Edge Magazine has a lengthy feature on Nintendo's upcoming Super Mario Galaxy that you should read. It works to confirm what I've been suspecting for some time now: this new Mario game is going to be something special. Magical, even. It's hard to believe that this is only the second Mario game after the landmark Super Mario 64. Only the poor, battered Super Mario Sunshine on Gamecube, a title that was widely seen as a disappointment, even if it does have it's adherents. Perhaps, then, we began to feel that Mario 64 represented the final, great peak, the Abbey Road of the whole Mario universe; and even, to a greater extent, modern videogames.
Is it just me, or have games become creatively stale and bland? Everyone's just going through the motions, following the safe established patterns and cliches. There's none of that sense of wonder and imagination from Super Mario 64. That game was loaded with surprises, with a sense of the playful, like running around in a lucid dream. And that dream has largely become lost. Perhaps this is due to the skyrocketing costs of game production, now reaching $20 or #30 million per title. Perhaps today's immense design teams preclude the creative spark you once had from a handful of creative minds, or just one. It's hard to say. And, maybe, just maybe, I'm just getting to old to be playing videogames. Hell, some folks my age already have kids who are teenagers. Now that's sobering.
There's been precious little to hold my imagination since the great Sega Dreamcast (still the best games console of the decade). But Super Mario Galaxy has my interest. You can tell when a person has hit the zone. I think Shigeru Miyamoto and his team are about to hit a grand slam. You can just feel it in the breeze. There are a few games that I'd really like to get my hands on, mind you; Halo 3, or Metroid Prime 3, for example. But those are refinements of now-ancient genres. Mario Galaxy feels genuinely fresh, new. I get the feeling that we're finally in uncharted territory again.
Strange, isn't it, that videogames have almost limitless hardware power now, almost nothing that could stop a development studio from creating whatever the hell they want. None of those terrible memory constraints of the past (can you imagine Atari's stoner wizards trying to pack their 2600 VCS classics onto a cartridge with only 4 or 8 kilobytes?), no worries about lack of colors or sound chips, no concerns that the graphics engine couldn't render enough aliens or monsters on the screen. So why isn't anyone taking advantage of this? Why are my only choices on the store shelves limited to Driving Game, Grand Theft Auto Game, and Doom Game?
Mario Galaxy gets me excited again. Miyamoto is promising to change all of that, to show once again to the world how it can be done. He's been reinventing the wheel for a quarter century now. He's done it so many times I've lost count. Could you even imagine what video games would have been like without him? Ugh.
Anyway, enough of me and my screeds. Although, I have to say, it is nicer to speculate and debate something beside endless war and death. If only this were the greatest problem facing humanity, eh?
The Edge article is a superb read. Check it out. Here's a sample, from the final paragraph:
What’s surprising is how familiar it is, and yet how utterly fresh it still feels. Every previous game in the series seems to have been considered as a possible source for new material. It views and uses one of the most venerable histories in gaming as only a truly confident title can, and is something you want to prod and poke and simply play with. No one yet knows if Galaxy can maintain the momentum and range of its early showings, and avoid the repetition that marred Sunshine. No one yet knows if it will be able to thrive on the unavoidable comparisons to one of gaming’s landmark titles. They’re unfair, in a sense, because nothing can ever match up to that moment when you set your eyes on Mario 64; nothing ever could compare to that change in dimension. But Super Mario Galaxy has something of its own. It’s the sense of a universe of possibilities with everything you can imagine, and more that you can’t. It’s a sheer joy. It’s the sense of something you thought may have been lost to videogames returning. The feeling of wonder might, just might, be coming back.