Examined: Nintendo's flagship franchise comes to the iPhone in 'Super Mario Run'
Cutting right to it, "Super Mario Run" is polished. But, there needs to be a word for something beyond polished, because it may not do the game's presentation justice. All is not perfect in Toad Kingdom, though, and AppleInsider knows what the problems are.
The mobile execution looks exactly like a Mario game you'd see on the 3DS or the Wii-U. The colors are vibrant, the characters are springy and squashy as they should be, and the voices are crisp and expressive. Everything about "Super Mario Run" screams "legitimate Mario game." Visually, and from an audio standpoint, at least.
One button? That can't be right.
The controls are tight. Mario jumps and bounces and slides the way he does in the console games. He's got a weight to him, and if you've played any Mario game in the last fifteen years or so, you'll know what we're talking about. The jumping in "Super Mario Run" just feels good — the way a video game jump should feel.
While this isn't an optimal comparison, the gameplay itself is effectively textbook endless runner, with modifiers. Mario starts out at the beginning of a level and immediately starts running.
You're paying for the Nintendo experience, you're paying for the Mario franchise.
Mario automatically vaults over small obstacles and enemies, but tapping the screen will make a bigger hop. Tapping and holding allows Mario to get some serious air. If you tap while jumping, Mario will do a little spin, and if you tap after you hit a wall, Mario will do a wall jump and vault himself upward to the opposite surface.
As with all endless runners, Mario will progress to the right indefinitely, save for the few times he'll hit arrows that may send him flying in the opposite direction, or a pause block.
We've come a long way since "Super Mario Brothers" on the NES
The level design of the games are where it does manage to set itself apart from more generic endless runners without a Mario pedigree. There's a few levels, notably any ghost house level, that actually aren't simply progressing to the far right of a stage. Instead, these often require timed jumps into correct doors while avoiding pesky ghosts. They're fun, and they do add a fresh layer of paint to the whole "endless runner" gimmick.
There's the Toad Rally mode as well. In Toad Rally, users compete against other players to collect the most coins and do the most impressive tricks. The more tricks you do, the more Toads show up and cheer for you.
At the end of the level, Toadette shows up, counts your coins and the amount of Toads that had been cheering you on, and whoever has more of the two wins. This will probably prove to be a big social addition for the game, because it allows you to challenge friends and folks from all over the world to put jumping and coin collecting skills to the test.
Plus, if you do well enough, you can collect Toads that get added to your own Kingdom, a fun little Animal Crossing style town builder that can give you some bonuses, and unlock some characters that play different than "vanilla" Mario.
There are some critiques of the game, however. For all it's polish and all its fun mechanics, it is just another endless runner that happened to pop up rather late in the game for endless runners.
Endless runners have been available for the iPhone almost since day one, and in the last two years have seen a sharp increase in the App Store. The market is over-saturated with endless runners, and the concern we had rolling into "Super Mario Run" was that it wasn't going to make enough innovation to make us interested in the genre again.
And, at the time of release, we're not sure if it has.
Sure, it's got some honest-to-goodness traditional Mario platformer flavor. To draw a Mario franchise comparison, the game more recalls "Super Mario 3D Land" than the older classics from the 8-bit days.
But, the charming thing about those other games is that you have full control over Mario. You get to time the jumps perfectly. You get to explore the scenery for what it is. And barring those few pesky auto-scrolling levels with the Mario-scrapers, in traditional Mario games, you get to stop.
"Super Mario Run" is endless-like gameplay by design, which robs you of the ability to step back from the situation and plan out your next move. Super Mario Run is reflexive, and fast paced. It's utterly everything an endless runner should be — but we're not sure if it's living up to what a Mario game should aspire to.
Persistent internet, on mobile
There's also the "Super Mario Run has to be actively connected to the internet" bit to deal with as well. The game was advertised to be a game you could play anywhere, any time, and many people took that as a game you could play with an offline mode. Sadly, you'll at least need to be connected to wireless at the least, though the game definitely seems to prefer a stable wi-fi connection.
Early reports pegged the game as taking about 75 MB per hour of play. We're not quite seeing that much, and the numbers we got were probably inflated a bit from some early data downloads, but after the peak, we are seeing about 40 MB of usage per hour — and that's still a lot if you've got a restrictive cap.
Wi-fi prevails, so we don't think it's a deal breaker. But, for parents who are letting their kids play this game on an iPod Touch, or those who are worried about busting their data caps, this actually could be a big problem.
Not nickled and dimed to death
And then there's the $10 non-optional in-app purchase. In order to continue playing more than the first three "campaign" levels, you've got to pony up $10 to unlock them to play them more than 20 seconds. You get a few minor bonuses, such as some extra coins and some rally tickets which we've already discussed, but really, you're just paying to unlock the rest of the game you've downloaded.
Of course, the ultimate question boils down to "Is there $10 worth of content in this game?" The answer is fully dependent on the type of gamer you are.
If you're into the Mario series and you play them to fully beat them, collect every coin, clear every stage, top every high score, then yes, there probably is $10 worth of content in this game, despite the general industry-wide reluctance to pony up for a "premium" mobile experience.
If you fall more on the casual end of the spectrum, the type of gamer that only wants to play every so often at random, and doesn't care about beating the game in it's fullest end, there's likely not enough of a game to justify dropping that kind of money on an app.
Whatever you decide, please remember, however, that we're dealing with a Nintendo developed product that is polished and has a dedicated team actively monitoring it. It's not a small app developed by a single person in their free time and thrown onto the App Store to rot.
You're paying for the Nintendo experience, you're paying for the Mario franchise.
The final verdict
So, where does AppleInsider come down on Super Mario Run? Well, it's a little complicated and defies a star-ranking.
We do like the game quite a bit. Nintendo did exactly what they said they were going to do — they gave us a Mario game on iOS. That being said, it's still a relatively expensive game in an over-saturated genre that doesn't have an offline mode.
We appreciate the polish, we appreciate the dedication, and we appreciate the fact that Nintendo has been taking mobile more seriously as a platform for actual games, finally.
Play the first three levels a couple of times to figure out if you'll be playing this game over the long run, because we do still have some reservations about the longevity of the title. If you're interested, the $10 in-app purchase isn't the worst thing you could spend your money on.
Super Mario Run is free to download from the App Store, though unlocking the full game requires a $9.99 purchase. The title is a 204-megabyte download to start, that rapidly swells as progress is made through the game.
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