Super Mario Galaxy Observations #2 Build me a Space Ship

February 5th, 2009


The other point that I wanted to discuss regarding Super Mario Galaxy was its distinct visual flair which I feel was part of a three-game-evolution. It started with Pikmin 2 on the Gamecube, was expanded on by Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and has seen a new dimension in Super Mario Galaxy. All three of these titles were made internally at Nintendo’s EAD division, with Mario and DK Jungle Beat made by the same studio, not too sure about Pikmin though. In anycase, all three games seem to draw from a similarly expanding style guide.

Pikmin 2 fleshed out one of the more neat elements of the original game; pop culture references through the various components of Olimar’s space ship. Stumbling upon a giant battery in the middle of a field trip with your rainbow coloured friends was downright delightful. Pikmin 2 expanded upon this feeling of “oh, wasn’t that a pleasant surprise!” by crafting it into the artistic design. The use of medicine whites, velvet purples featured not only in the two new variations of Pikmin but also in the landscapes themselves which began to move away from just simple gardens to a design which encompassed more of the elements, underground colonies and abstract areas of earth. The giant Pikmin eating bulborbs sprouted fuzzy hair, textile, metallic and merchandise textures were heavily introduced, as too were strong water and smog effects. This culmination of these small design choices gave Pikmin 2 a much more varied, vivid aesthetic over it’s predecessor. Increasing the delightful creativity of the previous game. It’s part abstract, part home made and a bit of nature all thrown together.

DK Jungle Beat drew heavily from Pikmin 2’s tool box but combined it with the Donkey Kong universe and then added it’s own slice of mayhem to create a semi re-imagining of the franchise. With the design premise basically layed out and much of the technology taken straight from Pikmin (fur, water effects), there was a greater emphasis on character design and bridging the multiple components of presentation together to heighten the fruit salad vibe taking place on screen. I use the term fruit salad because the larger than life personality clash in an on screen celebration in all it’s own craziness.

Character design, animation, effect and colour choices amplifies prominent features. The way Donkey Kong swings his fist exemplify his more primal, aggressive undertones. The weak point of enemies (particularly bosses) stick out in the character design and once they’re exposed yell “HIT ME!” with a panic of colour and animation. The levels themselves feel like extensions of Pikmin’s design with DK battling the elements. This time around though, the texture set patterning those elements has expanded into soils and woods and gives the game a natural, home-made feel to it.

With Jungle Beat the texturization, colour and animation quirks have all been adapted but they appear in full force to style the eccentric nature of the game. As such, the graphic design is integral to the experience and in this stage of the “evolution” the original style guide has become fully developed due to the heavy reliance Jungle Beat placed on it.

And then we arrive at Super Mario Galaxy which tones down the craziness to a more appropriate level while still being a showcase of this new found flair. Mario Galaxy draws two main features from the design toolbox being the textures and characterization. Perhaps the biggest asset that Galaxy brings with it is, more so than the others is how the textures affect the feeling of play. For example, when you walk over various textures the aesthetic matches the feeling of Mario traversing those textures. Soft grass feels as soft as it looks, Mario movement is matched along with the stir of dust from his gentle steps. Character design is similarly inspired, with more creative larger than life characters, personified more so than prior games.

While the design in Mario Galaxy is important, in contrast to Jungle Beat it takes a subsidiary approach to other innovations such as the planets, spherical walking, gravity and so forth – while at the same time the visuals obviously feed into everything the game outputs.

Overall, these three games (and there are undoubtedly other influences) have created an interesting graphical tool set for Nintendo to utilize. Such an approach to design can be seen moving out in other directions such as Little Big Planet.

  • I thought Mario Galaxy was the best looking game I had played on the Wii. It really just kind of ‘popped.’ Simply beautiful. Nintendo did an amazing thing, by both moving the series forward, and reminding me of all the things I’ve loved about Mario for the past 20 years.