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Super Mario Run hands-on: like Mario, just simpler

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Mario goes where you go

Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

A week ahead of the release Nintendo’s first true smartphone game, Super Mario Run, we had a chance to spend a half-hour with the portable platformer. How does it feel? Surprisingly like a classic Mario game.

Super Mario Run strips the core of a Mario game to its very basics. Unlike classic Mario games, in which you control the forward and backward movement of Mario, this game is an automatic runner, which means that Mario will run on his own. You control when he jumps.

A light tap will cause a quick hop, while a longer press will send the mustachioed plumber soaring through the air. Moves can be combined in a number of ways, sending Mario vaulting over enemies, catapulting to collect coins, or leaping to hard-to-reach places.

Despite the streamlined controls, Super Mario Run still manages to feature what you’d expect from the series. You can still wall jump, stomp goombas, and collect coins and power-ups. Many of Mario’s moves have been automated: if you run directly into an enemy, for instance, he’ll automatically vault right over them. Iconic stages make appearances, including a haunted house littered with ghosts and trap doors, dark underground caverns, and the green pipe burdened Mushroom Kingdom. Though they look familiar, the levels all have a much more vertical feel than in past Mario games, due to the fact you play the game in portrait mode.

Amelia Holowaty Krales

To encourage players to explore levels, each stage also comes with five pink coins that are especially tricky to collect. If you manage to grab them all, you’ll then move on to collecting five purple coins in even harder-to-find places, which are then followed by daunting black coins. The idea is that the coins will force you to play levels multiple times, mastering their various intricacies.

Super Mario Run also features an asynchronous multiplayer component called “toad rally.” Here you’ll play against a “ghost” version of a friend or stranger. Each of you will run through the level, and the goal is to not only complete it in the fastest possible time, but also be as stylish as possible using Mario’s various moves. Once the level is finished, each player will get a score, and the winner earns currency that can be used to buy things to build up a Mario-themed kingdom.

We had a chance to speak with Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario, about Super Mario Run, Nintendo’s interest in smartphone gaming, and the future of the storied game maker. It’s a fun read, and a nice distraction until Super Mario Run releases on December 15th. The game will be free to download, but you’ll need to pay a one-time price of $9.99 to experience the whole thing.