It's possible to complete every level in Super Mario Run, Nintendo's impressive new mobile game, in less than an hour. The 24 stages are short—the time limit is often only 60 or 90 seconds long—and compared to a traditional Mario game, don't pose much of a challenge. But don't be fooled; Super Mario Run has a lot more going on than it's initially given credit for. I've played the game for a few hours now, and so far, I've yet to make it past the first few stages.
It's been a long time since Nintendo rolled out a Mario game that had you biting your nails. Knowing their biggest series is played by a wide audience, the company's tried to have it both ways. In Super Mario Sunshine—which was a good game, damnit—a series of hidden stages ditched the seaside aesthetic for grueling platforming gauntlets. In Super Mario 3D Land, after you "beat" it, a whole second world opened up that actually pressed your skills. The game is also home to possibly the hardest level ever created for a 3D Mario game. It's hard as hell.
If you want a more difficult Mario game, look for what Nintendo is hiding. While most developers use collectibles as padding, Nintendo deploys them as a carrot for exploration and unique challenges. Unsurprisingly, that's the approach with Super Mario Run, as well.
As with lots of other Mario games, Super Mario Run scatters five pink coins in each level. Once those coins are collected, you're tasked with finding five purple ones. These coins are tucked away in stranger, more out-of-the-way places that might require a tricky set of jumps or finding which coin block it's been hidden in. The black coins, though, are where shit gets real, as stage geometry and enemy layouts are tweaked to give you a hard time. The black coins require you to deeply analyze how a level works and come to grips with the nuance of Super Mario Run's mechanics. You will not succeed at collecting them by just tapping the screen.
(Pro tip: You can activate those death-saving bubbles at any time by clicking the icon. This is useful when you miss a coin and don't want to start the level over. It's a rewind function, though one that does not reset enemy layouts.)
A coin might be hidden at the bottom of a shaft, or only reachable by pulling off a long jump, consecutive leaps off floating enemies, and twirling in the air. Sometimes you need to trick the game into letting you run backwards! Though Super Mario Run lays out its basic mechanics early on, it's only by seeking these challenges that you truly understand how they all work. Some mechanics, like how swiping left allows you to briefly stall the forward momentum of a jump, aren't fully explained, unless you dig into the game's manual.
You don't get credit for picking up one or two coins, either. In order to advance, you need all five coins in a single run, meaning tensions start to run hot when you're nearing the exit. More than once, I've slammed my finger into the screen, pretending it'd push in like a button. But with stages only taking a minute (or less) to finish, it's never that frustrating to start all over.
I'm still plucking away at the third stage, unable to string it all together because the jumps are incredibly precise. It's in these moments, when the fate of collecting that last black coin is determined by the millisecond I tap my iPhone, where I've come to appreciate the care spent making sure Mario feels right on a touch screen. The essence of Mario isn't pressing a button, it's jumping. And because the jumping feels natural, Nintendo can demand a lot from you.
To some people, running the same stages over and over again isn't the same as more levels. Hey, I'm with you. I'd be happier if Super Mario Run was twice as long, too. But it can't be argued Super Mario Run is a shallow game, or an easy one. If you go looking for its biggest secrets, Super Mario Run is often as demanding as the games you play with a big controller.