Super Mario Run preview: so much more than a Nintendo Temple Run

Mario appearing at the iPhone 7 announcement event was genuinely thrilling – his entrance after Tim Cook’s introduction was a breathtaking moment that made the entire TechRadar office audibly gasp.

'Mario is finally coming to mobile devices!' we exclaimed, before it was quickly revealed to be an endless runner. We all expected Super Mario Run to take one of the most tired tropes of mobile gaming and just stick a Nintendo flavored skin on it.

For all intents and purposes, Nintendo appeared to have embraced the tired Temple Run-style gameplay of other mobile titles and Mario’s first adventure onto mobile tasted a sour in the mouth.

But now I’ve played Super Mario Run, I can assure you there’s much more to it than we had previously expected.

I believe Nintendo have done the right thing here – an endless runner may feel like it’s against what Mario has always been, but this is an entirely different kind of game. 

It’s for a new audience. Super Mario Run is designed for the Candy Crush lover who needs a game they can play one handed on their commute, if you want a traditional Mario experience, you'll want to look at Mario Maker for the 3DS.

The hour or so of Super Mario Run I’ve played has convinced me this was the best way of bringing Mario to tablets and phones. I've used the iPad Pro 12.9, iPad mini 4 and an iPhone 6S to play the game and found the iPhone to be the most comfortable experience.

The endless runner aspect of the game is by far the biggest change to normal Mario titles, but it feels natural for a one handed experience. As well as running from left to right, you’ll also find ways to bounce off walls to slow down, or use bubbles to return to previous points in a level to collect even more coins.

It will take you some time to get used to it, but you’ll be able to handle this after a while and it gives Mario something different to do.

You’ll be spending $9.99 or £7.99 if you want the full version of Super Mario Run, but you can try out a free version of the game first, which includes the first three levels and a demo of the fourth.

There’s much more to do when the full game is unlocked though – there are six worlds (at present, Nintendo may see fit to include more later) and each world has four levels.

There are three difficulties to choose from in each level. You’ll have six colored coins to collect in each level – pink is easy, purple is normal, and black is a hard difficulty.

You’ll need to replay each level multiple times to understand where the coins are and how you need to play to collect them.

Super Mario Run also offers a completely separate game mode called Rally, where you’ll play against the ghost of another player who has played a level before. You have to beat them to the finish, collect more coins, and most importantly impress Toads.

Yeah, that’s right – impress Toads. You impress them with Mario’s acrobatic skill – the way you tap the screen will make Mario do different acrobatic tricks beyond jump and long jump – and they will then move into your village.

The coins you’ve collected can then be spent on creating a village for your Toads to live in. 

The more Toads that live in your village, the more things you can build. The more you build, the more game modes you’ll unlock.

In previous Mario titles you’ve only been collecting coins to trade them up for more lives, but here you’ve actually got a reason to collect and spend them. It’s not going to be a feature that everyone wants – but it certainly gives the game replay value.

I didn’t get much time to play around with the store and make a village, but it does feel like a reason to continue coming back and extend your home world.

You’ll also be able to play as other characters within the game – to start with you’ll have Yoshi and Luigi to choose from. Each has different character traits – for example, Yoshi is a little faster than Mario.

As a long time Mario fan - well, who isn’t – I was deeply concerned for Super Mario Run. 

After the strange mess of Miitomo and Nintendo’s lack of involvement in Pokémon Go, Nintendo needs a win in the mobile space.

Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing – two games the company is transitioning to mobile in 2017 – may have a chance of succeeding, but Mario is a much bigger deal.

He’s internationally recognizable, and even your mum will have heard of Mario. This may not be the Mario we are used to playing, but there’s enough here to make his adaptation for mobile worthwhile.

It’s not exactly the Mario you’ll know and love, but it’s one I’d love to get to know properly. 

Super Mario Run is out December 15 worldwide for iOS 8+ compatible devices, with a further Android release due in 2017.

James Peckham

James is Managing Editor for Android Police. Previously, he was Senior Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones and the mobile space for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones and other portable gadgets. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He once fell over.