Part three of my game design analysis (otherwise known as why I love Super Mario!)
Released for the Nintendo Wii in 2009 Super Mario Galaxy built upon the existing Mario formula laid down in previous games and offered a wealth of new content, ideas and ways to play and interact. Gone was the traditional game controller and in it’s place was full use of the Wii remote and Nunchuck combination offering new ways to interact with the character and game world.
Debate this topic with any video game enthusiast and they’ll come out with the Wii being the most underpowered console which lacks any decent games of note and was aimed solely at kids. For the first part they’re right, it was the most underpowered of its generation and by quite some distance. But I think that’s its because of this reason and because of the Wii Remote that developers were forced to think beyond what they’d been creating for years prior. Y
ou could create games in horsepower contest or you could create something genuinely different to experience. Super Mario Galaxy is an excellent example of this, using the unique hardware in a way different from everybody else.
For the most part, the essence of the Super Mario games remained; your objective is to still rescue the princess from the clutches of Bowser, you still need to collect coins and 1-UP mushrooms to gain extra lives and you still need to defeat enemies through the use of Mario’s jump and the various power-ups scattered around. What’s different here is how you do these tasks.
From the moment the game is started you’re eased into something familiar, a long plain road leading to the castle where you’re greeted by various Toads offering hints about the upcoming festival and a few very small tid-bits of the pointer functions of the Wii Remote.
Before long you’re whisked off the familiar and placed onto you’re starting world in what seems to be a small flat disc. Either through the opening sign or following the path to the right (or by taking a leap of faith) you’re taught that the game world is no longer on a flat surface – rather a spherical one that you can navigate in its entirety. This opening level sets the style for the entire game and every level hereafter follows it.
Nintendo totally broke the mould with game design in Mario Galaxy. No longer is the player confined on a narrow path to get to their objective, now they have the scope to travel a full 360 degrees around a planet. The staple Mario platforming remains, but now players need to think about their position in 3D space, their relation to it and how they’ll get from A to B more than ever before. To add to this, gravity also plays its part too. For the most part, gravity in each level remains the same, but step off it and onto an orbiting ‘planetoid’ and gravity can act much different. It can be heavier forcing you to adjust how you play and defeat the oncoming enemies or so light that a long jump can have Mario circling a planetoid three to four times before touching the ground.
As ever there’s a variety of new power-ups in the form of special mushrooms to find and use. These give Mario new abilities to navigate the game worlds transforming him into Bee Mario, Ghost Mario, Boo Mario and Spring Mario. Each of these new power-ups now stay active permanently while in the level and are only taken away when Mario takes a hit from a specific object – while as Bee Mario you need to stay away from water and Boo Mario needs to stay away from light etc.
The game also follows the tried and tested formula of platform games including levels you’d expect to see even though the game is set in space – ghost houses, volcano/lava, desert levels etc. But its also because the game is set in space that certain advantages can be taken further than normal and not questioned quite as much – would you question a lava column making its way from sky to ground over three differently placed connecting points? Would you question walking upright on a platform before jumping off the edge then circling round to land then walk on the other side upside down in a ‘standard’ game? Its the little things that’s been included in this game that you don’t really think about but amaze all the same when you see it.
It also follows a similar progression path as Super Mario 64. Each level has its own set of tasks to do which the game presents to you in order but you’re free, at least in some
cases, to ignore this and take on others – although this is only usually allowed to happen in levels which have multiple end points. So while the game is tasking more for you to do, it also feels like some of the freedom present in its predecessor has been lost.
The controls remain the same to anyone who’s played a Mario game before too but with the addition and capabilities of the Wii Remote, new ways to play are provided. The pointer for example projects a star on-screen which is used for collecting Star Bits that are needed to access the games bonus levels and side missions. Both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk can be shook to allow Mario to use his new spin attack – useful for dispatching enemies or breaking large obstacles and the gyroscope on the Wii Remote is used both lying down for dolphin racing and upright for guiding a ball through a hole filled maze with no sides.
As with all Mario games, its learning curve is evenly spread throughout the game asking you to complete and take on harder challenges only when you’ve been taught fully and are ready. That said, some of them can still be challenging for seasoned players. New to the series are boss fights. These take the forms of different enemies with different attack patterns and have you using these motion controls in certain ways to defeat them. Boil them down though and its just a flick of the remote that’s needed but game never lets on that’s all you have to do so you never notice.
Outside of the game and taking a leaf out of previous titles, you’re given a central hub to explore in the form of a spacestation. At first, only a small part of it is available to explore but the more you progress through the game the more of it opens up. Each part of the spacestation is its own zone; engine room, garden, bedroom and its these areas which are used to set you off on your adventures. This is an excellent addition to the game – its a more relaxed change of pace offering up the chance to get to grips with the controls, to see stats or to access hidden areas. It also serves as a way to find out about the spacestation and its pilot Rosalina. Sadly though this never made it into the sequel and that’s criminal.
Graphically its very impressive. The hardware does an amazing job at bringing the designers’ visions to life. Each world has its own style to it and each is full of vibrancy and charm; whether its against the darkness of space or the lush tropical setting of a beach, each level has been produced to such a high standard its easy to forget you’re playing on ‘underpowered’ hardware – I don’t like that term but I can’t think of another, better way to say it.
Mario games often I think, get an unfair reputation of being targeted towards children because of its looks – something that’s also stretched to numerous other Nintendo franchises too. Hidden behind these looks though are challenges that will and can often infuriate many.