13 September 2010
All in a Day’s Work
After two systems and ten years of struggling sales, Nintendo’s Wii recaptured the world’s attention. While Wii Sports may have gotten grandma bowling in front of her television, most hardcore Nintendo fans were eager to get their mitts on Super Mario Galaxy.
The song blissfully remains the same. Bowser hijacks Peach (and her entire castle) once again, this time stranding Mario in high orbit above the Mushroom Kingdom. From there, he must bounce between planetoids with various laws of gravity to obey and plenty of opposition to overcome.
For something that delivers that next quantum leap in Mario games, Galaxy clearly has an eye on the past. The Mario 64 influences feel strong. Magic mushrooms and fire flowers return, and add super-jumping springs and ice flowers to the mix. Mystery boxes, aim-able Mario cannons, airships, goombas… all back. Mario gets a bee suit for the Honeybee Galaxy, and disguises himself as a handsome ladykiller Boo for a haunted galaxy.
Miyamoto’s goal was to create a Mario that capitalizes on the Wii’s broad casual gamer audience while satisfying core devotees. The answer, it turns out, was no different in 2007 than it was in 1985: consistently good, constantly evolving, always interesting, never overwhelming, tied together in a friendly and whimsical package. Every galaxy presents a different and thrilling challenge that can be tackled instinctively using the Wii’s control scheme and a unique brand of Mario physics. A flick of the Wiimote boots enemies, while the pointer scoops up and shoots star bits at enemies, or helps Mario traverse debris fields.
Also in 2008, Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a highly anticipated sequel that pits dozens of Nintendo characters against each other and Solid Snake, a gatecrasher from Konami’s Metal Gear series (his creator, Hideo Kojima is a long-avowed Mario fan).
Mario has shown his face on the Wii many times. He has played tennis, karted, and even shared the spotlight with his former rvial Sonic in two Olympic games. But in late 2009, Nintendo finally delivered the Mario game that fans had been waiting for since Yoshi’s Island on the SNES: a 2D Mario side-scroller. New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii delivers a platformer cut from the same cloth as Mario’s past adventures, although Mario has new suits, like the Penguin Suit and Propeller Suit for tackling new challenges. But the biggest change is that now Mario can be joined by three friends in co-op play: Luigi and two Toads.
New Super Mario Bros. brought the total of main Super Mario adventures (not sports, karting, etc.) for the Wii up to two — that’s more than the GameCube received. But earlier this year, Wii owners got a third Mario game: Super Mario Galaxy 2. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was met with near-universal acclaim; in fact, IGN gave it a perfect 10.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 returns the plumber to orbit, chasing down Bowser to rescue Peach — no Rosalina this time. Galaxy 2 builds on the foundation of the original, with gravity puzzles and wild, planet-sized obstacle courses. But this time, Yoshi joins Mario on the adventure and you no longer have to complete the game to unlock Luigi (Mario’s bro is found early in the trip). New suits were rolled out, too, such as Cloud Mario. Will these suits enter the canonical closet? Maybe. We’ll just have to wait and see if Nintendo hits Wii owners with a fourth Super Mario before the Wii rides off into the sunset.
The way people respond to Mario is a special thing. Vastly different cultures have embraced him as their own. He belongs to the Internet Generation weaned on the DS just as much as to the MTV Generation who stuck with him since vaulting that first barrel. In a cynical world of fully destructible environments and BFGs and blood soaked hack-n-slash, Mario’s the eternal optimist. Nothing is insurmountable. It can be done. You can have fun doing it.
Shigeru Miyamoto only ever set out to make simple a everyman avatar. Instead, he gave the world the first icon of modern gaming, video or otherwise. Simply put, Mario means Play. That’s not likely to ever change.