What’s this? It appears to be Super Mario on a non-Nintendo system. Hmm, I don’t like the looks of this and who can blame me? Last time the jumping plumber ventured his way onto third party hardware we got the Philips CD-i abomination that was Hotel Mario. Nintendo are however desperate for extra revenue, after the Wii-U’s disappointing sales, and have therefore decided to dip their toe into the mobile market. At first glance Super Mario Run appears to be a fully-fledged platformer, but in reality it is an auto-runner. Just like playing Mario Bros with a busted D-Pad, in this game Mario continuously traipses forward. Controls are limited to jumping at the appropriate time. Tap the screen to leap over pitfalls and squish the gormless turtles that have pledged fealty to King Koopa.
Super Mario Run sees the titular Italian stereotype traverse over twenty-four levels in order to reclaim the delicious cake that Bowser has pilfered. Oh… and he also has to rescue Princess Peach from his clutches, but who cares about that when scrumptious dessert is on the line? Just like in a regular Mario game there is coinage to collect and power-ups to find, including those delightful toadstools that trigger gigantism. Unlike other Mario titles you aren’t given a set number of lives, but rather a finite amount of bubbles. Whenever Mario sustains critical damage, rather than perish, he will safely float away to another location. Watching Mario drift across the sky in a bubble is reminiscent of his younger years, back when Yoshi was tasked with babysitting a toddler version of Nintendo’s mascot.
The main campaign can be cleared within two hours, so what is there to do after that? Not much other than design your own version of the Mushroom Kingdom. By using the coins collected during Mario’s journey it’s possible to construct buildings and purchase decorations for your land. Erecting some structures will also require labour in the form of Toads (no not frogs, the humanoid shrooms who serve Peach.) Recruiting Toads requires that you compete in rally mode, where you challenge the ghosts of other players in a race to nab the most gold within a strict time limit. The simulated PVP adds some welcome replay value to Super Mario Run, although I must say that seeing your stockpile of Toads deplete when you suffer a loss sucks. How dare you penalize me for losing? This is supposed to be a lighthearted platformer not frigging Dark Souls!
My rating for Super Mario Run is three stars. I’m not a massive fan of auto-runners, but overall this game is fun to play in short bursts – whilst I wait for my Fire Emblem Heroes stamina bar to replenish. Seeing Mario appear in a runner game is weird though. Dashing through stages and grabbing all the gold items you come across sounds like it would be a better fit for Mario’s former rival Sonic the Hedgehog. I suspect Mario fans will enjoy this mobile release more than I did, although the simplified control scheme may not be to everyone’s liking. The jumping mechanics are solid and I have no complaints with how the height of leaps is proportional to how long you press down on the screen. I do however wish that there were a way to manually change direction. Missing out on a valuable collectible just because you can’t backtrack a few steps is annoying.
It will be interesting to see how Super Mario Run performs financially. Entitled mobile gamers, who have been conditioned to expect entertainment for free, may complain that the asking price is too steep for the limited content on offer. I myself will admit that replaying the modest selection of levels over and over can get stale after a while. Thankfully it is possible to freshen things up a bit by tackling the stages with different characters. Princess Peach for example becomes playable upon successfully completing the story. She can’t take advantage of the mushroom powers, but on the plus side she can use her dress to glide. Wow, I had no idea that female garments bestow flight to their wearers. Makes me want to try my hand at cross-dressing… although to be honest I don’t have the legs to pull off a skirt.