Super Mario Run, which makes its debut today in the Apple App Store, is your daddy’s Super Mario Brothers game. Except that it isn’t.
Long-time Mario players from the early days of the Nintendo Entertainment System will recognize the familiar elements given a graphical update for 2016 – floating question mark blocks, super mushrooms, gold coins, green pipes, and of course, the mustachioed plumber in red and blue.
Underneath the spruced-up graphics however, Nintendo has turned the iconic gameplay of the original game into an autorunning sidescroller that’s more at home with the casual gaming scene popular on mobile systems. The player only has to collect as many coins as he can before he gets to the end of the stage, or the clock runs out.
Nintendo says that they changed the game mechanics so that Super Mario Run could be played with one hand, a la Flappy Bird, and in fact, the game feels much like the indie breakout hit, down to the portrait orientation of the screen.
Changing the game engine to this genre may have made it more of a fit for mobile gaming, but it feels like Nintendo took away more than they should, because all that’s left of the controls is well-timed taps on the screen to make Mario jump around. See a Goomba headed your way? Mario vaults over it. For someone who grew up with the game, the inability to throw fireballs at the enemy gets pretty frustrating after a while.
Mario’s automatic running can get tiring as well. Each stage has a number of different paths that you can take to get to the end, but the automatic running makes it completely impossible unless you repeat the stage several times. Mario will stop moving when he steps on red blocks with a pause sign on them, but they can be few and far apart.
On the other hand, some of the tweaks made by Nintendo are definitely cool to look at, aside from adding to the gameplay. Mario can bounce off and shimmy down walls in the game, taking a cue from fellow 80s sidescroller stalwart Rockman/Megaman. He can also grab onto platform edges, a la Lara Croft or Prince of Persia.
As its maiden effort in mobile gaming, Nintendo may have a potential hit on its hands, but that’s all because of Mario, the game’s legacy with Generations X and Y, and the curiosity of how the game looks and feels. Millenials who were not around during those heady first days of console gaming may just be left wondering what the deal is with this Mario guy, and why people are fussing over something they’ve seen before in other games.
Super Mario Run is available on the App Store starting December 16, 2016. Users can download a demo version of the first three stages, but world 1-4 onwards are unlocked through payment. Super Mario Run also needs an internet connection to work. A version for the Android operating system is due next year.