When playing Super Mario Run,we learned 13 things

What does Mario feel like on your iPhone? It feels like Mario, more than you’d think.

With an Android release to follow in 2017,Nintendo’s upcoming, much-hyped game, Super Mario Run, is exclusive to iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) for now . It’s been designed from the ground up for phones, and will cost $9.99 (£7.99, AU$14.99 and 9.99 euros) when it launches in dozens of countries on December 15. Or, it’s free. How does that work, and what does it all feel like?

I tried the first eight courses of Super Mario Run in advance of its release during a play session with Nintendo, and this is what I learned.

The courses are fast, but they feel like Mario levels.  Mario keeps running no matter what you do, and even hops over small enemies automatically. Tapping or holding down on the screen is used for leaping to higher platforms, kick-jumping and spin-jumping. But the courses I tried all look like they could have come from New Super Mario Brothers. Some even had some puzzle solving, and I had two tiny boss battles at the end of the fourth course in each world.If you’ve ever played a single-button jump-type mobile game (Rayman Adventures from Ubisoft comes to mind), expect something similar here.

Everything is controlled with one finger. This could easily be a stand-while-riding-the-subway game (as Nintendo’s Shigero Miyamoto specifically mentioned when introducing the game back in June). During actual runs, all I needed was my thumb.

The game starts free, but the full experience costs $10. You can play the first four levels in the game (the first world) for free, and challenge friends to high-score challenges. But for the other levels, you need to pay.

The game plays in vertical mode. Unlike every other Mario game, Super Mario Run is meant for one-handed gaming with your thumb…so everything is in portrait mode. That might seem weird for a game that scrolls horizontally, but it works just fine.

There are six worlds in the World Tour mode, just like other Super Mario games. The main game doesn’t have a ton of levels. Each world has four courses. That’s 24 levels, which is less than most Mario games. But new most Mario games cost more than $10.

… but Nintendo says there won’t be an endless stream of paid upgrades. Thankfully, this isn’t designed to be a free-to-play game that bleeds you dry with “optional” power-ups that cost “only” a few dollars. But if the game takes off, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Super Mario Run 2 is hot on its tail.

The iPad version looks just the same. Expect everything to run a bit larger, but the game plays in the same way. I saw it on an iPad Mini.

Each course has three levels of coin-collecting challenges. You can try to grab five pink coins to earn a special reward, and then do it again with red and black coins. It’s the game’s variation on the classic Mario hidden stars or large golden coins.

You can play with Mario, Luigi, Toad, Yoshi and more. I only got to play as Mario, but each character should have its own style.

A second mode challenges friends and others to 60-second score runs. In addition to the 24 standard types of Mario levels, there are timed score showdowns aimed at beating your friends on leaderboards. Collecting coins and pulling off fancy spin and jump moves in these timed modes earns coins and Toad followers. Both are needed to unlock extra bonuses in the game (see below). The score runs use randomly generated levels, meaning this part could have a lot more replay value. I tried one of these runs, and it was like playing 60 seconds of frantic timed Mario gameplay.4zifqiv9c8h2u2_3sxx

You can buy little things to decorate a mini Mushroom kingdom. A little town-like layout of buildings and castles can get extra hills or mushrooms or rainbows added on. These cost coins, which get unlocked in games, and they need Toad followers to unlock the chance to buy them in the first place (see above). So, it’s a way of picking up extra badges.

You can invite Facebook or Twitter friends. It looks like friends, who you can continually compete with on high scores, can be invited via email, Nintendo ID or social apps. I didn’t get to try this out, obviously.

I’d buy it. Yes, $10 is steep for an iOS game. But I’m in. Super Mario Run seems like enough entertainment to keep me happy. But it also doesn’t seem like the sort of massive game Mario fans playing on the 3DS or Wii U might expect. Does it succeed as a game that’s simple and fun enough to be entertaining on a phone, while still offering enough to justify the price, though?

I never spent more than a few dollars on Pokemon Go, and I don’t like spending more than $5 on a mobile game. Since I haven’t played the whole thing, I can’t judge. But so far, I’d play a lot more of what I’ve seen…and yes, one-fingered Mario works. It works really well.