Hands On With Super Mario Run – Can Nintendo Make It Big On Mobile?

As the old saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m not sure that holds true of Italian plumbers. In addition to having to keep up on the specs of the latest immersion heaters and how they can fit into a house’s antiquated plumbing system, Mario has kept himself in good form athletically, always adding to his range of moves and abilities. Super Mario Run is no different in that regard, but one of the greatest new tricks he’s learned in recent times is how to run on iOS.

Announced back in September alongside the iPhone 7, Super Mario Run is out for iOS next week on the 12th December, and it’s one of the biggest plays that Nintendo could make to establish themselves on mobile platforms. Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem Fates have their fans, Miitomo was an interesting experiment, and it’d be foolish to overlook the record breaking success of Pokémon Go (even if it’s not from Nintendo directly), but Mario might as well be called Mr. Nintendo.

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Super Mario Run has a lot in common with other 2D Mario games. You run from left to right, collecting coins, jumping on the heads of Goombas and trying to reach the end of a level before the timer runs out. However, what makes this game stand out is that you only need one hand and one digit to play the game. Mario runs automatically, with your only interactions coming from tapping within the green area at the bottom of the screen. A quick tap makes Mario do a little hop while tapping and holding a little longer has him jump higher.

You really do just need one hand to play. Look, I can prove it!

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The amount of running and jumping that Mario does, you’d expect him to be lean and lithe like his brother, as apposed to sporting his iconic portly physique. That doesn’t mean he isn’t agile, though, and he’s learned a few new moves. He will now hurdle Goombas if you just run into them, simply because you’re not in control of his direction, and if you do manage to fall to your death, leap into the gaping maw of a Piranha Plant, or simply want to try a section again, you can float back in a bubble and pick up from a point of your choosing – just beware that they’re limited use and doing this too often will see you run out of time!

A lot of the initial peril has been stripped away, but the game can still get pretty damn challenging, with some particularly cunning level design. Each of the 24 levels in the World Tour has five pink coins to collect, but get all five and a new variation of the level is unlocked with purple coins, and then finally an even tougher black coin version. The coins end up in trickier and trickier places to get to, and aren’t always in plain sight.

Sometimes you have to think outside the box, using special blocks to do backflips, trigger trails of coins and choose another route, and so on. And then there are the world ending bosses, just as in a main series Mario game, and the haunted Boo houses, where Mario’s running wraps back onto the same screen as opposed to scrolling. There’s an awful lot for Mario fans and perfectionists to sink their teeth into, especially when you start to unlock and play with the other characters in the game, such as Luigi and Yoshi, and other modes.

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Clearing levels and grabbing coins earns you rally tickets that let you have a go in the Toad Rally, an asynchronous head to head score chase against another player’s record. It’s not about getting further or collecting more coins, though this does obviously play a part, but rather about doing so with style. When you grab onto the corner of a ledge while jumping, another tap will have you do a front flip forward, tap as you’re hurdling a Goomba and you’ll do a fancy jump, and so on. It’s all about winning over the little Toads watching you play from the bottom of the screen, and the fancier your moves are, the more they cheer for you.

There is a point to this, because earning the adulation of this group of Toads will have them consider upping sticks and moving to your kingdom in the Kingdom Builder. What starts off with just a circus tent grows as you earn more coins and level up your kingdom to feature a grand castle, a number of toad houses that contain mini games to earn Rally tickets and coins, and will sport your own unique look thanks to the wide variety of custom objects that you can place. You’ll have to work for some of those items, because they might require you to have certain numbers of differently coloured Toads living with you, pushing you to head back to the Toad Rally and strut your stuff some more.

Fascinatingly, Nintendo are almost forging their own path with this game’s pricing, or at least going against the grain. Current thinking would have this as a game supported by microtransactions or charge you a couple of quid up front. Super Mario Run straddles the two with a model more akin to Shareware or Trial & Unlock. It’s free to download, but you only have the first three and a bit levels from World Tour and will have to grind to build up your kingdom. Unlocking the full game for a one off price of £7.99/$9.99 opens up the rest of the World Tour, as well as getting you a nice wad of Rally tickets and coins to build up your kingdom. Beyond that there’s not even a sniff of microtransactions if you start to run out of these, you’ll just have to make use of the various ways to earn more from playing the game.

That’s actually really quite refreshing, I think. With things like the Kingdom Builder and the limited tickets for Toad Rally, this could so easily have been geared towards pilfering coins from your iTunes wallet, but Nintendo have taken the more forthright approach. Truth be told, they’re one of the few companies that can probably pull this pricing strategy off successfully, and while there’s bound to be a mental hurdle for some, I’m not averse to spending money for a good game.

Even from just a short amount of play time, you can see that Nintendo have lavished Super Mario Run with the same kind of care and attention as they have such a reputation for. Super Mario Run might actually be a rather different game to the likes of New Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Maker, but at the same time, I think it’s going to fit right in.

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I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

1 Comment

  1. Yes! Stocking filler for wife!

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