(Pocket-lint) - When Nintendo announced that it was to move into the smartphone app arena, Mario was the star we wanted to see the most. We didn't expect Super Mario Run specifically, but the Japanese gaming giant was always going to bring its biggest franchise to mobile sooner or later.
More of a surprise came when Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto appeared at the launch of the iPhone 7 in September 2016, to announce and demonstrate his lovable plumber's first gaming appearance on a phone. And that it would, initially at least, be exclusive to iOS.
As of March 23 Super Mario Run is also available on Android. No longer can there green-eyed envy, whichever platform you're using. But after the game being in the hands of iPhone users for three months, is the wider arrival of Mario's mobile debut worth fussing about? And more importantly, is it worth a penny shy of £10 to unlock the full game?
Super Mario Run review: Price
The latter question is the hardest to answer as that kind of price is almost unheard of with smartphone games. In a market when people frown at having to spend 79p on a game, £9.99 is tantamount to business suicide. For anyone other than Nintendo, that is.
It made the bold decision that, instead of requiring in-game purchases for items, coins and the like, it would charge a one-off fee if you want the entire experience.
At the same time, the company still adopts a form of freemium model in that the base game doesn't cost a bean to buy - side games and in-level coin collections can aid your ability to unlock levels. So you get plenty of action for nothing, but with the confidence that you'll be hooked enough that you'll happily part with 10 squids.
Super Mario Run review: Gameplay
The game itself is staggeringly simple to play. You tap the screen. That's it. Short taps and longer taps are the only controls you need. They make Mario jump while everything else is handled automatically. It is, in essence, an endless runner, except it's not endless and Mario doesn't always run.
Each level in the World Tour is recognisably Mario, with layouts, platforms and even graphics that could have been lifted straight from any of the New Super Mario Bros games. But the screen is portrait rather than landscape, and there are no direction controls – you have to keep moving forward.
There are also a hell of a lot more coins to be collected, because that's the real aim of the game. Instead of simply getting from A to B in a set time, you are encouraged to nab as many coins on the way.
There are also special coins to be found and secured, which reward you with in-game swag if you manage to get all five on a level. They come in three different colours and difficulties, starting with pink, then purple and finally black, so give you plenty of excuse to return and play through the same level many times. Indeed, you'll find you need to as collecting all five special coins is tricky, especially as Mario doesn't stop to enjoy the view. You'll need a couple of run throughs to learn the layout and locations.
But there's another mechanism that helps too: like with the more recent 2D Mario titles, you get bubbles that can either be manually activated or spent when you lose a life. These take you backwards through the level, floating in the sky. Pop the bubble where you want to revert to and you have a chance to take another run at a special coin or tricky jump, without having to do the entire level again. You have to be conscious that there are only a couple of bubbles to be used per level, and the timer doesn't replenish so you might not give yourself enough time to finish, but it's a handy extra feature to have in an emergency.
Super Mario Run review: Levels
At launch, the single-player World Tour mode has six worlds, each with four levels, including at least one boss level per world. And only three of the levels in world one are available for free – everything else unlocks after you pay the £9.99 entrance fee.
There is another mode that you can play for free though: Toad Rally. In this, the gameplay itself is similar – you travel across a level collecting coins – but this time you are competing with the ghost character of another real-world player. And style is rewarded as much as coin collection.
Perform cool manoeuvres and you'll earn the adulation of toads – a crowd of them will expand at the bottom of the screen as you play and their support will be added to your coin score. The winner is the one with the biggest score.
You are limited to how many times you can play a Rally, with in-game tickets paying for each go. But these replenish over time and Nintendo makes good on its promise that there is no encouragement to buy more with real money.
There are further rewards for playing either of the modes. The coins you collect in the game can be spent on buildings and scenery for your kingdom – a little area that doubles as a personalised screen and menu. And some of the objects you place can give you additional levels and bonuses, such as a Bonus Game House you'll get near the beginning which sends you to a bonus coin-gathering level that is available a few times every day.
You can also link the game to your Nintendo account and purchase further in-game items through completing achievements – we quickly found we could afford a new character, Toad, to play with instead of Mario himself. Again none of these ask for real money to be spent, which will come as a godsend for parents.
Super Mario Run review: No offline mode
Bar the price to unlock the rest of the game, there is one other caveat that cannot be left unsaid. Miyamoto and Nintendo decided that, to combat piracy and bake the social aspects of the game into every mode, Super Mario Run will only work when your device is connected to the internet, either via Wi-Fi or mobile broadband. It doesn't need an especially fast connection, but needs one nonetheless.
That means you cannot even play the single-player mode when offline – when on a Tube train or plane, for example. And you might want to reconsider if you're thinking of playing it abroad in a country with astronomical data roaming fees. It basically means that you cannot play the game in many circumstances where you'd want to the most. And when you've coughed up £9.99 for the privilege you'd like to be able to play it whenever you want.
Issues aside, Super Mario Run is a fine example of Nintendo and Miyamoto's mastery in level design and gameplay. It is so simple a concept that a young child could pick up and play it, while the structure is clever enough that you'll be studying levels for every nuance and route to earn the maximum amount of wonga.
Yes, it is very expensive for a smartphone app, yet it's actually cheap in comparison to Mario games on Nintendo's own consoles (Switch games are around £40-60).
Indeed, Super Mario Run will be an enormous hit, no doubt. And let's hope that Nintendo updates it with additional content and, fingers crossed, an offline mode in the future - that's what will really see it fly.
It took a while for Mario to arrive on mobile, but now he's here for iOS and Android, we feel he's here to stay.