“Super Mario Run,” Nintendo’s very first iPhone game, finally arrived on Thursday.
It’s a clever, fun game that will make long-time Mario fanboys very happy. That said, if you were expecting it to have the same kind of impact “Pokémon Go” had earlier this year, you’d be sorely mistaken.
Let’s be clear: “Super Mario Run” is a fun game, but it will not change your actual lifestyle like “Pokémon Go” does.
You might ask your friends how far along they are in “Super Mario Run” compared to your own progress, but unlike “Pokémon Go,” this game won’t encourage you to go outside more, or meet up with other people to play the game together, or keep the game open in your pocket while you’re not playing it.
“Super Mario Run” does have a social aspect — a mode called “Toad Rally” is the closest approximation to a multiplayer experience, where you can compete and run against the best performances recorded by other players — but the game isn’t inherently social like “Pokémon Go” is.
When you think about it, the actual game of “Pokémon Go” is secondary to the social experience. The game itself is incredibly simple and repetitive — throw a ball at a creature, catch enough creatures (or walk with them long enough) and they evolve, thus giving you a new Pokémon to add to your collection. Complete your collection. That’s it.
The real magic in “Pokémon Go,” however, is how it plays into everyone’s psychology — the need to catch them all and finish a collection is a very powerful drive — and how it creates unique social experiences in the real world.
Do you remember this video? When “Pokémon Go” first launched this summer, we witnessed several occasions where hundreds of people would swarm a public area — New York City’s Central Park, for example — just to catch a rare Pokémon. That’s because when you play “Pokémon Go,” you can see all the same Pokémon in the wild that everyone else can, making it easier to compare your respective libraries with other people, and easier to coordinate with others for things like group hunts and safaris, which my colleague Alex Heath tried (and enjoyed) earlier this year.
“Pokémon Go” is all about finding Pokémon in the real world — meaning, you can only play this game while out in the real world. You can’t just play it on your couch all day — well, you could, but it’d be really boring and unproductive, since you only get items and encounter new Pokémon when you’re walking. That’s partly why you hear so many amazing stories about people, particularly those who are depressed, feeling a renewed urge to go outside thanks to “Pokémon Go.”
With “Super Mario Run,” however, you can totally play on your couch all day. You don’t need to walk around or explore the real world to access parts of the game. You don’t need to interact with other people. It’s just a game. You play it and you’re done.
Also worth noting: As my colleague Ben Gilbert discovered, “Super Mario Run” can be completed in about three hours. Sure, you can play levels over and over again, but nothing special happens when you do those things.
“Pokémon Go,” meanwhile, doesn’t take hours to complete; it takes days. To finish your Pokémon collection is to literally spend dozens of hours, if not hundreds, while playing the game, walking around to catch and evolve monsters. My colleague Chris Snyder actually caught all original 142 Pokémon in the game, but spent about 37 straight days doing it.
Finally, a big reason “Super Mario Run” won’t catch “Pokémon Go” is because of the way it makes money. “Pokémon Go” is a free game — thus making it more accessible to a broader audience — that’s powered by microtransactions, which means you can continuously pay to unlock items that help you in the game, but you don’t have to. (I’ve played dozens of hours of “Pokémon Go,” and I’ve never spent a single dime.)
“Super Mario Run” has a free demo that lets you play the first three levels, and excludes two of the game’s three modes, but requires you pay $10 if you want the full experience. There will be plenty of people who won’t pay $10 for an app, thus limiting the overall number of players who will pick up this game, and diminishing the possibility of it becoming a cultural phenomenon like “Pokémon Go.”
Both of these mobile games have generated a ton of hype this year; after all, Mario and Pokémon are two of the biggest video game franchises of all time. But if you think “Super Mario Run” has a chance at eclipsing “Pokémon Go” — in terms of downloads, or money grossed, or cultural impact — think again.
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