Good smartphone games are like crack: a drug that Peep Show’s Super Hans best described as ‘really more-ish’. Whether it's Candy Crush Saga or Clash Royale, we've all had that feeling of not being able to quit an app. Even if it is 10pm, you've only got 5% battery left, and have no idea when the last train home is.
While Nintendo hasn't yet left me cursing my own absent-mindedness at Waterloo station, I've got a bad feeling about what’ll happen after 15 December. That's when Super Mario Run launches for iPhone and iPad, and believe me, like a fish attracted to shiny objects, you're going be hooked.
It's no surprise really, given that Nintendo's new title is brought to us by the same people that created the relentlessly addictive Mario Kart 8, Wii Sports and Splatoon. There was only one way this was going to go.
After jumping around as Mario in an hour-long play test session, we're already getting the sweats having gone cold turkey. Here's why:
More Pokemon Go than Miitomo
Super Mario Run isn’t Nintendo’s first smartphone game, but it is by far its best to date.
Remember, it was actually developer Niantic that created the smash hit Pokémon Go, so the only app we’ve seen from Ninty so far is the bonkers social networking creation Miitomo. And if you’re anything like me, your enjoyment of that peaked pretty soon after dressing your character up in a giant tomato hat and pyjama bottoms. Compared to Miitomo, Super Mario Run is the real deal.
Not played a Mario game since forever? Don't fret, this app will still have a hold on your attention span in no time at all. The thing grabs you in a Piranha Plant-style frenzy, thanks to a clever mix of intuitive controls and an easily recognisable structure.
Every 2D level sticks to pretty much the same formula established in the very first Super Mario Bros. You run to the right of the screen knocking your bonce into blocks, stomping on Goombas and generally being as acrobatic as possible. The twist? This is an endless runner, so your favourite red plumber only moves forward.
Missed a coin or Super Mushroom? Tough. You'll have to play through the level again. And that's how you get hooked.
As good as Galaxy?
Compared to Temple Run or Canabalt, Super Mario Run feels slightly slower, but that's because it asks more of you.
Each of its 24 levels across six kingdoms has different paths to its Goal Pole, with trickier routes rewarded by special coins and power-ups. Perfecting a stage takes some serious timing and concentration as well. You’re not simply tasked with swiping left or right at an ever-increasing rate of knots.
This is what makes Super Mario Run more than just a great app: it’s a great Mario game. One that can stand proudly alongside the likes of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario World in a snug pair of red dungarees. It ain't no Mario Teaches Typing, folks.
Endless runners: a Ninty tradition
When actually you think about it, Nintendo has been doing this endless/on rails runner thing for some time now. Most blatantly in Donkey Kong Country’s famous mine cart levels, but pretty much every Mario game in existence features at least a couple of stages where you’ll be stood on a platform as it moves through an ever more frenetic obstacle course. Compared to sticking the moustached one in space or strapping a giant water cannon on his back, the changes here are small fry.
Run also looks like any one of the New Super Mario Bros titles, only Mario himself is more agile than ever before. In this app’s most frenetic stages, you’re going to have to juggle wall jumps, quickfire vaults over Koopas, and pull off some sweet mid-air spins. Or, in my case, you’ll just die a lot.
When you manage a perfect rating, you’ll feel unnecessarily chuffed with yourself. When you accidentally leap into a bottomless pit and die, you’ll be hammering that ‘retry’ button with all the subtlety of Luigi on a ghost-hunting expedition. That ‘just one more go’ thing? Run has it it in spades.
A mobile masterstroke
Like any Mario game, Run costs money to own. A whole £7.99, in fact. And if you blitz through its first three levels and the first 20 seconds of the following Bowser’s Castle stage, it’s possible be greeted with a ‘pay up’ message within five minutes of installing the app.
Outraged? You shouldn’t be. With the each of the game’s 24 unique World Tour stages rearranging itself over three difficulty settings, plus the options to decorate your own home in the Kingdom Builder and challenge your mates in Toad Rally, there seems to be plenty of replay value in Run.
Whether you’re an absolute newbie or have laid waste to an truly immoral number of Shy Guys, this’ll have your daily commute sorted until at least January.
Once you’ve paid your cash, that’s it as well. There are no in-app purchases or stretches where you’ll have to grind your way to a better level. Plus the whole thing looks seriously good, and even better than what you’d find on a Nintendo 3DS. Run undoubtedly plays best on an iPhone, but stick it on an iPad Pro and it’s a total stunner.
At no point do you get the feeling Nintendo has treated Run like a second class title, and that’s what makes it so ferociously compelling. From what I’ve played so far, Mario’s leap onto mobile is a masterstroke.
Plus, it’s a lot more healthy for you than a crack. So that’s a bonus.