SMG- 1up Review of a Review
Saturday, November 10, 2007 at 4:48PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Critique, Review, Structuralism

It's the week of Mario, so I decided to review another Galaxy review.

Jeremy Parish wrote this Review of Super Mario Galaxy.

Although this review is short and clean, the topics Parish touches on hint at his remarkably deep understanding of Super Mario Galaxy. I originally intended to lift a few quotes from his review to comment on, but I ended up with quite a few. Now I must comment on all of them.

At the end of this re-review, I'll discuss how I would have liked Parish to continued while comparing the points of discussion with Iwata Asks: Super Mario Galaxy.

"It is an exceptional game by any standard, Mario or otherwise. It doesn't invent new kinds of gameplay, but it represents something that is perhaps equally important: A rethinking of how 3D platformers should work."

This statement is one of the many cliche statements found in many Super Mario Galaxy reviews. It's quite a statement indeed, and where most quickly shy away from backing it up, Parish continues....

"Galaxy strips away those encumbrances, revisits the essential concepts that made its esteemed predecessor so enjoyable, and then expands on them in new and intriguing ways."

From here Parish has set up how the rest (or at least some) of his review will be structured. By comparing Galaxy to Mario64, and Sunshine, Parish attempts to define what he means by "a rethinking of how 3D platformers should work." For those of us who are familiar with Miyamoto's game design philosophies, it is no coincidence that the previous two 3D Mario games are the best in the genre. So what may look like a cross comparison of 3D Mario "predecessor(s)" is essentially a comparison of the best platformers.

Paris clearly identifies what he feels are the encumbrances: "needlessly complex controls and obsessive-compulsive item collection." He quickly comments on how Galaxy has less to collect than Sunshine thus its design shifts back towards the design of Mario64. Then, Parish comments on how the collection in Galaxy has been dynamically redesigned.
 
"To make collection even less of a chore, Galaxy uses the Wii Remote as a cursor that allows you to gather star bits by simply pointing at them, regardless of how far away from Mario they happen to be. In fact, Wii functionality is incorporated into Galaxy more subtly and effectively than in any action game to date, and it allows for a simplified control scheme that nevertheless offers Mario more varied control options than ever before -- an amazing accomplishment in itself."

By using the Wii remote's pointer function, the player is given a level of control that is subtle, effective, and adds a new variation that's executed with more finesse than "any action game to date." Without explicitly stating so, Parish has explained how Galaxy has surpassed Mario64's level of collection: "that nevertheless offers Mario more varied control options than ever before." Parish then moves on to controls.

"The streamlined controls are more than simply a reaction to the overbearing interfaces common in modern platformers, too. They're born of necessity"

Jeremy Parish almost restated the "essence of Mario" in this quote. In the Ask Iwata interviews, Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Mario) was finally able to put the "essence of Mario" (what trule makes a Mario game a Mario game) into words. According to Miyamoto, "Mario is to create form around function." In other words, all of the elements in a Mario world create the world that is defined by Mario's abilities (and subsequently the players sole means of interaction/expression). This philosophy at its best results in a game where there are no bumps, rocks, or enemies randomly placed in the level. Every enemy, animation, sound, and action work together to support how the game is played because that is the only means the player has to interact with the game world. And through this close relationship of form and function, the player feels a deeper connection with the game world.

Taking away the uneeded elements of a platformer resulted in a game where a complex control scheme was unnecessary. In this way, the philosophy of the game design filters into the rest of the game's formal elements (like controls).

"You've never done these things before in a videogame, but Galaxy makes even the wildest challenge feel almost second nature. Its subtle, intelligent visual design deserves much of the credit for easing players into the unfamiliar; everything you can do (and must do) is indicated by the shapes of platforms, by the placement of telltale shadows on the ground, or by NPCs pantomiming your actions."

When the entire game world is designed with the player in mind, it is no wonder that "the wildest challenge [can] feel almost second nature." When every "platform" and "shape" is quietly telling you "you can make this jump" or "try this," understanding the game world and its rules becomes as easy as looking at the screen.


"The orchestrated themes are as vast and majestic as befits a game that spans the universe, and the sly interweaving of dynamic sound and classic motifs creates a soundscape that is quintessentially Mario yet uncharacteristically sophisticated."

Under "The Sound Team" section in the Iwata Asks: Super Mario Galaxy, the "vast and majestic" sounds and the dynamics of the sound designed are discussed throughly. Again, it's as if Parish read the interviews. I don't know if he had or not, but it's clear that his comments align with the developers.

And shortly after, Parish wraps up his review quite succinctly. Staying far away from plot summaries, or long lists of new features, world types, and/or powerups, Jeremy Parish stuck to his formula of detailing why Super Mario Galaxy is "the difference between a good game and a great game."

To dip in a little critical theory, I think if Parish intended to write in a critical mode he would chosen Structuralism.

Others have mentioned interesting structures in Mario Galaxy, but few have expounded on these areas. Matt Casamasssina commented in an IGNpodcast, that the level designed for the planetoids in Super Mario Galaxy very very similar to 2D levels found in classic Mario games like Super Mario Bros. 3. This is a deep concept that should be explored. Unfortunately, I found Casamassina's Galaxy review to be devoid of any such material and deep analysis/thought.

Parish has several governing structures/ideas that he has found in Galaxy as evident in his review.

On this last point, though Parish didn't mention the 2D nature of the planetoids like Casamassina, he did explain the Wii remote pointer as being a control element that transforms 3D space into 2D space: "Galaxy uses the Wii Remote as a cursor that allows you to gather star bits by simply pointing at them, regardless of how far away from Mario they happen to be." The function of retrieving an object in 3D space by pointing at it's location on a 2D screen, transforms all of these "candy" bits into collectibles that exist on a 2D plain. While this function may seem like it's reducing the depth and complexity of "candy" collection, remember that the 2D image on the screen is relative to the camera position that dynamically moves in 3D space according to how the player controls Mario. So, though Mario's controls are very simple, they affect the other elements of controls and gameplay simultaneously.

 

Linking these structures to more universal human experiences will require more study with the game. When I get my hands on Galaxy, I'll be sure to write a a few articles in several different critical modes to better demonstrate the difference between a game review and a critical essay.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.