Nintendo’s first foray into mobile gaming may have been a massive hit (Pokemon Go) but their first premium game is certainly a mixed bag of weirdness. Super Mario Run costs the grand old price of £7.99, not an extravagant price when comparing it to the traditional games market, but certainly pricey on mobile platforms. So what do you get for your money? Let’s find out.
First up, Super Mario Run is a running platofrmer, but because you can’t control a phone as easily as you would a traditional console and controller, the game is a forever runner – Mario himself moves forward regardless as to whether you actually press anything or not. This is a massive break from previous mario games, with their precise controls, but is understandable due to the constraints of mobile phone’s designs.
Nintendo made a big point of advertising the fact you control Mario with only one hand, and whilst it works absolutely fine, it does change the players relationship with Mario. You see, Mario in most games is renowned for his precision – where you want him to go, he will go. This 1:1 relationship between what you do on the controller and Mario actually moving is one of the main reasons the Mario franchise has been so successful. The issue is, having Mario move himself forward makes it hard to judge when to actually jump, or the to tap the screen to make him kill an enemy.
This disconnection between player and movement actually has far reaching consequences. I for one love mario games – they can be both simplistic, and extremely hard depending on your skill level. Super Mario 3D World for example, I managed to collect every single optional coin, and even completed the extra hard special levels, all because of how much I enjoyed controlling Mario. Yet, in super Mario Run, I struggled in even simple levels, accidentally making Mario fall to his death multiple times just because I mis-timed a jump or accidentally used my double-jump far too soon. It’s annoying, and actually made me walk away from the game for several months.
But it’s not all bad, Super Mario Run actually distills the core of Mario games into a mobile platform quite well. Enemies we all know and love go about levels exactly as you’d expect, and are great to take on. There’s no new enemies to take on, but due to some of the level changes some enemies do move in new and different ways. Take the Boo’s for example – as Mario can’t change direction manually, they are usually used as obstacles on your path e.g. popping out of blocks, as opposed to enemies you can actively avoid and use to your advantage.
As alluded to in the previous chapter, Mario’s new control system has resulted in some level design changes. The most dramatic ones are Bowser’s castle levels, and the haunted house levels. The former doesn’t entail having multiple levels (levels being platforms above and below the one you’re currently on), whilst the latter consists of very thin levels with lots of blocks that pause Mario and allow him to move again when tapping the screen. This is all fine and good and takes a little longer to get used to than usual, but results in some new gameplay that can get a bit confusing.
On the subject of levels, it has to be noted how few levels there actually are. In total, there’s 18 levels and 6 castle levels, all which can be completed in around 1 minute, resulting in a really short game. The way Nintendo goes about making the game longer is through collecting optional coins – each level contains 5 purple coins. Should you collect them all, you’ll unlock a new version of the level with 5 new coins. Do this 3 times, and you’ve collected everything that level has to offer. I’m usually a fan of these optional objectives, but genuinely had no interest in it here on Super Mario Run. Maybe it was because there’s no way to go back to collect a coin, meaning it’s more memory of the level than your actual skill, resulting if you having to repeat a level multiple times just to get a single coin, but I just couldn’t enjoy this aspect of the game.
Thankfully, the graphics are just as good as ever, with Mario looking just as detailed, if not more so than on Nintendo’s own consoles themselves. Levels are lovely and detailed, and the amount of aliasing being used makes Super Mario Run look like a pixar film at times. It’s just so smooth and detailed, it’s genuinely lovely to look at.
Unfortunately, it seems that Nintendo might have been in two minds when making Super Mario Run. You see, whilst it’s a premium game with a premium price tag, it’s completely cluttered with free to play elements, something that seems at odds with the game’s core design. You see, you start in a hub world where you must start to rebuild the mushroom kingdom using Toads earned through repeating levels in the game’s “Rally” mode, and coins earned in levels. Not only does this try to get you to repeat levels endlessly, it also proceeds to tally up how many enemies you’ve killed giving you special unlocks should you kill so many.
This split personality of premium/free to play couldn’t help but make me feel…. gross for playing Super Mario Run. If the game would have been free-to-play, most of these mechanics would have been completely acceptable – Nintendo need to make money, so keep you coming back is the way to go. But, if I’ve paid a non-inconsequential fee to play the game, I don’t expect to be bombarded with all of this shit. I should be able to play the game as and when I want, and not pestered to spend more time in Mario’s world. It’s a weird mismatch of a game, and one that I wish Nintendo would have fully committed to one or the other.
Overall, I’m glad Nintendo is foraying into brand new territory, but it needs to do so with some consistency. Trying to incorporate Free-to-play mechanics into a premium game makes it both annoying, but also is a subservience to fans of the series, and first-time players alike. It’s enjoyable for a few hours, but Super Mario Run is a weird mix of a platformer that alienates fans of the series, and becomes too expensive for the casual player. By all means give the game a download if you need to see everything Nintendo produces, but be warned that you may not find it as enjoyable as Nintendo games of yester-year.