Super Mario Run launched just on the eve of the holiday season last year, and has since gone on to attract many, many downloads from fans looking for an even more portable version of the red and blue moustached plumber. Super Mario Run as a game is simple enough. Mario runs to the right of the screen (most of the time), and you use taps to have him jump, springboard off enemies and generally try get from A to B. That the level-based runner boiled down to its core, but an oversimplification of a really finely crafted platformer.
Mobile ports of platforming games have been hit or miss, but you’d have to try very hard to argue that they outright haven’t worked. Ubisoft and Rayman hit a sweet formula with Fiesta and Jungle Run, two similarly styled platformers that have you tapping for Rayman to jump and attack as he automatically moves through twisting courses. The emphasis on level design and constantly changing mechanics kept both titles fresh, and made them difficult to put down in the pursuit of acing every single level on offer.
On the surface, getting from start to finish was easy, and the same is true for Super Mario Run. Its 24 levels border on the overly simplistic if your only goal is finishing them. Some twist things with incredibly aerial arenas, dungeons filled with lava and increasingly deadly enemies and a pinch of puzzle-based platform stages which are nowhere near as good as their faster counterparts. Beating Super Mario Run is trivial at best – and it’s the worst way to approach the game. Especially when there’s a better one simmering under the surface.
Each level features three coin challenges, which start at Pink and scale all the way up to Black. The premise is to essentially try to collect all five coloured coins within a single run, with each one placed in a sneaky new position throughout each tier. The Pink Coins are simple enough, and more often than not you’re likely to grab most if not all of them on your first run through the stage. Purple genuinely starts ramping up the difficulty, and I found myself having to replay levels furiously search for a hidden coin here and there.
Then you get Black Coins – and that’s where Super Mario Run’s level design really starts shining.
They’re the ultimate challenge in the runner, but also (mostly) its most fair. Your reflexes are tested here in a way that the core game experiences doesn’t even get close to. Timing wall jumps that change Mario’s running direction to interact with (and selectively avoid) certain level elements are the only way to reach the little bastards, and even then it’s sometimes not enough. Knowing where the coins were was just the first step, while figuring out how to reach them was an entirely different one.
Certain coins required a ridiculous amount of setup which, which ranged from the brilliant to the tedious. A handful required the timely murder of a specific Koopa, so that I could later vault off his shell into the air or have it bounce off a coin from an inaccessible area. Others bordered on the ridiculous, like a particular Black Coin snuggled between two pillars of spikes, that required the use of an invincibility Star to wall hop between. Miss that single chance to get it, and restart the level. Not fun.
Those sorts of head to wall banging moments were thankfully few and far between, and often I found myself simply looking forward to each new Black Coin challenge to tax my skills up to that point. It helped too that each stage – to accommodate for the new difficulty – sometimes felt completely new in the process. Stages fundamentally change in these challenges, with new enemies, different layouts and new dangers essentially doubling the number of stages you technically have on offer.
And slugging through each of them takes time. It took me around two weeks of daily play to finally nail all 24 Black Coins to my chest, although your mileage may vary. And as much as I believe a game’s worth is in no way tied to its length, this really helped flesh out Super Mario Run’s rather high asking price. It’s again similar to the Rayman titles in that regard. They’re pricey, but equally well crafted platformers that have a crazy attention to detail with every jump.
There’s the light meta-game to keep me entertained now and the ever engrossing Toad Rally multiplayer to keep chipping away at, but for the most part my time with Super Mario Run significantly slowed after all those Black Coins were in my procession. And that might not be enough for you to throw down the investment, but it’s should be an enticing one if you have any inkling for a hard, engaging platforming experience. Even for one that’s simple enough to be played with taps alone.