Many nostalgic iPhone users' dream has finally come true: Super Mario has landed on the iPhone.
It's OK. Pretty good, even. It's an enjoyable game (though short, if you don't care about high scores) that I would argue is worth is unconventional $10 asking price.
But it's far from Mario at his best, and it's certainly not the type of game that made Nintendo the juggernaut it is today.
In Super Mario Run, Mario always runs to the right. You can't stop whenever you want. You can't run to the left whenever you want. You basically have one "button" (or, rather, one function when you tap the screen): Jump. Tapping again when in the air will make you spin, or tapping it when vaulting over an enemy will let you do some minor tricks, but for the most part you're just jumping to avoid danger.
The point Nintendo pushes is that you can play the game with only one hand, and on one hand there's brilliance in the simplicity -- not that it's new. The "runner" genre has been a staple of smartphone games for years, and Canabalt offered a very similar control scheme way back in 2009. Still, Nintendo never fails to bring a certain bit of charm (their equivalent of Disney magic) that elevates even simple concepts above what they would be in the hands of almost any other developer.
On the other hand, however, the lack of control might prove infuriating for longtime Super Mario fans, because precision is an essential pillar in that series. The original Super Mario Bros. wasn't just a hit because it starred a plumber who collected coins and went down pipes. It was a hit then (and holds up astonishingly well now, three decades later) because the controls were about as close to perfection as any game at the time had achieved. Any time you die in nearly all Super Mario Bros. games you have nobody to blame but yourself. If you miss a jump, it's entirely your fault.
Super Mario Run, as polished as it is, doesn't nail that same "feel" of perfection. When you die in Super Mario Run, it's easy to say, "Well, I would have been able to make that jump if the game would have just let me stop."
The problem might be that millions of people, young and old, already know how a Mario game should feel. Had Super Mario Run come out in a vacuum, we might not have anything to complain about. Instead, it's hard to feel as if Nintendo hasn't taken something precious (full control over our favorite plumber) away from us. Not that you would want to emulate the old-school Nintendo control scheme on a touch screen device, either (many have tried, but every attempt has failed).
Not that you can't adapt to the way the game works. I'd be lying if I said I didn't stay up way too late after the game's launch finishing all of its 24 levels multiple times, always trying to land myself on top of any scores my friends had posted on each stage. It doesn't take long to "beat" the game, in the sense that you can defeat Bowser and rescue the princess within a few hours or less (depending on your skill), but you are highly encouraged to replay levels over and over again to search for special hard-to-reach coins and to hit higher coin totals overall.
You can download a trial version Super Mario Run game for free, which gives you full access to the first three levels. After that, you'll have to pony up $9.99 to unlock the full game -- though you won't ever be asked for money after that. Super Mario Run will not ask you for "just $0.99" at any point in the game, contrary to most other mobile game hits.
That price is (and will continue to be) a sore spot for many players, who are used to paying between zero and $1 for games that they spend hours with. I would personally argue that the overall production value on display here justifies the price, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more mobile games adopt a more traditional pay structure like this one, but watching the iTunes App Store sales over the next couple of months will be interesting.
While I've enjoyed the game and feel like my money was well-spent, Super Mario Run has ultimately made me thankful that Nintendo is on the verge of releasing their next dedicated video game platform, the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo is always at their best on their own hardware, developing world-class games that tend to justify the purchase of a game console entirely on their own.
The next fully-fledged Mario adventure, which is rumored to be unveiled in the very near future, is likely to be something grand that just wouldn't be possible on a touch screen. Super Mario Run is a nice distraction until then, but it fails to be any more than that.