It was a widely anticipated moment and downloads of Nintendo’s first mobile phone game, Super Mario Run, were three times that of Pokémon Go’s initial numbers. But then came the complaints. The game is free to play the first level, but costs US $10 to play the rest. It requires an internet connection to play and a number of users experienced crashes and errors.
Of the nearly 5,000 reviews so far on the App Store, 50% were 1 star with people complaining about paying, crashes and not being able to play offline.
The negative reaction from some reviewers and the view that the payment model will result in lower sales from the games caused the markets to sell off Nintendo shares with the share price falling 7.1% on the Tokyo Stock Exchange today.
Ignoring the negative points and looking at the game itself reveals a game that has been adapted for the mobile platform incredibly well. The game features Mario, the Italian plumber who lives in Mushroom Kingdom. Princess Peach has been kidnapped by the evil Bowser and the Kingdom smashed by his henchman. All of the Toads (mushroom characters) that live in the Kingdom have fled and it is Mario’s quest to lure the Toads back, rebuild the Kingdom, defeat Bowser and rescue Princess Peach.
The game has three modes. In the World Tour mode, Mario runs continually forward through different landscapes, jumping to avoid obstacles, falls and foes waiting to ensnare him. The jumping is controlled by tapping the screen or holding longer for a higher jump. The point is to collect coins, including the special ones, jumping onto enemies and eventually making it to the end of the course. Once you have paid for the game, there are 6 worlds, each with 4 courses. Depending on how adept at mobile phone games you are, the play can take you as little as 2 hours to complete all 6 worlds but for beginners it will take significantly longer.
In the second mode of the game, Toad Rally, the player competes against other players or friends running a course and collecting as many coins, bopping as many enemies and impressing as many Toads as she can. The winner of the rally collects the Toads who return to the Kingdom.
In the third mode, Kingdom Builder, the Kingdom can be rebuilt with flowers, trees, mushrooms and houses placed to your own design. There are special houses that bring bonuses and Toad Rally tickets. Objects become available to build with through winning Toad Rallies.
There is a great deal of subtlety in the game and once a player has mastered controlling the jumps, levels can be revisited to concentrate on collecting all of the coins rather than just finishing the course.
For Nintendo, producing games for mobile devices gives them a much larger audience than just producing games for their consoles, even though these platforms have been very successful. Consoles are not very profitable and it is the games that generate the main revenue. Worse, if the hardware doesn’t do particularly well, it makes it much harder to generate money from the games, even the good ones. Nintendo has demonstrated the value of its games and the characters that feature in them through the massive success of Pokémon Go.
There are about 1.4 billion people playing mobile games worldwide spending an average of 3 hours a day playing them. Manufacturers like Apple market their phones for their ability to play increasingly higher quality games and games have in part lead to the popularity of the larger sized phones. The better the phones get, the more attractive the platform becomes for games manufacturers and even more console games are likely to see variants on mobile in future.
For the price of three cups of coffee, or half a movie ticket, Super Mario Run is a fun, engaging, and fun way to spend several (to many) hours.