A dark cloud is gathering over the colourful land of Nintendo. The gaming giant has been steadily losing ground to Sony and Microsoft with a long decline in revenue and earnings. The Wii aside, every Nintendo machine since the Gamecube suffered poor sales and an abysmal lack of 3rd party support. If it wasn’t for the fact they make money on each console sold (unlike Sony and MS) and have die-hard fans that religiously lap up each new release, they could have gone out of business by now.
Pokemon Go showed Nintendo that big money can be made transferring their popular IP to mobile devices and they are keen to repeat that success. Super Mario Run represents another attempt to break out of their traditional fan-base and appeal to a wider audience. Whether the moustachioed plumber can fix their recent troubles or remains to be seen.
Bowser is up to his old tricks and has kidnapped Princess Peach, destroying her castle in the process. It’s up to you to guide Mario through a variety of levels, collecting coins, eating mushrooms and defeating Bowser’s minions. So far, so Mario. Fans of the franchise will be instantly at home, understanding all of the classic game mechanics at a glance. For those less familiar, the controls are simplified greatly to fit the device and broader audience. Super Mario Run is an endless running game so you only worry about the timing and lengths of jumps. Mario even has the common sense to auto-jump over small obstacles and enemies.
As levels progress you learn how to jump off walls to change direction and scale chimney sections. This is about as tricky as the controls get – Nintendo have purposefully kept the mantra that this is a game you can play with one hand. You also cannot die. If you get hit, Mario is trapped in a bubble and returned to an earlier point of the level. The worst that can happen is failing to complete the level in time.
Super Mario Run has a bunch of other features to keep you entertained. You can race against friends online or even ghosts of other random players. In both these modes, you compete to collect the most coins and toad followers. Gain more toads by performing tricks and generally playing in an exciting way as you progress through the level. These help you in another part of the game. In build mode you can rebuild the castle and surrounding area, spending coins and using toad helpers to customize the place as you see fit. There are lots of items to choose from and Nintendo are releasing more, so you can create the perfect castle for Princess Peach to return to.
Super Mario Run is a highly polished game, as you would expect from Nintendo. Graphics are crisp and clean, and levels are well-designed. There is more than enough content and customization to keep you coming back again and again. Quality-wise it is definitely in the upper echelons of the mobile space and the ease of control should appeal to a broad audience.
Its simplicity is a double-edged sword, however. Whilst it allows Mario noobs to play without frustration, it runs the risk of alienating more traditional fans. Though it must be said they are not who Nintendo are aiming for with this release.
There are bigger problems than dumbed-down controls. Firstly the game cannot be played offline. You must be connected to play, which can eat through data and stops play on underground commutes. Secondly, once you have reached level four, you hit a $9.99 paywall. It is a one-off payment to unlock the rest of the game and is pretty pricy for a mobile app. Personally, I don’t have a problem paying that much for a premium title with lots of content, but I suspect the ready availability of cheaper endless-runners will slow uptake significantly.
If you are new to the world of Mario, have plenty of data in your mobile plan and ten dollars to spare, then I recommend this as a superb place to start the adventure. If you are a long-time fan, I suggest awaiting the release of Nintendo Switch where Mario is sure to get a more challenging outing.
Andy Trowers is a game designer, freelance ne’er do well and staff writer for www.for-sale.ie.