So, Super Mario Run has been out for half a day or so now, and I’m sure more meaningful opinions than mine are bouncing around all over the internet. It’s just too juicy to not set my own uninspired thoughts in pink internet stone, however. I’ve always been a Nintendo fan. These days I really don’t game much at all. The occasional weird indie, a nostalgic retro re-release here and there, but mostly if I’m gaming on a screen it’s either a roguelike on the computer or a board game adaptation or point-and-click (point-and-tap?) adventure on the phone. The last consoles I’ve owned were the original Wii and DS Lite. All this to say, having a Nintendo side-scroller on my phone is ridiculously exciting. The game is a ton of fun, well worth the cost of entry, and generally feels very much like a Super Mario Bros. game. A few thoughts:
- Level design is spot on. This has always been key to Super Mario Bros. games. You’d never be able to watch those crazy speed-runs online if the levels weren’t impeccably designed. Super Mario Run is no different – levels have a solid sense of rhythm to them, and challenges always feel like they’re dependent on your skill vs. being a crapshoot. Aside from the levels being well-designed, they have all the classic Super Mario Bros. elements one would hope for.
- The colored coins are a great element. Each level has five pink coins, maybe a bit tricky to get to but you’re generally guided toward them; they’re obvious. Once you’ve collected them all on a run of a given level, they turn to purple coins and their location changes. They’re a bit harder to get to, one or two may be hidden in boxes, etc. Once you’ve collected all of these, they turn black, and pieces of the level will actually change to accommodate them. It reminds me a bit of mirror mode in MarioKart – the level is familiar, but you have to adapt to a new course if you want to collect all the black coins. Not necessary for core gameplay, but adds considerable replayability.
- Pacing feels a little bit sluggish to me. This probably stems from the fact that anyone who really loves playing a Super Mario Bros. game (or most any side-scroller) is accustomed to constantly leaning on the run button. I can’t remember the last time I ‘walked’ through a side-scroller. Mario slowly picking himself up over obstacles and grabbing onto the sides of floating platforms certainly does not help, nor does the time taken for him to turn around when you wind up facing backward. None of this ruins the game, but it does make it feel less Mario-like to me.
- Automatically hopping over Koopas and Goombas makes a lot of sense mechanically, but also takes a little adjusting to when approaching it as a Super Mario Bros. game. One just has to get in the mindset that generally speaking, they are another means of scoring rather than hazards. They are hazards while they’re above you, I suppose.
- Playing a side-scroller in portrait orientation is very weird. I really find myself wanting to reorient my phone, but of course that’s not possible. The game does involve a fair amount of jumping; vertical space is used well. But it’s still a very… horizontal game, and it just feels odd playing vertically.
- Toad Rally, the asynchronous race against other players’ ghosts, is a great addition. I didn’t dive into it right away since I was immediately presented with the opportunity to play against someone whose handle was an antisemitic slur the first time I opened it up, but once I actually got into a Toad Rally run… yeah, it’s pretty addictive. This is where all those stylistic speed-run type skills get to shine. The runs are based on levels from the game, and I think it’s a little odd that they allow you to do Toad Rally levels you haven’t yet played in the core game, but that’s rather minor.
- Winning the Toad Rallies moves Toads into your little village, and allows you to buy buildings and pretty landscaping and do this cute little city-building exercise. I don’t know quite how deep this is yet, but it’s a really nice addition. Totally unnecessary for core gameplay, but it’s cute and it’s fun and it’s there.
- Initial onboarding is clunky. Everything about trying to get a Mii into the game is clunky. Nintendo has some catch-up to do with UX off-console.
- I still really want a game where the core storyline is Peach saving Mario from some peril or other. I get it, Bowser has a thing for kidnapping princesses, but Mario’s bound to get stuck in a pipe or something.
All in all, this game is precisely what I had hoped for. Nintendo has some work to do adapting to a world where they exist outside of their own consoles, but they game through in a huge way on this game. It doesn’t feel half-assed or phoned-in. It feels like a Super Mario game.