…of the Decade: The Platformer (Super Mario Galaxy)

December 28, 2009

The PS2 had a glut of fantastic platforming franchises (Jak, Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, and so on), and there’s certainly something to be said for bringing multiplayer to the fore like New Super Mario Bros. Wii did, but I don’t remember any game turning my perception of a genre on its ear like Super Mario Galaxy did.

It’s hard to quantify just what it is that puts Super Mario Galaxy so far ahead of its platformer competition, because it doesn’t do anything strictly original — Mario’s been doing 3D for a long damn time now, the “adventures on little worlds” thing was actually Ratchet & Clank‘s thing before it was Mario’s, and the presence of a hub world, however cute and imaginative, is far from a new concept at this point. No, Super Mario Galaxy didn’t do anything new, but it was the sort of game that just gives you that feeling. It’s the feeling of being a part of something magical, about playing a game, but also being along for a ride.

Super Mario Galaxy was the game that proved that the Wii didn’t need the graphical horsepower of its dream-machine counterparts to deliver a near-unparalleled visual experience. It did this by creating worlds of such vitality and variability as to make every one, every little floating rock in this particular galaxy, a living thing in its own right.

On top of the wonder of it all is a story. Mario’s games don’t typically have a story worth telling. There’s a problem, and the only solution is jumping and stomping until the problem has been solved. In Super Mario Galaxy, however, there is a melancholy undercurrent to the old save-the-princess narrative, thanks to the presence of Rosalina, one of the most unexpectedly memorable characters in a Mario game in a long time. Her story unfolds slowly as the game goes on, and eventually we see a lovely, gently sad tale of someone making the best of a bad situation. Long after memories of the specific platforming situations have dissolved, Rosalina’s story remains.

All these strengths aside, I’m not sure that Super Mario Galaxy is the most important platformer of the aughts; surely something like Jak & Daxter, with its open-world structure, or Ratchet & Clank with its hilarious and innovative focus on weaponry would take that spot. Super Mario Galaxy‘s experience was the most memorable, however, and for that, it is my own personal platformer of the decade.


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