FEATURE: Galaxy Quest
Mario is going boldly where no platformer has before, but can the most anticipated Wii title possibly meet the stratospheric expectations?
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He’s gaming’s most ubiquitous character, but what is Mario? At the very least, he’s a few red and blue pixels jumping around your television screen; at most, he’s a global icon better known than Mickey Mouse who, more than any other character, is synonymous with the term ‘videogame’. But whether jumping over barrels, sprinting to fill up a P-meter or simply soaring into the sky, one thing defines all of those videogames: getting from A to B. What Mario is the embodiment of for players, and the reason he’s so compelling to control, is a set of universal laws: mass, momentum and inertia. Mario means perpetual motion.
In a wider context, the platform genre could just as easily be called the Mario genre, so fully have those games created and nurtured the tropes through which the style has evolved. Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World reached a pinnacle of 2D game design; with Super Mario 64, Nintendo redefined what the move to 3D could mean and set an example that no subsequent game has lived up to. It was at once the ultimate expression of creativity and an achievement that hamstrung its many imitators – stories abound of N64 titles being abandoned halfway through development after Mario’s 3D debut. After all, what else could a 3D platformer do that that game didn’t? Is there anything left to add to that intoxicating mix? It’s taken Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo over a decade and several false starts to come up with an answer, and it’s numbingly simple: gravity.
With the internal logic of videogames being so recherché, the concept is less of a real-world limitation than a license for virtual extravagance – across the widest canvas that could be imagined. We’ve found every hidden corner of Super Mario World: it’s time to explore Super Mario Galaxy.
But to begin at home, what’s changed about Mario? It’s testament to the brilliance of Miyamoto’s original vision that he’s almost no different from his 3D debut over a decade ago, down to the smallest details: just like Super Mario 64, leave Mario alone long enough and he falls asleep. He’s completely familiar and – barring the graphical sheen – no different physically, bar a few new moves, and there’s even a return for an old one: the long jump. And those new moves are designed for convenience rather than revolution: it proves occasionally difficult in certain positions to line up a perfect jump on enemies, thus the spin attack removes the need to do so. If there’s any difference, Mario’s momentum can initially seem slightly muted from the slip-slide speed of Super Mario Sunshine, but that’s both a consequence of a slightly more panoramic camera and something well judged with relation to the gravity and locations. It’s a perfect example of a core strength of the Mario series, and Nintendo as a whole: building an entirely new structure around a familiar and solid foundation that clearly works.
So Mario’s the same plumber in a new world. The speed, and the slipperiness in a sense, comes from the new tricks of this environment: the first planetoid has a central hollow ‘core’ that will instantly transport Mario from top to bottom and back again, as well as several pipes that transport him from location to location on the surface. You can move from one side of a planet to the other in seconds. As well as these set elements, the gravity that controls movement on the planets has some remarkable applications: the one that delights initially, and is then repeated ad infinitum, is long-jumping from a surface and looping around the entire object. Naturally this can only be accomplished on the smaller masses – as Mario’s speed increases on each loop you get closer to the ground and desperately try to keep him going. It’s thrilling, and always slightly disappointing when you land.