I know there are mixed reviews for this game. I too had a mixed experience playing this game! In this review, I will assume some knowledge of game mechanics.
So let’s start with the positive.
In Super Mario Run, there is this mode called Toad Rally. Toad Rally offers a time attack battle that puts you head to head against someone else’s run. You wager significant value on the line, namely tickets and Toads. Having Toads of different quantities and varieties are crucial to acquiring buildings for your kingdom. The competition of Toad Rally is sweet, especially with the edge of something on the line. The rewards felt good to me (through Toads which make buildings) which completes the game loop very successfully. There are seasonal buildings to place within your kingdom to add good variety.
The way the levels are hand-crafted seemed purposeful, and of high quality. Spruced in the levels are special color coins to collect which offered a good amount of replayability.
The payment plan for Super Mario Run was refreshingly solid. For free you got the first three levels and some entry level play to the rest of the modes. From there you could pay once for 10 bucks to essentially get the rest of the game (as it stands). In a world of microtransactions, the 1 and done model was great to see.
Now I am going to talk about what could have been improved with Super Mario Run.
The ‘main‘ game mode, World Tour, is a mode with 6 worlds with 4 parts. Like classic Mario, this system offered a series of different maps to play through until you beat Bowser and rescue the princess. Honestly, despite this being the bread and butter of most Mario platformers, I felt the maps were either too easy altogether or set up in a way that was impossible to nail down without frequent attempts. By this I mean sometimes, since Mario for the most part runs on his own the player is put in pickles that they can’t unpickle without taking a hit. Knowing these worlds were carefully hand-crafted makes me more tilted. As an premium example check out World 5-3. In my opinion that level was perhaps the worst designed Mario level I have ever played. In this level you had to know that if you step over arrow tiles, they emit light which can kill Boos, ghost monsters that can’t be killed any other way. This is a cool trick that was never explained to me. Furthermore, it is the only way you can complete that level since one drops a key, ergo you are stuck until you figure it out. This technique, unlike other techniques well explained in the game, could have been mentioned more prevalently. Overall, the levels were overall short which meant I cleared the worlds very fast. The longevity of this mode was the special color coins, but I have never been a fan of revisiting the same area loads of times. You can make a first clear of all 6 worlds in a couple hours.
In Toad Rally, you have to use a ticket to enter. You can get tickets with no real money by either collecting a set of special coins in a level, clearing a World Tour world for the first time, spending achievement points, or by special huts/blocks in your kingdom that takes real time in hours to refresh. You can pay real money for tickets and I don’t like that. I wish there was a more guaranteed way to get tickets, not limited to a timer refresh rate, even if it was a long grindy technique.
On a tangent, I find it humorous how you need to spent a good amount of time in the most competitive part of the game (Toad Rally) to unlock stuff in the most casual part of the game (Kingdom buildings).
The game loop rewards are so far new characters, new buildings, and a lot of aesthetic stuff. While there are a solid amount of rewards, I wish I had more flexibility with my buildings to make my little city seem more unique than just a cookie cutter system. Maybe make certain buildings give you extra bonuses or an increased refresh timer if they have more of a particular type of aesthetic around them, similar to Feng Shui in Animal Crossing! There is so much potential to this system and I feel like Super Mario Run was just not willing to take chances, or to stand out amongst other platformers.
Overall Super Mario Run kinda goes on the books as a generic runner with a systematic game loop reward system. The only thing that really makes this game stand amongst the trees is its IP and Toad Rally. The Kingdom Builder is a fantastic system but as mentioned above has so much more potential for more engaged players. Also Yoshi sucks in Toad Rally.