There’s always a certain amount of caterwauling and moaning that occurs whenever a major franchise tries something new and different. To any fanbase, the idea of their beloved creation evolving is basically blasphemy of the highest order.
So when Super Mario Run was announced, there was the usual twitching from certain Nintendo lovers, many of whom were upset about their beloved franchise being adapted for the casuals. And speaking personally, I don't understand that mentality at all. All creative endeavours need to change and grow. Besides, if you want all that classic Mario stuff there’s still about a billion games that you can go back to, including the near-perfect Super Mario World on the SNES, GBA and Wii U.
So let Nintendo have their little experiment and see how things go. Mobile is the future of gaming whether we like it or not, and if you want Mario to keep going, it's going to have to adapt and maybe even become something greater in the face of an ever-changing world.
And with all this lovely open-mindedness in play, let’s see how it holds up in the face of – Oh, I can't keep this facade going, I really don't like this game at all.
Super Mario Run is available on iOS as a free demo, with a larger purchase of $9.99 for the full game. Yeah, you read that correctly.
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Bowser, the only charismatic character in the Mushroom Kingdom (alongside Luigi, of course) kidnaps Dictator Peach in his upside-down floating clown balloon, and Mario goes to get her back. As it was, so it shall always be, with our eponymous hero charging through several worlds of various climatology and landscape in order to reach his destination.
And that’s it, apparently. I suppose there's a limit to how much we can expect Nintendo to push themselves when they've already got a lot of resistance from certain quarters, but Mario stories have been good before. Sure, that’s usually limited to the weird RPG members of the family, but I do wish they'd just gone all out and tried something different.
Perhaps it’s the limitations of the format. Super Mario Run is a game that assumes you’re going to be doing the same missions quite a few times, and so any attempt at pacing is going down the toilet when we repeat events more often here than in Majora’s Mask, a much better Nintendo game. But it’s still the designers' fault for structuring SMR in that way, and call me a bitter cynic (you wouldn’t be wrong), but I would think that Mario’s first grand appearance on the cell phone stage would warrant more effort than this.
Actually, I tell a lie about that being all the story there is – there is an ongoing subplot about Bowser having obliterated the Mushroom Kingdom Capital during the attack, and Mario rebuilding it with the coins he picks up during his adventures. And it's in this subplot that I was reminded of a very important fact: that long-term sidekick Toad has the most annoying voice in all of gaming, to the degree where I completely empathise with the Koopa King trying to butcher him. Every time he pops up to give you tutorial information, he announces himself with a shrieking, high-pitched “Hey!” that sounds like a child with a smoking addiction, and consequently I grew began to wish that we could just cement the little fungus into the foundations and quietly forget about him.
I suppose there isn't much to say on this one, they’ve just repeated that new Mario visual style that bounced into life a few years ago and decided to stick around, where the characters look like well-crafted balloon models and the colour palate is perhaps a little too stark and clashing for comfort. Mind you, they have updated the songs, and in a way I quite like. It's still the classic array of Mario chiptunes, only with a modernised edge that works most of the time without sounding overly cringe-worthy. As mentioned, I’m all for updating material, but if they’d done a Dubstep Mario soundtrack then I might’ve admitted that things were going too far.
Nah, this is the most inoffensive part of the game by a long way, and worthy of some recognition. It’s only a shame that you’re not going to hear me say that again.
So I booted up the app and was immediately presented by a simple title screen. Pressing the button to start, a little Mario soundbite burst into life with a cheery “letsa-go!”
And this declaration turned out not to be true, because it was immediately followed by the game going down a checklist, bluntly asking me about my country of birth, my preferred name, whether I wanted to connect to my Nintendo Club account and whether I was happy to accept the many, many terms and conditions. This dealt with, Super Mario Run then sat back for a lengthy in-app download that had me irritably tapping the side of my phone and looking for something to distract me from my new distraction. Notice how all of this is for Nintendo’s benefit and none of it is for ours. I'll leave that comment to hang in the air for a moment because I think it must.
So let's be clear about what Super Mario Run is: a mission-based 2D runner with single touch controls. Mario constantly sprints to the right with no way of stopping him, and you poke the screen to get him to perform a short jump, high jump, long jump, wall-jump, spin-jump, acrobatic jump and just about every sort of jump you can imagine, short of the Shonen kind. Scoop up coins to rebuild the town between missions, look for alternate paths (which you’ll usually notice about five seconds too late) and make your way to the end where you do the traditional Mario trick of mounting the flagpole as high as possible in the hope it coughs up a green mushroom. Don't think about it too hard. Oh, and be careful to avoid enemies!
… Or, you know, don't avoid them. One of the design choices that I found myself scratching my head over was the fact that Mario automatically vaults over most threatening NPCs, meaning that a parade of advancing goombas is less dangerous than the average hatbox. So why are they in there, then? The illusion of difficulty doesn’t last long when Mario can just frog leap over most villains, and though you can use them as springboards to perform more impressive jumps, that just makes them mechanically identical to every other object in the game. Perhaps Nintendo is so afraid of alienating customers that they carefully removed every tooth and sharp edge that they could find, but it’s the teeth that make these things interesting.
There’s also a secondary mode whereby you compete with other people, running the same course as them to perform acrobatic stunts and gather coins in an attempt to appease the ficklest crowd of Toads I’ve ever seen, in the hope that they emigrate to your own Utopia, and not to the quaint little town that's mayored by xXx0pt1czSm0k3W33dxXx.
But nonetheless, I wasn’t feeling too down about the game. Yeah, it’s not particularly exciting or engaging, but it is free and that excuses a lot. There’s even a fair amount of content, with about two dozen missions and a bunch of extras that – what was that? Sorry, ten dollars?!
Yes, it turns out that Super Mario Run is a demo, and from what I've played the full game costs a lot more than I'd be willing to try out. The free part only gives you the first three missions with a few trinkets and baubles added on, and I don’t really feel like paying for seconds when I didn’t care much for firsts.
Beyond that, the game just kept reminding me of why I didn't want to be playing it. The need to always be online is a pain, the gameplay's a slog, the little prods to give up your credit card details feel obnoxious and the incredibly frequent screen freezes were enough to use up the last of my diminishing patience, especially when they weren't even on a snowy level.
Here’s the trouble with free games – I can’t say that it’s not worth getting when there’s literally no cost for doing so, but at the same time, I can’t think of anything to really recommend about it either. I guess it has some purpose as a mindless, semi-engaging distraction, but this is a game on a mobile phone, which means you’re very likely to have quite a few better distractions, like sexting, or playing with emojis, or all this modern stuff that the kids are apparently into.
I hope Nintendo comes back from this and puts something really good on the App Store, and I'll even scrape some compassion out of my stony heart and give up the cheat codes they need to do so: Super Mario World, Pokemon Crystal, Link To The Past and Earthbound on iOS, all reasonably priced and without added micropayments or any major changes.
'Tis the season of giving, right?
|+ Decent musical score.||– SMR is just a demo, the actual content is overpriced.|
|+ Serves as a brief, passable distraction…?||– App freezes regularly.|
|– Constant internet connection is an unnecessary pain.|
|– Oversimplified mechanics prevent any kind of engagement|