It's official: Super Mario Run hits iOS on December 15. On that frosty morning, Mario will lace up his boots, kiss his loved ones on their foreheads, and start running. Then he'll keep on running, possibly to his doom, unless you intervene and direct his furious jog.
A press release distributed by Nintendo earlier this morning confirmed Super Mario Run is free to download, but players must pay to get the rest of the game's content. That means you can play a portion of Super Mario Run for free, but accessing the whole megillah requires a one-time fee of $9.99 USD.
This price tag is understandably causing some people to double-take. "$9.99? For an endless running game? I can get ten billion endless running games on the App Store for free!"
You're not wrong. Well, not entirely wrong. First, and this is important, Super Mario Run isn't an endless runner. It's a running / platforming game. Yes, Mario runs automatically from left to right, but the game doesn't end when you hit an object or fall into a pit. Instead, players must learn to use Mario's momentum to climb, defeat foes, and safely reach the end of the level. Judging by the game's newest trailer, Super Mario Run looks for all the world like a standard Nintendo 3DS Mario game, except Mario runs on his own.
Super Mario Run's closest living mobile relative is probably Rayman Jungle Run, which is still regarded as one of the App Store's best offerings. It's gorgeous, it's brimming with personality, and it's just out-and-out fun.
"But it's also $2.99 USD, Nadia! That's a lot less than $9.99 USD!"
Heck yes, it is. But Rayman Jungle Run also offers in-app purchases, whereas Nintendo emphasizes Super Mario Run will not. Granted, the in-app purchases for Rayman Jungle Run aren't numerous or expensive ($0.99 USD to unlock the character Globox and $1.99 USD to unlock all the games' levels), but Nintendo's promise to shy away from in-app purchases presumably means if additional levels and characters are added, players can access them at no cost.
More importantly, Super Mario Run is free to download, which means if you don't like what's on the menu – or if you just don't think it's worth $9.99 – you're under no obligation to pay up. By contrast, the majority of priced games on the App Store require you to put your cash down up-front.
If Nintendo is giving away part of the game for free and then asking $9.99 for the rest, it must mean it's confident about Super Mario Run's quality. To be honest, I balked at the $9.99 price tag until I saw what's on tap with the new trailer. Even those small snippets of gameplay make Super Mario Run seem tight and cleverly-designed. Nintendo clearly has clearly engineered the game's puzzle-platforming to take specific advantage of Mario's non-stop running. Some new assets would be nice, admittedly – Mario changed his look three times during the NES era alone, and I think few of us would complain if we got something besides "New Super Mario Bros yet again" – but I don't doubt I'll come away from Super Mario Run's free-to-play portion feeling like it's worth dropping $9.99 on the rest of the shebang.
And maybe that's a good thing for the mobile games industry in general. It's no secret mobile game developers are having the devil's time trying to make a profit off their work. Free-to-play games are usually regarded as garbage, but at the same time few people want to pay more than $0.99 USD for a mobile game, even if that game is stunning. Nintendo, however, is seemingly uninterested in joining everyone else at rock bottom. It feels Super Mario Run is worth $9.99, and by letting you play part of the game for free, it's giving you a chance to agree or disagree.
Either way, a heck of a lot of people will almost certainly pay $9.99 for Mario on iOS. They'll grouse and they'll grumble, but they'll do it.
One lingering question is how many of Super Mario Run's buyers will be parents of very young children – the demographic Nintendo is trying to woo with its mobile offerings? Nintendo's mobile games are meant to get kids interested in all of Nintendo franchises (in hopes that said kids will become consumers of the Switch), but can a busy mom be convinced to drop $9.99 on Super Mario Run when the App Store is choked with similar free-to-play games? Sure, those games might be as appealing as used trash cans filled with screaming raccoons – but they're free, and they're engaging enough to keep kids quiet in restaurants. At a glance, it's clear Super Mario Run isn't one of those games, and it's also clear Nintendo won't be sacrificing quality in exchange for a lower price tag.
In other words Nintendo's gonna do its Nintendo thing no matter what platform it's developing for.
We'll see the fallout (if any) of Super Mario Run's high price tag in a month.