It’s the same old story – when it’s a mobile game, it’s time to run, run, run

Super Mario Run (2016)

Let it be known – I am all about McDonald’s. Oh sure, if you’re in polite company and you want to appear like you’re not a total oik, then you might feel the social need to write off McDonald’s in public. But you should resist that temptation. McDonald’s is great, and if there’s any Maccy-D’s decrier out there who disagrees with me, then I’d challenge them to join me for a fest of 20 Chicken Nuggets, whether they’re drunk or not, and we’ll see if they still think the company is a wash. Just don’t tell them where the nuggets come from though, if they should ask. Eating chicken meat from the wing, thigh or breast is fine. From the floor or the slopbucket, not so much.

In a similar vein, Ryanair is great too, and they’re Irish, even better. By now, one would think that the ‘Paddy Factor’ as the Brits not-so-affectionately dubbed our national incompetence, would have conspired to bring at least one of their planes down, but happily there have never been any fatal crashes with Ryanair planes – at time of writing, that is, and forgive me for being macabre here but I really should say that because several things I’ve written have had a wild habit of coming true lately. Or worse, they’ve completely blown up in my face. Ah, sorry, unfortunate turn of phrase there.

When you step onto a Ryanair plane, you’re usually walking into a sealed, airtight chav vacuum, where the only thing more plentiful than crying babies are the many, many ways the company will attempt to gouge you for money. You know they don’t even sit members of your party together anymore? Of course this is done on purpose, and they’ll want you to pay money to sit next to each other. It’s actually a bonus sometimes, if you want that bit of time to yourself. But God, you have to hand it to Ryanair, ever thinking up new ways to get two quid out of you.

They, with a straight face, will also offer to sell you scratchcards inflight. They say you can win big, but of Ryanair’s six million flights over the last ten years I doubt there’s been a single recorded winner of a sum above, oh, fifty cents. Scratchies are some good harmless fun, but it won’t always be fun and games up there, because there’s always rumours that they’ll begin to sell standing room on planes.

You think they’re joking? Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair CEO and a cute hoor to use the local parlance, registered his car as a taxi just so that he could take the bus lanes and save himself a few minutes. That’s the kind of cheap hunger we’re talking about here. But anyway, standing room on planes, what’s the trouble? You’re only really gonna be buggered if the plane is spinning out of control anyway, in which case the doodoo will come straight out of your collar.

Get there safely though, and you’ll have enjoyed air travel for an unbelievable price, even if you won’t always believe how remote the airport is that they’ve brought you to. If the plane gets there on time (and it pretty much has to, considering how close Ryanair come to underfueling the things), you’ll get to revel in the horrendous jingle they play on landing. It’s better than applauding the pilot, but not by much.

Another happy landing, congratulations, you are a statistic, and not a fatal one. You’ve just experienced high-speed, European air travel at a knockdown price, irrespective of your scratchcard winnings. They haven’t yet begun selling McDonalds on Ryanair planes, which saddens me greatly, but patronage of either company would seem to put you alongside barrel-scraping members of society.

Oh well, if that’s the only real price that needs to be paid, then sign me right up. Look, there are times when you just need the most basic goods and services for dead dead cheap. And there’s nothing wrong with cheap, so long as you remember that the concept of ‘cheap and cheerful’ does not exist – you can have expensive and cheerful, or cheap and scabby.

It’s possible to go too cheap, though. For example, McDonald’s is one level, probably what you’d call “adequate”. It’ll do. But those microwavable 60-second Rustlers burgers are something else entirely. Likewise given the choice between Ryanair and, say Air Ethiopia or Aeroflot, the old self-preservation instinct would surely kick in, wouldn’t it?

It’s alright to go cheap, but it’s also possible to go way too cheap. I fear this is what Mario’s done on his first official foray into mobile gaming in Super Mario Run. Everything about this app is cheap, in a hooring out of the Mario licence to an extent not seen since the Mario’s Time Machine days. Everything is cheap here, apart from the cost of unlocking the full game which’ll run you twelve quid – a pittance compared to retail games, but pretty extortionate for a mobile app.

And what do you get for your bunce really? Well naturally, the same old plasticky New Super Mario Bros assets and the similar story of Bowser capturing Peach, a story delivered through text boxes that you often feel are mere moments away from line-breaking incorrectly – or suddenly turning Chinese.

What is really yawn-inducing about Super Mario Run is that it does nothing new for you, nothing at all, and there’s no way it’s gonna hook you in. At least with Mario Kart Tour, you might find the game compelling and interesting enough to keep playing for a bit, as you delve into the fanservice and historical tracks, characters and karts of the series. But there’s nowt of the sort in Run.

If you don’t fancy spending money to unlock the full game, and I can tell you I’d have every sympathy with you in that case, then you’ll get four levels to try to enjoy. It’s the same four levels you’ve played again and again in every other supposedly “New” Mario game – a grassland, a cave, an athletic stage in the clouds and a fortress. In terms of features, after you’ve given Super Mario Run app permissions to ring up all your contacts and tell them they smell, the options you get in return are… absolutely nothing.

You know that Mario is essentially about running and jumping, and if you can string the two together in any kind of harmony, then you’re probably gonna win. Well, on the off-chance that you’re too posh to hold the mobile phone yourself, you’ll find these simplest of two Mario pleasures are unceremoniously taken away. Mario runs by himself, and he doesn’t need your Dorito-entrusted fingers helping him along, thank you very much.

Well, that’s good news right, frees up a finger for jumping commands? Well yes, but get this – Mario also doesn’t need your greasy mitts helping him with the jumping either, because for small gaps and basically all enemies, Mario will just automatically vault over them as he crashes into them belly first.

That’s right, it’s a Mario game where you can quite literally run headlong into a Goomba and come out smiling, and you won’t need to buy a Starman with real money either. I suppose that is a new feature, but even as the levels get a bit trickier and they do start to require your finger (I suggest the middle one) for jumps, it only takes seconds for you to ask yourself what you’re even needed for, if Mario’s gonna do all the dogwork himself.

God, this is one tacky game. I’m aware that it’s primarily aimed at young children, and perhaps secondarily aimed at perma-frazzled Japanese commuters and executives. But this really is the cheapest, most shameful exploitation of the Mario license and characters. I can accept Fire Emblem being pimped out on mobile phones as a titted-up waifu collector for people to download. I can even accept Mario Kart Tour, so long as work on the next console Mario Kart is always going full throttle.

But I can’t accept Super Mario Run. This is a Rustlers burger just at the cusp of going out of date and turning green. It’s Afghan Airlines when the babies are screaming their lungs out next to you in the fuselage that’s just snapped in half. This is the Lada car, the Hi-Tec clothes, the Sagem phone.

I consider myself cheaper and tackier just for having played this, and that is saying something. McDonald’s and Ryanair would be ashamed to serve up Super Mario Run in all its scandalousness. I wonder if Nintendo will one day re-examine Mario’s floozy days, and feel the same contrition? I think they should just take a running jump, myself.

26 August 2022

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