So far, so good. Super Mario Run is a lot of fun. The designers have managed to make a game that blends nostalgia and the new technology of the touch screen well. The story, such as it is, is exactly the same — Bowser has taken Princess Peach and you have to save her — and you also must rebuild your kingdom. The setting is familiar, and goombas and koopas are still trying to block your way to your goal. Longtime Nintendo fans with memories of gripping their Super Nintendo controllers will see a lot they already love. But this time, they can play with one hand.
This is not simply a classic Super Mario game transported to the iPhone. Some things have been streamlined for the touch screen. Super Mario Run is an endless running game, which means you’re almost always running forward. That could frustrate some players who might wonder why they can’t move Mario all the ways they could when he was an 8-bit sprite. You can’t go back and pick up coins you missed. You can’t take little jaunts down the pipes.
What you can do is jump. A lot. Tapping the screen will make Mario catch some air — the longer you hold down your finger, the higher he goes before gravity kicks in. He can also vault off cliff edges and walls, which lets you reach higher places in the levels. Once you accept your perpetual forward motion, figuring out how to get where you want to go becomes a fun puzzle.
Players will definitely get replay value out of the game, especially since it’s easy to run past things you might want to pick up. Going through a level again will let you go down roads not traveled before. Players also collect different-colored coins throughout the game, and the color and placement of those coins change as you meet your objectives. So even if you play a level again, you should find something new.
The coins feed your rebuilding efforts. Coins of different colors let you buy buildings and other swag to decorate and rebuild your kingdom. There’s also a second mode to the app, called Rally, which pits you against another real-world player and helps you win residents for your kingdom. You’re scored on how many normal coins you collect, as well as how much flair you exhibit while you’re racing. Over time, you can restore and repopulate your little patch of the world.
The main drawback of Super Mario Run is that, in its free version, it’s very short.
The free download gets you only three levels — that doesn’t even get you to the first castle. The full version of the game costs $10. That price would probably feel right on an e-store for the 3DS or the Wii, and there is enough to do in the app to justify that price tag. But people who play games on smartphones have different expectations, and $10 is a lot to swallow when most other games are free or, at a stretch, $2.
In some ways, the high app price could be seen as a signal that Nintendo, while definitely coming around on smartphones, still doesn’t get the platform — or, at least, hasn’t fully given in to it. It is obvious that mobile games are going to be just a part of Nintendo’s future, since the firm is on the verge of introducing a new console called the Switch. For most players, though, the high mobile price tag means they’ll get a taste of how fun Mario could be on the smartphone, but stop short of paying to see his full potential.