Nintendo's historical reluctance to embrace smartphone games has always hinted at a lack of confidence. After all, the company's success has been built on great software filled with great characters. All it needed was reassurance that money could be made in smartphones and there's been plenty of that. Now, after a bit of encouragement with Miitomo and a lot of encouragement with Pokemon Go, a phenomenon from which it actually profited little, it has finally jumped down the pipe into the smartphone waters with Super Mario Run.
Nintendo describes Super Mario Run as a market expansion play for the company; the iOS-exclusive app registered 5 million downloads in its first day of availability. That's the best business rationalization for the company to finally dip into the competitive mobile app waters, even if it does so with significant advantages. Gestures such as a big reveal on late night television further that goal. And even stripped of its cultural touchstones, Super Mario Run is a fun game and a good value despite its relatively high price. It will no doubt yield some new Nintendo fans.
Super Mario Run may borrow the "auto-running" dynamic from games such as Temple Run and Subway Surfers, but it is 100 percent Nintendo. From the first screen, you are transported into a world that could have been lifted straight out of a Nintendo DS or Wii, complete with shiny bulbous Mac OS X-like interface buttons, My Nintendo membership, an introductory cast of Mario world characters (Mario, Peach, Toad and Bowser). More importantly, there is the look and feel of the classic Mario side-scroller albeit with watered-down game mechanics that had been contemplated long before Super Mario Run took form.
Mario runs onto iPhone and iPad screens at what would ordinarily be a lull for Nintendo, a time when its products cry out for a bridge between the past (the known -- yet scarce -- quantity of the NES Classic) and the future (the Switch). The former has become nearly impossible to find and the latter -- if Nintendo stays true to its old tricks -- may be as well.
There are of course no such constraints -- not even an initial purchase price -- on the freely downloading bits of Super Mario Run. But, for those without a strong attachment to Nintendo, the game does not yield a particularly strong pull from the other multitude of games clamoring for the attention of today's smartphone consumers. Rather, much of its potential is for the company's existing fans, providing a way for them to interact with the Nintendo world outside of a black hole of Nintendo hardware.