In this series of articles celebrating the upcoming 30th Anniversary of Super Mario, various members of the Nintendo Life extended family will share their memories and thoughts on the iconic franchise. This time we have our charming reviewer Joel Couture.
There was a long period in my life where I felt I needed violence in my games to keep me interested. I craved the headshot, the sound of sword meeting flesh, the crunch of fists slamming into bone. If I didn't have those things, then the game was childish. Built for little kids. Not for me, a grown man who needed to see people hurt to know he was playing serious games for serious players. This was where I was at back in 2007, playing Gears of War on my new Xbox 360 and feeling nothing but regret for my Wii purchase.
Super Mario Galaxy rolled around that year in November. In the days before I worked the launch at Gamestop I'd look at the back of the box on my lunch breaks. Walking on planets? Jumping across whole worlds? That sounded kind of neat. Jumping on goombas, though? Kicking turtle shells, all while listening to Mario's endlessly joyous cries? That was the sort of stuff I played while plunked on the bedroom floor with my dad when I was young. Not for this discerning adult, who needed corpses and angst. What did the smiling plumber have to offer me any more?
I felt something I hadn't felt while playing games for a long time: wonder. I was in awe of the massive, plant-covered planets that swirled through the beautiful cosmos, seeing all the lush colour contrasted against the black skies. Moreso, I was in awe of the powerful happiness I felt exploring those worlds, leaping from one planet's gravity to the next, feeling I would hurtle off into space with every jump. But I didn't. As usual, the grinning plumber had everything well under control so long as I gave him the right directions. All that was left was for me to savour the thrill of being able to jump across planets and hurtle through space - a delightful dream I could relive whenever I liked.
Somewhere along the way, I'd forgotten that games can make you feel happy, and that something that made you smile wasn't just built for children. I'd forgotten that Nintendo, while crafting excellent games, was also the only developer in the world who seemed capable of harnessing joy and turning it into a gameplay experience. Unlimited days of sunshine and play lie before me when Mario was with me, as well as all of the triumphs and crushing defeats of the gritty games I felt I had to play as an adult.
Super Mario Galaxy helped me welcome wonder back into my gaming life. It reminded me how good it felt to feel happy while playing a game, and that a powerful imagination could be worth far more than a thousand hours of bleak 'realism'. No wonder that Mario, the character who'd showed me the joy of games to begin with, was the one to bring that joy back when I thought I needed to leave it behind.