Mario and the New Golden Age of Gaming

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.

6 Responses to “Mario and the New Golden Age of Gaming”

  1. 1 Justin Ruckman

    I am seriously salivating for a Wii.

  2. 2 Scott Lewis

    Who is your friend that you’re quoting? He sounds so smart and is probably a total stud too.

  3. 3 Jason

    Justin: I love mine! It’s interesting to see what’s happening in the market, too. Wii sales continue to be stellar but stellar games like Mario aren’t selling quite as well as expected. Could it be the other shoe of Nintendo’s demographic expansion is dropping? What exactly does that new market look for in a game, anyway? Regardless, publishers can’t ignore Nintendo’s explosive Wii sales. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the next year or so.

    Scott: Good question! Too bad my memory ain’t what it used to be. ;-)

  4. 4 David Simon

    Perhaps Galaxy isn’t selling as well as Assassin’s Creed not due to comparative lack of interest, but because it’s harder to find a copy? I know that I only landed my copy of Galaxy because I pre-ordered it well in advance. Are supplies of AC in similar short order?

    Also, Jason… what was wrong with the opening scenes? It’s no Half-Life 2 opening, certainly, but it seemed enjoyable enough to me; that doomship theme is exciting stuff.

  5. 5 David Simon

    (Looking back… “short order” isn’t really a synonym for “small quantity”, is it? Heh.)

  6. 6 Jason

    hm. Dunno about supplies of Assassin’s Creed. I was able to walk into the store and buy a copy of Mario a couple days after release, though, no problem. Maybe supplies are lagging in certain markets? From what I’ve read, sales of Galaxy have been better in the US than in Japan or the UK but even the US is below expectations.

    On the opening scenes: I didn’t feel like they fit all that well with the rest of the game, either thematically or play-wise (though I did like the way the flying saucer animated). The whole thing just felt tacked on to me. It’s interesting to note that there was some disagreement on this in the development process, too. Galaxy game director Yoshiaki Koizumi:

    When we were talking about the game, Mr. Miyamoto said, “You know, maybe we don’t need to include a lot of movies or to have that much of a story at all.” But I tend to like that sort of thing in games, and I’m always looking for ways to communicate story to the player. (ign)

    I think I’m with Miyamoto on that one, but to each their own. It’s a fantastic game and if the intro story helps it sell more, I’m all for it.

Leave a Reply

E-mail It