Like 37 million other people I spent this weekend immersed in the Mushroom Kingdom and tapping my finger along to Super Mario Run. Nintendo’s first foray into mobile gaming has attracted praise and controversy, with many pissed off at them having the gall to ask for money for their work and others annoyed at the need to be always online.
This is where the story changes, though. It’s Christmas, and I’m skint. I fully intend on purchasing Super Mario Run at some point, but right now I want that eight quid for important things like beer and cheese. Which means I haven’t actually been playing Super Mario Run, I have been playing the demo for Super Mario Run, and I’ve loved it.
Not just because of the game itself, although it is good. It feels like Mario, and there’s a depth here which isn’t common in endless runners (although as it has levels and therefore an end, I guess it is a runner.) Levels that at first fly past in a blaze of coins and enemies slowly unravel themselves and expose their secrets to you. It has that sheen of quality that Nintendo always supply.
As I said, it’s not just the game that I’ve loved. Alongside that, I’ve adored the feeling of playing a demo. A feeling we now get so rarely.
And I’m hardly the first to say that. Anyone who spent their childhood putting hours into slices of games that usually came on the outside of a magazine knows the feeling. Demos have gone out of fashion. Instead, we have Betas and Alphas and Early Access, and it’s not the same. It’s a broken version of the game rather than a teaser for what is to come.
Mario Run’s demo is a teaser, though. Encompassing the first three levels of the game it drops you in at the shallow end and gets you hooked before asking for your cash. So, how has it roped me in? What has it done to make me confident I’ll open my wallet?
It’s let me play those three levels again and again and again. To introduce that classic buzzword, replayability, Nintendo has added a few challenges to Mario Run. Challenges based around different coloured coins. On your first playthrough, there are five pink coins for you to collect. It’s not especially difficult, but you need to play the level at least a few times to learn where they are. Once you’ve got them, they are replaced by purple coins, placed in different areas that are more challenging to reach. Finally, once you collected them, you move onto the green and well, you can probably guess what happens with them.
It’s basic game design. A simple ploy to get you to play the levels more than once without the need to compete with friends you may not have for high scores. However, it captured me hook, line and sinker. With no money to move onto later levels, I spent the whole weekend playing these three levels again and again and again. I got them down to the point where I can breeze through them without even thinking. My muscles do all the work.
It is a ploy that has gguaranteedNintendo will eventually get my eight pounds, but it’s also a ploy that opened a well of nostalgia in me. A well that reminded me of playing the opening level of Tomb Raider countless times because my parents wouldn’t buy me the game. A well that reminded me of a single race that I competed in and won time after time on a racing game that I honestly can’t even remember the name. A well that… let’s move past the reminiscing, yeah?
Super Mario Run is an excellent mobile game. I haven’t paid eight pounds, and yet I feel safe in saying it will be worth every penny and will delight fans and non-fans of Mario alike. It is also a lovely reminder of how compelling a demo can be. Of how sometimes less can be more compelling than more. It’s a ploy that the new Hitman has used exquisitely. It’s an experience that I miss, and it’s classic Nintendo for them to be the one to remind me of it.