Is the first Super Mario smartphone game worth the hype?

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Super Mario Run relived an acute childhood nostalgia reserved for the portly plumber out on a mission to save a princess. Set in today’s smartphone era, the iconic game hasn’t lost its original touch. Photo from NINTENDO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The hype that was built around Super Mario Run was such that anyone with a slight interest in mobile gaming, whether afflicted with acute nostalgia for the Mario games of yore or completely devoid thereof, was bound to become aware of it at some point in the three months and one week it spent from introduction to launch.

None other than Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, announced that the game had been in the pipeline (pun so intended) at the same media event held in September by Apple for the unveiling of the iPhone 7. In no time, Apple began promoting Super Mario Run, which would be exclusive to iOS until its eventual port to Android, with its own page on the App Store and allowing prospective players to be notified of the game’s availability, in what appeared to be a first for an upcoming title. Nintendo, the owner of the Mario franchise, also came out with one of the first sticker packs for iMessage featuring graphics from the game. Then, a week before its release, Super Mario Run had a high-profile marketing boost thanks to the “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” followed by the launch of a live-action TV ad and the installation of playable demos at Apple’s retail stores.

But was it much ado about nothing? Hardly. On Dec. 15, in more than 150 countries including the Philippines, Super Mario Run finally went live. And the multitude of iPhone and iPad owners intent on playing the first ever Mario game designed for smartphones and tablets predictably went wild. It was catapulted to the top of the App Store charts mere hours after its release and it reached close to 3 million downloads in its first day of availability alone. But then again, it was made available for free.

Mario 2.jpg In Super Mario Run, which is playable with only one hand or even with only one finger, Mario automatically moves forward, and you just have to tap on the screen at the right moments to make him jump to collect coins and power-ups, and avoid enemies and obstacles. Photo from NINTENDO

Of course, more often than not in the current mobile gaming landscape, to say that a game is free is to say that it is free-to-play — that is, it can be downloaded at no cost, but it initially grants access to only a certain portion of its content, with additional elements locked behind a paywall. Usually the paywall takes the form of a series of “microtransactions,” as in King’s Candy Crush Saga, Supercell’s Clash of Clans, Niantic’s Pokémon Go, and Nintendo’s very own Miitomo. But Super Mario Run is a rare exception in that it requires a one-time payment to unlock what it has in store beyond the little it offers for starters.

For players in the Philippines, the one-time payment for the full version of Super Mario Run is ₱499. It’s by no means a fortune, but for roughly that amount, you can buy a nice shirt, a few days’ worth of groceries, a pair of movie tickets, a bucket of Chickenjoy, or a mass-market paperback, with enough change for a cup of Starbucks. So the question now stands: Is Super Mario Run worth shelling out a ₱500 bill for?

First of all, though, there’s the question of what Super Mario Run is.

Decidedly designed for mobile, Super Mario Run is marked by an eschewing of conventions associated with the Super Mario franchise, which had hitherto been limited to Nintendo’s home and handheld video game consoles. It’s essentially a side-scrolling portrait-oriented pseudo-3D autorunner platformer that’s playable with only one hand or even with only one finger. In the game, Mario, the eponymous mustachioed portly plumber, automatically moves forward, and you just have to tap on the screen at the right moments to make him jump, thereby collecting coins and power-ups, avoiding enemies and obstacles, and clearing courses on his way to save his love interest, Princess Peach, from the clutches of his archenemy, Bowser.

The initial Super Mario Run download includes only the first three levels of Mario’s rescue mission. The remaining 21 levels are what the one-time ₱499 in-app purchase unlocks. Granted, that sounds rather measly, but what the two dozen levels lack in number, they more than make up for in replayability. The real challenge lies not only in successfully reaching the end of each level before running out of time, but also in being able to find and collect all of the coins scattered throughout each course, including a set of special coins: five pink coins at first, then five purple coins, and five black coins to end with. Effectively, you’ll be playing through 24 levels, set in different environments to different soundtracks, and then replaying them at least twice, using different tricks resulting from different timings of taps, to complete the challenge. Not bad for a couple of bucks.

Mario 3.png One of Super Mario Run's game modes is called Kingdom Builder, which lets you rebuild the kingdom razed to the ground by Bowser when he kidnapped Princess Peach. Photo from NINTENDO

It bears mentioning, though, that you may also incur charges outside the one-time payment required to unlock all of the levels in Super Mario Run. Internet charges, to be exact. By design, the game requires that your device be online either through Wi-Fi or via cellular data while playing. According to Nintendo, a persistent internet connection keeps the software secure from piracy and keeps all of the game’s three modes functioning in concert with one another.

Indeed, Super Mario Run comprises three modes. The primary mode, World Tour, is where all of the free and unlockable levels reside and where Mario’s quest takes place. The other two modes, which are already unlocked from the get-go, are Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder: The former lets you play through a course against the virtual ghost (à la Mikey Boots) of another player, and the latter lets you rebuild (à la Farmville) the kingdom razed to the ground by Bowser when he kidnapped Princess Peach. Each mode is linked to the others in such a way that they allow for the unlocking and sharing of various items and rewards, including new playable characters such as Luigi, Toad, and Yoshi (Mario’s brother, assistant, and sidekick, respectively).

Ultimately, the all-things-considered answer to the question of whether Super Mario Run is worth the expense as well as the wait is a yes — so resounding that it might just give the constantly grunting, roaring, growling, and evil-laughing Bowser a run for his money.



Super Mario Run is available on the App Store for free and is compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.