Mario Galaxy Lights The Way With Co-Star

Mario Galaxy shows how to make co-op gaming inclusive and a regular part of any couples social life

 This post was originally published on my personal blog about games design Heaven Twiddling.


Gaming has been in our homes for almost 3 decades now resulting in several generations of adult gamers. For the adult gamer time is precious and we have all manner of things to cram in to our busy lives. With such little free time, socialising with friends becomes a high priority, this of course behind the top priority of spending time with our loved ones.

Gaming can be hard to fit in to this schedule, making games that can be played with other people hugely important and much more appealing than a single player epic. Almost every game seems to be trying to find a way to play with your friends rather than against them. Most of these games focus on team work and co-operation but largely require both players to be of the same ability.

Games such as Gears of war 2 have tried to allow for different levels of skill by allowing each player a variable level of difficulty. The problem with this is that it doesn't matter how easy the settings can go if the player is unfamiliar with the vocabulary and the controls being used. Dual stick shooting is a learned control scheme, not an intuitive one.

It is rare to find couples of avid gamers skilled in the same genres making co-op games of this fashion difficult to impossible to play. It is therefore no surprise that these couples tend to not game together and perhaps opt for other activities they can share and enjoy.

Mario Galaxy looked to change this notion with the introduction of “co-star”. Whilst player 1 plays a traditional 3D platform game, requiring all the skill and timed jumps Mario is known for, the second player simply controls an onscreen cursor. At first this may sound rather patronising and uninteresting, but in fact it offers player 2 a very important supporting role.

The “co-star” player can hold moving platforms, hold and kill enemies and collect coins, 1ups and star bits. When faced with a tricky situation such as several moving platforms or a difficult to reach collectible the “co-star” player can make life a lot easier. It turns the second player into a huge help rather than an accommodated hindrance.

The key to this mode is understanding the needs of each player. A game like Gears assumes both players have come to the experience looking for an equal outcome. Mario Galaxy understands that whilst player one is looking for challenge and skill, player two is looking to be able to drop in and drop out whilst helping their partner all with no fear of penalty. In these games player two is not interested in delivering the killer blow they just want to join in and have fun.

As gaming spreads we need to find more ways to accommodate multiple players of different abilities and desires. This doesn’t mean dumbing a game down to the lowest common denominator but letting people play the role they want in a joined experience. Think about the different styles of gamer and how you can assign them tasks that best suit their skills. For example If one player wants to be the precision gunman let the other assist as a look out.

Gaming is now an important part of the social fabric and I am sure there are many of you out there who like to play with a partner or child that want a different experiences to you. What games do you play that give you both a fulfilling experience without having to sacrifice your enjoyment for theirs?

 Check out my blog Heaven Twiddling for more games design highlights. 

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