdom. The more Toads acquired, the higher the Kingdom’s level grows and the more things players can put in it.
When players have the requisite number and color of Toads, they’ll be able to place buildings on a map. Some of these buildings are purely decorative, while others allow bonus games to be played for extra coins and tickets.
Seriously, describing this game is like torture. I hate writing about it, and I realize fully that my displeasure is accurately reflected in the quality of this review.
Anyway, onto the real kicker of this game – Toad Rally not only costs tickets, but potentially Toads. Losing a Toad Rally course will cause a number of previously collected Toads to be lost – only a handful, but enough to make the early goings of the game really annoying at times.
There’s no real way of knowing how well an opponent will perform in a stage ahead of time – Super Mario Run only shows their username and the amount of Toads they’ve earned overall. Additionally, you don’t get to choose the course – a list will be offered to you, and if only one of the stages on that list has the purple or green Toads you need, you’re at Nintendo’s random mercy.
Winning Toad Rally is satisfying enough, but losing is more than frustrating – it can feel like an active waste of time. If you’re trying to get a certain type of Toad to unlock a desirable building but have a run of bad luck, you’ll be made to sit and watch as you only slip further away from your goal.
More than that, however, the need to replay the same old levels in order to get more Toads turns into a boring grind at a rapid pace. I was over the whole process on the game’s launch day, and I’ve not felt particularly compelled to continue beyond that. I’ve dipped back in, but I’m doing so out of some grim sense of obligation rather than a genuine desire to play.
The idea of building a Mushroom Kingdom and unlocking inhabitants via gameplay is great, but I’d rather have seen it as its own full production. As a tacked-on way of extending Super Mario Run‘s lifespan, it’s ill-conceived and frankly offputting in its current incarnation.
Super Mario Run would have been better if it had committed to a single idea. Instead, we’ve got a lacking runner game melded to a half-baked city builder that relies on repetition and artificial setbacks in order to pad itself out. With a premium cost – as well as a data-hogging always-online requirement – this is a game that’s worth neither the time nor the money it’s demanding.
I was really excited about Super Mario Run before it launched, but it’s just not got enough going on to earn its keep. Like Miitomo, this is yet another promising mobile effort from Nintendo that gets old fast and just can’t justify any investment on the part of the audience.