I wanted to hate you. You beautiful son of a bitch, I really did want to hate you so much. Grind my teeth, dig my heels in, and shout righteous vitriol to the unfeeling heavens. Fuck politics and dead celebrities, 2016 stuck in my craw mostly with a Street Fighter game that still doesn’t have an arcade mode, a bad Metallica record, and two awful Batman movies, one with the first and most universally reviled (and completely justifiably so) onscreen Joker. A cell phone Mario game, officially sanctioned by a slumming Nintendo, heartlessly pandering to the worst part of the mainstream, sinking to a new, unheard-of low, was going to be the last goddamned straw.
Nintendo always has a way of surprising people though, and despite their constant insistence on pushing back against the ever deepening online conventions of the modern console market, the overall quality of their first party output has never wavered. Super Mario Run doesn’t lower Nintendo’s standards but raises the bar for all of budget priced cell phone games, with the simplicity of the initial gameplay hook giving way to an overall experience as deceptively deep as it is addictive.
For all intents and purposes, SMR is an endless runner in the typical cell phone game mold. Your character runs through to the right, you tap the screen to jump, and if that’s all that you’re looking for that’s pretty much all that you get. SMR allows you to play through its first 3 levels for free but to gain access to the full initial 6, 4 level long “worlds” it’s $10.00, and yes, if all you’re going to do is blow through each level once and then never touch SMR again, that does seem a little steep (and can account for the initial spate of lukewarm reviews that the game has received) but just like most Mario adventures, the replay value is as deep as you want it to be, and Mushroom Kingdom completists will find a world here to get lost in for quite some time.
The game borrows it’s assets from the New Super Mario Bros. series of games, one of my few complaints. Old or new pixel art would’ve been preferable, but it would be an easy enough thing for Nintendo to add or change down the road.
Each level has 3 different sets of 5 coins to collect, and you’ll need to employ all of Mario’s acrobatic abilities to fling yourself into some of the nooks and crannies where they hide. Instead of facing death when running headlong into enemies, Mario will now vault over them, allowing you to defeat them and be rewarded with a higher, further jump with a single tap. Mario’s modern wall jump is also at his disposal (though no hip drop), and special blocks featuring arrows help Mario long jump and back flip, resulting in a brilliant way for Mario to maintain most of his repertoire without having to resort to an imprecise onscreen d-pad and buttons. Tapping your way to far flung areas may feel clunky and random at first, but after an hour or so you’ll appreciate how much precise control a series of taps can give you over the stalwart plumber.
Collecting those all those extra colored coins grants you tickets to the Toad Rally, an extra mode where you race against a fellow player’s AI. If your coin collecting, enemy dispatching and stylish traversal outmatch that of your opponent, you’ll gain extra Toads to help rebuild your Bowser ravaged kingdom, tying into bonus game and extra character unlocks. Again, casual fans may scoff at the time investment required to unlock, say, Luigi for play in all modes, but Nintendo diehards will find themselves sucked into this unheard of quantity, a Mario cell phone game, in ways they never expected.
And unexpected has been the order of the day from Nintendo recently. From Pokémon Go to the NES Classic Edition (despite its availability woes) and now Super Mario Run, the big N has gained serious traction by playing against type and garnered more positive mainstream critical and commercial attention than they have in years. Hopefully this open minded change of heart extends to the launch of the upcoming Nintendo Switch next year.