This past week, just about every spare moment I’ve had has been spent playing Super Mario Galaxy 2. It’s a remarkable game in a number of ways, but perhaps one of its most significant achievements – and, indeed, one of Nintendo’s most significant achievements – often goes unnoticed.
This evening I picked up the Wii remote and nunchuk just to make Mario run around his little spaceship hub, and I was thinking how infrequently I do this with other games. Put simply, Mario’s just an absolute joy to control. Simply moving him around the game’s masterfully constructed environments is a delight in and of itself.
It’s amazing how few games get the feeling of avatar movement quite so perfect, to the point where it’s a pleasure simply to push forwards on the analogue stick and feel the game’s protagonist move exactly how you want them to. I’ve played so many games where characters skate across the surface they’re on, where the running animation feels wrong, where there’s little real connection with the game world. Perhaps they run too quickly or too slowly, or they have too large a turning circle, or their inertia feels somehow ‘off’.
It’s been said that Nintendo spends a significant amount of development time just getting its characters to move and control in a satisfying way, before building the gameplay around that idea, and that one idea is perhaps why I have such a lot of time for so many of its in-house titles. It’s often easy to tell the games developed internally at the Kyoto giant from those farmed out to second-parties, and the difference is evident in the way they control.
Mario in particular is a character that you innately know how to move, and who always responds in the way you expect him to. To me he feels just a little less weighty and that tiny bit more responsive in the 3D games – I guess that’s where analogue control trumps digital – but then there are plenty of gamers who prefer the precision of the digital control in his 2D adventures. Either way, when you pick up that controller, you know exactly where you stand with him. There’s a confidence to be gained from that, a confidence that you don’t always have in those early minutes with a new game. Getting used to the way an avatar moves is something Nintendo doesn’t have to worry about; instead it can just get on with the business of creating fun.