Nintendo’s latest push has been into the world of mobile gaming. Players from all over have been searching their surroundings for Pokemon since the summer while a smaller, more ravenous fan base has spent the last two months trying to craft the perfect Fire Emblem units. The most well known character in gaming, Mario, had his first mobile game come out in December with Super Mario Run and the recent Android release has allowed me to play it. It’s a high quality game with the polish that an official Mario game deserves but not enough content to warrant its $10 price tag.
- TL;DR: High quality graphics and level design overshadowed by a poor price-to-content ratio
- Platform: Android (reviewed), iOS
- Developer: Nintendo
- Time Played: 3:45
- What I Played: Found all pink coins on all 24 levels and all purple coins on four, 10-15 Toad Rally runs
Super Mario Run is, as you’d expect based on the name, an auto-running platformer in the same vein as Temple Run or Geometry Dash. Mario runs from left to right on his adventure to save Princess Peach for the thousandth time. Mario doesn’t only automatically run but he will also vault over smaller enemies like goombas and koopas as well as short pipes and holes in the ground. Jumping is done with a simple tap, either a quick tap for a short jump or a longer tap for a higher one. A handful of modifiers, like blocks that stop Mario in his tracks or send him flying forwards/backwards, occasionally break the mold but for the most part, Mario runs, jumps, and collects coins on his way to the goal flag.
Nintendo skipped the typical random level generation common to games like this and went with traditional designed levels. The main game mode, World Tour, consists of six worlds with four levels each for a total of 24 levels. Each level is easily beaten without much thought due to the automatic running and one-touch jumping, but it’s worth mentioning their quality. Levels are meticulously crafted with intelligently placed enemies, obstacles, coins, and platforms. Jumping off a few goombas in a row to reach a platform just within Mario’s reach just feels right. Blasting through a level can almost look like a choreographed dance thanks to the fantastic level design.
Beating each level may be simple but the replay value lies in the special coins. Each level has five pink coins to find in a single run. Doing so unlocks a second purple set of coins with a different layout and finding those unlocks a third black set of coins with another layout. It was rare for me to get every pink coin on my first run of a level so I decided to not move on until I did. Playing this way made World Tour last about three hours.
The other two modes, Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder, go hand in hand. Toad Rally is Super Mario Run’s version of multiplayer where you race the AI-controlled ghost of another player in any of your unlocked World Tour levels. The name of the game here is coins since the player with the most coins wins. Winning nets you Toads of different colors that are used in Kingdom Builder. Rebuilding the Mushroom Kingdom isn’t a very deep experience. You have a handful of spots to build things like pipes, question mark blocks, and Toad houses with the coins gained in World Tour and the Toads from Toad Rally. A few buildings unlock special courses that can be replayed, but the novelty of building and looking at your own kingdom wears off quickly.
It’s clear that World Tour is really where it’s at for Super Mario Run which brings me to the most contentious part of the game — its price. Super Mario Run is free to download. You can play the first four levels of World Tour along with Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder at no cost. Going beyond that will cost you $10.
Mobile games tend to come in one of a few payment structures: free with ads, free with microtransactions, or paid. I don’t have a problem paying for a mobile game but I am a bit surprised at the lack of content that $10 gets you in Super Mario Run. I was able to get the pink coins in each level in about three hours. I suspect getting the purple and black coins would take another few hours. I do see myself doing that in five to ten minute spurts here and there, but Super Mario Run could use some kind of leaderboard or daily challenge. Gather the most coins in a rotating daily level, a new randomly generated level per day/week, something like that. Fire Emblem Heroes is free and has already seen a handful of updates with new missions, heroes, and systems in its less than two months of life. To see Super Mario Run only have the 24 levels it released with nearly four months ago and to hear Nintendo say they will not be adding future content is pretty shocking.
It’s a shame that Super Mario Run is in its final state. The levels in World Tour are well made and the overall gameplay is solid, but asking $10 to play those levels without any kind of leaderboard or daily challenge mode is a tough ask. The speed at which Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder lose their luster accentuates the problem. Nintendo has said that sales “did not meet expectations” and I can see why. I hope they learn from their mistakes because while Super Mario Run is a high quality game at its core, the package is flawed.