A merry Christmas to all of you out there that are taking a break from your families on this most Yule of evenings and have decided, for one reason or another, to spend some time reading this silly, clichéd offering of mine.
That’s right, as the title above suggests, I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring with a top 10 list of my favorite games that I played this year. It’s been done to death by anyone with an interest in anything… But what can I say. I’ve always enjoyed the idea and wanted to try it myself.
As I don’t celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah ended a couple days ago, I’m just going to be hanging around all day today more or less. I figured doing a list like this could also double as my ‘here are some good gifts for the holiday season’ suggestions. A little late? Perhaps. But I like to think it’s just well-timed enough.
As a couple of forewarnings before we get into things. Just remember that this is my own personal list of favorites. In other words, it’s an opinionated list, so if you don’t agree with me… Well, that’s your opinion. I respect that you have your opinions so long as you respect that I have mine.
On top of that, while it has been an objectively great year for games in general, it has unfortunately not been a wonderful year of gaming for me. Because of the work constraints I’ve had as a college newspaper editor, a full-time student and an intern, there hasn’t been nearly as much time to play games as I would have liked.
So, if anything, these 10 games I’m listing off are arguably the only 10 games I’ve spent any considerable time actually playing this year.
If you don’t see a game you really liked this year, that’s probably why. As a matter of fact, unless you’re a Nintendo junkie like me, you probably won’t see a lot of games you’re familiar with on this list. A Switch and 3DS are my main gaming systems right now, so there aren’t a lot (if any) PS4 or Xbox games in my playing field.
With all that out of the way, let’s jump into the reason we’re all really here than, shall we? After all, what would a games list be without the games?
￼Editor’s Note: For anyone reading this on my blog proper, I’m going to stick the content under a read more tag. I pretty much let it all out with this one, so it’s long and I don’t want to completely bog everything else down.
Even so, I hope everyone enjoys the show! #UnintendedRhyme
Even more than a month later, I’m still deeply enthralled in the world of Pokémon Sun and Moon. In fact, I’ve just seriously begun doing some competitive breeding, so I’ll probably be posting about some teams I’m building as I get them together.
However, something else has been released recently that I felt was worth taking the time to look at.
If my post title and featured image aren’t enough to have given it away, welcome to my mini review/first impressions post for Super Mario Run (To be abbreviated SMR from here on out).
Now, to preface this just a little bit, I’ve only played through the currently available free-to-play content portion of SMR. That means I’ve done World 1-1 to World 1-3, and I’ve done enough online play to have my castle reach level 4.
However, while I’ve only played through the stuff available before hitting the paywall as of writing this, I will say that the game is well worth the (admittedly rather steep for a mobile game) $10 required to access the six Worlds. I say that for three reasons:
1) Game Feel
First, the game exudes that high level of polish most Nintendo games are known for despite being on a new platform.
After a brief control tutorial, the game drops you off at Toad Town and Peach’s Castle, both in their apparently natural state: Demolished by everyone’s favorite resident Big Bad Boss, Bowser. From this screen you can look at your collectibles, mess with your friend’s list, notifications, receive gifts, connect to a Nintendo account so you can make you player icon a Mii and access other similar mobile game mechanics. However, the three most important parts of the game come at the bottom of the screen with the Tour, Rally and Build sections.
Selecting Tour allows you to access what is essentially the main story levels in SMR, revealing just what the game is. Nintendo’s first mobile game is a 2D endless runner game similar to titles like Bit Trip Runner and the Sonic Storybook Series (Though the Sonic games are in 3D and are generally less than enjoyable… In my opinion, at least).
The game uses the New Super Mario Bros. graphical engine that’s gotten more than enough love since it brought Mario side scrolling games back in 2006, and it uses those graphics rather well if you ask me. Though the ability to translate a 2D side scroller into an endless runner may seem obvious, the execution of such an idea seems like it would be very easy to get wrong.
However, I would argue SMR gets the endless runner formula right by pretty flawlessly combining a classic, beloved look with new mechanics meant to emphasize a style-based form of gameplay and a substantially intriguing amount of challenge even in early levels.
Granted, any semblance of a story is next to nonexistent past the generic “Save Princess Peach from Bowser” series mainstay… But for a mobile title like this, the lack of a story is fine, and the fact that it even has that could probably be considered a plus. Luckily, the other portions of the game make up for this.
The second main part of the game comes from the Toad Rally mode, which is SMR’s multiplayer aspect. Part of the destruction of Toad Town and Peach’s capture involved all the Toads living in the now destroyed city running away. In order to rebuild the castle and the town, Mario needs to gather Toads, and to do this you have to participate in rally runs against other SMR players.
Using Rally tickets that you gather through various means (such as completing challenges in the single player game or through micro transactions), you can choose an opponent to Run against. Toad Rally has you racing against the opponent you’ve chosen across a set, repeating map to collect as many coins and gather as much Toad support as possible. Collecting coins is an obvious task to complete: Just run, jump, defeat foes and wall-kick to get as many as possible.
To gather Toad support, however, requires you to utilize SMR’s main new feature and arguably its main selling point: The style system. While you can perform all of Mario’s usual jumping techniques, the nature of a free runner changes how the side scroller operates. Instead of having to jump to cross all barriers and to defeat every Goomba and Koopa, Mario does an acrobatic flip over each of the small creatures and tiny gaps/barriers he comes across. The act of his instant mobility over these obstacles is automatic, but nets you no benefits. However, if you tap the screen in a timely manner, you do more fancy tricks and flips that defeat enemies and earn you style points.
Not only do these actions often get you more coins, they build up your Toad support and your style meter, which can eventually activate coin rushes.
These rushes do essentially what they sound like they would do. More coins will spawn for the duration of the meter’s charge, enemies will net you more coins and you’ll build up more hype from the little mushroom men that are cheering you on. These coin rushes perform a similar function to the classic Star power-up you can find hidden sometimes in-game, though the Star also attracts coins within a large vicinity in front of you, ensuring you get them all.
Seriously, if you played and enjoyed New Super Mario Bros. 2 for it’s coin-centric gimmicks, you’ll probably love how satisfying coin collection is in SMR.
You can keep the meter charged even while it’s depleting by performing more tricks during the rush, though Mario speeds up during that period so it can be harder to keep up a chain like you normally could. There’s a huge collection of tricks that Mario can perform to make this task easier, and there are even some tricks exclusive to other playable characters like Luigi, Yoshi and Princess Toadstool herself.
Although you pick opponents for your Toad Rally matches based on real players, you actually play against a ghost of their performance on the same level that you Run on. Therefore, although you don’t have to literally be connected to anyone in order to get in on the multiplayer fun of SMR, you still compete against the performances of other fans of the game. You still have to beat their coin collection scores as they do the same things you do, every coin rush and death included.
Deaths, I might add, are a very interesting thing to observe in SMR. The game synthesizes elements from different Mario titles together, showing a progression in style throughout the last few years of Nintendo’s history with the franchise that has really blossomed into something neat. When a player dies, you get an indication on your play area for where they died similar to the red X indicators in Super Mario Maker. A dead player will then be lifted back into the playing field with a bubble, one of the chief elements common to every New Super Mario Bros. game with multiplayer capabilities. Deaths will take coins away and bubble travel will bring you backwards through a stage, causing you to fall behind in a Toad Rally.
In single player Runs, deaths will cause the same things to happen, however the bubble can be used strategically. If you miss one of the special coins on a stage (something I’ll get into in a moment), you can activate one of your limited bubbles at any time to go backwards and give yourself another chance to catch what you missed – unless it happened to be time-based, of course.
Once a Toad Rally is over, your coins are tallied up alongside your opponent’s coins to see who has collected the most. The amount of Toad support you got throughout the round adds extra coins to your score. Whoever Toadette decides to elect the winner gets more Toads to join them in Toad Town, which in essence acts like the experience points in SMR. However, be warned, if you lose a match against another player not only have you wasted a Rally ticket, you also lose Toads to your opponent.
It’s a tough break in the SMR world, for sure.
Like I said, Toads are your experience points in SMR. The more you collect, the more you level up. The more you level up, the closer you get to repairing Peach’s castle and returning Toad Town to its former glory.
That brings me to the third major part of the game: Toad Town customization. Though not an endless running game mode, the build menu allows you to spend all the thousands of coins you’ll be collecting throughout your endless runs. Most of the things you can buy are aesthetic. Toad houses, flowers, garden pieces and so on. However, you can also buy useful set pieces like bonus mini game houses, which you can access every eight hours or so to have a chance at getting more Rally Tickets and coins.
The more Toads you collect through Toad Rally, the more decorations will be available to you. There are five colored Toads available to collect: Red, Blue, Green, Purple and Yellow. Collecting each color will allow you to unlock different things, however I believe Red is the only color available when you haven’t purchased the full game.
At least, that’s the only color I’ve been able to find.
Eventually, collecting each color will allow you to access Rainbow Bridges, which I can only assume will unlock new areas to decorate… But again, I haven’t been able to get more than the Red Toads.
Though seemingly a bit shallow as far as a reward for all the work collecting coins and Toads goes, the building portion of the game does add a nice element of personalization to the game, and the tiny hub world is honestly a really relaxing place to let your phone sit when you’re doing other things. Toads will also wander around the area and do things like roll around on the grass, so it’s hard not to find the little fungi adorable.
The second reason SMR is worth the buy: Although it’s clearly built to be in more bite-sized bits, SMR seems to have enough content to warrant the price tag without fitting the bill of a far more expensive console title.
Like I said, only 3 levels are available pre-purchase: World 1-1, 1-2 and 1-3. The levels mimic exactly what everyone has come to expect from a classic Mario game, one aboveground level, one underground level and one sky-high mushroom level.
The first three levels in Super Mario Run
The levels aren’t exactly very long. Or at least, the nature of their existence – in which you’re constantly moving – makes it feel like the levels are a lot shorter than they might otherwise be if you had total control over Mario.
However, each level has enough replay value to ensure you won’t blow through the three level trial quicker than you can say “King Koopa.” Beyond the obvious multiplayer aspect of high scores that you can compare with your friends, each level has a certain collectible that will keep you coming back over… And over… And over again.
Colored Coins for the first three levels in Super Mario Run
Every level in SMR has five collectible Pink Coins when you first play through it. Chances are you won’t collect all five on your first time through, since many of them are hidden, sometimes hard to reach based on timing or touch strength or down a fork in the road that you can only access both ends of if you utilize your bubbles well. So, on average, I would say that collecting each Pink Coin in each level would require at least two Runs, as they’re mostly in obvious places.
But once you collect all five Pink Coins, you then unlock a new version of the same map with five Purple Coins. Purple Coins are, naturally, harder to find than the pink ones are. More often than not the layout of certain obstacles and coin collections in the level will be far trickier during a Purple Coin run, forcing you to have to do things like check coin boxes to collect every coin (which is admittedly a much harder task than normal in this gameplay style).
Once you collect all five Purple Coins, you then unlock an even harder Black Coin Run of the level, which takes difficulty to a whole other level compared to the earlier versions. In Black Coin Runs, coins will be hidden better and obstacle layouts will typically require precision playing and planning ahead to collect all five.
For example, in the screenshot above, to collect the Black Coin you need to not only stay on the yellow mushroom to ensure you’ll fall in the right area, you also need to make sure you time your jumps on enemies correctly so you don’t fall to your doom instead of soaring to victory (Oh, and I have to say, Paratroopas are my least favorite enemy as far as precision jumping goes. Most of the time you need to land in exactly the right place and tap with just the right amount of strength to make sure you don’t lose a mushroom power-up or fall to your doom. It’s annoying to say the least).
Also, did I mention there’s a Paratroopa earlier in the level that if you happened to hit will send a shell forward ahead of you that just so happens to knock out the first flying Paratroopa on this screen, thus ending your chances of getting this particular coin? Yeah, it’s a pain. Hence pre-planning and multiple runs through each level. With extra space below the playing field left blank, Nintendo also set up a way to make sure your finger doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay or obscure anything in front of Mario. It’s a small but very greatly appreciated detail.
I could complain all day about how annoying the Black Coin Run on World 1-3 is, but to be honest it isn’t so much annoying in an unfair sense as it is in a truly difficult sense. When you fail, it’s because you didn’t perform an action perfectly. Every element is laid out exactly how it needs to be laid out, and the complexity is enough to make the level interesting to play and frustrating enough to want to conquer. And that’s only for World 1-3! I can’t imagine the creative level designs that show up in World 6, those have got to be ridiculous.
Oh, and by the way, there is a reward for collecting all five colored coins in a given level for all of your Completionists out there (Yeah, I can’t consciously steal the word without sourcing it out… I already used Big Bad Bosses in my post, after all).
That’s right, you can get six Rally Tickets per level if you play your cards right, enjoy a challenge and find precision gameplay fun. Luckily, I fit all three of those criteria and found the challenge fun, even if it did get fairly frustrating.
To top all of this fun, challenging and rewarding gameplay off… SMR has some kick-ass earworms music. Every track is the classic Mario song you would expect to hear that’s been amped up with techno vibes, really emphasizing the constant action of the gameplay. The menu and hub world music has also been remixed. Combine all of that with the tried and true Mario sound effects and you’ve got an audio experience that will keep you humming along hours after you finished your last Run.
3) Nintendo. Mobile Games. Winning.
The third reason SMR is worth the buy… Should be obvious. Come on now, this is our first mobile game released by Nintendo (if you don’t count Pokémon GO). That’s definitely the kind of thing worth supporting if for no other reason than to ensure Nintendo continues to create worthy mobile gaming content.
Like I’ve reiterated throughout this not-so-little review, I’ve only completed the basic free-to-play content in SMR. I spent maybe an hour and a half (two hours if I’m being generous) learning how the game works, collecting all 45 available colored coins and participating in a few Toad Rallies. While this may not seem like a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, the fact that all that time was spent on three main story levels and four multiplayer level-ups is honestly pretty impressive considering the game is obviously meant to get harder and longer the further you get in past the ‘tutorial’ levels.
Nintendo’s impressive levels of game design and polish shine through with this title just as much as it would in any main series console Mario game. The amount of care is clear in every little detail – after all, look at how much I pulled out of just two hours or so of play. As a company, Nintendo has become an expert at taking their assets and improving upon them over and over again through every installment of their franchises. Super Mario Run is no different. Despite seemingly being a rehash of various old elements covering a slightly new skeleton, the game really feels like its own unique entity.
For the challenge, for the music, for the tried and true gameplay with a unique style of mechanics, for the fun multiplayer aspects and ultimately to encourage more great content in the future, I would highly recommend not only downloading the game, but shelling out $10 to get everything currently available.