At this juncture it would admittedly be something of an understatement to proclaim that Nintendo’s Miitomo (our review) didn’t exactly perform very well in the West (although I still stand by my original assessment that the app was technically well-crafted). Pokemon GO furthermore arrived to the sound of much applause (and even more exercise), and yet — whether you loved it, or hated it — even this was not actually Nintendo’s first proper iOS gaming foray (seeing as how they had nothing to do with it). Thus it was that people were left to wait more than a year to finally see the first proper fruits of Nintendo’s previous promise to begin true mobile gaming development, a long wait that only recently paid off with Nintendo’s Super Mario Run (out now, free*).

* (Or at least the initial download is free, with the full game available for $10.)

We here at iFanzine wanted to thoroughly put Super Mario Run through its paces before weighing in on the matter, and — as such — you’ve likely already heard some conflicting reports regarding this momentous occasion. Although the app — in our humble opinion — is a stellarly-crafted product, this needs to be declared upfront: Super Mario Run caters to a very specific type of gamer, which is a stark contrast from Mario’s earlier excursions. As such we hope this review will help you in determining whether or not you’re the sort who’d fully appreciate Nintendo’s first fully-fledged mobile gaming foray, and thus be more comfortable with dropping that one-time $10 full content unlock fee.

First things first: Super Mario Run is not — despite what you might initially be thinking — an endless runner title, as the game is nearly 100% predicated around the existence of pre-built levels (all of which feature a proper ending). You’d be forgiven for assuming such — however — as Super Mario Run does exclusively feature auto-scrolling levels, wherein players primarily control Mario via dictating when the iconic hero leaps forward. That said, it should be noted that this mechanic of auto-running levels — wherein players only have access to jumping controls — actually first appeared within the series during the coin-obsessed New Super Mario Bros 2.

Anyways — getting ourselves more properly focused — it would at first seem your goal in each level of Super Mario Run is to safely lead Mario to each level’s flag-pole, and preferably do so before time runs out. Now while you can certainly play the game with this mindset, I will say right now that Super Mario Run actively seeks players whom previously strived for more than merely rushing to a Mario game’s credit roll. Specifically this is because playing Super Mario Run in that manner would lead most players to plow through the game’s twenty-four primary levels within less than an hour (there are technically twenty-seven levels, but the last three are much harder to access).

Difficult — yet optional — side-objectives are certainly no stranger to Nintendo’s Mario series for quite some time now, yet never until Super Mario Run has a game’s premise been so fully centered around them. Hidden within each of the game’s levels are five pink coins, and successfully collecting them — which must furthermore be done within a single run — unlocks access to a remixed version of that level. These remixed levels will then contain five tricky purple coins, which will — upon finally being collected — lead to yet another remix containing five rather frustrating black coins for players to gather.

Those whom strive to master these colored coin challenges will quickly discover that it could be argued Super Mario Run actually has 72 different normal levels, many of which can take players quite awhile to successfully puzzle their way through. For those players striving to nab every last coin, in the process eventually unlocking the game’s three secret levels, mastering the nuances of Super Mario Run’s control scheme is a must. After all — while the app’s controls may initially seem overly simplistic — there’s actually a lot more depth here than merely tapping to jump, as we’re now finally about to cover in greater detail.

Although one can certainly leap on land-based foes — much the same as they always have — you’d likely be surprised to learn this isn’t explicitly necessary, for Mario has the ability to automatically hop over any Goombas and/or Koopas he charges directly into. Furthermore — in another new twist — he may defeat these enemies by bounding off them in the middle of his mini-hop, should the player skillfully tap their iDevice’s screen right as Mario is mid-bound. Jumping in this manner — off an enemy’s noggin, rather than the ground itself — will furthermore allow Mario to go much higher than normal, something that is often key to reaching colored coins which are otherwise placed just out of reach.

Now whether Mario leaps normally — or from an enemy’s head — the height of that jump can be controlled by how long the screen is held (as is to be expected of the Mario series for quite some time). Players seeking to slightly extend the horizontal distance of Mario’s lunge may additionally tap the screen to make Mario twirl about, during which time Mario will temporarily stop descending (yet continue moving forward all the same). While the extended air-time is nice enough, even more useful is that this mid-air twirl can be used to lunge Mario off the head of a nearby foe if timed correctly (thus allowing players to skillfully bound from one enemy to the next).

Others differences in Super Mario Run — versus most mainstream Mario titles — is that Mario automatically climbs over ledges (either while running or jumping), and furthermore slowly slides down any wall he impacts. Tapping the screen while Mario is sliding down a surface will furthermore cause him to back-flip away, a technique that is often invaluable for reaching colored coins placed in awkward places. Other than this wall-jump technique, the only other way to ever make Mario jump backwards is by tapping the screen whenever he’s perched on top of a special back-flip block.

Admittedly one can temporarily move Mario backwards by placing him inside a respawn bubble, which can be done by tapping the remaining-bubble counter atop your iDevice’s screen. These bubbles — which first appeared in New Super Mario Bros. Wii — are also triggered whenever the player would’ve died, and taking on any injury while your bubble supply is depleted leads to an instant failure. Thankfully a fresh cache of bubbles is provided each and every time a stage is reattempted, although extra bubbles can sometimes also be found hiding mid-stage within specific question mark blocks.

Beyond the aforementioned respawn bubbles, players can additionally find Super Mushrooms — that work exactly as expected (at least in regards to Mario and Luigi) — and Starmen inside those question mark blocks as well. While Super Mario Run’s Starmen do indeed still provide players with a temporary period of enemy slaying invincibility, they now additionally turn Mario in a powerful coin-grabbing magnet! Beyond being a massively useful feature in the game’s two player Rally Mode (which I’ll cover soon enough), this magnet is also sometimes needed to reach certain tricky colored coins.

Those whom strive to collect the many colored coins will need to master all of these facets, as well as sometimes discover creative uses for their foes, during their pursuit of full completion. Furthermore — for those whom truly plumb the game — they’ll additionally be pleased to see that none of Super Mario Run’s levels are merely difficulty increased rehashes of earlier areas. Instead all of the game’s twenty-four primary levels are each a unique scenario upon the enemies — obstacles — and colored coin hiding tools at the developers’ disposal, and as such things always feel fresh.

But — to reiterate what I previously declared — this is unfortunately precisely why Super Mario Run is far less appealing to non-completionists, for those self-same twenty-four primary levels will pass by all-too-quickly for everyone else. While this completionist angle has always been an option in most other Mario games, often leading players to a penultimate set of final levels, the missing rehashed levels still served a purpose as well. While they were basically padding the game’s over all running time, they were specifically padding that running time for the benefit of players whom had no interest whatsoever in plumbing those adventures beyond their surface layer.

Sadly — should you find yourself unsatisfied blitzing through Super Mario Run’s single-player content — I regret to bring you this additional message: the game’s Rally Mode, which is entirely predicated around online-competition, is probably even less appealing. Now don’t get me wrong, I had a blast playing my way up through the ranks — figuring out how best to dominate, and even discovering stages where most other players choked — but the competition here is fairly hardcore. Anyone whom didn’t want to collect every last colored coin in the primary mode is more than a touch unlikely to do anything productive, other than perhaps fail constantly, in Super Mario Run’s Rally Mode.

In this Rally Mode you compete against either the recorded ghost performances of randomly selected players, or the ghost performances of players you’ve put on your personal in-game friends list. The goal is to see who can collect the most coins — across an endless, yet pre-built, track — all within a given time-limit, during which both players have an infinite supply of respawn bubbles (yet dying costs you some coins every time). At the race’s conclusion the challenger –rather than the ghost being challenged — will either gain or lose Toads from their kingdom (but more on that soon enough), as determined by a mixture of both their personal flair and coin-grabbing prowess.

Although pretty much everything I previously said about the single-player experience still applies to Rally Mode, there’s two new mechanics that players must additionally deal with: the flair of their performance, and Coin Rush mode. The latter of these two new mechanics — Coin Rush — begins after you’ve first collected enough coins/flair in a row without failing, as failing resets the gauge that eventually unlocks Coin Rush. Whenever Coin Rush is active the enemies are worth more coins, question mark blocks produce more coins than normal, and pipes will even randomly spew out coins for no apparent reason (and these bonus coins can only be collected by you, not your opponent).

Flair is something earned whenever Mario does something stylish: such as leaping successfully from foe to foe, producing multiple successive wall-jumps, nearly falling below the screen without actually dying, and other such skillful flourishes. Each time one of these flair moments are performed, a Toad will arrive to cheer for that player (different colors will arrive based on the stage used for a specific Rally Mode challenge). The winning player will gain all the Toads that arrived to cheer for them alongside their opposition’s, whereas a losing player will only be stripped of their side’s personal Toads.

While I’m perfectly okay with a person being better-rewarded based on how hard they tried, and furthermore being rewarded based on how worthy their opponent was, I personally take umbrage with how Super Mario Run currently handles punishments. Basically put your punishment is in direct proportion to how well you played, meaning that wise-players are essentially encouraged to throw a match — should they make a fatal mistake early on — in order to mitigate their losses. I personally believe that throwing a match should be a far less encouraged action than a session where I put in maximum effort (yet ultimately came out a few coins shy of my opponent’s ghost performance).

What I can fathom even less than the punishment rules — however — are the Rally Tickets needed to engage in these online matches, especially considering that Super Mario Run is a game with nary an IAP in sight. Every Rally Mode match you play will cost you a single ticket, ultimately lending an utterly bizarre energy system vibe to your ability to participate in the game’s online matches. These tickets are either acquired freely via your Nintendo Account (more on that soon enough), by completing the single-player campaign’s various colored coin challenges, or by farming them daily in your Kingdom.

This finally brings us to the Kingdom Builder portion of Super Mario Run, a feature that — thanks to its direct ties with Rally Mode — is equally unlikely to do much of anything for those disliking online matches. Although players technically purchase new structures for their Kingdom — which Bowser wrecked during the Princess’s abduction — via coins, it’s their ever-fluctuating Toad collection that truly limits their available build options. Which scenery/buildings you can erect, how much available-land you have, which Mini Game stalls you can establish (that you can then regularly play for new tickets), and even which playable characters you have access to are nearly all linked to these Toads.

I haven’t mentioned yet — which was a fairly deliberate choice — but there’s actually a slew of playable characters in Super Mario Run beyond Mario himself, each of whom plays fairly differently. Luigi jumps higher and features his trademark greased-boots, Yoshi has his flutter-jump and the ability to walk on spikes, Peach floats through the air, Toad runs faster, and so forth. However — other than Toad (who is unlocked by linking your Nintendo Account), and Princess Peach (who is unlocked by completing the single-player campaign) — the other characters are earned by building their Toad-gated houses.

At the very least nothing previously unlocked is ever lost due to any epic losing-streaks, yet suffering through an epic losing streak still manages to erase your forward progress towards newer items all-the-same. Thus far I’ve only managed to unlock access to Yoshi, the various ticket-giving Mini Game houses, and the first two land extensions (such that I had more places to put things), and I’ll admit that Rally Mode can be rather stressful. Those players truly seeking to expand their Kingdom — before they begin seriously hitting up Rally Mode — should probably wait until they’ve first finished the single-player campaign, seeing as how that’ll give them an escape from the demo crowd abyss.

Now mind you: I have absolutely nothing against people playing the app’s demo to get a better-idea regarding whether Super Mario Run appeals to them, as that’s precisely what the game’s shareware model was meant for. That said, there is a large contingent of players — whom likely have no intentions of ever buying anything — that have over-exhaustively played the few Rally-Mode courses available as part of the free-demo. Thusly I can safely say that Super Mario Run’s paying-players will soon discover competition on the later Rally-Mode tracks aren’t as insanely-impossible to combat (due to those tracks not being exhaustively played to death by the non-purchasing masses).

At this juncture I should probably take a moment to further explain this Nintendo Account I’ve already mentioned a few times earlier, and how it fully pertains to Super Mario Run. To start with: one does not specifically need a Nintendo Account in order to play Super Mario Run, although its rather likely you already have one if you currently own either a Wii U or a Nintendo 3DS. The most immediate-perk offered by linking the app to your Nintendo Account is that all in-game progress will be forever-saved; thus protecting you should you ever have to uninstall the app, or suddenly switch devices.

Beyond progress-archiving itself, linking Super Mario Run to your Nintendo Account will additionally allow you to earn Platinum Points for completing various-tasks within the game (some of which are one-time only, and others that are refreshed weekly/daily). These Platinum Points may then be spent on Rally-Mode tickets, extra coins (not that you’ll ever truly need those), and even exclusive Nintendo Account only structures for your Kingdom (such as a Golden Mario Statue). These Points may furthermore be spent elsewhere, making Super Mario Run a far more viable choice than Miitomo — in terms of earning-rates — should you be seeking to quickly unlock Zelda Picross for your 3DS.

Finally — and perhaps the least noteworthy — is that linking your Nintendo Account will cause your Mii to be displayed whenever someone challenges you, and furthermore be seen by those whom have you on their Friends List. Speaking of which, there’s thankfully a better array of options for putting someone on your Super Mario Run Friends List than was previously made available at Miitomo’s launch. These methods include: linking social media accounts, e-mailing someone a friend request directly, and even trading friend codes amongst players (should the other two options not suffice).

Although I’ve said a number of harsh-things thus far, I’d like to reiterate what I said at this review’s commencement: Super Mario Run is a stellarly-crafted product, and — should you be the sort of person whom loves mastering things — fully worth the $10 fee! However, the last thing to keep in mind — even if you are the sort that’d strive to collect every last colored coin, or furthermore endlessly race online against ghost-performances — is the game’s oft-mentioned always-online DRM. This security-feature — which Nintendo claims was to combat Jail-broken devices — very much does exist, and whether or not this feature significantly impacts someone’s options will vary person-to-person.

Finally — in closing — although we here at iFanzine don’t ever change our initial ratings, Super Mario Run’s score definitely would’ve been higher if: A) there’d been more stages for the single-player campaign, or B) the Rally Mode’s rules were ever improved upon. Both the single-player and online-matches have been carefully designed such that a player could easily make multiple attempts during their lunch break, yet Super Mario Run still features the depth necessary that truly mastering everything would take a while. The biggest thing currently holding this otherwise stellar package back is definitely that the app’s content is presently weighted heavily against casual players, and thusly our score reflects the top-notch — yet ultimately niche — appeal being put forth by Nintendo.

Verdict

Super Mario Run is definitely far closer to the dream game people were hoping for compared to Nintendo’s earlier Miitomo, and yet — while admittedly stellar — the game isn’t without some caution-worthy shortcomings. The biggest of these is that while hardcore completionists will find much that justifies the $10 full-content unlock fee, casual players — simply rushing through — will be upset when they’re done all-too-soon. The online-matches — a first in the realm of Mario titles — pushes Super Mario Run even further towards hardcore players, by essentially forcing people to climb through Rally Mode’s ranks if they ever wish to make use of the game’s Kingdom Builder feature. Although — as previously stated — the single-player and online mode components of Super Mario Run are indeed both top-notch efforts, they will — as things presently stand — unfortunately leave a sizable chunk of the Mario fanbase feeling disincluded.

Top-notch Nintendo brand craftsmanship
Simple, yet deep, control-scheme
Always-online DRM
Aimed at non-casuals
Various oddities with online matches
4.0
Great