Let me just say right out the gate, I’m a Nintendo kid. Always have been, always will be. I’m pretty sure I’ve played every main title Mario game Nintendo have ever released, and because they’ve been consistently entertaining, I’ll more than likely continue playing them for years to come. Now Nintendo brings us Mario Run. A brand new game… on mobile devices. Wow. That’s a weighted proposition and one that has an unfortunate history riding on its coat tails. The last few times Nintendo let Mario jump out of the box, we got an unfinished CDi game, and a movie that everybody involved probably wish could be scrubbed from their IMDb pages. I was even put off a bit that I had to wait for my turn to play on Android, with Apple users getting the game months before. With all that on the table, I tapped download and hoped for the best…
I was not disappointed! As soon as the game opened up, the vibrant red colour so indicative of everyone’s favourite portly little plumber lit up my screen, and a single tap later, I was wahoo’d into the Mushroom Kingdom. There’s something infectious about these games that just makes me happy, so I was already riding on a smiley-faced cloud, surveying my pocket sized kingdom, when as usual, Bowser and his gang snatched up the princess and wrecked the joint. Seriously speaking, if you ever needed a job in the Mushroom Kingdom, I’d suggest insurance or construction. Those industries are booming!
After the smoke had cleared, that’s where I tapped into action, learning in ten seconds pretty much all I needed to know to play this game start to finish. It really is that simple to play, which was the part of this new mobile adventure that made me the most apprehensive. I’ve played a variety of other mobile games and more often than not, I find myself eventually float away from the bigger, flashier ones because they often try to do too much or don’t end up doing enough. Mario could easily be dumped into the ‘too much’ category as well, with the series being known for its massive array of power-ups, moves, caps and companions, but it’s there that I think Nintendo looked at the landscape they had created and knew what they had to do.
One tap, multiple actions. As the title of the game would indicate, Mario does the running, and everything else is up to you and your favourite finger. A short tap will see him grab some coins or flatten a Goomba while a long tap will make him leap a gap or mount a platform. Another tap in midair, after bouncing off a baddie or leaping at a wall will result in a double jump, allowing you to string together some creative and fancy moves to bring Mario to the flagpole. Mario running on his own means simple obstacles would become road blocks, so Mario Run has found a way around that with Mario automatically vaulting low objects or enemies with almost effortless ease, all to keep the run going. I guess he can add parkour to his resume alongside plumbing and princess rescue. Sprinkle in some collectable challenge coins and the occasional boss fight with a Koopa boomer, all while running through familiar grasslands, deserts, ghost houses and more, and you have the main core of the game, World Tour mode.
If you’re expecting to see anything groundbreaking in this version of Mario, then, unfortunately, you will be disappointed. This is the kind of Mario we’ve gotten used to from the Wii/Wii U and DS/3DS eras, with the same visual style and a few little movement flourishes from Super Mario Maker thrown in for good measure. Nothing stands out as new except where the game needed to innovate to keep things moving. 1-ups don’t exist in this game, with Mario’s progress aided by those bubbles from the Wii game. Take a hit as Super Mario and you’ll shrink to little Mario, but take another hit, and you get plopped into a bubble and float back in the level to wherever you feel safe, popping the bubble with a tap on the screen. Other characters that don’t benefit from super mushrooms like Yoshi can only take one hit and they go into the bubble, and while this can make for trickier gameplay, their abilities often outweigh their faults. On the other hand, this can be useful for backtracking to collect elusive coins or grab a power-up. Get used to Mario for now, because from the beginning, these characters are locked up in the other main mode of the game.
Progressing through World Tour mode unlocks the same levels in Toad Rally mode, a competitive race to collect more coins and style points than another player in the community. Performing well and beating your opponent allows you to take some of the Toads they have amassed, adding them to your collection. While this sounds odd, it’s the other core aspect of the game. Toads come in five colours, and certain amounts of them are required to move into your kingdom to unlock new characters and buildings during your reconstruction efforts. The more of the screechy fungus you get, the bigger and fancier your castle gets and the more land you open up to build on. It’s a basic little cycle that works very well. You want more. You play more. You get more. Rinse, repeat.
Daily challenges add another level of engagement to this game, with multiple events since launch giving you more reasons to log in, play regularly and earn points to spend in-game. You can even link this title with your Nintendo account to bring it all together in one place alongside Miitomo or even your Switch and eShop. Doing this earns you more points, and even a free unlock to play as the main Toad. Playing as him and other characters like Luigi, Yoshi, Toadette and so on expand the game in different ways. Luigi jumps higher, Toad runs faster, y’know, all the things we’ve gotten used to since Super Mario Bros. 2 all those years ago.
If all this sounds a little addicting, you’re reading it right. I have to say I’m more than a little obsessed with rebuilding my own personal Mushroom Kingdom and there’ll be no rest until I’ve scored all the collectable coins in World Tour and maxed out my colour counts in Toad Rally. I’m going to unlock every special item in the points menu, and if I can borrow Mario’s title for a sec, my kingdom is gonna look super when I’m all done. Were I to recommend this game to someone, and I guess that’s what this review is intended to do, it would be for all these reasons. Hell, someone should show this game to a certain American politician. Might get him off Twitter for a while.
I love when Nintendo is willing to take risks. Sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don’t, but their track record is far more in the green than it is in the red. Super Mario Run is another triumph in every sense of the word, and it has more than earned its place alongside its console and portable partners. I hope it’s not too long before I get to run through some new levels, play as some new characters and can challenge my scores against more of my friends. As high as it might seem compared to other titles, don’t let the one-off price deter you from trying this great game. It’s a small price to pay to tell Nintendo they did well and to encourage them to keep going. Maybe one day we can play with Link, Samus, DK and all the others on this platform, but for now, there will always be a place for my old pal Mario.