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Rate this review: Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 (Wii)
Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 review
HIGH:Blasting off into space for the first time
LOW:Rabbits telling me how to play the game
WTF:Rosalina's storybook section
Metaphor: Mario 64 is to crunchy as Mario Galaxy is to butter
Remember how tight the traction was in Mario 64? You could feel every scrape of Mario’s little shoes against the ground in that game. You could see it, too; the friction was so righteous that puffs of smoke followed Mario around everywhere he went. There was a magic connection between player and thumb, thumb and stick, stick and Mario, Mario and feet, and feet and ground. Never, not even in Ocarina of Time (though the traction in that game was pretty sweet, too) have we felt more connected to a game world. This is depressing. Mario 64, the first 3D Mario game and, really, the first modern 3D game, period, is the only one to get this stuff right. I guess it just didn’t end up being a priority. I guess elegance and bliss aren’t priorities. As long as the character on screen moves, well, that’s good enough for people. Well, fine then. People got what they wanted. People got what they deserved. People got Super Mario Galaxy.
In Galaxy, Mario has no traction. He feels disgustingly slippery. He has no connection with the ground. For all the jumping the guy does and is known for, it’s his connection with the ground that truly defines him. The soles of Mario’s shoes in Galaxy feel as though they have been dipped in bubbly, boiling butter, ready to be made deep fried and delicious for the frothing, slack-jawed orifices of the mouth-breathing masses. I can see it now: their expressionless faces and their blank, cow-eyed stares, totally entranced by the cartoon plumber in front of them. “Me play Mario. Me jump!”
I can’t help but feel that Galaxy totally misses the point. What made Super Mario Bros. a great game wasn’t its context of story, or its identifiable ending, or even its sense of an expansive game world. No, it was its momentum. That game had amazing physics. Before Half-Life 2’s gravity gun there was Super Mario Bros.’s running momentum.
This is the crux of great game design: a consistent world with a consistent set of rules. Give the player a limited, but focused, set of basic tools, and then build the challenges that the game throws at the player around the idea of progressively exhausting the potential applications of those few tools. Each challenge uses the exact same tools so the player always knows what he or she can do. Super Mario Bros. fits this mold beautifully. That entire game is designed around a singular function: jumping. And yet, there are many different ways to apply that singular function. Is the player holding down the run button? How long was the jump button held? Or, and this is where things really get brilliant, is the player holding the run and jump buttons at the same time?
See what I mean? Super Mario Bros., like a great work of literature or art, is focused. There’s an early 20th-century french writer by the name of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. (You may know his novella The Little Prince.) He famously said that “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” When I look at Galaxy and I see it quite literally overflowing with different gameplay styles I can’t help but think of that quote. Needless to say, there aren’t any “race the penguin” or “chase the rabbits” levels in Super Mario Bros. It’s a game about running and jumping. Simplicity. Elegance. Perfection.
Super Mario Galaxy has no elegance. It is a blunt object made for dull work. The biggest problem with the game (after the slippery physics) is that each level, each galaxy, has its own unique set of rules. For instance, there are “planetoid galaxies,” “free roaming galaxies” (or whatever you want to call those Mario 64-like stages), and in the case of Galaxy 2, “Yoshi galaxies,” “bird-flying galaxies” (based on a totally arbitrary shift in control scheme, mind), and, of course, the central hub. In Mario 64, at least the central hub (Peach’s Castle — arguably the best part of the game, really), allowed and encouraged the player to explore and learn how best to control Mario, and then apply this knowledge to game’s levels. In the Galaxy games (2 especially) I feel like every time I enter a new level I’m putting on a different gameplay hat. “Oh, this is a Yoshi level, how do I play as Yoshi again? Oh, that’s right.” Where is the simplicity? Where is the elegance? Where is the joy? I don’t like being told what to do in video games, and yet, the Galaxy games are bursting at the seams with such arbitrary, counter intuitive nonsense that the player has to be told what to do every five seconds. It would be impossible to play otherwise; the incessant shift in gameplay styles ensures that no logically-thinking person on Earth could infer what the objective is without the game spelling it out.
This makes getting a star, i.e.: succeeding, not a measure of skill. It is a measure of how well you can follow instructions. I mean, really. The game SHOWS you where the star is in the level. What sort of challenge is that? Maybe that’s what people need, though. Maybe Nintendo is on to something with this whole “gaming for the masses” idea. If this is what gaming requires in order to not die, then so be it. I too will fall in line, take my copy of “Cooking for Dummies”, and proudly bear my title of “best chef in the universe.”