Super Mario Galaxy celebrates its 15th anniversary today, November 12, 2022. Below we take a look at how its unique setting gave it a special sense of wonder that sets it apart from other Mario games.
Mario Galaxy offers a melancholy vision of the stars, a far cry from the Saturday morning surrealism of other games in the series. Of course, it’s not that its predecessors and successors don’t have their own unique charms – think Sunshine’s sun-drenched daze or Odyssey’s whirlwind tour. However, Galaxy offers an existential, joyous melancholy. It blasts the scale of Mario’s levels beyond kingdoms and history into the (meta)physical. Galaxy focuses on the cosmic connection of life and death and the diffuse, unconscious possibility of rebirth.
Sure, other Mario games have a flicker of darkness, Conversations with hostile shy guys on trains or Yoshis left in the abyss. But Mario Galaxy offers something more fundamental. Its sadness is not a tonal dalliance or a hoax or a random effect of colliding mechanics. Galaxy is literally set in a dark, vast universe where only certain points of light are habitable. In time, these points of light will die and others will take their place. In short, it’s a universe very similar to ours, albeit filtered through whimsical cartoon logic.
For example, explosions create stars in this world as well, but it’s all about feeding candies to lumas, magical creatures that become stars, planets, and galaxies. This is, strictly mechanically speaking, a means of halting progress. Mario grabs “Star Bits” on his travels. When he has enough, he can feed them to Lumas to open a new world. It’s classic video game gimmicks that give some of the smaller interactions or parts of the game a higher purpose.
But this process has more thematic clout than a star under a door. When a luma turns into a galaxy, it’s no longer a cute little star. They become earth, sand, water, space – even other life forms. It’s a kind of death. When I was a kid I was hesitant to feed the Lumas candy because it would mean they were gone. Yet this death creates a different kind of life. All of the worlds of Galaxy were once these Star Children, by implication. From tiny worlds housing hopping rabbits to a vast beehive garden, the luma shaped the matter from which they were made. A star dies, matter expands, the universe keeps turning.
The game channels many of these themes through Rosalina, a celestial mother who guides and teaches nascent stars to eventually become galaxies. She also guides Mario and takes him under her wing when he lands on her spaceship. Mario talks to her when he completes certain levels and she is a constant presence in the game’s hubs. However, you will learn most about Rosalina in her library when she reads a book of fairy tales. The storybook tells how Rosalina came to care for the Lumas. Once a little girl on a distant world found a luma searching for his mother, she and both flew into the stars.
Over time, Rosalina becomes the mother of the many Lumas she helped on their journey. It’s a kind of deity, but chosen rather than ascended or born into. Here godhood is not exactly about power or creation; It’s a role. The fact that the Luma searched for his mother confirms that maybe someone else once held the same position but died or was no longer able to do that work. However, with that death comes the possibility that someone else may fulfill those required obligations. After finding her purpose, Rosalina travels with the Lumas “as they search for a place to be reborn.” Standing between life and death, she oversees the transformations the stars make possible.
While this is indeed weighty and metaphysical, the cosmic scale of Mario Galaxy is often small. Rosalina herself went on the journey of the picture book because she missed her mother. At the climax of the storybook, she realizes her mother’s death and also the life her connection with her mother has made possible. It is a simple love that stretches across the universe and in turn touches lives. Although the role is cosmic, its practical aspects are simply parenting. The various hubs that split sets of Galaxy’s levels are mostly mundane locations: a bedroom, a fountain, a kitchen and a garden. Mario is a visitor on this ship, which is more of a home than anything else.
Galaxy combines this everydayness with its galactic size. “It is reasonable to worship the stars”, said Carl Sagan on Cosmos, “for we are their children.” Since sunlight feeds plants, which in turn feed all animal life, we are literally mothered by the stars. Mario Galaxy is a game about this kind of poetry. It turns the stars themselves into children, turning the universe into human cycles of life and death.
It might seem a bit silly to talk about a Mario game in this way, but I think silliness is key to the game’s resonance. After all, much of life itself is silly and frivolous. We too have selfish queen bees, scared bunnies that are hard to catch, lost children in need of candy and a hug. We live and die and poop and eat in a patch of blue in the vastness of space. Our life feels important, but it’s so small. On the grand scale of things, huge things like planets and ecosystems may seem too insignificant. However, these small lives have close ties to the stars that make them possible. We too live and die, are born and reborn. Our death is matter to the lives that will come before us, just as the deaths of countless stars created the matter we are made of. The fact that people and animals and plants are here at all is a marvel of numbers that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. It’s a lonely universe. But it is illuminated by our flickering lights and our connections to each other.
This article was previously published on Source link