Nintendo announcing its intention to make mobile games sent plenty of purists into a state of shock back in early 2015. What they saw as a distillation of an iconic brand however, others saw as an opportunity to capture new audiences and tap new revenue streams.
Social app Miitomo came and went earlier this year, Pokémon Go was enormous but wrongly attributed to Nintendo, and so now we near the release of Super Mario Run: the first real test of Nintendo's potential to excel on mobile.
Announced in September, when Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto appeared onstage at Apple's iPhone 7 event, Super Mario Run came as a shock. Nintendo's next mobile games were supposed to be based on Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem, but these were pushed back to make way for the iconic plumber.
An auto-runner that will be released in free and premium forms (read more about exactly what's included in each here) Super Mario Run has all the ingredients that might turn off Nintendo purists, but having played the game it's clear this is every bit the Mario game it's forbearers are.
Super Mario Run is split into three modes. World Tour offers the base platforming experience with 24 levels split between six worlds. Each level contains five coloured coins – either pink, purple and black – which offer three slight variants to the overall level, with coins positioned in different places and so coaxing the players into taking on more challenging routes.
Twenty-four levels doesn't seem like many, but the replayability is evident immediately and encouraged by how the game plays. With Mario running automatically and dodging most enemies automatically as well, the focus is on collecting coins and defeating enemies for a bonus.
The nature of Run also means here's a greater emphasis on jumping than ever before in the series, which is quite an achievement. Quick taps of the screen cause Mario to take small jumps, while tapping and holding causes him to jump higher and further.
As with other auto-run games, there's a pressure and sense of timing that's usually reserved for those speed-running classic Mario platformers, but unlike most auto-run games the design and variety of the gameplay is much stronger. It's much closer to Ubisoft's excellent Rayman auto-run games than Temple Run.
Run's second mode, Toad Rally, sees players challenging the high scores of friends and other players across the 24 levels. Players are able to take on a friend's score at no in-game cost, but taking on the best performers (the game offers degrees of challenge) at each level costs a Rally Ticket – which are gathered through the game's third mode.
Level scores aren't determined by time, or just by the number of coins collected however. It a beautifully Nintendo touch, players are also judged on the style of their play, with a succession of Toads commending the performances of players with thumbs up and excited leaps. The number of coins collected and Toads impressed, contributes to the overall Toad Rally score players will challenge and defend.
Impress a lot of Toads and players will be able to bring them into Kingdom Builder, the game's third mode. In this, players spend coins collected in both other modes on buildings, question mark blocks and scenery, which they use to create their own Mushroom Kingdoms. Toads meanwhile come in certain variants which unlock particular buildings, some of which include mini-levels that reward players with coins and Rally Tickets.
The way in which these three modes feed into each other gives the game a cohesion that benefits each mode individually. While many players may stick to or prefer certain modes, the incentive is always there to play each of them on a consistent basis.
The most promising aspect of Super Mario Run is how well it plays. The auto-run aspect frustrates at certain points (Bowser boss fights for example) and it may have caused the removal of classic elements like power-ups and underwater levels, but it makes up for this by offering something refreshing.
Super Mario Run's earliest levels play at a great pace with a sense of rhythm that had me returning to play past levels despite my demo being for just a limited time. That "just-one-more" feeling bodes well, but how well later levels accommodate the pacey gameplay will truly determine Run's success.
Super Mario on mobile is something plenty of people have been understandably wary of, but having played it, the one thing that's abundantly clear is that this is the real deal. It's Super Mario on mobile.