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Feature: 'Understanding The Fun Of Super Mario Galaxy'

In this in-depth critique, game designer David Sirlin (Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix) analyzes Nintendo's Super Mario Galaxy, discussing wh

Leigh Alexander, Contributor

February 1, 2008

2 Min Read

In analyzing the appeal of Nintendo's Super Mario Galaxy, game designer David Sirlin (Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix) relied on Nicole Lazzaro's "four kinds of fun": hard fun, easy fun, social fun, and sense of surprise and wonder -- "serious fun." Sirlin explains that, despite its name, easy fun is not so common in games: "This is fun that's not bound up with winning or goals. The entire Nintendo Wii system has an advantage here because the motion-sensing Wiimote lends itself to easy fun. Collecting the star bits (the colorful, glowing ammunition that bounces around everywhere) with the Wiimote's pointer is easy fun. Shooting the star bits at enemies is easy fun, though hardly ever required to achieve goals. Using the left-right-left-right gesture to do the spin attack is easy fun." In addition to detailing the design successes of the games, Sirlin thinks the game could have been even better -- though he admits this kind of criticism is a "real jerky thing." He recalls how Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's famous upside-down castle reinvented the game halfway through, and feels that Galaxy would have benefited by taking a page from that book: "It has plenty of surprises of its own, but those take place within each of the many levels. If you take a zoomed out view of the game and just look at the structure of it, it's incredibly predictable. You very quickly realize that each world has 5 galaxies (levels). You realize how many worlds there are from the way the blank spots are arranged on the map. Even though particular levels are surprising, the overall exercise of on the most zoomed-out level becomes monotonous. I played probably the last third of the game on low volume while I watched reruns of Frasier and The Golden Girls on a second TV. (A less honest writer would not have admitted that!)" You can now read the full feature, with more details from a designer's perspective on Galaxy's successes, and the ways that it speaks to each of the different kinds of fun -- and could it have been "even more excellent"? (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites)

About the Author(s)

Leigh Alexander


Leigh Alexander is Editor At Large for Gamasutra and the site's former News Director. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Slate, Paste, Kill Screen, GamePro and numerous other publications. She also blogs regularly about gaming and internet culture at her Sexy Videogameland site. [NOTE: Edited 10/02/2014, this feature-linked bio was outdated.]

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