The best aspect of smartphone gaming is that you don’t have to think about it. You’re playing games on a device that you already have with you; if you’re stuck out in the real world and you get bored, you can take your device out and play a quick game of ... whatever.
This has always been a draw of Nintendo’s portables in general, and Super Mario Run is the first mobile Nintendo game that doesn’t even require a discrete piece of hardware outside of what you’re used to always carrying.
That pleasantly thoughtless aspect of portable gaming has been removed from Super Mario Run, however, and it all comes down to the fact it has to be online to function.
Why this matters
For starters, ask anyone who has to ride the subway on a daily basis. It’s easy to lose signal while underground, and that means the game will be unplayable during people’s commutes. Sure, it will work once you back to the surface, but by then you’re at your destination! It’s like opening a Taco Bell that only shuts down when you’re drunk.
I’m writing this article in my home office, which is in the basement of my house. My writing space is a very nice room my wife finished for me that’s connected to the laundry room, which means there are a few layers of house between me and my router. My laptop and gaming PC are hardwired into the network.
Super Mario Run would be unplayable in my home office, which sucks. I like playing games instead of working while in my office. It happens far more often than me playing games for work while in my office, but don’t tell anyone.
And the reasoning for the requirement feels thin. Here are some of the reasons Nintendo says the game needs to be online:
Access to other users’ play data and scores for automatically generated Toad Rally challenges.
In-game events that will offer players new challenges and rewards for a limited time.
Linkage to Nintendo Account to access save data from multiple devices. For example, if players have Super Mario Run on their iPhone and iPad, they can share one save file across the different devices. However, this save data cannot be used with different devices at the same time.
There’s also the question of piracy, and this will certainly help in that regard. Nintendo seems to have a lot of smaller justifications that makes this move makes sense for them, but Super Mario Run doesn’t seem to be a game that benefits the player by requiring that connection. It’s not something the game itself directly calls for, nor should it require.
It’s not like games that don’t feature new content and leaderboards that update when the player reaches an internet connection without requiring that connection be constant. It’s even more galling in a premium game that costs $9.99.
The wireless data infrastructure in the United States simply isn’t robust enough to allow our phones to always be connected to the internet. That means that one of the most exciting smartphone games, and Nintendo’s first, will often be unplayable for players on the subway, out in the country, if you’re flying or for some reason you’re kicking it in my home office.
I’m not alone in this aspect of the game bumming me out, fan reaction on social media seems to be overwhelming negative as well, citing spotty connection in their area or data consumption.
And if your phone can’t always be connected to a network, that means you’ll have to stop and think about where you are and what you’re doing before playing. Super Mario Run won’t always be there for you, unlikely nearly every Nintendo portable game or console in the past, and that’s a huge step backward.