Considering the fact that the Super Mario series started out as a precision platformer, it seems mad to think that this formula could translate into a mobile app with only a single input. As such we picked up the game with few expectations and a healthy dose of scepticism, but thankfully our fears were allayed.
Super Mario Run has somehow managed to distill everything that makes a Mario game a Mario game, and present it in a manner that requires little physical input but a bucketload of mental input. Unlike the myriad endless runner games available on mobile devices, Super Mario Run has a beginning, middle, and end to all of its stages, and they are crafted with various scenarios in mind from start to finish.
Exploration takes somewhat of a backseat in favour of faster, more consistent movement (which is hardly surprising given that Mario runs incessantly for the most part) but occasionally taking a more treacherous path can reward you with a special coloured coin. These include the easy pink coins, the tougher-to-collect purple coins, and the extremely challenging black coins, which force you to totally rethink how you approach each stage. Not only do these add a significant challenge, but a very welcome dollop of longevity which can be make or break in the mobile market.
As you run along with Mario you'll have the usual suspects thrown at you - Koopa Troopers, Goombas, Buzzy Beetles, Bowser, the whole gang's here. There are also some entirely new elements tailored around the simplified input, most notable of which are blocks that cause Mario to stand still when he touches them. It seems trivial, but given that there are several opportunities in most levels to reach new locations with a few well-timed taps, it can be good to take a breather once in a while and fully absorb what lays ahead of you. These blocks also pause the timer, meaning that just hanging around isn't going to infer any kind of penalty, though you can still jump over them if you don't wish to slow down.
Further adding to the content lineup are the Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder features. The latter has provided quite a bit of confusion amongst our readers, but we've got the basic gist of how it all works. You have your own kingdom that begins as a drab and battered shack, and slowly as you amass coins and Toads (more on these guys in a bit) your kingdom will expand by itself and through your own actions.
You can choose to place various buildings and features that allow you to unlock new content such as a bonus mini game that can be played once every set number of hours, allowing you to get more coins and tokens to be used in the Toad Rally mode. You can also expand your kingdom over several 'pages', meaning you're not restricted to a mediocre number of tiles. Moreover this feature allows you to unlock additional characters such as Luigi and Yoshi, whom you can choose to replace Mario when playing through stages, each with their own unique traits such as Yoshi's flutter jump.
Toad Rally on the other hand is much more like the main game, wherein you use tokens to participate in a race of showmanship against another player's ghost in semi-randomly generated levels. Performing stylish jumps, tricks and enemy stomps will grant you coins and Toads to cheer you on, and the player with the most coins and Toads in total is victorious. If you win you get the Toads cheering you on as well as the ones that showed up to support the opponent, being the fickle creatures that they are.
Toads in your Kingdom allow you to further expand and build the items that fill it. Toads of varying colours are required for each construction, and if you don't have the required number of Toads of the required colours, you're not getting that stylish new object you've been pining for. It's a clever way to keep you coming back to the app and the new mechanics it opens up gives more 'hardcore' players reason to do so beyond a shiny trinket with no function.
Super Mario Run is shaping up to be something we didn't really think was going to work, a fully-fledged Mario game that is fun on mobile devices. And yes, we're aware that there are methods to install classic titles on smart devices to be controlled with virtual buttons, but anyone who has tried to use these will tell you that on the whole they just don't work. Nintendo has decided to adapt things to fit the machine they're on, and it's all the better for it. We're really excited to see how all this goes down.
Super Mario Run is out on iOS on 15th Dec priced $9.99 / €9.99 / £7.99.