So here’s why Mario games are good.
Today’s game is Super Mario Galaxy 2, the final part of the Super Mario Galaxy duology. While some endlessly debate whether Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the better game (and I will remind you that SMG2 contains Yoshi), it is perhaps better to look at Super Mario Galaxy as one solid piece, accidentally fragmented into two sections. Let’s face it, SMG was released on the cusp of Nintendo learning how to add expansions to games (see the eventual joys of Smash Bros, Hyrule Warriors, and Mario Kart), and, should SMG have initially been released on the WiiU, we likely would have seen new planets until the release of the Switch. But, for now, the two games are separate but equal, with slight differences between the two, and an aggravating need to switch discs when you have to choose between riding a dolphin or a vulture.
But the reason the difference between the two games is insignificant is because both titles are amazing. Super Mario Galaxy is easily the apex of the Mario franchise (note for future readers: this article was published before the release of Mario Odyssey, or any other inevitable future endeavors, like Mario… Omniverse?), and the sheer volume of creativity and care on display in these games is astronomical. Yes, there are a few misses bouncing around the title (mostly experiments involving motion controls), and it would be nice to be able to play this Mario game with a “real” controller, but, by and large Mario Galaxy & Mario Galaxy 2 are perfect Mario games.
But why are they perfect? What is it about blasting around Mario’s Galaxy that makes these games so much fun? Is it the gravity? The enemies? The Bowser fights? (No, it’s never that.)
I’ve got a theory for Mario games (and nearly all action/platforming games), and it’s called “The Joy of Movement”. What makes a great Mario game? It’s whether or not you actually enjoy moving around.
At first blush, this seems abundantly obvious. After all, sloppy controls are often the death knell for poorly received games. Amagon probably would be a passable adventure if it were at all possible for the hero to actually deal with the encroaching threats of Everything-Kills-You Island. And while even games with terrible controls may occasionally succeed (looking at you, Grand Theft Auto), they usually nail at least one thing completely perfectly (like using rocket launchers on pedestrians). But for successful franchises, it’s obvious that enjoying actually moving your digital avatar is the most important thing. Sonic the Hedgehog is the poster child for this phenomenon (and the recent Sonic Mania being essentially Sonic & Knuckles 4 and being wildly successful cannot be a coincidence), but Mega Man also slots in perfectly here, too. Mega Man might not have 360° aiming or the ability to bend his robo-knees, but he’s perfectly suited to his world, and there’s joy to be had in flawlessly stomping over the corpse of a robot monkey on your way to barbecuing a wooden man. The joy of movement is real, and you’ve subconsciously experienced it practically every time you’ve played a worthwhile videogame.
And Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2? Here is the apex of joy of movement.
It’s initially very simple: Mario just plain controls well. You’ve got analogue walking/running, you’ve got the triple jump, and you can even hold a button to crawl along. Start combining some of these commands, and you’ve got the inimitable long jump and backflip. Go a little further, and you’ve got Mario exploring weird little planets with their weird little gravities, but still “moving” exactly the same. And intuitively, too! Leaping from one planetoid to another always “feels right”, and switching gravities is as natural as stomping on goombas. And speaking of feelings, the aggressive spin attack or the frantic spin jump both feel wonderful when you use the technique to survive an incoming chomp or avoid a crushing black hole.
But the powerups… now that’s where things get crazy. Bee Mario buzzes along and crawls exactly how anyone who has ever been outside would expect (though, granted, not every Mario fan has been outside recently). Boo Mario’s spectral floating feels fittingly weightless. Rock ‘n roll Mario moves with all the heft of a boulder, and no one bats an eye when inertia causes that Mario to go meteor. Running around at full tilt with an invincibility star is always cool, and fire flowers exploit a player’s desire to shake that wiimote and vaporize everything on six planets. Cloud Mario is likely the best thing to ever happen to the franchise, as generating your own platform with a panicked spin is something Mario has needed since he first dropped into that hole in World 1-1. Spring Mario can be a blast… you just have to think like a kangaroo. Or maybe an injured bird? Frog? I think frogs hop a lot.
Even Yoshi gets into the act. Tongue twisting across platforms is an innate delight, and swallowing every troopa in a ten mile radius is literally the reason these Yoshis were born. And Yoshi gets his own powerups! Balloon fetishists delight at a round and floating Yoshi. And the dash pepper leads to new and exciting challenges of the Turbo Tunnel variety, but with the important caveat of not being terrible. And, whether you’re riding a dinosaur or literally skating around a frozen planet, it’s all completely instinctive and… fun.
And that’s the joy of movement, the joy of a good Mario adventure. Every trot, every jump, every powerup just feels good, and that’s what keeps the player running towards 242 stars. Every obstacle course is masterfully crafted with Mario’s skills in mind, and every powerup is utilized in unique and electrifying ways to surmount new challenges.
When it feels good to just move, that’s when you’re playing a wonderful videogame.
FGC #331 Super Mario Galaxy 2
- System: Nintendo Wii. Also available on the WiiU download service… but that system plays Wii discs, anyway. So does that even count?
- Number of players: I laud any game that involves a two player mode that is meant for casual accompaniment. Not enough people celebrate the humble person that wants to participate in a friend’s favorite past time, but has absolutely no skills suited to the task. I blindly tried to help my buddy, One Handed Joe, with his carpentry hobby a couple of years back, and it ended… poorly.
- And where is the joy of movement in Fluzzard? The joy of Fluzzard is selecting another level that does not include Fluzzard.
- Question for the Ages: What nimrod decided they should replace Princess Rosalina with Party Pants Starfy?
Hey, Rosalina, get out of the shot! You’re ruining my bullet point.
- Favorite Powerup: Cloud Mario has saved that plumber’s peperoni more times than I care to admit.
- So, did you beat it? Of course. I got all the stars, and conquered the final daredevil challenge. I even tried that final stage again for this article… and I barely got past the first area. Look, I need to get back in practice, okay?
- But you still beat the repeat of Luigi’s purple coins, right? Some things never leave you.
- What’s in a name? The internal title for Super Mario Galaxy 2 is Super Mario Galaxy More. I agree.
- Did you know? The Flying Star that barely appeared in Super Mario Galaxy is buried in the code of Super Mario Galaxy 2. But it’s not completely forgotten! It has an updated theme, and can be patched into being a wholly working powerup. This seems to suggest that the star was intended to be used in Super Mario Galaxy 2, but was left on the cutting room floor because it was too joyous for this fallen world.
- Would I play again: I love this game. I love it so much. I’d like to be able to play it with a “real” controller, as the wiimote/chuck has never felt 100% natural to me, but, other than that, this is one game that I can practically guarantee I’ll play again.
What’s next? Random ROB… better shut his trap, because I feel like playing Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. That’s just the way it is, robot. Please look forward to it!
Definitely the biggest thing the 3D Mario games have going for them (and which their imitators to this day fail to pick up on) is that a key component for making a good 3D platformer is to have a protagonist that’s fun to control. Like, I’ve enjoyed my time with Banjo-Kazooie, but I’ll take Super Mario 64’s wide array of jumps over Banjo and Kazooie’s random nonsense moves and one-note transformations any day.
Did like the transformations in Banjo-Tooie more than B-K’s though, ‘cuz they had more utility than “walks on surface X” and “flies more differently than Kazooie.”
By the way, you do know that the word “nadir” means the lowest point of something, right.
Dammit. I need a better editor…
Oddly, I used “nadir” right back in the Claymates article when talking about… Super Mario Galaxy.
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