There still isn’t anything that excites me as much as a new Super Mario game. It is with new hardware that Nintendo’s creative spark flickers brightest, and the portly Italian plumber’s Mushroom Kingdom adventures often act as a technical showpiece that let us marvel at their playful reinvention.
Where Super Mario 64 had delivered a masterclass in 360-degree movement thanks to the three-pronged Nintendo 64 controller, Super Mario 3D Land was the perfect way to demonstrate the untapped potential behind their decision to pursue glasses-free stereoscopic 3D with the Nintendo 3DS, and let’s not forget Super Mario Maker, which had empowered wannabe course creators to bring their own wacky ideas to life.
But now, with Nintendo Switch mere months away, Super Mario Run presents a moment in time that we had never thought possible – a platforming experience that excels on hardware other than Nintendo’s own. I’m just as surprised, too.
After the world had quickly lost interest in Miitomo‘s quirky appeal, we have had a long wait to learn about what Nintendo planned to release next. With their Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem mobile games pushed back to 2017, that news came at the Apple Special Event where Shigeru Miyamoto and Bill Trinen seized the chance to delight the world with a glimpse at Mario’s next adventure. The premise was simple, in being a new kind of Mario game that you can play with one hand.
I was lucky enough to have had the chance to sit down and play Super Mario Run for little over an hour, at which point I left amazed at just how addictive the game quickly became.
That simple input, which, when it was announced rang alarm bells in the minds of the Nintendo faithful, results in a platforming experience that immediately necessitates a new way of thinking. With Mario automatically running through each course, the player simply taps to jump or holds longer presses to jump slightly higher. It’s easy to grasp and will mean that players of all skill levels can get started in a matter of seconds.
With coins scattered in each course and marauding enemies threatening to halt your progress, Mario has never felt so agile in being able to deal with the obstacles placed in his path. He can playfully hop over Goombas, climb up ledges, swing from monkey bars, and roll to break his landings, all with particularly stylish acrobatic pizzazz. If this was Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he’d win Gold every time.
This slick approach is meant to impress and encourage in equal measure, and, while there are no lives to worry about, players can be rescued from an early demise with bubbles. These are limited in number for each course that you choose to tackle, but more can be hidden in Question Blocks that litter your path.
Super Mario Run‘s real pull, especially in the main World Tour mode, is speedrun challenges. The clock is always pushing players to clear courses efficiently, and, coupled with that, are three sets of coloured coins – Pink, Purple and Black – that successively unlock when collected in entirety. These are positioned in places that increasingly challenge the player’s quick thinking and reckless abandon, remixing the courses in a way that will be welcomed by those who may have been worried that the mobile game wouldn’t test their platforming proficiency.
The World Tour mode once again has you rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser’s clutches, a mission that will take you across the Mushroom Kingdom’s rolling hills, perplexing Ghost Houses, soaring airships, and Bowser’s fiery castles. There are six Worlds in total that contain 24 courses designed to be played on a mobile in portrait view, the Ghost Houses being a particular standout. These have a fixed viewpoint and don’t scroll, seeing Mario wander off one side of the screen to appear on the other. It’s a simple touch but mixes up everything that has come before it, making you ponder how to reach higher platforms to recover door keys to progress further into the course.
The more social elements come in Toad Rally mode, where players can compete against friends and others around the world. Your task here is to complete a course with as many stylish moves as you can manage, pitted against the crowd-pleasing display achieved by another player. With a high score in your sights, players will need to win over a crowd of Toads and can build a gauge that, when activated, will unleash Coin Rush to help boost your score. I can’t understate how entertaining this is, and it is great to see Nintendo looking for ways to encourage more online interaction between players. The caveat is that you will need Rally Tickets to play Toad Rally mode, although these can be freely earned in-game by clearing Worlds or participating in bonus games in your kingdom. It’s all about keeping you actively playing the game over a longer period of time.
And that leads us on to Kingdom Builder, which is the last piece of the puzzle. With more than 100 kinds of items at your disposal, this lets players create their own kingdom with buildings and decorations that can be purchased with coins that have been collected across World Tour and Toad Rally courses. Toads that have cheered you on in Toad Rally may decide to move in, and, as their number grows, you will unlock access to more grandiose items to personalise your kingdom. With Rainbow Road bridges and Piranha Plants to place, this will really reward those that invest their time with unlockable content – such as new characters to play as, Luigi and Yoshi being those that I spotted.
The best part, is that you can try Super Mario Run before purchase. The free download will let you play Courses 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, and 20 seconds worth of the first Boss stage in World Tour, compete on these courses in Toad Rally, and let you construct in Kingdom Builder. That’s a lot of content to give you a good idea as to whether you will enjoy yourself. Then, if you like what you have played, you can unlock the full game for £7.99 ($9.99). Fear not, there are no microtransactions beyond this.
The Mushroom Kingdom may now be a well-trodden stomping ground, but Super Mario Run looks destined to be a perfect fit for the mobile crowd. It is the score-driven gameplay that promises to keep players hooked, your rivalry with friends only heightening that further through smart social elements. Even with the shift to mobile, what I have played so far rank as some of the best 2D Mario levels that Nintendo has created, and that is a storied history to be compared to.
Super Mario Run will release on the App Store for iPhone and iPad on Thursday 15th December.