I fell down. I fell up. I spun around and found myself on the other side of the system. I wasn’t sure what was going on in my first run through of Super Mario Galaxy. I could tell it was substantially different from its predecessors, but couldn’t keep my feet down and decide how. As a teenager, I don’t think I really cared. Mario went on vacation once, and this time he’s in outer space — a vacation of sorts, sure. In playing its sequel, I’ve come to the conclusion that what causes this discrepancy — this world’s difference between Mario’s earthly endeavours and this trek into the final frontier — is the manipulation of gravity, by means of physics, level design, and powers-ups.
In prior games, platforming consisted of moving and jumping to avoid chasms and squash enemies. However, with the Galaxy games Mario’s jumping is contingent on the gravitational properties of his grounding, and that of neighbouring planets. There was a time when jumping off a sphere meant falling off it. Instead, the Galaxy games allow for full use of the planetoid’s surface area, marking drops with 90° angles. No edge means no fall; ample space for creative use of cameras, hidden objects and platforms. Lateral jumping in Galaxy equates to riding the land mass’s orbit; working the same way as hopping a chasm, but forcing you to account for much more terrain, or the lack thereof. If Earth was a few meters in size, we could walk around the globe, just like Mario does — a motif inherent and thematically relevant to this galactic mini-series.
And while planet-trotting is stylistically a very striking feature, it seems like it’s a trait best fit for these Galaxy games, evidenced by Nintendo in their lack of planetoids in later entries. Both of those games did, however, feature levels where gravity is mapped to different surfaces in different ways. This only happens in specific levels where the camera’s fixed to expose a cross section and stipulate precise 2D platforming. Arrows on the wall indicate which direction gravity will pull in, meaning that if you’re to jump toward a section of a wall pointing a certain way, that’s the direction you’ll fall in; whatever stretch of land there is now your footing. Puzzles present themselves in the composition of these levels. A single jump can change the direction in which you fall, forcing you hop about as you determine what’s now a wall and what, if anything, constitutes as solid ground.
Power-ups have some interesting uses but new additions are much more ancillary. The Spin Drill, for instance, is sometimes involved in environmental puzzles containing areas that are only accessible by said tool. For the most part, the drill acts a quick way to travel the diameter of a planet — a shortcut to save you from running the entire mass. The Rock Mushroom looks neat, turning Mario into a reckless boulder, though I doubt there are many differences between this new fungus and the glassy, star encasing ball Mario runs on in certain levels. I feel like the only real difference between the two is one of speed, Rock Mario being able to roll faster, much quicker. The Cloud Flower is much more compelling, forcing you to make quick and precise calls on where to place temporary clouds, while limiting the number of floating platforms to three per flower. The hat Mario wears is a nice plus.
Be that as it may, the most exciting use of power-ups in the game comes with our dinosaur friend, Yoshi. Yoshi does what he always does: flutter jumps and eats. The real exciting bit comes with certain fruits that are power-ups specific to the dinosaur. Blimp Fruits take a note from the Bee Mushroom, inflating Yoshi and causing him to float. Dash Peppers are spicy, of course, burning Yoshi’s tongue and making him jet across platforms while leaving limited control to the player. Finally, I found Bulb Berries to be the most interesting power-up, as it creates an area of effect that surrounds Yoshi, illuminating hidden platforms while quickly shrinking its radius. Yoshi needs to consistently eat these berries to reset the radius, making you look around for hidden objects while frantically looking for the next fruit, because if Yoshi goes hungry, any hidden grounding you happen to be standing on will be no more.
On a side note, I found it kind of neat how these Galaxy games happened to incorporate some of the power-ups from Super Mario Sunshine. The Hover Nozzle was borrowed from Peach in Super Mario Bros. 2 (or Lina from Doki Doki Panic depending on how you look at it). The Spring Mushroom is the Rocket Nozzle’s successor, letting Mario puncture the atmosphere with a mere second’s delay. Dash Peppers take the place of the Turbo Nozzle, serving the exact same role of jetting across a strip of land like you would in a 3D Sonic game.
With all this said and done what really peaks my curiosity is what Nintendo plans to use in future instalments, and what is just a niche of the Super Mario Galaxy games. Maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it — maybe each Super Mario game is an amalgam of everything that surrounds it and came before it. I feel like the gravity bending, mind numbing level design is something that fits in within the surreal level design of the series, particularly the 3D ones. Running around planets may be a bit difficult to implement in lateral platformers but flipping the switch on gravity is something that could and should be implemented into future releases, just as it was in Thomas Was Alone. To top it all off, there’s no thematic limitation to gravity switching wallpaper so it can easily stick its feet to where ever its being pulled to.