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Game Review

Collectively, we've been piloting Mario through jumps and somersaults since way back in 1981, when he was trying to avoid the attacks of a certain barrel-slinging ape in arcades everywhere. But the little Italian plumber has come a long way in those 36 years. And these days, we can carry him with us wherever we go and control his bounding with but a single hand.

Super Mario Run is a new landmark title that introduces Mario and his Princess Peach-saving ways to iOS smartphones and tablets (with Android devices joining in on the action sometime later in 2017). Yep, this is a full-fledged Mario game created specifically for the tiny screen in your back pocket. It comes packing a multiple-world set of coin-collecting stages to conquer and a couple other complimenting side modes designed to make Mario and the gang as play-while-you-wait friendly as possible.

If you haven't already picked up the, uh, free app yet, here are a few things you ought to know.

Run Means Run

First of all, the Run in Super Mario Run refers to the fact that our mustachioed hero is gonna set off in a sprint no matter what you do. That's right, no swiping the screen or punching various buttons, Mario simply runs off automatically in whatever direction he chooses, and you've got to keep up.

Your one job is to tap the screen whenever you want our hero to hop over objects, leap across canyons, bounce back and forth between parallel walls or catapult up to bop floating boxes. A quick tap gets a jump, a hold after tapping delivers a bit bigger leap, and a tap while in mid-air results in an even bigger boost. From there it's all about timing your jumps, collecting coins and racing against the ever-ticking clock.

What about Bowser's minions, you Mariophiles ask? Well, rather than directly taking damage from enemies, Mario automatically hops over them. But a quick tap of the screen lets him stomp them for extra coins. Of course, a poorly timed hop can still get Mario zapped by a Koopa Trooper or find him tumbling off a cliff ledge. With that he loses some of his precious treasure and is shunted back a ways to give things another try.

Mode Means More

The World Tour mode is the main storyline here. It offers six worlds with four stages each: Mario encounters the usual foes, must overcome the usual obstacles and platforms, and works to save Princess Peach from the clutches of the dastardly Bowser once again. That said, other characters can be unlocked to run through the stages with as well. And colored coin challenges encourage replay action.

In addition to the main Tour, two other modes offer more casual gaming interaction. The Toad Rally allows gamers to race in something of a randomized version of the Tour stages against the recorded gameplay of another online player who’s run the course before. That character appears as a "ghost" runner, and the game tallies up which of you is collecting the most coins and making the best time. The winner gets rewards and a lot of cheering Toads to join his or her team.

Those Toads are important in the other side mode, Kingdom Builder. This is a Clash of Clans-style contest where players use their collected coins to slowly build up a Mushroom Kingdom of their own by getting their Toad fans to populate it. The bigger your population, the higher your level; the higher your level, the larger your kingdom can be.

About That 'Free' Download

All the modes, then, end up tying together in a one-supports-the-other trio of games. And on the face of things it's all just good, clean old-school gaming fun.

Of course, what young gamers and their parents will find out pretty quickly is that this ostensibly free Mario app isn't really free at all. In order to progress and gain all the potential rewards, players must not only set up a Nintendo account, but pony up 10 bucks to unlock the lion's share of the gameplay here. (Initial reports also suggest Super Mario Run can gobble up as much as 60 megabytes of data an hour—possibly another unexpected expense for those not playing via WiFi.) Players also need to come back regularly to reap gained rewards to build that kingdom. And if they want to garner some important bonuses, they'll need to get friends to pick up the app, too.

And on and on the business model spirals, with Nintendo collecting some coins—real ones—of its own.

There's plenty of fun to be had here. But rest assured, there's always a price tag. Whether it's in cash or in time, smartphone game apps—including good ol' Mario's—know exactly how to motivate you to jump … and keep jumping.

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December 15, 2016

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Bob Hoose

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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