There’s a lot that isn’t your regular Mario about Super Mario Run. Aside, that is, from debuting on a new format, which is certainly momentous but the business ins and outs of which not being something to discuss here. First of all, he looks odd, a side effect of translating the largely ugly New Super Mario Brothers aesthetic (and yes, the terrible music that comes with it) into a portrait form factor, which means the man himself is oddly super deformed, or powered up, unnaturally lanky. Most significantly though is the fact he rarely stops.

This isn’t an endless runner, divided as it is into traditional worlds of four stages, flagposts, Bowser run-ins and all. As an auto runner though, Mario feels initially ill at ease and more awkward than the more kinetic Rayman for example. Inertia is a key part of Mario, often requiring delicate jumps, steered in mid air (the legendary ‘curly muffin’ maneuver that transformed the genre from the fixed, stodgy platformers of the British ’80s) to stop on a pin head. They are, moreover games of possibility, curiosity and exploration, an expectation enforced early with the mountains of secrets tucked away in NES Super Mario Bros.

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Yet managing inertia, speeding, slowing, steering and stopping are all things too awkward for a touch screen, and Nintendo instead have opted for a simple, single input control scheme. You tap to jump, hold to jump higher and further, and tap in mid air for extra gymnastics. This is all fine, and as we’ll go into, a lot more nuanced than would initially seem, but makes for odd pacing. With constant movement, you’re more harried than in any other Mario, but with the plumber moving at a normal jog (not even a B-dash here), it feels too slow for a traditional runner, instead being in an awkward second gear.

You’re denied much control of Mario’s pace then, and much of the typical Mario accoutrements for that matter. It’s perhaps understandable that Mario be trimmed of excessive wing caps, Yoshi and the like (there’s room for Super Mario Run World down the line of course) but there’s a more restrictive verb set for the plumber here than even the original NES SMB. Fire flowers are absent, and Mario can’t swim. The only power ups are the occasional invincibility star, and the typical red mushrooms, green 1UPS replaced with bubbles held over from New SMB but which function as lives.

Yet with a redoubled focus on Mario’s jumps, there is more complexity to Run than first appears. Leaping here feels as good and as certain as in any Mario game; you’ll never feel as if you pressed the screen long enough but fell short of your target, and you’ll intuit everything the game asks of you. Levels are remarkably well built around demanding the most of your character’s more limited abilities meanwhile. The game is harder on first pass than Mario’s more recent handheld outings at least, and many levels require expert timing, and a bop of a flying koopa in midair to reach a higher platform.

Still, as with recent Mario titles, finishing the main game won’t take you long. Unlike your New (now slightly old) SMBs and 3D Land, there is no reverse side to the game, no hard alternate version of the game once done, and potentially little in the way of value for money.

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Toads will cheer you on for being fancy, but don’t prioritise them over coins.

The game presents added challenge and value through that other standby of recent Marios; coin collecting. A usual Star Coin run has been bolstered with three colours of star coins; pink, purple and black. Collect all five pink coins in a standard level and you’ll unlock the chance to do the same for the purple and then the black coins, and all coloured coins on every stage unlocks three special stages. It’s debatable whether this added challenge is a valid substitute for another couple of worlds (I mean come on, we could at least have gone up to 8-4 instead of 6) but the coin hunts are enjoyable. By subtly changing level layouts in some places, they demand expert handling of simple mechanics, and learning optimal running lines through stages is a fun pursuit.

It’s a learning exercise that pays off in SMR’s other life extender- Toad Rally. Here stage segments unlocked from the campaign are stitched together and looped around the back to form little wraparound courses. You’re given one minute on these stages to collect as many coins as possible, and also pull off some fancy flips in order to attract Toads to come and watch in awe. You’re pitted against ghosts of real players here, and at the end of the minute, the winning player nets some Toads from the loser, who then live in a Mushroom Kingdom that’s the base of a very simple city builder.

It’s an addictive way to kill time, especially if going for those coloured coins is proving too demanding and you want a break. Again though, the overall feeling is that it’s a half step to bolster a thin product. That’s the crux; this is a game that feels like Mario, and well worth a curious punt, but an attempt from a Nintendo to restrict Mario to a touch interface and mobile play rather than a rebuild from scratch. It’s a deconstruction and not a reimagination, and that’s an odd bit of pessimism given its creators’ reputation. Now Super Mario Run Maker? That’s something to throw all the in app purchase money in the world at.

KAIJU VERDICT
2/4 Pops: Decent There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.

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