Reasonable Assessment: Super Mario Run is a Real Video Game

Reasonable Assessment: Super Mario Run is a Real Video Game

by December 15, 2016

Now, I understand this article’s title is a little sensationalized (hey, it’s hard to come up with a good title). It’s born out of the stigma that mobile games aren’t “real” video games. And that stigma is totally justified! I’ll say that 99.99% of all mobile games are closer to casino games than anything you’d ever play on a traditional gaming console. They are plagued with too much luck, too much RNG, and too many microtransactions. Most mobile games have little-to-no skill ceiling, and little-to-no depth.

When Super Mario Run was first announced, I wasn’t too impressed.There are a million endless-runner mobile games (Sonic already had two of them). It initially looked like just another mindless auto-scroller but with a Mario skin. Then they announced it was going to be ten bucks. Geez!

But I can say that I’m very happy to have been wrong about Super Mario Run. Super Mario Run is exactly what it was promised to be, which is two things: a “Nintendo game” and a “mobile game.”

It manages to feel like both. Super Mario Run is neither a typical Mario game, nor a typical mobile game. It’s an interesting and effective combination of those two concepts.

For starters, the only “button” in the game is a simple screen tap, but it’s worth noting how many different mechanics Nintendo managed to get out it.

Dynamic height, wall-jumps, spin-jumps, stall jumps, ledge flips, and double flips are all possible from that one tap. It just depends on the context, the timing, and subtleties of your finger pressing the screen. Say what you will about poor decisions in other areas; the developers at Nintendo always have a knack for intuitive design and Super Mario Run is no exception.

Bout to hardcore parkour up in here! Get jealous, Lost World.

Bout to hardcore parkour up in here! Get jealous, Lost World.

Specifically relevant to this site, there is some Sonic-esque DNA inside this game.
Remember how Yuji Naka was inspired by the original NES Super Mario Bros?
Remember how he found that he would start to speedrun the levels after repeatedly playthroughs?
Remember how he used this concept to create a game that facilitated speedrunning, a gem that we all know as the original Sonic The Hedgehog?

Super Mario Run taps into that speedrunner attitude and, much like Sonic, is designed around that mentality.

Every move you make is based on quick timing and fast precision. It’s all about reflex and building up those reflexes through repeated playthroughs. There is just a strong sense of flow and rhythm in this game that, once mastered, is very rewarding.

Initially, the automatic running was a huge turnoff for me. “Why does he always move forward? Why can’t I have full control of my character? Video games are about control, dangit!”

Then I realized something. When you are speedrunning in a 2D game, you are almost always holding “forward” on the D-pad. You are constantly moving. At that point, the game becomes centered around timing your jumps accurately to make sure you keep your momentum and achieve the best possible routes.

Super Mario Run is literally that all the time. It’s like doing a speedrun, except the speedrunning aspects are inherently baked into the game.

(Pro-tip: If you tap the screen and then swipe to the left, Mario will stall in the air, which lets you control your momentum if you need to slow things down for a sec)

Another point of contention is the $10 price tag. The popular sentiment goes as follows: “Seriously, Nintendo? Ten bucks for a freakin’ MOBILE game? Get real!”

While I do feel that $10 is too much at this point, I want to show what a hefty price tag says about this game, from Nintendo’s perspective.

It’s a real video game.

This isn’t a cheap cash grab mobile app that makes you mindlessly grind for things only to give a message that says, “Buy something or get out. You have 24 hours until you are allowed to play again.” There are so many places where Nintendo could have put in microtransactions, but chose not to. That isn’t what this game is about.

This game almost wants you to think of it as the next mainline Mario game. The levels aren’t randomly-generated infinite grind fests. No, the levels are very intentionally designed in the same way that a console Mario game is. It’s a premium experience and you pay a premium price for it. No in-app purchases. Upgrades and characters are bought with in-game currency. 


200 in-game gold coins for an item? Are you sure you don’t want me to whip out my credit card and pay $2.00 for it? You mean you actually want me to play the game to unlock stuff? What a concept!

What’s interesting is the hugely differing mindsets that we have towards mobile vs console gaming. If a Mario game was $10 on 3Ds, we’d say, “Hot dang! That’s a deal!” But when it’s $10 on iOS, we started throwing things at greedy Nintendo. Why?

Because we don’t think mobile games are worth anything. And yes, most of them aren’t. We don’t value mobile games, because mobile games don’t value themselves. However, Super Mario Run absolutely values itself, and wants you to value it. It wants you to think of it as something more than Candy Crush. And truly, it is a MUCH different experience than Candy Crush, and an INFINITELY better one at that. (Just to compare, when New Super Mario Bros U first came out, it was $60 and it didn’t felt like much more than a level pack for previous Mario game.)

It’s funny. We seem to want the quality of a console game with the price of a typical mobile game. But that ain’t gonna happen. Pick one.

And in this case, I will gladly pick quality. While I think $10 was perhaps a little too bold and too pricey, I’d much rather pay once for a game and be done with it, than have to sit through ads, nags, and (you guessed it) microtransactions.

Yes, I know some of you are still mad. “Why is it online only!? Why can’t I play this without wifi!?” And I agree. I think it’s silly that you can’t play on the go without using data. I think that was a poor decision that will seriously limit this game’s audience. (Especially since Nintendo’s justification is “preventing piracy.” Don’t get me wrong, piracy is dumb but trying to fight it by severely limiting the accessibility of your game is kind of archaic).

But again, I think that also reflects how different Nintendo’s approach is compared to other mobile games. Mobile is intrinsically tied to being “on-the-go.” You’d think portability would be a priority over piracy-protection (do I get points for that alliteration?). Instead, it’s as if Nintendo is treating the iPhone like some sort of dedicated game console that you just happen to already own. They seem to want you to sit down and play this at your house, the way you would play a Wii U.

It sounds silly. But let me explain why it’s not completely stupid, just partially.

During a family holiday-get-together, my nephew walked up to me and held out his mom’s phone. “Can you find a game for me?” he asked.

I smiled and pulled up Lep’s World (which was the closest thing we had to a Mario game on iOS at that point. While fun, it doesn’t have the premium quality of Nintendo). He just sat on the couch and was sucked in, like you would be when playing a console.

On the other side of the family, my other nephew is almost always on his mom’s iPad. I don’t how many times I’ve gone to their house and seen the kid lost in the iPad.

While not child-exclusive, Nintendo has always addressed kids and young gamers more than other game companies. And I think they’ve seen the whole “kid playing on his parent’s device”thing, too. I think maybe they want kids to sit down on the couch and play Super Mario Run on the device that their household already owns.

To reiterate, I don’t think “online-only” was a good decision. But I do think that it reflects a different way of viewing mobile-gaming that is opposed to the current stigma (perhaps a bit TOO opposed). Maybe they don’t want you to just play it casually for 30 seconds waiting in line. Maybe they’d rather you sit down and be invested, like my nephew on his couch.


As an industry, all I ever hear is “mobile is the future of gaming.” While it’s a bit hyperbolic, that statement scares me because mobile games are mostly trash.

My hope is that Super Mario Run sets a precedent for mobile gaming and is a catalyst of change for the better. If mobile is the future of gaming, I hope it’s a Super Mario Run type of future…a future that expects more out of you, the way console gaming does. The execution isn’t perfect, but it’s a start.

Super Mario Run has a lot of the features of a mobile game, without the baggage. It has a lot of the features of a console game but without the console.

For better or worse, my assessment is that Super Mario Run is, in fact, a “real” video game. Would you say that’s a reasonable assessment?

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Noah Copeland is a somewhat-interesting human. He makes music, makes films, and stands at exactly average height. You can find him on his TSSZ author page, or on Twitter@NoahCopeland, where he posts his creative works and slightly less-thought-out essays of 140 characters.