After playing the first few levels of Super Mario Run, the best thing I can say about it is that I’m already itching for more.
I expected Nintendo’s big mobile debut to be a fun, easy-to-play take on everyone’s favorite plumber-platformer, but I was pleasantly surprised to see hints of the kind of depth I’d expect from a full fledged Mario game.
If you’ve ever played an auto runner like Temple Run or Jetpack Joyride, you’ll feel right at home with Super Mario Run. Mario automatically moves forward, so all you have to worry about is tapping the screen to jump over obstacles and reach new platforms.
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Naturally, the game has some unique Mario-specific quirks. Mario can bounce off walls and spin in mid-air just like in the latest console games, except now these moves require just a quick tap of the screen.
Mario will automatically vault over small enemies and obstacles, though you can still jump on bad guys’ heads to stomp them. Some special blocks would keep Mario in place for a few seconds, while others would give him a speed boost whenever I performed a well-timed jump.
After 20-plus years of playing Mario, I definitely had to retrain my brain a bit — you normally can’t run face-first into a Goomba and survive. I also found myself wishing I could turn around to grab coins and items I missed, but Super Mario Run is largely an always-moving-forward experience.
However, the only reason I wanted to fight Mario’s momentum is because the game’s level design is excellent. Every course I played seemed to hint at hidden and alternate paths, a Mario staple that already has me eager to play certain stages again. To further the replay value, each level has five pink coins to collect, which should keep completionists busy for a while.
My demo ended with a sample of a Bowser Castle, the notorious boss stages that usually cap off a world in a Mario game. Everything you’d expect from a boss level is here — lots of enemies, spikes, deadly fireballs — and avoiding them started to feel like second nature by the time I reached this part of the game.
It’s worth noting that Super Mario Run is gorgeous, lifting its colorful art style directly from the latest New Super Mario Bros. game for the Wii U. I did experience some minor stutters that will hopefully be fixed in the final game, but nothing that stopped me from gracefully hopping from platform to platform.
The demo stages I played were just a tiny slice of the full Super Mario Run experience. The final game will feature 24 single-player courses, as well as a multiplayer Toad Rally mode and a Kingdom Builder mode that lets you create your dream Mario world.
As much fun as I had with Super Mario Run, however, I do have some concerns.
Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto recently revealed that you’ll need an internet connection to play Super Mario Run, which deflates some of the appeal of a premium $10 iOS game that promises to let you play Mario wherever you are. It’s also too early to tell how worthwhile the Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder modes will be.
Still, I had an awfully hard time tearing myself away from Super Mario Run, which seems to offer both the depth and immediacy I expect from a great Mario game while making the franchise feel natural on mobile.
Super Mario Run hits the iOS App Store on Dec. 15 (an Android release is coming next year) and will come with a free trial. You can also give it a whirl right now at your local Apple Store. It’s only a matter of days before we find out if Nintendo has the next big mobile hit on its hands, so stay tuned for our full review.