Super Mario Galaxy…truly the best?

Super Mario Galaxy has overtaken the spot of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as the highest-rated game ever on the metarating site Gamerankings.com. It sold a half-million copies in the first week, which while still being a far cry from the media blitz that was Halo 3, makes Mario Galaxy the fastest-selling Mario game ever made. It’s certainly a blast to play, with fantastic music and gorgeous visuals underlining the superior level design that makes you want to touch, explore, and interact with the world – each of the planets in fact begs to be discovered.

However, is Super Mario Galaxy really that great? It’s certainly fun to play, and it certainly has its flaws (all games do), but is Super Mario Galaxy such a good game because it is really the best or is it because of something else?

Certainly we can complain that the ratings of today seem to be worth less than they did before, that reviewers are more willing to give a game an 8 or a 9 when it doesn’t really deserve it. But not all reviewers will make that mistake.

Instead, the reason that Super Mario Galaxy is considered the best is because, well, it’s Mario. I’ll have to thank my friend JesseD for pointing this out, but if you think about it, if Super Mario Galaxy was using Rayman characters – or even if it starred Luigi or Sonic the Hedgehog – it wouldn’t be rated that highly. (And here we’re not simply talking about replacing all the characters but altering the design to feel like a Rayman or Luigi game).

Why is Mario better than Rayman? Is his character design more charismatic, easier to relate than Sonic? Or is it more the legacy Mario’s games have left us that make him a more recognizable character? After all, everybody likes the red plumber with the goofy mustache – the Italian from Brooklyn is even more famous than Mickey Mouse. Brand recognition and nostalgia are nearly impossible to beat, and the fact that Super Mario Galaxy is a Mario game turns it from being a “quality game to a quality game with a guaranteed paved road to success.” And a No.1 spot on Gamerankings.

So does this mean that all the Raymen in the world are doomed to obscurity? Well, not really – they simply have a harder time of getting recognized. They have to build their reputations. A good way to do so, is to essentially help redefine a genre, like Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry and God of War did for the 3D action game. These names are recognizable today because not only were the games good, but they also did something original that no other game of its kind had done before – or if it did, then these games did it just a little bit better. If all the game does is try to parrot what the greats do, then there’s a good chance it either simply won’t be a good game or that even if it is a good game, it will seem derivative.

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2 Responses to “Super Mario Galaxy…truly the best?”

  1. gundamndirk Says:

    You are completely correct. Celebrity works in video games in much the same way it works in the film industry. As faces repeat themselves in the media, they become symbols of all the meanings they have borne in past appearances. The more a face appears in the media, the more power it gains. Examples for films aren’t necessary–everyone can provide their own for films–but this is not widely commented upon. Shit movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger such as Kindergarten Cop may be widely recognized as shit, but they would be truly awful if composed of unknowns.

    Mario has the force of 23+ years of near-perfect branding. He was there right at the beginning, and he occupies the earliest waking memories of today’s gaming crowd. He’s been around since before people as old as you and I could THINK. In character he’s a symbol of purity and originality, a successful emblem of the desired image of the Mario franchise–of Nintendo too. They want to be seen as staying true to vg’s roots. Mario IS those roots.

  2. johnwharris Says:

    I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree on this point, mostly because if it’s possible for a character to be un-marketable as possible, Mario is it.

    Mario is an Italian plumber living in Mushroom World who saves princesses. While over the years a huge amount of cruft and clutter has adhered to the character, he’s really never changed from that. There might be Mario lunchboxes (I’m not kidding there really are, there at a local Wal-Mart!), but no one “loves” the character of Mario. He’s a nobody; he never has a speaking role in this games other than generic exclamations, and he has no personality. The only identifying people can do with him is because they have to play as him in many games. This is true even in the Paper Mario games! As a silent protagonist, he puts Crono to shame! Simply put, he’s a cipher.

    But because of this, it’s easy to see where Mario’s popularity comes from. There’s no charisma there at all. It’s entirely because of the games. Whether one likes Galaxy or not (for the record, I like it a whole lot), any popularity it derives from being a Mario game is from the brand name, it promising an experience like we had with Super Mario Bros. long ago, rather than the character.

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