Complaint shows startling lack of knowledge about video game history, but still might be valid.
The potential significance of Super Mario Run is immense. As Nintendo’s first entry into the smartphone gaming sector, it gives the company a point of contact with an audience that likes games but isn’t yet willing to buy a dedicated Nintendo gaming system, a demographic that’s becoming larger and larger as the games you can play on the smartphone you already own become increasingly sophisticated.
However, this puts Nintendo in a very unusual position. In the console and handheld segments of the markets, Nintendo’s extremely well-defined brand image means that gamers almost always know exactly what to expect from the developer. But it’s now jumping into a subsection of the industry that formed without any direct influence from the pioneering Kyoto company, where customers’ expectations are largely based on trends and business practices entirely unrelated to Nintendo’s philosophy of game production.
This opens up the possibility of some startling criticisms of Super Mario Run, like the one screen-captured by Japanese Twitter user @heimin.
平民金子 (@heimin) December 17, 2016
The disgruntled, one-star review shown in the image reads:
I was thinking this was a fun game, but there are only three stages you can play for free. If you don’t fork over 1,200 yen [US$10], you can’t play the rest. We’re living in an age where you can’t rescue Princess Peach without spending money.”
Your reaction to this comment will likely depend on how long you’ve been playing video games, or at least how well you understand the history of the medium. If free-to-play smartphone games have been a thing for your entire life, then yeah, this sounds like a game that only gives you three puny stages before holding out a hand for that sweet, sweet DLC money.
On the other hand, if you’re a video gaming veteran, you might find yourself banging your head against the wall in frustration right now, because as @heimin reminds us in his tweet:
“’We’re living in an age where you can’t rescue Princess Peach without spending money?’ That’s how things have always been.”
Princess Peach was captured for the first time in the original Super Mario Bros., which was released in 1985 as a game for the Famicom/NES. You had to pay money if you wanted a copy, and that’s been the deal for every sequel and spin-off in the franchise since.
▼ And no, a promise to pay the store back later, in Mario coins, was never an acceptable transaction.
So while smartphone game-centric consumers like the dissatisfied reviewer see Super Mario Run as an appallingly short game that almost immediately requires you to pay for additional content, those with @heimin’s way of thinking would call it an affordably priced game with an incredibly generous free demo. Even in 1985, Super Mario Bros. cost way more than 10 bucks, and Super Mario Run’s free preview is longer than just about any toy store would let a kid hog the display system for.
This is a dichotomy Nintendo itself is aware of, and it’s even been addressed by Super Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto. By bundling the entire game into a one-time purchase and eschewing microtransactions, Nintendo hopes to win over kids and their parents, and the strategy also might win the hearts of old-school gamers who hate the idea of having to repeatedly pay for content in small batches. Whether other smartphone gamers will cotton to this approach, though, is a question that’s yet to be definitively answered.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where his pet peeves include any game with bit-mapped art being called “8-bit-style.”