Availability: iOS, Android

There’s no question that 2016 has been Nintendo’s year. The gaming giant went from a summer full of Pokemon hunting to a fall full of reveals and rumors about both their next console in development, and their miniature classic Nintendo Entertainment System that’s already available–if you can actually track one down. Now, with winter in full swing, Super Mario Run has taken over the app stores. 

It’s reasonable to call Super Mario Run Nintendo’s first true smartphone game; the app includes a full single-player story mode, asynchronous multiplayer (you can race against someone’s score they set previously, they won’t actually be playing in game with you), and even a brightly-colored kingdom for players to build up and customize as they earn points in the other game modes. The game has cutscenes, well-rendered animation, authentic sound effects and music, and loads of tributes inspired by Mario’s rich 30+ year history. What the game lacks in buttons and joysticks, it makes up for in the best use of the “endless runner” mechanics you’ll find on any mobile device, period.

Sounds great, right? Only if you’re comfortable with the idea of a $10 mobile app. While Super Mario Run can be downloaded for free, playing the main game beyond World 1 will require the mother of all in-app purchases. This makes it hands-down the most expensive iPhone game I’ve ever purchased, and I spent most of last year as a game reviewer. I routinely purchase full PC games for much cheaper.

Nintendo wants to put together carefully-tailored experiences for its players, and Nintendo expects to be paid. This is an example of the company’s longstanding objection to app store economics. Even if the price could be considered fair for the value–which I consider it close–the comparison to what that money can get you elsewhere on the platform makes it outlandish. This is definitely reflected in the virtual store reviews at the time of writing.

So is Super Mario Run worth buying?

  • Yes, if you’re a nostalgia-addled adult
  • Yes, if you have an older kid who’s excited about Mario and other Nintendo products
  • Probably not, if it’s for a younger kid

If you’re handing this game off to a young one, be prepared to go through (or skip) a somewhat lengthy setup, including Nintendo accounts, social media connectivity, instructions for three different game modes, and keep in mind this game does include in-app purchases. After that, expect to help get them “back to the game” often. Even when the action starts, I’m not convinced the gameplay will be particularly compelling for young audiences. I personally wouldn’t hand this app to a child under five years old for any reason, and I’ve already put my $10 where my mouth is on that one.

I suspect Nintendo will keep freshening up Super Mario Run for the foreseeable future, and it has the right recipe for keeping us older kids busy for quite some time. Move over Clash Royale, you have a new neighbor on Procrastination Row.

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Greater St. Louis area freelance writer and entrepreneur with experience in professional software and indie game development. Father of an awesome little boy and husband to a leading area hospitalist physician. My free time is spent on reading, creating, and combat sports. Follow me @Mechatodzilla.