Su­per Mario Run

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Macworld - - Contents - Modes

Su­per Mario Run is eas­ily one of the most an­tic­i­pated iPhone and iPad games to date. Nin­tendo’s game takes the full-fledged Su­per Mario side-scrolling ex­pe­ri­ence that we’ve seen for the past 30-plus years and stream­lines it for touch­screens and one-handed play. The game is nom­i­nally split into three modes, although the first, World Tour, is sure to dom­i­nate your play time, at least at first. World Tour is Mario as it would or­di­nar­ily be un­der­stood: a se­ries of worlds, each di­vided up into three con­ven­tional

lev­els and a Bowzer’s cas­tle boss level to fin­ish up. (In this sim­ple struc­ture SMR harks back to the very ear­li­est Mario games.)

The se­cond mode, Toad Rally, is a bit more un­con­ven­tional and so­cial: it in­volves try­ing to beat the per­for­mances of other play­ers. You’ll be pre­sented with a se­ries of high scores, in ef­fect recorded by real-world play­ers, and if you see one you reckon you can beat, and have a spare ticket to pay for en­try (th­ese are ac­quired in World Tour), you can take it on. You play against a ghost of the player’s per­for­mance, ‘as live’ as it were, and try to pick up more coins, im­press more Toads and gen­er­ally out­per­form your ri­val in the time al­lowed.

(It’s also pos­si­ble to play Toad Rally games against ac­tual friends you know in the real world, as a sort of lo­cal mul­ti­player. This doesn’t cost tick­ets, but doesn’t earn you re­wards ei­ther.) The fi­nal mode is called King­dom Builder and is re­ally just a place to go to spend your ill-got­ten gains from the other two modes. You grad­u­ally build up your own lit­tle king­dom, adding dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ments and new build­ings when your ac­quired re­sources al­low it; some of the new build­ings bring with them bonus games and other good­ies. This is where im­press­ing Toads in Toad Rally is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant: if you im­press them, they’ll come and live in your king­dom, and the more Toads you’ve got of each colour, the more other stuff you can un­lock.

Game­play

The essence of SMR across both World Tour and Toad Rally, the prin­ci­ple un­der­ly­ing ev­ery de­sign de­ci­sion, is that it is played with one hand.

(En­ter­tain­ingly, Shigeru Miyamoto says this is to al­low play­ers to eat a ham­burger at the same time, but it seems more likely to be a de­ci­sion made with com­muter gam­ing in mind.) Which means it’s an end­less, or rather auto run­ner – al­beit nowhere near as lim­ited as that im­plies.

Whereas tra­di­tional Mario games oc­cupy mul­ti­ple but­tons and both hands at once – the left hand work­ing the joy­pad on a Wii con­troller, for in­stance, and the right hand con­trol­ling one but­ton for jump­ing and another for run­ning, shoot­ing fire­balls, and so on – this game only ever re­quires one but­ton, and that’s jump. That but­ton is most of the screen.

Mario is au­to­mat­i­cally and con­tin­u­ously – with some ex­cep­tions we’ll dis­cuss in a mo­ment – pro­pelled at max­i­mum ve­loc­ity to the right, which in­stantly re­moves the need for a joy­pad, a run but­ton and the rest. (There are no fire flow­ers in the game, so there’s no need for a but­ton for th­ese; in­deed, other than the size-up mush­room there are no power ups at all.) All you need to do is de­cide when to jump, and how high – a longer press pro­duces a big­ger jump.

This prob­a­bly sounds rub­bish, barely a game at all. But the sur­pris­ing thing is how full a game it feels, and how quickly you stop miss­ing the old con­trol method – the one we had drilled into us back in the last mil­len­nium. Mario has lots of dif­fer­ent jump and flip moves, de­pend­ing on what he’s jump­ing off or the way you time it, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to slide down ver­ti­cal blocks and jump off in the op­po­site direc­tion when you fancy. And the mak­ers have worked hard to pop­u­late the game

with other mech­a­nisms for stalling, halt­ing or re­vers­ing Mario’s progress: stop blocks, back­flip blocks, doors on ghost lev­els, bub­bles that take you back­ward, special wra­paround lev­els where leav­ing the screen on the right brings you out on the left and your real aim is to progress ver­ti­cally.

The back­wards-drift­ing bub­ble ap­pears the first two times you die on each level, although you can use up a bub­ble vol­un­tar­ily if you miss some­thing vi­tal

If we men­tion there’s a timer that kills you if it runs out, you’ll get an idea of how much con­trol and re­spon­si­bil­ity you have over Mario’s for­ward progress. It’s a game about agency just as much as ur­gency. We think they’ve pitched it just right.

In­deed, at the same press event where we first tried out Su­per Mario Run, we also got to try out the (much more tra­di­tion­ally con­trolled, and very fun) Mario Maker on the 3DS, and it ac­tu­ally felt a lit­tle pedes­trian in com­par­i­son: with no surg­ing im­pe­tus to the right we were able to bim­ble about and think about ev­ery­thing, rather than the manic hurtling that Mario is all about at its best. Mario re­ally, re­ally

works as an auto run­ner. (We say auto run­ner rather than end­less run­ner be­cause, in World Tour at least, th­ese are proper lev­els with a be­gin­ning and end, com­plete with flag­pole and lit­tle cas­tle. There is a planned arc to each level; you’re not just run­ning un­til you die, like in a Tem­ple Run clone.)

And that ini­tial batch of lev­els, even though many of them seem fairly easy to com­plete, of­fer plenty of re­playa­bil­ity. As well as the usual gold coins, there are five pink coins hid­den on each level; get them all in a sin­gle run-through and you un­lock a new ver­sion of the level with five pur­ple coins, this time hid­den in far more dif­fi­cult places. Fin­ish the level with all five of those and you un­lock the black-coins level, the hard­est of all.

Al­ways-on­line re­quire­ments

Since we first played Su­per Mario Run at Nin­tendo’s of­fices (where nat­u­rally there was a con­sis­tent Wi-Fi con­nec­tion), it’s be­come ap­par­ent that the game re­quires an in­ter­net con­nec­tion to play – even for the non-so­cial, sin­gle-player World Tour Mode. This ap­pears to be an anti-piracy mea­sure. (Yep, piracy, that great scourge of the App Store.)

We tested this out for our­selves and, sure enough, when­ever we turned on Air­plane Mode, or went through a tun­nel on our com­muter train, or the of­fice Wi-Fi was just be­ing spotty, we got an er­ror mes­sage. If there isn’t a good con­nec­tion you can­not start up the app; and if you’re in the level se­lect screen and choose a new level, you won’t get any­where. If you’re in the mid­dle of a level and lose con­nec­tion you’ll be al­lowed to fin­ish the level, but at that point the er­ror mes­sage

will reap­pear, just be­fore Mario gets his points. (You can die and retry a level sev­eral times with no con­nec­tion. It’s when you try to do some­thing else that it falls down.)

Clearly this is a con­cern. One of the great ad­van­tages of SMR’s sin­gle-but­ton con­trol method is the fact that you can play it eas­ily while com­mut­ing, but this means a wide range of com­muters – Tube pas­sen­gers, and rail pas­sen­gers go­ing through a tun­nel, and any­one trav­el­ling through an area with spotty 3G or us­ing a Wi-Fi-only iPad – is out of luck. A sig­nif­i­cant caveat now hangs over would have been an en­thu­si­as­tic rec­om­men­da­tion of this game.

Mac­world’s buy­ing ad­vice

We went in with an open mind but a de­gree of scep­ti­cism; could Mario be trans­planted into a mod­ern mo­bile game with his soul in­tact? But the fun we’ve had with Su­per Mario Run has put most of those fears to bed.

It may be free, but the pric­ing model is fair and non-ex­ploita­tive (faint praise, per­haps, but by

no means as­sumed in the murky world of in-app pur­chases). Some may baulk at £7.99 to un­lock the full game, but it’s a one-off pay­ment, per­fectly good value in our view for a full and beau­ti­fully de­signed game, and you get plenty of op­por­tu­nity to try out the early lev­els for free be­fore com­mit­ting your­self. No one is get­ting tricked out of their money.

And the auto run­ning as­pect seems com­pletely nat­u­ral, thanks to the sheer ef­fort the de­sign­ers have put into mak­ing each level work with the new con­trol method. This is the gold stan­dard of level de­sign we have come to expect from the Mario team over the years. The great­est com­pli­ment we can pay the de­sign­ers is that this just feels like another Mario game. To achieve that on mo­bile is as­ton­ish­ing. How­ever, the re­quire­ment that you have ac­cess to an in­ter­net con­nec­tion in or­der to open and run the app is hugely dis­ap­point­ing. This kind of thing caused an­noy­ance when Di­ablo 3 came out in 2012, but that was a PC game, so a con­sis­tent in­ter­net con­nec­tion was a rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion. But this is sup­posed to be a mo­bile game, and there are nu­mer­ous sit­u­a­tions when you’ll want to play the game but won’t be able to be­cause of this ab­surd, un­nec­es­sary and in­fu­ri­at­ing ‘fea­ture’ of the game.

If it wasn’t for the al­ways-on­line re­quire­ment, this would have been a five-star re­view – and if you’re go­ing to al­ways play in lo­ca­tions with a se­cure and con­sis­tent con­nec­tion, and you’re not wor­ried about Nin­tendo’s servers go­ing down, then you can con­tinue to treat this as a glow­ing rec­om­men­da­tion. But for the rest of us, this is a hugely frus­trat­ing fly in an oth­er­wise charm­ing oint­ment.

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