I’ve been waiting for Mario to come to my cell phone since I first got one in 2008. Until today, though, I’ve always been disappointed. Sure, there are “Mario-like” knockoffs all over the app store — most of them unplayable — but there’s never been anything of Nintendo’s caliber for me to really sink my teeth into, to really capture the same kind of magic I felt when I was 10 years old and beating my brother over the head with a controller because he wouldn’t let me have my turn. (Our parents took the Nintendo away after that.) But all of that’s over now, because Mario Run is here to fill the nostalgia void in our hearts like nothing else could.
Of course, you may be skeptical (so was I). Because Mario has always been played with external controllers — and touch controls are notoriously bad — it makes sense to fear (FEAR!) that the gameplay wouldn’t translate. And when the trailer for the game first came out I was worried that because of the word “run” in its title, Nintendo’s biggest offering to the app store would be another completely unfair and greedy freemium game that would only serve to make all of us frustrated (while earning Nintendo major ducats because it’s not like we weren’t going to play.)
But hey, how bad could a Mario game you play with one hand be?
Super Mario Run (iOS)
If you’ve played any of the titles in the New Super Mario series then you’re already familiar with the art you’ll be enjoying in this game. And the cute, bright graphics make this a perfect game to enjoy on a day when it’s storming outside (like it is right now) or if you’re snowbound and just trying to get through the holidays with your family (what you’ll be doing next week). And because the settings change fairly quickly — the first four levels, for instance, echo the blueprints of the original Mario game by letting you take a stroll through the overworld, tour the underground, and then jump from giant mushroom to giant mushroom before plopping you into your first castle — you never really get bored of what you’re looking at.
As for story, there’s nothing really new here. The princess is kidnapped, Bowser flies around the screen menacingly in his Koopa Copter, and Mario — who was on his way to hang with her now-abducted highness — is tasked with getting her back and rebuilding the kingdom, which Bowser has helpfully destroyed. It’s nowhere near as deep as any of the Mario RPG games or the Paper Mario series, but that’s not really a problem here. We played the original games for hours despite the lack of story and we’ll play this one, too. In fact, the thin story may actually be kind of a plus for the game. How many times have you played a game for a while, given up for a few weeks, and then come back to realize you remember nothing and would need to start over? That won’t happen with this game. And because you’ll likely spend only a few minutes at a time playing it, the lack of an intricate plot line won’t faze you.
Remember some of the hardest levels of Super Mario 3? The ones in which the ground kept moving while you tried desperately to keep up? Did you ever think “hey, I’d like a full game of the most stressful part of the experience?” Neither did I! And yet, i was surprised with how much I enjoyed being hurried along as Mario raced through The Mushroom Kingdom. Even after falling into a pit for the tenth time I didn’t have any urge to throw my phone at the wall and utter curse words that would clearly exhibit that I am a terrible, terrible, human being. Why? Simple. This game is very forgiving.
Because Nintendo knows that you’re already going to be concerned about giving up some of Mario’s control, they’ve taken some pages from Kirby’s Epic Yarn and made dying a thing of the past. Fall into a hole? Get hit by a monster? The game immediately puts Mario into a bubble and throws him back. Then you just tap the bubble open and Mario’s back on his way.
Of course, even the bubble wouldn’t have been enough. While some run games give you only a few obstacles at a time, we know that Mario wouldn’t be Mario without droves of cute enemies storming his way. And since trying to jump over enemies, avoid obstacles, and grab coins while would be incredibly difficult without being able to stop for a second, Nintendo’s added another twist. Now, instead of Mario being hurt by goombas and koopa troopas when he touches them, he automatically vaults over them like he would over other small obstacles. This would be unfair, except the game gives you bonuses for jumping on enemies. If you stomp a goomba, great! Here’s some stuff for you! Mistime your launch and Mario sticks his hand on the enemy’s head and moves on. (This doesn’t work for flying enemies or the monsters that come out of pipes and used to give me numbers. Hit one of those, and into the bubble you go.)