Man is the opening of Super Mario Galaxy awful. I’d heard the front-end cutscene was obnoxious, but the playable bits ain’t much better. Well, I suppose that’s one way to set expectations. In this case, though, it’s pretty unnecessary because what follows is jaw droppingly great.
I mean I’ll be damned if that isn’t the wickedest virtual playground I’ve seen, complete with gravity effects that largely inhibit my well documented falling allergy. In Galaxy, all the vertigo-inducing fun of Descent comes rushing back; this time alongside the whimsy of The Little Prince’s tiny planets, each one different. A friend put it this way:
One of the best things is that nothing lasts too long. They have ideas in the game that could be their own full fledged title. Then they just throw it away. Creatively, it’s an embarrassment of riches.
While I’m still not the biggest fan of lives as a game mechanic, it’s hard to worry much about it when you’re rushing headlong through clever idea after clever idea. It’s startling.
Speaking of embarrassment of riches, the industry as a whole has found itself in something of a new golden age, too. How’s that? Here’s a proof point: before this year, Edge magazine (known for its notoriously tough reviews) had only given a top score to 4 games in its 14 year history: Mario 64, Gran Turismo, Halo, and Half-Life 2. This year, though, we’ve already had two more (Halo 3, The Orange Box). Assuming Mario Galaxy also gets a 10 (seems likely), that’s 3 in just one year.
And what I find fascinating is that each of the new 10s leads in its own way. Halo 3’s Forge pushes the envelope in game-based collaborative end user content creation, The Orange Box overwhelms us with volume and variety (single and multi-player, old and new, episodic and self contained). And Mario, well, Mario goes old school by comparison — relying on bite sized chunks of breathtaking single-player gameplay (plus nostalgia) to find its future. Diversity is the future of gaming. Greatness don’t hurt either.
While some (myself included) often long for the good old days of the 80’s arcade scene and others lambaste the new school as utter garbage, it’s pretty clear we’ve found ourselves alive at a pretty special time. And I’ll be damned if a certain well traveled plumber isn’t leading the way again. Evergreen indeed.
For more on the design of Mario’s new world, see Gamasutra’s Garden To Galaxy.
Update: It’s official — the Christmas Edge gave Mario Galaxy a 10.