Super Mario Run First Impressions
If you’ve spent anytime in the app store this week you probably already know that Super Mario Run has been released for mobile devices everywhere. This is Nintendo’s first real foray into the mobile market, not counting Miitomo, which was really more of a social networking app than a game.
Regardless, we’ve played Super Mario Run for quite a bit so far and have been really enjoying ourselves. The basic game play has you controlling Mario as he runs to the right. The running is automatic and not controlled by you. This style of game play has been used successfully before on mobile devices, such as in Temple Run. In Super Mario Run, you can gain some control over Mario by tapping the screen when you want him to jump. Mario will also automatically vault over small enemies and you do have some control of the height of Mario’s jump.
The level design is great.
Super Mario Run was built from the ground up to be played on your phone. That much is obvious. In a curious design decision for a Mario game, you actually hold your device vertically (in portrait mode) rather than horizontally like you’d expect in a platformer. This allows you to easily play the game one handed.
It also means that Nintendo had to get creative with the level design. Many levels will have you thinking up instead of right. There are also numerous special items in the game that will change up the game play. Some let Mario pause his run, while others will briefly switch directions or even zoom you ahead. Overall we found the controls to be smooth and easy to use on this mobile game.
The game is also filled with classic Mario nostalgia. From the music to the enemies to even some of the level design, it’s all classic Mario. While it’s a a bit unnerving at first to have no control over Mario’s running, I did eventually get used to it.
The replay value is off the charts.
The game is free to play, but only for the first 3 levels. A one-time, in-app purchase ($10) will unlock everything else in the game. The main “tour” mode has 6 worlds, with 4 levels in each world. While that may not seem like much, there is TONS of replay value here.
For starters, each level has 5 pink coins. Most players will not be able to collect these on their first run through the level as many are placed in really odd places. Some require precise timing and creative jumping to collect. Once you grab those, the game adds in 5 harder-to-get blue coins. And if you can nab all of those, you’ll then need to collect 5 black coins to fully beat the level. Interestingly, the level design does actually change a bit as the coins change. So they aren’t just dropped in randomly, but the level is actually tweaked for them. Completionists will have lots to do in Super Mario Run.
Super Mario Run isn’t perfect.
As fun as the game is to play, it’s not without it’s flaws. First, the game has fallen into a mobile game pit trap: multiple currencies. The bane of free-to-game players everywhere is having to grind multiple currencies to unlock things in game.
Thankfully, Super Mario Run does’t keep anything behind paywalls. Once you buy the game, all the game play is there and there is no option to spend more. However the game essentially has 3 currencies:
Coins: these are used to build things in your kingdom. Some are decorative items, while others are houses that will unlock other characters to control or mini-games. Coins are collected from playing pretty much any level or mode.
Toad Tickets: These allow you to play the Toad Rally game. Toad Rally has you completing against other player’s runs in courses to try and beat their style. The point of this mode is to unlock the game’s third currency. The game doles out the toad tickets somewhat generously, but there are only a few ways to get them.
Toads: Playing well in Toad Rally will win you Toads, who move to your kingdom. There are 5 different colors of Toads and you need specific combinations of them to unlock buildings. If you lose to your opponent in Toad Rally, you’ll actually lose some of your toads.
What this boils down to is lots of grinding in the poorly explained Toad Rally. For the most part, the game doesn’t really do a good job of explaining the point of Toad Rally. It’s a timed mode where style matters. So not only do you need to collect a lot of coins, you have to look good doing it.
Unfortunately, the toads tend to come in at quite the slow pace. You might get 10-20 toads per match. And that’s if you win. Losing might cost you half that. To unlock Luigi, you need 150 green and 150 purple toads. That’s going to take some serious playtime to unlock.
The problem with this is that it all feels unnecessary. Toad Rally is FAR from the most fun way to play the game. Tour is where most of the interest lies and it feels like Toad Rally grinding is just the games way of artificially extended its shelf-life. Mobile games have been using this trick for years. Force players to grind currency to coverup a lack of real content. I really wish Nintendo had spend their time giving us more worlds and levels rather than wasting time with Toad Rally mode. I would have easily taken another 10-20 tour levels vs anything in Toad Rally.
Finally, the game also requires a persistent internet connection to play. While this isn’t a deal breaker for me, it does make the game much less accessible to travelers. Gamers on planes, subways, or just in areas with spotty network access are going to have trouble. Nintendo says it’s to combat piracy, but that rarely works out well for the consumer. Most of the time pirates quickly find a way around the block and it ends up only hurting legitimate customers.
You can still have a lot of fun in Super Mario Run.
In the end, Super Mario Run does what Nintendo set out to do. Bring Mario to the mobile platform in a unique game that still ties back to his storied history. For those worrying that this was going to be a dumbed down cash grab, never fear. There is quite a challenge in these levels, especially if you want to grab all those extra colored coins.
It’s just unfortunate that Nintendo also decided to embrace some of the worst tropes in mobile gaming. Timed mini games and multiple currencies are only there to cover up a lack of content from the developer. And while it was refreshing to not have these able to be bypassed by paying money, they still felt unnecessary in what was otherwise a great game.
Super Mario Run is definitely worth the $10 price tag and I was still impressed with Nintendo’s fist offering into mobile market. Hopefully they will learn a few things from this endeavor and I’m excited to see what they have in store for us in the future. Bring on Zelda!