For some time in the game industry it has been a rather hushed suggestion that Nintendo should stop manufacturing consoles. By eliminating this costly production step, as the logic goes, they will be able to utilize their vast stable of massively recognizable mascots and franchises by licensing them out to other developers or developing games themselves for new marketplaces. This would result in greater profits for them and ease of access to great Nintendo games for players. The former of these suggestions was first witnessed during this past summer when Nintendo licensed their mega-franchise Pokemon to developer Niantic, resulting in the mega-hit Pokemon Go. However Nintendo had yet to truly dip their own toes into the waters of third-party development. That changes with Super Mario Run. As the first game developed directly by Nintendo to be released on third party hardware, Super Mario Run gives us a glimpse of many potential futures and earns TSG’s Game of the Month for December.
Developed entirely in the third-party game engine Unity, Super Mario Run represents the first time Nintendo has worked on another company’s hardware. Though it does not stand as a technical marvel, Unity is one of the most readily-available game development tools, and the quality of Nintendo’s first use of the engine speaks to its power to create engaging experiences. This automatic runner can be played with one hand, featuring simple controls that expand and gain more depth as new mobility features are stacked onto the game’s simple premise of running and jumping to the right. While it may seem strange to give up so much of the control we’re used to having over Nintendo’s jolly plumber, the game becomes intuitive and smooth to play after just a few moments.
If you want to experience more than those initial moments however, you will need to put a little bit more into Super Mario Run than other mobile games. In a rather unprecedented move for mobile games, only the first three levels of the game are available until players purchase the further twenty or so stages for $10. In the console realm $10 for a Mario game might sound like a steal, but this form of marketing is relatively untested on mobile. By removing microtransactions and setting a fixed rate, it goes against the grain of the traditional free-to-play strategies that have brought games like Clash of Clans and Candy Crush so much success. This could be Nintendo’s trial run for this purchasing strategy or it could be the setting of a precedent for their future mobile games (entries from both the Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing series are confirmed to be in development). Either way, this strategy puts Super Mario Run at a rather strange place in the mobile games ecosystem. Its success or failure could certainly determine how Nintendo and the wider mobile-gaming industry view and approach payment methods.
Super Mario Run represents a potential sea change for the Big N and, as a result, for the rest of the gaming industry. Nintendo’s past reticence to share their properties seems to be giving way. This is perhaps a forced occurrence due to the disappointing performance of the Wii U and Nintendo’s struggle to stay up to date on gaming trends (at least in Western countries). The game has become the fastest downloaded game on the App Store. Even if most of those downloads do not result in the full $10 purchase, there is still a clear and vested interest in Nintendo’s expansion into this market. In a few years we may point to this seemingly simple mobile game as the start of a new direction for Nintendo, a renaissance in their development practices, or perhaps the beginning of their end as we knew them. For all the vast futures this game could be the genesis of, Super Mario Run is our Game of the Month.