Sunday, 18 December 2016

REVIEW: Super Mario Run

Back in 2011 late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata proclaimed that Nintendo would 'absolutely not' be making mobile games, and that any moves to do so would see Nintendo 'cease to be Nintendo'. Cut to five years later and, following a more off-the-wall experiment with Miitomo, we have our first fully fledged Nintendo game on iOS.

Super Mario Run sees the portly plumber stripped of everything but his core mechanic: jumping. Mario runs automatically across the screen, with a simple tap making him jump across ravines, onto enemies, and over obstacles. It's a perfect adaptation of the Mario franchise for mobile devices and, being a bespoke offering, is much more welcome than say, a straight port of the original Super Mario Bros.

Contrary to Iwata's prediction, the level designs are classic Nintendo. Initially accessible yet fun to vault your way through, with the challenge escalating across the 24 stages. Whilst I never had any real difficulty in finishing a level, it certainly got more satisfying to do so, especially in the single screen levels. These stages see Mario change direction when he reaches the right hand side of the screen, or run straight through to appear on the left once again a la Mario Bros. These involved a little more brain power to figure out and broke up the pace nicely from the standard 'run to the goal' levels.

Not that those outings are in any way monotonous. Classic Mario levels with green hills and mushrooms, haunted Boo mansions, Pokey infested desert settings, and of course Bowser's nefarious castles are all here and vary massively from course to course. They often have a unique mechanic to help - or hinder - your progress through the level, from enemies throwing huge spiky balls at you from every direction to utilising a well timed shell to clear your path. Every level on offer was a fun and unique experience. Throw in some mechanisms that allow Mario to somersault backwards, or stand still for a moment to time his way through a moving obstacle, and there's enough variety to stop the game ever getting repetitive.

As mentioned, it's fun if relatively easy to power through the 24 levels on offer here. The real challenge comes in collecting the special coins. Each level has five pink coins to locate. Doing so unlocks an ever so slightly modified version of the level with five purple coins to gather and if you can manage that, a further change up gives you a final challenge of five black coins. The pink ones can be collected on your first playthrough of a level if you're switched on enough, but by the time you reach the black coins the challenge can be fiendishly difficult, with the need to perfectly execute a series of jumps across multiple enemies to reach that one coin that's otherwise out of reach. It's a great excuse to keep coming back to the main 'World Tour' mode and there's a few bonus levels available as an extra challenge for those that manage to find them all.

Further replayability can be found in the high score mechanism. By adding friends, either directly via friend codes or by linking your Facebook and Twitter accounts, you can see who has managed to gather the most coins in any given level. It adds a cool competitive element and offers a further challenge to increase your high score.

Competition is the name of the game in the second mode, Toad Rally, which sees you compete against the ghost data of other Mario Run players in order to gain the approval of onlooking Toads. Collecting coins and pulling off sweet jump combinations will boost your score, and the winner will attract more Toads to their kingdom. As well as acting as a 'high score' in your friends table, gathering more Toads for your kingdom unlocks further items in the game's third mode; Kingdom Builder.

A much more serene affair than the other two modes, Kingdom builder lets you spend the coins you accrue in the other modes on buildings, items, flora and fauna, to customise your very own mushroom kingdom. The Toads you unlock in Toad Rally come in various colours, and various buildings require different combinations in order to unlock. It's mostly cosmetic, but there are extra playable characters you can unlock this way with their own unique traits that may help you reach a few elusive black coins back in World Tour mode.

Some may balk at paying £7.99 for a mobile game, but what you're getting for that is the full experience. There are no annoying adverts popping up after every level, no prompts to go and buy extra coins or jewels or any other nonsense. There is no 'pay to win' mechanism. The expansion of your Mushroom Kingdom relies solely on your platforming skills, and for a game that's so well built, packed with this many features and replayability, eight quid is a very reasonable price tag.

The biggest drawback to the game though is the requirement for a constant internet connection in order to play. If you're at home or at work that isn't necessarily an issue. But once you're on the move it can start to scupper any platforming fun you might have. City dwellers won't have too much of an issue, but those of us that live in more rural areas may find that their bus ride into town won't be as Mario centric as they may have hoped. It seems a daft requirement, when the game is ideal to play on a commute, but if you have an unstable 3G connection, or say, a tube journey to undertake, you may find yourself reaching for other games.

All in all, Super Mario Run is an excellent first foray into the mobile gaming market for Nintendo. It's well built, plays excellently, and offers plenty of replayability for it's price tag. The need for a decent internet connection may mean that some won't get to play it when they would ideally like to, but it's nevertheless a great take on the Mario franchise that works perfectly for mobile devices.

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