Mario’s inaugural run onto mobile provides fun even in simplicity and brevity. UPDATE: Now with final score
Super Mario Run alternates between the novel, well-worn mechanics of a modern Mario platformer and the frantic, high-score-chasing just-one-more go nature of arcade (and mobile) games. The result is a tempered success that provides a grand dose of fun but ultimately feels like a muted side story in the Mario canon.
First off, the one-touch controls are subtly magnificent. With a focused, limited interaction, Nintendo managed to expertly replicate the joy of a Mario platformer in a whole new way. For example, the act of vaulting over enemies opens up a new dynamic where you often have to vault on enemies to get an extra boost to get to hard-to-reach areas. Mario feels precise and even if he can generally only run forward in one direction, it rarely feels limiting. One of the few issues is that, especially as you try to 100% it, levels require a lot of repetition and retries. For me, that problem went away as the levels in Mario Run started to feel more akin to rhythm game levels as I attempted to hit the jumps, enemies, and blocks at the perfect time. I’ve lost hours to trying to 100% this game and I’ve had a blast doing so.
The World Tour mode is what most closely resembles a Mario game, comprised of six worlds with four levels each. The worlds aren’t pinned down to represent specific elements, but throughout the 24 levels, classic Mario locales are shown off in the New Super Mario Bros. style. Exploration is a little lessened, especially since Mario always runs, but these levels shine in part due to the different colored coins you collect. In your first run, you’re after pink coins. Get all five of those, and you’ll unlock purple and then black coins. Each set encourages a different path through the level, and most level designs even feature a twist on the obstacles. A quick runthrough won’t take you long, but this mode has staying power because the purple and black coins become quite dastardly to snag.
World Tour doesn’t linger too long on one idea, and feels a lot like Nintendo’s original mobile vision of guiding players to play full-fledged Mario games come to life. It ends a little too quickly and the last world lacks the panache that has buoyed the finales of recent Mario platformers. The brilliant flair of this mode is found in the colored coin collection and the high-score-chasing component. The latter is heavily dependent on your friends list, which can be built up through your Twitter and Facebook friends as well as a shareable friend code. Unfortunately, despite comments from Nintendo saying otherwise, you can’t import your Miitomo friends into Mario Run.
The natural place to go after finishing World Tour is the Toad Rally mode, which might be the most important one in the game. It’s the focus of the more directly competitive element and the main method for earning Toads, which are tied to the unlockables and bonuses. You compete against the ghosts of other players to try to out-style them through modified levels pulled from select World Tour stages. Collecting coins, performing parkour, and stomping on enemies are the best method to proceed through each level. Toad Rally is fun in fleeting moments, made worse by the fact that it’s hard to judge if you or your opponent had a good run until the end. It makes it feel a little too random. Additionally, the punishment can be steep for a failed run and it’s surprisingly difficult to actually compete against your friends. Most of the time, you just get a random assortment of challengers.
Kingdom Builder is the third aspect of Mario Run and it doesn’t have too much going on. It’s a very passive experience that relies heavily on the charm of seeing random Toads rolling around the grass of your burgeoning castle grounds. The kingdom is expandable and can house a variety of pipes, buildings, and statues that add flair, secret characters, and more. As a bonus on top of World Tour and Toad Rally, Kingdom Builder is alright, but it’s very limited, mostly providing a nice interface to track unlockables.
Super Mario Run is fun and it seems to be perfectly representative of Nintendo’s mobile plans: provide a taste that potentially leads players to their consoles. This isn’t a grand, deep experience, but it has enough inventive twists on Mario platforming to remain fun for a few hours. The depth all depends on whether or not you can hardcore into colored coin collecting or deep into Toad Rally. For me, I didn’t get too into the latter. Mario Run is a fresh, novel take on the series for mobile devices, and even if it doesn’t totally stick the landing, it’s an engaging ride.