Super Mario Run is out - yay! It's only available to roughly half the world's smart device owning population - boo! Yes, of course, the plumber's first mobile game is only on iOS right now, with Android owners having to wait until 2017. It's a bitter mushroom to swallow.
Android users can get around this, though. As an 'Android peasant' myself (oh internet, you're full of jerks that say stuff like that) I've decided to make my own fun. How? Well, I just searched 'Super Mario Run' on my phone (in Google Play) and picked some of the top results; they had to be free-to-start, too. Clones? Check. Rival brands? Check.
In terms of how I picked these games, I stuck to those near the top of the search. After all, mobile gaming is for those of us too busy to worry about details such as a game's quality or development lineage. I ignored 'Super Mario Run' guides, which were live before the game itself actually arrived on iOS, and I also skipped a DS emulator that randomly appeared. Oddly, this sloppy approach of taking the quickest choices means I don't even have the latest iterations of a couple of the games - but again, time is money, I need quick, free and crappy games now, dammit!
So, below are snapshot impressions of Android alternatives to Super Mario Run. Each has a score out of five based upon a bus ride's time playing it, because people like ratings apparently.
Amusingly, just below this in the results was Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom - haha, nice try SEGA.
I've actually owned this one in the past, deleting it when I'd had my fill. I've upgraded my phone since then, though, and enjoyed it more with a steadier framerate. This is a behind-the-character runner, in which you swipe left and right to switch lanes, or up and down to jump or do a roll attack. It's like those 3D on rails sections from the main Sonic games, over and over again.
In truth, this game isn't bad. If you don't become addicted you can slowly make progress without paying for extras, and generally video ads and sales pitches are easily skipped and ignored. The more you play the slower progress gets as the game tries to get money out of you, but it's not as offensive as some other games. Controls are slick, gameplay is solid, and there are unlockables and extras to try and collect.
Bus Ride Review score - 4 Spin Dashes out of 5
Ooh, now we're being naughty. There was a time when Sony was convinced that Sackboy would be a Mario killer, and though the character and the LittleBigPlanet games have enjoyed some success - with level creation being a big part of the experience - they've not quite taken off as much as the company would have liked.
As a rival to Super Mario Run, this one at least mimics the gameplay to a degree, as it's a 2D sidescrolling auto-runner. It has nice visuals - with the arts and crafts aesthetic that Nintendo's also good at - and controls are smooth, with different taps and swipes prompting Sackboy to jump higher and dash. The animation is excellent, and like Mario in his iOS adventure Sackboy smoothly dips into rolls and so on when he has momentum.
An annoyance I have with this one is the fact that each attempt, barring the use of items, is right back at the beginning, and unlike Sonic Dash stages don't generate randomly. So you play the same parts over and over again, and the balancing isn't ideal - the second area, as an example, has electrocuted parts to avoid, and you can only absorb the damage with a special shield. Naturally that takes a while to charge and then disappears quickly, so early on there's a bit of a wall blocking progress.
This is really designed to get you to buy stuff. Run Sackboy! Run! isn't too bad in terms of external ads, but it's heavy on micro-transaction pushing, teasing you with occasional freebies, pushing you towards a shop and making the challenge feel particularly unfair. The balancing is a bit off, to the point that I don't feel inclined to try and grind it out. That said, this is an impatient bus game simulation I'm doing here, so some may enjoy the solid gameplay enough to stick with it on multiple commutes.
Bus Ride Review score - 3.5 Mario killers out of 5
Oh yes, off we go into the rabbit hole. In terms of how much 'inspiration' this takes from Mario, it has aesthetics that remind me of the Mushroom Kingdom, you alternate between above ground and underground stages, and you bash a lot of blocks with your head. It's not outright plagiarism, but it's one of those "gee, I wonder which franchise inspired them" games.
Anyway, this is more of a standard platformer as you have virtual buttons to run left and right, jump and throw acorns. The theme is Irish leprechauns, if you hadn't guessed, and it lays it on very thick - the level ends at the bottom of a rainbow, you collect pots of gold etc. It has upbeat music though, and visually it's not too bad for a free mobile game.
The actual gameplay is acceptable, even if virtual buttons are the worst form of controls imaginable - yes, even worse than the Wii Balance Board in Punch-Out!!. When I wasn't accidentally shooting my limited supply of acorns instead of jumping, I was having a reasonable enough time. It's nothing amazing, but I wasn't repelled by it; let's take that as a win.
In the microtransaction / account stakes this one does have some issues. It's not too bad in terms of chasing money, but it did skip to ads occasionally in an unexpected way. It's also darn determined to get you to login into the Google Play account thing, which I dodged by partially accepting and then cancelling. It brings it up too frequently, like an angry spouse reminding you to empty the bin every five minutes.
Aside from those annoyances, I rattled through the first world and didn't have an existential crisis over how I was using my limited time on Earth. That's a positive I suppose.
Bus Ride Review score - 3 lucky charms out of 5
It feels like things are steadily getting slightly worse the further we go, which suggests that the Google Play search algorithms are functioning correctly. This one's not awful, as such, but it squanders its potential.
As the name makes clear (that lower case j is in the actual title, it's not our mistake), this adopts pixel-based visuals for its particular brand of 2D auto-running in which you simply tap to jump. It uses the Unity engine and has its merits, with the visuals being rather pleasing; enemies are representative of some familiar 8-bit games, while your starting character is a little pixel Abraham Lincoln, because why not. Some little sequences (with sprites that must be only narrowly avoiding copyright takedowns) made me smile. The music isn't great, it must be said, but the core look is colourful and quite fun.
The actual game design could be better, though. At times deaths feel cheap, especially once giant enemies become the norm; levels are also split into three sections, so if you lose one of your three lives you don't necessarily go back to the start. Strangely, when you beat a stage you don't simply move onto the next; you have to select the next level from the home menu.
Micro-transactions aren't too bad, but the implementation of ads is sloppy; there are unexpected cuts to videos, and at times the interface isn't particularly clear. Slightly better design and less desperate monetisation could go a long way. The currency of the game is also rather slow to accumulate, so getting extra characters (and their abilities) will take a while.
Bus Ride Review score - 2.5 bits out of 5
This one plays like a bad clone of Lep's World 2, oddly. The controls and concept are similar, except this character has a double jump and throws hammers instead of acorns. There are enough differences to ensure this isn't an outright clone, but only just.
There are various problems, enough to ensure that this didn't even get through the time of a typical bus ride with me. Controls are sloppy, and I kept accidentally opening a banner ad right next to the 'move right' virtual button, prompting the phone to try and open a web browser - what fun!
Level design is mediocre early on, the looping music is teeth-grindingly annoying, and the only real positive is that it's functional - the developer did spend a bit of time on this game, they just happened to make a lot of mistakes.
The implementation of ads is ridiculous here, frankly. If the banner ad getting in the way of the controls wasn't bad enough, I had to dance past frequent interruptions - every pause screen or transition seems to push obtrusive ads, not all of which are easy to close and skip. Structurally this game is also a mess, with a whole load of levels spat out onto a generic world map.
Bus Ride Review score - 1.5 annoying ads out of 5
Let's end with the worst one. Some smart device attempts to cash-in on Mario and broader Nintendo brands do so by using keywords and assets that are just different enough to avoid takedowns. This one is called Super Smash World in its icon, seems to be called Smash World Adventure on the Google Play store in my web browser, while the url address id is "super.smash.world.bros". So, yeah...
Now picture this. Imagine if Nintendo decided the best way to bring Mario to smart devices was to just copy the level design of Super Mario Bros., naturally using a virtual D-Pad and A / B buttons. Then, imagine Nintendo lost all of its source code and talented staff, so tried to recreate it with an unpaid intern leading development. Imagine all of the assets and characters were replaced with crappy cookie-cutter art, and that the physics and controls were barely functional.
That is Super Smash World / Smash World Adventure / super.smash.world.bros. I'll be blunt, I played this for 5 minutes and decided that it didn't deserve any more time. Not only is it offensive to play, but it also has appalling usage of ads. My first challenge was getting into the game, with an ad and then that Google Play account thing trying to get me to sign up. Then the ads keep coming - you lose a life, you get an ad. You beat a level, guess the prize! - An ad.
From the character looking like Mario's underachieving cousin to the flagpoles and castles at the end of each level, right down to some stages trying to recreate original stages brick-for-brick (and badly, too) this one just got on my nerves.
It's functional, that gets it a point.
Bus Ride Review score - 1 clone out of five
So there you have it, some alternatives to Super Mario Run for deprived, unloved and ignored Android users that also happen to be Nintendo fans. A few of them aren't that bad, to be fair, by the standards of mobile games. I'm not any more of a fan of mobile gaming now than I was before - and Super Smash World irritated me - but I didn't have a terrible time overall.
Yeah, there's your box quote to promote this little collection of Android alternatives to Super Mario Run - "I didn't have a terrible time - Thomas Whitehead, Nintendo Life".