I took advantage of the weekend and nights sneaking out of the office just after dark, to play some of Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii. I’m about 31 stars in, and I’ve come to two conclusions: 1) It deserves all the perfect reviews it’s been getting, and 2) I’m old.
Now, it doesn’t take much to remind me of my increasing decrepitude these days, but with Super Mario Galaxy, it’s a double whammy. First because I keep getting shown that my reflexes are less suited to running upside down and having to jump on top of things than they are to watching “Matlock.” Second because I can still vividly remember playing Super Mario 64 for the first time, and I’m not getting that same feeling from this one.
Not because Galaxy is a worse game by any stretch, but just because it’s not the same. Playing Mario 64 wasn’t just a revelation; it was one revelation after another. Just running around outside the castle and leaping off of trees was about as close to pure concentrated fun that you’re ever going to see in a game. And each new secret area you found or level you opened was a real discovery — wait, there’s an underwater level and a secret haunted castle in this game?!? No way!
Galaxy throws so much stuff at you, it’s every bit as big and varied as Mario 64, if not more so. I’m not even halfway through the game yet, and I’ve already played at least a dozen different types of games (flying around in a bee suit, running on top of a rolling ball, surfing on the back of a manta ray) and seen even more in screenshots. And just the basic stuff it throws at you is impressively brain-bending: you spend the opening levels running all around planetoids in the midst of a field of space junk, jumping between the gravitational pull of different planets without being sucked into a black hole.
Not to mention that most of it is set to space adventure music with cool entry sequences for each level where Mario flies through space encircled by comets. It all reminds me of that early-80s-at-Epcot-Center stage, when space travel had just matured past the awkward late 70s but was still pretty cool.
If I were to write a transcript of my game so far (minus the frequent swearing) and send it to myself ten years in the past, I don’t think I would’ve believed it. And I’m sure I would’ve said that it’s the best videogame ever made.
But the grizzled version of me just keeps noticing how the camera is never quite where I need it to be to keep me from getting sucked into a black hole or hit by a Koopa charging at me. Or that there’s clearly a line of coins leading to some secret level, but I don’t have the time or patience to be running after that kind of stuff. Or that I’m sure there’s already videos of kids on YouTube who’ve gotten perfect timed runs in this level or managed to find all 50 coins, but I don’t have any interest in duplicating that achievement. Or that there’s something vaguely disturbing about dressing up in a bee suit and running all over the thorax of a giant moaning queen bee. Or that that stupid Cosmic Mario clone keeps racing me and he cheats like a bastard.
Or really, that I’m past the age of the perfect audience for this game. Nintendo’s got the right idea with the Wii, of course, and they’ve done another fantastic job with a Mario game that genuinely appeals to all ages; I can’t think of any other videogame that has such universal appeal. So I’m in the audience, I’m just not the perfect audience, the people who open up another level and realize that they’re seeing something unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.