App Diary: Super Mario Run

Super Mario Run (free/$10 full game) is Nintendo’s first true smartphone game (sorry, Miitomo), and though it was only released on Thursday, the iOS exclusive has already been the subject of mixed reviews, much debate — and high grosses. Unsurprisingly, Super Mario Run vaulted to the top of the App Store’s charts in both the Free and Top Grossing categories. But does it live up to the hype?

Super Mario Run is an endless runner. It’s a polished Nintendo version of an endless runner, complete with Nintendo’s brilliant level design, but it’s still an endless runner. Nintendo did well to blend its classic style with the type of game that iPhone gamers have long been familiar with playing. The game gives you three free levels to start with, but after that, it takes a $10 one-time in-app purchase to fully access the rest of the game. (If you’ve only tried the free levels, the difficulty does indeed increase afterwards.)
Because of the endless runner gameplay, it might be a bit harder than expected for some longtime Mario fans to adjust to Super Mario Run. It’s strange to not be able to control Mario as usual — Nintendo’s typical precision controls giving way somewhat to the “flow” of an endless runner. It’s especially jarring when you face your first airship Koopa boss, as Mario stands against the wall waiting for the enemy to approach. All this being said, the controls — press the screen to jump, and hold longer for a longer jump — are typical Nintendo. They feel right, and you don’t feel like you’ve been cheated when you make a mistake. Super Mario Run is designed to be played with one hand.

Anyone used to side-scrolling Mario games will be familiar with the level design — that’s a big part of the game’s appeal, after all. The levels differ enough to keep things fresh. The meat of the game is found in the Tour mode, though there’s another option: Toad Rally allows players to compete against other players. In this mode, you grab as many coins as you can while doing tricks to impress as many Toads as you can. (It makes sense when you’re playing.) It’s a diversion — perhaps it’ll make up a lot of SMR’s replay value to some gamers, but it didn’t hold my interest. You can also build up your kingdom with your earnings: buy little houses, mushrooms, things like that. These features add depth — but not much. Replay value is an open question, especially if you don’t care for the Toad Rally feature. I beat the game in around an hour or so, and I’m not convinced the game will keep me coming back over time to get all the special coins. We’ll see what happens.

App Diary: Super Mario Run

There are some issues with the game outside of the gameplay, too. First of all, because the full game unlock is an in-app purchase, Family Sharing is of no benefit here. If everyone in your family wants the full Super Mario Run game on their own devices, multiple $10 purchases must be made. Nintendo also wants everyone to use their own Nintendo Account system. Linking to a Nintendo account lets you do extra things, like play the game as Toad, or a Mii. But most people won’t care enough to do this, especially those who don’t already have a Nintendo Account. The problem is, if you uninstall Super Mario Run without linking to a Nintendo account — whether by accident or not — you’ll not only lose all your data, but also your purchase information. Which, in this case, means the vast majority of the game. Nintendo has always been great at game design, but this sort of thing…not so much.

The other issue is that Super Mario Run requires an always-on Internet connection, which is a real bummer. There have been some complaints about high data use from the game so far, which makes us think this should only be played as a Wi-Fi-only game at this point.

App Diary: Super Mario Run

Is Super Mario Run worth it? Big Nintendo and/or Mario fans will want it without question — if not for its significance as the first true Nintendo iPhone game, then as one of the better endless runners you’ll ever play.

But the $10 price tag will be a bit much for many typical mobile gamers, especially considering the game’s short length and other issues. Super Mario Run would have made perfect sense as a one-time App Store purchase of $5-$7. We understand why Nintendo did what it did, but we’re also hoping the app’s success will lead the company to offer deeper premium titles in the future. By all means, download Super Mario Run and give it a try. But if you don’t find the gameplay addictive, fun, or interesting, save your money for something else.

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