This Week in Games - Super Mario Run

by Dustin Bailey,

We're just a few days away from the biggest gift-giving holiday in most of the world, and that means there jack-all going on in the world of video games. News is slow, and I can't seem to find a single new release to report on for that segment of the column. The trade-off? There's actually time to play video games now! I played a few, and I want to talk about them.

If you want to play a video game yourself—a NieR: Automata demo is scheduled for release by the time you're reading this column. Check it out.

I shared some impressions of Shantae: Half-Genie last week. If you missed it, the short version is that that it plays great, looks great, and sounds great, but it feels like an open Metroidvania-style game shoehorned into a linear action platformer. I finished it since then (about six hours to hit the bad end), and my feelings are pretty much the same. Moments of greatness, but the whole thing feels pretty limited.

Speaking of something that's occasionally great, but feels pretty limited, let's talk about Super Mario Run.

Impressions: Super Mario Run

So Nintendo finally did it. They actually made a phone game. (Pokémon Go was a different beast entirely and Miitomo barely counts as a game.) Super Mario Run is, indeed, a “Nintendo-like solution” to the thought of a game on mobile devices—fun and interesting while still causing utter befuddlement to basically everyone.

Mario Run is a New Super Mario Bros.-style platformer where Mario automatically runs to the right and your only interaction is to tap the screen to jump. No on-screen joystick, or other nonsense common to touch interfaces. It's a brilliantly simple system, with context driving what your jump does in any given situation. Jump while vaulting over an enemy and you'll launch high into the air. Jump while in midair and you'll extend your hang time with a spin move. Leave Mario alone while he's heading downhill and he'll start sliding toward the bottom.

It's a “runner” in the Bit.Trip sense rather than the Temple Run mold, with discrete, designed levels that have distinct endings. Each level has different paths to the end that will give you the opportunity to collect now-Mario-standard hidden coins. Collecting all the hidden coins will unlock… another set of hidden coins. And then another. And… look, I hope you like to collect coins. There are 24 levels here, and you can finish all of them inside of an hour. The real challenge and lasting value is in going after those hard to reach coins and seeking out all the secrets.

That's common in modern Mario—having the real challenges locked up in hidden collectables—but you need to be aware of that on the off chance you're expecting a feature-length Mario game. The first three levels are free, with the remainder of the game unlocking after a single purchase of $9.99. That's about what you'd expect if this released on, say, the 3DS eShop, but that's a sticker-shock price on phones, despite the complete absence of any microtransactions or free-to-play mechanics. Then there's the always-online requirement—it hasn't been an issue for me, but if you're playing on an unstable connection you're risking getting booted from a level midway through.

The “replay levels to find secrets” structure of the game actually plays super well to its strength, which is challenging you to find the most stylish way through the levels and collect the most coins for a top spot on the leaderboards. Trying to improve your runs, find the hidden coins, and make the best grab for money is a lot of fun.

This all ultimately feeds into a metagame where you earn tickets to challenge player ghosts to remixed, endless versions of existing levels where you get points for collecting coins and being stylish. Win a round, and you steal some Toads from your opponent. That levels up your kingdom, which is a overworld-style screen that you can decorate with unlockable doodads and objects bought with coins. It's cute, but it's very thin, and the thought of getting into daily challenges to unlock new decorations is less than compelling.

That's the Super Mario Run story: fun, but thin. I'll get ten bucks worth of entertainment out of this thing, but it doesn't seem fully committed as either a mobile game or a simple console game. It's a fun twist on Mario, but it's one you'll ring the content out of in a few hours and likely forget about soon after.

NEWS

EVERYONE IS DOWNLOADING SUPER MARIO RUN, BUT INVESTORS ARE UNHAPPY

Super Mario Run had the biggest launch in iOS history, with nearly 3 million downloads in its first day of release. For comparison, Pokémon Go did around 900,000 in its first 24 hours. Despite those impressive numbers, the game's drawing criticism—hey, I just wrote some above, look at that—for its relatively high price, always-online requirements, and limited scope.

The game currently holds a two-and-a-half star rating on iTunes, and the lack of general positivity around the release has had a negative effect on Nintendo's stock price. The shares are still up from where they were a year ago, but hit a five-day downward trend following the game's December 16th release.

As disappointed as I am that $10 is apparently a bridge too far for iOS players, Super Mario Run maybe isn't the game to justify that price tag. It's a fascinating mobile debut for Nintendo, and I think it does bode well for their future plans on phone games—which, incidentally, still include Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem. But it also indicates that the company's primary focus is still on home console gaming, and that this whole phone thing is mostly a side venture. Nintendo ain't a third-party.

DRAGON QUEST XI OFFICIALLY UNVEILED WITH GAMEPLAY FOOTAGE, SWITCH VERSION ANNOUNCED

Square Enix took the opportunity at Jump Festa in Tokyo to unveil the first trailers and footage of Dragon Quest XI to the world. Gameplay was shown from both the PlayStation 4 and 3DS versions, the latter of which sports full 3D graphics on the top screen and old-school 2D pixel art of the same environment on the bottom. Not shown, but announced? A Switch version.

This is the first proper Dragon Quest in a very long time. Dragon Quest X was a Japan-only MMO, and IX came out on the original DS way back in 2009. Unlike that game, which featured player-created characters, XI seems to feature a set cast with their own personalities and place in the story. The announcement stream noted that the game's world will be named after the series' recurring legendary hero. They also made sure to announce that some form of Puff-Puff will be in play, because motorboating is the most important part.

XI isn't officially announced for a worldwide release, but Square's “commitment” to bringing franchise entries west was a pretty prolific quote around the release of Dragon Quest Builders, which seemed specifically built to get a Minecraft-playing audience interested in Japan's biggest RPG series. With all that effort made toward building brand awareness in English-speaking countries, it would be a shocker for XI to remain Japan-exclusive for long.

SHENMUE III IS IN PRODUCTION

This is just a quick addendum to last week's Shenmue bit, where I mentioned that the game was moving into the “final stage of production.” Apparently, that was either a bit of misspeaking or mistranslation, as the “final stage” means the end of pre-production and the start of actual, proper work on the game.

THE ZELDA STORY IS GETTING EVEN MORE EXPLAINED, BECAUSE EXPLAINING THE ZELDA STORY IS STILL A GOOD IDEA, APPARENTLY

Look. I love the Zelda games. I was also 12 once, super into timeline theories, and incredibly hopeful that Nintendo would finally come out and explain all the mysteries of the Zelda canon. Then Hyrule Historia came out and it was kind of a bummer. The mystery was gone, replaced by a convoluted series of branching timelines and retconned shenanigans. Now the Hyrule Encyclopedia is coming to explain even more!

Actually, I like the Encyclopedia much more as a concept than that previous book. It's a database of enemies, items, and dungeons, and I'm totally down for a book that's just a series of reminders about how cool Zelda designs are.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

Darn near nothing. The Wii U version of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is out. There are the usual weird indie things on Steam. Just… Enjoy the holidays, folks. Catch up on your backlog.

I'll be doing the same. Enjoy your celebrations of choice, friends, and we'll meet again next week!


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