Pop quiz, hot shot: when was the last time Mario properly appeared on a non-Nintendo console? That would be Super Mario Bros. for the Atari 8-bit.... in 1988.
So yeah, Super Mario Run is a big deal. Not just because it’s available for iPhone and iPad, but also because it’s a brand new game that’s been made for mobile. And it’s good. Really, really good.
If the so-so Miitomo was Nintendo gingerly dipping its toes into the world of smartphones, then Mario Run is a full-on cannonball off the top diving board. There are few half-measures in this one-handed affair, which means it’s an app that’s actually worth its £8 asking price. Even if you can’t play it offline.
Ready. Steady. Run
From the very moment you hop into Mario Run, you’ll notice how fast it is. Designed to deliver the same bite-sized bursts of endorphins that you get from Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds, Nintendo’s classic 2D platforming formula has been rejigged for smartphone.
Your favourite dungaree-laden plumber dashes in constant motion to the right side of your smartphone's screen, leaping over Goombas and knocking his bonce into Question Blocks according to your taps until he reaches a World’s end. There are 24 of these to play in Run’s World Tour, and each one lasts about a minute.
That means you can probably ‘finish’ the game in about two hours, and free players (who only get three full Worlds to start) will likely hit an in-app purchase notification within five minutes. Which doesn’t sound so great, does it?
It costs how much?
There’s no getting away from the fact that Mario Run is expensive... for a phone app.
Then again, the last time I logged into Clash Royale it was suggesting I pay $10 for 1,200 gems. Mario Run asks for exactly the same amount, but once you’ve paid that's it. You get the whole game, and won’t run the risk of your kid totalling your credit card in time for Christmas.
Rather than shovelling the same small handful of levels in your direction over and over again, each one of Run’s 24 Worlds is unique and challenging. From the puzzle-like Ghost-Door Deception to Cutting Edge Spire’s fearsome cocktail of lava and buzzsaws, Nintendo has lavished this title with the same TLC that you’d expect from a game on its 3DS or Switch.
As good as Galaxy. Almost
At its best, Run delivers the same giddy thrills as Super Mario World or Galaxy. Especially when you’re trying to nab every pink, purple or black coin that’s dotted across a World.
As with any Mario game, it’s this nagging compulsion to master every challenge thrown at you that makes this such an addictive proposition. You’ll replay a World until you’ve nailed the timing for every necessary wall jump and mid-air spin.
Or maybe you’ll just want to spend a bit more time in these vivid creations. Etched in the same style as the New Super Mario Bros. games for Wii U and 3DS, Run oozes with colour and charm. Mario’s whoops and animations as he traverses the scenery around him are gonna have lapsed fans tingling with nostalgic feels.
More significantly, nothing here is going to have long-time obsessives up an arms. Brand new features like pause and arrows blocks which fire mario backwards when you jump naturally fit with the game’s frenetic tone.
Then there’s the additional Toad Rally mode to contend with, which essentially takes each of the game’s Worlds and transforms them into an endless runner where you race against mates - or players with particularly sweet high scores. Whoever collects the most points at the end of the race wins more Toad fans to join their very own Mushroom Kingdom.
Yes, it’s totally bonkers. No, I didn’t let out a howl of rage after losing one particularly close race.
What are your Toad fans good for? Technically, they unlock a load more collectables to deck out your personal Mushroom Kingdom with. Really, getting your hands on green warp pipe isn’t anywhere near as important as preserving your status as the world’s reigning Mario champ.
No internet. No play
Unless you’re connected to 3G or wi-fi, you won’t be able to flex your Ninty skills. Y'see, Mario Run only works with an internet connection, so you can’t play it in places where your mobile signal is patchy or non-existent, such as on a plane.
Why not? Nintendo says it’s a piracy prevention technique, which makes sense when you consider that kind of thing is rife on smartphones.
Still, when you’re sat on the London Underground waiting for a wi-fi connection at your next stop - just so you can play another level - it’s a pretty irritating feature. Especially if you’ve paid £8 to stare at a glorified error screen.
Super Mario Run Verdict
Aside from this annoyance, Super Mario Run is a slam dunk of a smartphone debut for Nintendo’s mascot-in-chief. One that’s gonna have you hooked for hours in an attempt to unlock new Worlds, challenges and characters.
Because if there’s one thing better than Mario on your mobile, it’s having Yoshi there too.