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Understanding The Fun of Super Mario Galaxy
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Understanding The Fun of Super Mario Galaxy


February 1, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

Social Fun

Mario Galaxy is primary a one-player gamer's game (lots of hard fun), but it includes a brilliant two-player feature that will surely become a standard. Some dismiss this feature as "tacked on," but something that strikes such an exactly correct note was surely a carefully considered feature. The two-player co-pilot feature is intended for a non-gamer to enjoy the game alongside a gamer. I call it "girlfriend mode," and it adds a lot of social fun to a game that would otherwise have nearly none of that kind of fun.

The second player uses their own Wiimote, but does not use the nunchuck add-on (what non-gamer would want to anyway?) The second player gets their own cursor on-screen that can collect the many star bits littered throughout most levels. The second player (as well as the main player) can shoot these star bits at enemies. The star bits are basically like a shared pool of ammunition, and the second player can add to that pool and deplete it by shooting.

The greatness of this feature is in the details. First, the main player never actually needs the help of a second player, so this isn't like forced grouping in an MMO. Also, the second player can enter and leave the game at any time without any annoyance or stop in the action. When the co-pilot is helping, they feel like they are contributing because collecting star bits and shooting enemies is at least somewhat helpful.

Also, there are several times in the game where a special NPC appears who asks you to contribute a bunch of star bits in order to unlock a new level. This means you can't completely ignore collecting star bits, and again, the co-pilot is contributing by collecting them. There are certain times when the main player is too engaged in hard fun platforming to be able to collect star bits at the same time, and this is yet another situation where the co-pilot can contribute.

The role of the co-pilot is kept from having too much impact because shooting enemies does not actually kill them (it momentarily stuns them). Also, even without a co-pilot, any hardcore gamer worth his salt would be able to get enough star bits that no co-pilot is needed. But the non-gamer co-pilot doesn't know that!

Finally, the co-pilot's role consists entirely of easy fun. There is no way to actually fail at anything as a co-pilot. You just collect star bits whenever you feel like it, and shoot enemies if it seems like it would help.

If at any point your co-pilot would prefer to sit there and do nothing or put down the controller and check on the stove, that doesn't cause any problems. Because the co-pilot has no pressure, it's easy to suck in a non-gamer. You get their in-game help, you get their observations about where a secret might be hidden, and most importantly, you'll actually communicate back and forth about things (aka social fun).

Surprise and Wonder

In addition to these types of fun, Nicole Lazzaro also mentions several types of emotions that come up in games. I already mentioned fiero, the emotion you feel when you achieve something difficult. Mario Galaxy also creates the very rare game-emotions of surprise and wonder. That's quite an accomplishment considering the game's genre is well-worn territory, but the twists on gravity are interesting enough that sometimes you just sit back and say "wow, that's cool!"

The surprise part is that you feel the wonder part several different times as the gravity tricks change. Just when you thought it was cool to run around the surface of spherical planets, you get to a room where "down" can potentially be any surface.

Then a level where you can flip switches to change the direction of gravity. Then a level where moving spotlights determine exactly where a different direction of gravity is "shining" on an otherwise normal level. There are enough surprises to go around, and I've already ruined most of them for you.


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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