Super Mario Run
Cards on the table: we didn’t like it at first. This was, we now realise, a matter of old habits dying hard – after 30 years of training, vaulting over Goombas rather than jumping on them takes some getting used to – and of expectations being subverted. Mario’s mobile debut is predictable in form but not function, both the game we anticipated and also not. It’s an auto-runner whose hero moves horizontally but whose design thinks vertically. It’s a mobile game marketed to the masses, yet its challenge is tailored towards the committed player. It is, inevitably, a little conflicted, and so are we. But how fascinating that for the biggest Mario launch to date – and the most important one in years – Nintendo has chosen something so boldly experimental.
Take Mario’s moveset. As he gambols along and an enemy approaches, your natural instinct is to take to the air. But while you can defeat Koopas and Goombas in the time-honoured fashion, you’re also able to hurdle them; a mid-vault tap finishes them off and lets Mario use them as a springboard to higher ground. His jump has greater range, too, and a mid-leap twist to grab some extra air. A new skill is a real taboo-buster: if you land just shy of a platform, Mario can now grab the edge You can make a couple of mistakes without failing the level: Mario returns encased in a bubble, which you pop with a tap. You can use them manually, too, giving you a second shot at a pink coin you might have just missed and mantle up. This isn’t just to rescue mistakes, either, since many of the levels are built specifically around it.
That’s understandable when there’s this much vertical screen space, since the game is only playable in portrait orientation. It means you have less time to react to incoming hazards, but also makes for some unconventional challenges. Ghost houses, for example, are repurposed into devious wraparound puzzle boxes, where you move between floors seeking either a key for the exit door, or the door itself. If the difficulty level is relatively easygoing – even novices should rattle through these 24 stages in a couple of hours – that’s less true when you’re hunting down the five pink coins scattered across the stage. Nab them all, and they’re replaced by purple coins, then black, with the level furniture shifted to provide a steeper challenge still.
Some will struggle to acclimatise to its staccato rhythm. Others will curse the muscle memory that makes locomotion feel awkwardly unfamiliar. From that edge-grab to pause blocks and conveyers that turn jumps into backflips, it’s an auto-runner that often seeks to arrest your momentum. Yet in a genre so intently focused on flow, this comes to feel new and thrillingly disruptive. It’s not quite vintage Mario, but this long-awaited mobile debut demonstrates an ingenuity and a keen appreciation of format that is quintessentially Nintendo.