There is elegance in simplicity. Nintendo’s new mobile runner Super Mario Run achieves what even this summer’s mega-hit Pokémon GO couldn’t. By distilling classic Super Mario gameplay originally made for an NES controller down to a single tap, Super Mario Run became the essential mobile smartphone game: easy, accessible, addictive, and fun to play. More fun, actually, than Pokémon GO.
The two games are so fundamentally different that comparisons are unfair, but the two are so entrenched in Nintendo’s colonization into the smartphone market that sizing them up seems inevitable. And of the many things Niantic’s Pokémon GO was, it wasn’t a good game. The augmented reality was impressive, but remove the nostalgia for the franchise and its novelty as a social lubricant, the core of Pokémon GO was to leave your phone on while you went outside. There was nothing in the game itself that encouraged engagement until you came across a Squirtle, and it’s not a game to play on public transportation or in waiting rooms, scenarios smartphone games were pretty much built for.
And for those of us in the northeast U.S., searching for Pokémon GO was fun in the summer. Now in the winter, fuck that noise.
Super Mario Run requires a constant internet connection, so I still can’t play it on New York City subways where I spend a chunk of my daily commute. But man am I looking forward to playing this thing everywhere else. Shigeru Miyamoto’s insistence Super Mario Run can be played with one hand (so you can eat cake!) is deceptively simple it borders on evil genius. Super Mario Run is extraordinarily accessible, a contrast to Pokémon GO which chucked its whole user base into the game with no instructions.
Smartphone games, at least the most successful ones, function at a paradox: They need to be simple it’s unbelievable no one thought of the concept sooner, and they have to be novel enough to feel new — like Angry Birds and Pokémon GO both did.
Super Mario Run may not become the breakout phenomenon Pokémon GO was. But it doesn’t have to be. It just has to get people to play. With a globally recognized mascot front and center in a game so easy to literally pick up and play, that shouldn’t be hard.
Super Mario Run is available on iOS devices now.