Super Mario Galaxy Observations #3 – Representation of Boss Battles

September 5th, 2009


Initially I disliked the boss battles with Bowser in Super Mario Galaxy. To be honest, I didn’t really understand them, but after completing the game with 121 at the helm – and many a Bowser toppled – I think I finally get it.

Nintendo designs the levels of their primary franchises (Mario, Metroid, Zelda) in the same formulaic fashion. A dungeon, sector or stage is a training ground for a newly acquired ability. In Metroid and Zelda it’s often a little more elaborate with frequent folded game design – but overall the structure is the same amongst all three franchises. The boss battles therefore are the exams. They test all facets of your skills just learnt. For example, a boss battle centered around the hookshot would focus on both the hookshot’s ability to draw items closer as well as its ability to cling Link to certain meshes.

Mario doesn’t gain permanent abilities or devices throughout his adventures hence the battles in the Mario games focus on elements of the central game mechanics, typically jump. In Super Mario Bros. the primary means for defeating King Koopa (as he was known back then) was to jump over him; jump was the game’s most prominent feature, the base of the series, one could say. In Super Mario World Mario had to grab and throw Mecha-Koopas at Bower’s Clown Car; grabbing and throwing was a significant new mechanic to the game. In Super Mario 64 Mario twirled Bowser around by his tail; this accentuated the new analogue stick control.

In Mario Galaxy, Bowser runs about a spherical planet from one side to the other. As with all the other examples listed, this demonstrates the new spherical planet gameplay. The repetition of these boss battles, with the exception of Super Mario World, further emphasizes the core mechanics of the game whilst making minor alterations and additions along the way.

I know it’s common sense, but these kinds of observations live in the subconscious part of my brain, so sometimes it makes me feel smart digging it out from there.

Additional Readings

Iwata Asks – Mario Galaxy

  • I don’t have anything against design that gievs you access to a certain type of ability or weapon in a certain part of the game, and then doesn’t give you any reason to use it later on, but there is some wasted potential in for example zelda games because of that.

  • Hmmm…I think the Zelda series often ensures that previous weapons are relevant even after they’ve had their time in the spotlight. Furthermore, most weapons are versatile enough to be used outside of their designated dungeon. ie. the spinner is good for forward dashes, the bow (+bombs) is great for horse riding, the hookshot is useful to stun enemies.

  • An interesting point someone mentioned online is that in all of his adventures, Mario has never fought and battled Bowser ‘directly’, at least outside of the RPGs.

    There’s always been an environmental ‘trick’ required to defeat him, whether it means throwing Bowser at something, tricking him into breaking something or reaching an axe or switch that takes out the floor.