digital_hackery (2007-51)

Galaxy Quest

Digital hackery

The latest Mario epic explores strange, new worlds of gameplay

by Dave Prince

If Godzilla is Japanese pop cultureâ’s answer to the atomic bomb, then Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendoâ’s latest entry in its flagship series, is their bubblegum space-opera recreation of Apocalypse Now.

Bear with me on this one. First, clear your head of any preconceived notions about Mario Galaxy simply being a game. The Wiiâ’s first year on the market should help with thisâ"despite selling like hotcakes, the consoleâ’s best offerings are by and large not the meaty fare that classically-trained gamers have grown to expect. The Wiiâ’s fledgling library isnâ’t bad, but the games ask new things from their players.

During Phase I of Nintendoâ’s insidious Wii-based plans, the company used its innovative control scheme, competition-undercutting price tag, and family-friendly launch titles to develop a user base that has passed the 10-million mark. Nintendo has used this last year to subtly call into question each of those 10-million-plus usersâ’ perceptions of gaming. Hop up and down, Nintendo demands. Shake your remote! Make a character that looks like you! Use him to box a character that looks like your little brother!

If Galaxy is any indication, Phase II will be devoted to expanding that questioning attitude to an extent that threatens to warp playersâ’ views of reality itself. Galaxy is tricky in doing so; Nintendo surely wouldnâ’t have spent the last year (and arguably the last two decades) insinuating itself so cunningly into the American home only to blatantly blow its cover during the Wiiâ’s second holiday season.

On its surface, Galaxy is a slick, polished entry in the series. Marioâ’s cartoon style lends itself to the Wiiâ’s comparative lack of graphic prowess, allowing the developers to push the boundary dividing artistic vision and end-user experience without taxing the Little Console That Could. (Iâ’m copyrighting that phrase, Nintendo. Pay up.) The result isnâ’t photorealistic, but when youâ’re talking about a series whose live-action representations include Captain Lou Albano and Bob Hoskins, staying cartoon-y could be a wise move. The control scheme remains intuitive, utilizing the Wiiâ’s motion-sensing functions in fun little ways without being enslaved by them. The story is streamlinedâ"â“Man vs. Giant Princess-Kidnapping Turtleâ” might as well be taught as a classic literary conflictâ"and the gameâ’s objectives are broken up into bite-sized pieces that make playing the game as long or as short an experience as youâ’d like.

Beneath this friendly façade, however, bubbles madness. Having jumped their mascot across every imaginable terrestrial backdrop, Nintendo knew they had to send Mario somewhere else. They looked to the skies for answers. Something out there looked back, and in doing so, made everything different.

Galaxy is far from being just a â“Mario in Spaceâ” repaint. Your chelonian nemesis, having exhausted all earthly methods of retribution, uses weird powers from beyond the stars in an attempt to recreate the universe in his own image, and in doing so flings you into a representation of space which is maddening to behold, yet just scientifically grounded enough to cause you to V-chip the Discovery Channel in self-defense.

This new take on the old formula warps the gameâ’s dynamic from the seriesâ’ norms just enough to make the player question everything he knows about platform games. Depending on your proximity to everything else in the universe, a simple jump may take you back to your starting point, to the next-nearest space-borne body, onto what was seconds ago the wall of some extraterrestrial fungusâ’ space-house, halfway across the galaxy, or out into the cold, unfeeling void, where They await.

Compared to your standard-issue gaming experience, the end result is fascinatingly alien, like playing through an episode of Teletubbies as scripted by H.P. Lovecraft and Stanley Kubrick. The presentation, though, the slick smiling-devil cheerfulness of it all, draws you in and absolutely will not let you go. At the whim of a space-faring immortal sorceress/queen of nothing, youâ’ll climb inexplicable mountains of cake in a galaxy made from childrenâ’s toys, youâ’ll fight giant coconut-spitting octopi made of lava on asteroids shaped like jelly donuts, youâ’ll frantically bounce from platform to platform in a giant spring-suit while pursued by an invisible mad artist whose brush-strokes erase reality itself, and the only question your mind will be able to form is when do I get to punch that turtle?

Mark my words: Nintendo means for you to leave your sanity behind in Galaxy. But like The Simpsonsâ’ Bond-villain parody Hank Scorpio, what you get out of the deal is so enjoyable that you wonâ’t care how evil it is.


All content © 2007 Metropulse .