Have we become spoiled by Mario games?
Arguing that Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn’t a success is like trying to convince a group of 14-year-old girls Justin Bieber is just an amateur hour hack, only you’re more likely to come out alive. Galaxy 2 has received among the most consistently high marks of any game this year and sold 2.65 million copies since the end of June.
Yet mine the mountain of praise for the game and you can pick out some nuggets of discontent, many of which are similar to the following note left on Goozex:
“it looks and feels just like the first game the only real change is you get yoshi. yoshi should have been an add on if you beat the first game. over all its just a lame remake of the first. i reccomend just getting super mario galaxy 1 and save your self the money”
There may never have been reason to consider it in the past, but Mario games copying the aesthetic and thematic templates of a predecessor is only a recent development. When accounting for the timeline of “main” Mario platforming games from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Galaxy, each title is arguably a significant departure from the one before — whether in controls, perspective or artistic design — often furthered by the evolution of the hardware. The motif doesn’t largely repeat itself until New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but even then the unprecedented 4-player mode can be said to have considerably shaken up the formula.
Mario Galaxy 2 is, if not the first, then the clearest instance of an “expansion” of sorts; an unchanged core template that adds a few relatively minor elements instead of renovating. And on the surface, what’s so wrong with that? Series such as Ratchet & Clank and Halo adhere to similar formulas throughout many of their sequels, yet have never received much criticism for it. As well they shouldn’t, since they are both very structurally solid and well-loved by many. On the other hand, a series such as Final Fantasy is praised for providing a wealth of new stories and concepts, yet this leads to a lot of infighting over certain games being better or preferable over others.
Is it such a crime that Mario Galaxy 2 aims to give players more of what they enjoyed in the first? And yet, perhaps out of such high expectations, it’s understandable where some critics find their disappointment.
One of the most exhilarating aspects of Mario Galaxy was the “galaxy” setup itself. By creating a wealth of small, independent worlds, it felt like there was almost no limit to what the next unlocked world could be — especially with someone like Miyamoto at the helm. Hunt for silver stars in a bee outfit? Sure, why not. Hop across a giant pixelated Mario made up of vanishing platforms? Fun stuff. Go to town!
These ideas were quirky and extremely fresh in the first game, which makes the fact that you see the exact same setups in Mario Galaxy 2 somewhat disheartening. There’s a similar bee world with a similar goal — you even find the last silver star on the queen like you did your first time around! Pixelated Mario returns in its own stage. Tributes? Maybe, but other copies seem pretty shameless. The Freezeflame Galaxy was a neat idea in the first game. It didn’t mean we needed a Shiverburn Galaxy in the second.
By its very nature, I think a lot of people were expecting to see many more new experiences in Mario Galaxy 2. There are certainly many places where it delivers. Cloud Mario and the drill pickup are utilized in especially satisfying ways, while Yoshi and his accompanying transformations are just plain fun. There are certainly some refreshing worlds to explore as well, but unfortunately the “this is kind of familiar” aspect does try to eat away at a number of them. I don’t think it makes playing the worlds any less entertaining, but once you leave the game and take a more external view, it does make one wonder what newer ideas could have been employed and whether some of that “magic” is missing.
I’ve had it theorized to me that some of these similar-feeling worlds may have been included to take advantage of the more involved “co-star” two-player mode. I can’t really argue with that, either. It’s possible, but is it more or less important than trying to provide “all-new” content?
Ultimately, how important is it really to provide an entirely different feel to games; especially successful, time-tested formulas like the Mario series? It is a question that seems to weigh on the mind of Nintendo recently. Just look at the ever-changing art style of the Legend of Zelda series, likely a move at the pressure of fans who still pick up every game as a small masterpiece but complain that they “feel the same.” Mario Galaxy 2, when considered entirely on its own, is a fantastic game. Is it unfair that we question it by comparing its similarities to the first, or are we entirely warranted in doing so?
I honestly know if there is a right answer, or what the implications are of following a certain route in game design. It may be entirely dependent upon each series and its core audience, or it may not. I do know one thing for sure, however: Good luck to that guy thinking you can pick up the first Galaxy somewhere for cheap.