Super Mario Run review: Can an old plumber learn new tricks?


Super Mario Run is finally here – Nintendo's first real foray into mobile gaming has landed on the Apple App Store today and we are taking it for a spin!

If you haven't heard by now, Super Mario Run is an automatic runner game that takes the core concept of Mario titles of yore – which is running and jumping – and simplifies it even further by taking the burden directional movement out of the equation. In other words, Mario runs on his own from left to right and you only have control over his jumps. A quick tap results in a small hop, while a longer press sends the plumber soaring through the air. It's a simple control scheme that may not excite long-time Mario fans, but it's perfectly suited for touchscreen devices and very responsive. With the quick introduction out of the way, let's jump right in!

Level design

Unlike most auto-runners out there, Super Mario Run's levels are not endless, and that's a good thing. Instead of being procedurally generated, each course has been hand-crafted with the care and attention to the detail we've come to expect form Nintendo over the years. Each stage is more difficult than the one before it, but follows a simple four-step formula that efficiently prepares you for all the challenges ahead without any written tutorials or explanations. Every level starts out by introducing you to its core challenge in a safe environment, then establishes it further by adding more hazards to the mix, then hits you hard with the real deal, and finally lets you show off what you've learned in the final flagpole sequence. Don't worry there's also a mid-stage checkpoint that will surely spare you a lot of frustrations in later, more difficult stages.

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Every course has multiple optional areas that will put your skills to the test if you want to get the secret goodies hidden there. And you'll want to do it, because that's how you unlock more in-game content. This not only increases replay value, enticing you to hop back into already completed levels, but also makes Super Mario Run feel more non-linear.

There are are 24 levels in total, divided into 6 worlds. Each world contains three stages and culminates in a boss level that pits you against one of Bowser's minions. It may not seem like much, but more content is likely to be added to the game in future updates.

Movement and controls

While level design is of essential importance to Super Mario games, how the main character controls is perhaps even more important. As we said in the beginning, traversing the stages is automated for the most part, as our mustachioed plumber runs on his own from left to right and vaults over smaller obstacles and enemies, but you have control over his jumping, which is a bit more involved than it may seem at first. A single quick tap results in a small hop, while longer presses make Mario jump higher and linger in the air for a bit. Taping the screen again mid-jump makes Mario spin and get even more air time. Simple, right? Well, that's not all. While the control scheme is no doubt limited and simple, Super Mario Run introduces a handful of interesting gameplay mechanics that help break things up and bring variety to the character's movement. Apart from running and hopping around tirelessly, Mario also knows how to wall-jump, slide on his butt, and perform crazy flips over enemies and obstacles.

When Mario jumps onto a wall, he clings to it and starts to slide down slowly. If you tap the screen, you will send him jumping in the opposite direction, and if there's another wall there, he will cling onto it as well. This way you can string wall jumps to climb to higher places and also change the plumber's course a bit, allowing you to backtrack and explore the levels a bit more. This is one of the mechanics that helps the game feel more non-linear and gives the player some freedom. There are also special blocks that send you jumping backwards, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Sliding, unlike wall-jumping, is not so much about freedom, as it is about variety. When Mario lands on a sloped surface, he will slide down on his butt killing off any enemies on his way and earning extra coins for it. It's fun and also gives you a small speed boost that can help you get to otherwise unreachable areas.

Game modes

Super Mario Run features three game modes – World Tour, Toad Rally, and Kingdom Builder.

World Tour is the game's main mode that you will likely spend the most time in. In classic Mario fashion, it tasks you to jump 'n' run your way to a sequence of levels incrementally increasing in difficulty and length. In World Tour, you will be faced with the standard set of platforming challenges, including hopping over bottomless pits and obstacles, stomping countless enemies, and constantly smashing Mario's head against brick walls and metal question blocks, among other things.

Your main goal in each course is to reach the flagpole at the end, but you are also faced with a set of optional objectives (coin challenges) that will net you a lot of bonus goodies if completed. If you want to unlock everything and find all the secrets, you will find yourself playing each level at least three times. Of course, if you wish, you can also ignore all the nooks and crannies and make a beeline for the flagpole. But why would you?

Mario titles have been traditionally abundant in coins for you to collect and Super Mario Run is no different. Apart from the familiar golden coins, however, every level in the game also has five pink “Challenge Coins” for you to nab during your first run. Once you collect them all in a certain level, you will unlock a harder challenge involving purple coins. These coins will be scattered around in the same level, but in different, harder to reach places. Collecting them will then unlock the final collect-a-thon trial that will have you collecting five black coins in the same course. These, as you can probably already guess, are placed in even more difficult to reach areas and will really put your skills to the test. Getting all the black coins will in turn net you “Tickets” for racing against other players online, so it's actually worth it to explore Super Mario Run's levels thoroughly.


Toad Rally is the game's multiplayer mode that will have you race against players from all over the world. Unfortunately, you won't be facing off with your opponent in real time, but race their “ghost” instead. This means that you won't be able to stomp on other players' heads, as they will be represented by a semi-transparent avatar that will simply race you to the flagpole.

Multiplayer is not very involved and the thrill of actually competing against someone in real time just isn't there, but it's still a fun distraction from the core experience. Furthermore, the races are not strictly about getting to the goal first, but also factor in your style. You get bonus points for pulling off cool jumps off enemies and collecting special coins. These points not only add to your score total at the end, but also fill out the star meter at the top that triggers “Coin Rush” when satisfied with your awesomeness and skills. You will need to spend one “Ticket” for each race in Toad Rally.

Kingdom Builder is the third and final game mode of Super Mario Run that will have you decorate something of an overworld map and unlock bonus games. The set pieces are mostly purely cosmetic but will help you unlock different characters to play with as well as bonus challenges that will net you more tickets for Toad Rally. There isn't a lot more to say about Kingdom Builder.

Power-ups and special blocks

As in most recent Super Mario games, you get a bunch of power-ups and special blocks to spice things up with. This time around however, the power-ups are limited to two staples of the series and one new addition that fails to impress. The iconic Super Mushroom makes a return and it hasn't changed at all – it makes you bigger and lets you break bricks – and so does the Super Star, which increases your running speed and makes you invincible for a short time.

There are also three new types of special blocks – a red pause block and blue and yellow arrow blocks. When you step on a pause block, it stops your tireless running so you can plan your course of action. Tapping the screen resumes your running. Arrow blocks either let you jump back or give you a big speed boost, depending on which direction the arrow is pointing (either left or right).

Bottom line and pricing

Super Mario Run has a free demo containing three levels of the game that you can play as much as you like. The full version costs $9.99, which is a hefty price tag for a mobile game. If this were a full-fledged console Mario title, we wouldn't hesitate to encourage you to buy it, but it isn't. It's an arguably dumbed down mobile version. Still, whether it deserves your 10 bucks is entirely up to you. Super Mario Run offers a lot more than your average free-to-play game and isn't ridden with in-app purchases either – you can either play the free demo for as long as you like, or get the whole package for $9.99. If you are a long-time Mario fan, we'd say go a ahead and pick it up, if not – you still have no reason not to try the free demo!

Download Super Mario Run for iOS

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