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Super Mario Run

Not A Game Changer: Hands-On Impressions
by Andrew Reiner on Dec 09, 2016 at 11:12 AM
Platform iOS, Android
Publisher Nintendo
Developer Nintendo
Rating 4+

The biggest star in console gaming history making his debut on phones is undoubtedly a big deal, but don’t expect a transformative (or even noteworthy) experience from Mario’s first iPhone adventure. During my lunch break today, I traveled to the Mall of America to check out the Super Mario Run demo that is currently only available in Apple Stores.

An Apple employee told me that the demo is playing on practically every tablet and phone in the store, so you shouldn’t have any troubles getting your hands on it if you want to check it out for yourself. I decided to play it on the new iPhone 7 Plus, which may have sold me more on the hardware than the game.

Right off the bat, it’s strange to see Mario’s face on an iPhone app. The times are certainly changing, and we’ll soon see Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem here as well.

The game booted up within a matter of seconds, and offers three avenues of play: World Tour, which is a campaign comprised of six worlds, each offering four levels, Toad Rally, a high-score competition presumably through the same stages, and Kingdom Builder, where you can exchange coins build houses and other bonuses.

The only option available to me is World Tour. Unlike most Mario games which offer a map to explore, all Super Mario Run’s campaign levels fit onto one screen, showing Level 1-1 through 6-4. You can tap each stage to quickly jump in. From the outset of play, however, only stage 1-1 is available. This level is called Up and Over, the “up” presumably referring to gaining high ground for bonuses, and the “over” I can only assume refers to just how short the stage is.

Holding true to what Nintendo has said all along, Super Mario Run can be played comfortably with one hand, and that functionality works remarkably well. After tapping the screen to initiate Mario in a full-blown sprint, he runs along on his own. I simply had to tap the screen to guide him along, whether that was leaping over chasms, timing a jump to land on a goomba or koopa, or hold the button down to gain an extra boost of air to reach a higher platform, where a mushroom or extra coins awaited.

As simple as this sounds, there is a surprising complexity to it. Nintendo did a nice job of diversifying the challenges, making you tap the screen in different rhythms all the way through the level. Mario also runs into pads on the ground with different symbols on them. If you see an arrow pointing forward or diagonally up, something may happen when you tap the screen when Mario crosses over it. On this stage, tapping the diagonal arrow created a row of coins for him to grab. In other stages, arrows pointing to the left would generated a speed boost, which brought with it a higher level of difficulty. A pause sign will make Mario stop in his tracks, something I saw when moving platforms come into play, so the player can time their approach.

Again, I didn’t feel like I was playing this first stage for long, and managed to get through it in what felt like just over a minute. The final moments of the level unfold as you would expect, with Mario ascending a staircase and trying to jump to the top of a flagpole to gain bonus points. As I played, I had the chance to grab purple bonus coins, of which there are a finite number in each stage. I missed two of them, but did see how to get them (they weren’t hidden too far off the beaten path). The most interesting post-level reveal is a screen that said I killed 6 of 200 Goombas. This is a high number, and I thought it was keeping a tally of my entire time with the game, but it seemed to keep track of the kills on level-by-level basis, meaning I need to kill 200 in 1-1. There’s also the chance the demo isn’t tracking this data accurately yet.

The second stage, Wall-Kicking It Underground, is the same level Jimmy Fallon played on the Tonight Show. This level acts as a bit of a tutorial in teaching the player how to bounce back and forth on walls to reach higher ground. If Mario leaps back to the left onto a ledge, he will immediately turn around and start running again. He’s all about forward progress in this game, and Nintendo clearly had fun designing challenges around this design. A good bit of fun comes from reacting quickly and in a split second determining if you are going to use a standard or charged jump.

This stage again felt like it flew by in a minute, and I found myself booting up the demo’s third, and most challenging stage, Paratroopas in Mushroom Valley. This stage is filled with pitfalls and tough platforming sequences that again require precise timing. One thing I noticed: it’s hard to take on damage in this game. Yes, you get mushrooms to make you grow and let you withstand a hit without dying, but I often felt like a bad jump onto an enemy’s head was given to me. I also thought I didn’t hit jump quickly enough, but Mario somehow vaulted over the enemy. I had one instance where I missed a jump over a chasm completely, but Mario bounced off of the back wall and I was given a second chance to get over it. This stage was good fun, but again, incredibly short.

The final stage of World 1 is Bowser’s Castle Hangout. The demo allows players to try it, but for only 20 seconds (which I originally thought was far too short, but now realize may have been roughly half of the level). Fireballs, lava pits, and everything you’ve come to expect from these stages in older Mario games are here. The brief part I played again felt a little tougher than the previous stages, but nothing brought my death. In fact, I didn’t die once during my first time through the demo, and went back to see if I could in fact perish. In stage 1-1 I purposely messed up a jump and Mario died in a pit. Messing up an interaction with an enemy is a little more challenging. As I said, it seems way too forgiving in this capacity, especially when stacked up against other Mario games, but I did eventually run into a koopa that knocked Mario off of the stage.

Super Mario Run didn’t blow my socks off, and instead felt like a fairly pedestrian Mario experience – the big difference is I can play it on my phone with one hand. It has a nice speedrun quality to it, but I fear an hour is all you’ll need to make it through all of World Tour, if in fact there are only six worlds. We’ll have to wait until the official release next Thursday to see what the other modes hold, but from what I played, Mario is not a disruptive force in the auto-runner genre, but at least bucks the trend of endless level designs to give players a break and more variety to dive into. There's clearly a strong push for replaying levels in this game, and, well, I just don't know how compelling that aspect will be until I get my hands on the finished product. The verdict is coming soon; we’ll have a full review of Super Mario Run next week when it launches in Apple’s App Store.

Products In This Article

Super Mario Runcover

Super Mario Run

iOS, Android
Release Date:
December 15, 2016 (iOS), 
March 22, 2017 (Android)