Super Mario Galaxy Screenshot

While my son was taking a break from Monster Hunter Tri today, he went back to Super Mario Galaxy, a game he started last year but never finished. I sat beside him with a Wiimote of my own doing "collect the stars" duty while he put Mario through his paces, but it wasn't long before he began to struggle and hit some problems.

My kid is definitely no slouch at games, but he was having trouble maneuvering Mario with precision in some of the weird gravity worlds and a couple of the bosses were starting to aggravate him. It was a little surprising since this is the same kid who's seen more of Tri than most of the people who've reviewed it, but there you go. As I was trying to coach him through the rough patches, it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn't quite sure who Mario's target audience is anymore.

The game is bright and colorful, and makes its home on the Wii—by far the most kid-friendly console of the big three. I think it's pretty natural to assume that most kids who play more than just Wii Sports will probably play Mario at some point. Kids aside, the Wii is the console that has clearly been making the biggest push towards casual gamers. Wii Fit has sold like gangbusters, but it seems logical to assume that Nintendo would want to sell a few copies to casuals who might be inclined. With those two things in mind, the recent trend of Nintendo increasing the difficulty of their games seems to run counter to their strengths.

Although I haven't played either title yet, New Super Mario Brothers Wii was widely reported to be too difficult and cumbersome to play in the later levels, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 has also been tagged as being more difficult than the first, not necessarily in a good way. I find this interesting since in my mind, the only people who would theoretically want more difficulty are the old-school gamers or hard-core gamers who Nintendo's basically distanced themselves from over the last few years.

I've had a few people mention that Mario has traditionally been much more difficult in the past, and they are right. However, we are living (and playing) in different times. Back then, people weren't targeting demographics or strategically designing their games; they were just making the best games they could, and whoever could play them did. That's not the case anymore. We've got distinct genres, distinct age ranges, and even distinct consumer psychological profiles. To break it down in the most grossly generalized terms, kids need something approachable, casual console gamers don't appear to get into anything too deep, and the old-schoolers apparently dislike cakewalks.

How do you design a game that satisfies all three groups, straddling what appear to be completely opposite demands on each side? Is it even possible? Iconic status and uber-enviable Q-Score aside, I'm starting to wonder who Mario's really aimed at these days? Following that line of thought, I started to wonder what would really be lost if Nintendo had made Galaxy 2 easier and positioned it strictly for casuals and kids? Of course a certain segment of the gaming population would be up in arms if they were able to blow through the game in three days, but is that really so bad?

As a parent who supports videogames as a positive hobby for kids, it can be tough coming up with titles that are interesting, appropriate, and playable for children who don't have the knowledge and reflexes from a lifetime of experience. Looking at something like Mario which is so warm, friendly and appealing to such a wide variety of people and then seeing my son get frustrated and disappointed by the difficulty spikes, I can't help but wonder what would really be lost if Nintendo put all their eggs in one basket and proceeded on the path they've been on for the last few years. Sony and Microsoft definitely have the mature angles covered, and there are no shortage of titles that I can only play after my kids are in bed. Is it wrong to think that Nintendo letting the older players go and solely focusing on being a gateway to newcomers might actually be an acceptable thing?

I'm not sure that I've completely captured the spirit of this thought here on my blog, but I suppose it's a bit like books. Libraries need Dr. Seuss and Dick & Jane, but no one expects those books to challenge older readers or to satisfy everyone who might glance at the cover. Is it right to expect Mario to do so? If not, would the players who grew up with him be all right letting him belong to a new generation?

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
Brad Gallaway

Latest posts by Brad Gallaway (see all)

Leave a Reply

21 Comments on "Should we let Mario go?"

Notify of
avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest
Richard Naik
Guest
Richard Naik
6 years 2 months ago

I don’t think kids need to be “talked” down to when it comes to difficulty in games. No challenge breeds no satisfaction upon completion.

That said, I’m all for having difficulty levels to help accommodate people of different skill levels. I relish some games because they’re so hard, but I don’t blame anyone for using easy mode.

crackajack
Guest
crackajack
6 years 2 months ago
[quote=Li-Ion]Therefore the labeling of WoW as ‘casual’ or ‘hardcore’ makes not much sense, as does it for most games.[/quote] As already said: most games are this AND that to some extent. Chess, a short learning phase, but after that it is a lot of practice and the ability to look in the future… Of course it can be played casual style and hardcore. That’s what i’m talking about. But can you really play Prince of Persia hardcore-style? By a speedrun? By 24/7 guiness book gaming? Ok, then every game can be hardcore. But it’s so much designed around not having… Read more »
Li-Ion
Guest
Li-Ion
6 years 2 months ago
[quote=crackajack]I would call WoW a casual game but there are definitely gamers who play it hardcore style (and are hc-gamers then, imo) and there is certainly hc-stuff in it somewhere, after level 30, as soon as the Lich King is your biggest buddy, whatever… [/quote] I would say World of Warcraft is one of the most complex RPGs running around, if not the number 1 in terms of complexity. Blizzard manages to hide this fact very well by not showing the mechanisms in tooltips. Well, now they show some info… but for the most part you’re left in the woods.… Read more »
seluropnek
Guest
seluropnek
6 years 2 months ago
The great thing about Mario Galaxy is that you don’t HAVE to do everything to progress – heck, you don’t even need to complete half of the game in order to “beat” it. If you get stuck, there’s usually ten other places you can go to try and get a star instead. Mario Galaxy 2, despite being a little tougher, takes this a step farther by letting you activate a “demo” that will pass the tough part for you (giving you only a bronze star to show for it that you can come back and replace with a “good” one… Read more »
Goatart
Guest
Goatart
6 years 2 months ago
Always loved this discussion, the necessity of categories. Of course economically theyre necessary, but at the very particular level, they’re utterly meaningless, or utterly meaningful. If you’ve come to consider yourself X, then anything that supposedly caters to X caters to you, same for Y, B, PURPLE, whatever. If I go see a labeled “comedy” at the theatre and do not laugh once is it still a “comedy.” Yes and no right? It’s always about context, the terms will forever be vague, thus you gotta know who you’re talking to. To a complete stranger I wouldn’t recommend ANYTHING! Ha. But… Read more »
crackajack
Guest
crackajack
6 years 2 months ago
[quote=Li-Ion]I don’t think so.[/quote] change …gamer to …gaming, maybe then it fits better. It’s definitely no exact term, as already said. I would call WoW a casual game but there are definitely gamers who play it hardcore style (and are hc-gamers then, imo) and there is certainly hc-stuff in it somewhere, after level 30, as soon as the Lich King is your biggest buddy, whatever… i am “frightened” of endless games since TES3 so i really have no experience with WoW myself… It’s a grey-ish term, and the gamer himself or herself is hardly 100% this or that. But games… Read more »
Li-Ion
Guest
Li-Ion
6 years 2 months ago
[quote=crackajack]”Easy to learn hard to master” is something that can be said about some games. “easy to learn” is aimed at casual gamers while “hard to master” is something hardcore gamers want more often or always.[/quote] I don’t think so. I take World of Warcraft for example: some people in my guild (I am still considered a member there, despite not having played for more than 2 years… ;-)) never played any video games before WoW and are not at all involved in video games beyond WoW. They don’t follow the gaming media (apart from WoW-specific websites) and if some… Read more »
Cybrmynd
Guest
Cybrmynd
6 years 2 months ago
I ain’t no expert on the issues and the debatable topics in games, and personally I’m not into using names like ‘Hardcore’ and ‘Casual’ because it seems so elitist in my opinion but, do most people define casual and hardcore based on how well versed they’re in gaming and how well they play games, or how serious they take the game they’re playing, even if it’s a ‘Casual’ game? I’ve seen “Casual” gamers take Tetris seriously, wherein they don’t actually play other games, but take Tetris seriously on a Hardcore level. And I’ve met ‘hardcore’ gamers who like to flaunt… Read more »
crackajack
Guest
crackajack
6 years 2 months ago
[quote=Vince]Isn’t this just the difference between lazy and dedicated, or unfamiliar versus learned?[/quote] lazy? this and [quote]noobs, the browsers, the disinterested[/quote] should have a less negative connotation? Seriously? [quote]I know and understand why you want to label games or gamers as casual and hardcore. I really do. I can point them out myself. But its wrong. A game is a game is a game. Good games are good and bad ones are bad. But none are casual nor hardcore.[/quote] You really would recommend Demons Souls to a casual gamer because it’s a good game? Ignore that it is very very… Read more »
Vince
Guest
Vince
6 years 2 months ago
[quote=crackajack]The averge casual gamer wants Tetris or Gears or Just Dance to be easy accessible and learn all mechanics on the fly, while playing, don’t get frustrated, don’t play too long (a problem of GTA IV which is unfinished by many) and he is satisfied by that, while HC gamers want to be challenged and delighted by beating hard passages, want harder AI, less guidance. It’s hardly an exact term but i think everyone knows what it means and it has no negative connotation per se. Only when HC-gamers whine about there lost good games (e.g. Operation Flashpoint, Ghost Recon)… Read more »
Li-Ion
Guest
Li-Ion
6 years 2 months ago
[quote=Vince]Casual and hardcore describe a playstyle, not a game or system or person.[/quote] I hope more people would make the distinction of ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ (and everything in between) according to playstyle and how intense someone plays, and not by what or on what console. Recently I stumbled over a study about World of Warcraft players and more than 80% considered themselves as ‘casual’. Still almost no one would call WoW a ‘casual game’. Especially not those involved in die hard raiding-guilds that play 7 days a week and at least 5 hours a day to get all their shiny… Read more »
crackajack
Guest
crackajack
6 years 2 months ago
[quote=Vince]I want to puke every time I read the words “casual gamer”. There’s no such thing.[/quote] “Easy to learn hard to master” is something that can be said about some games. “easy to learn” is aimed at casual gamers while “hard to master” is something hardcore gamers want more often or always. I think it can be said that PoP is more casual and Demons Souls more hardcore? Imo real good games serve both because they don’t exclude one or the other group. The averge casual gamer wants Tetris or Gears or Just Dance to be easy accessible and learn… Read more »
Clint
Guest
Clint
6 years 2 months ago
The Wii has a lot of quality games that are easier than any of the Mario games Nintendo has released. I’m not sure I’d want a Mario game to be made easier when there are already loads of other games that fill that kid-friendly void. To take your analogy with books further, I can imagine reading The Giving Tree, my favorite book, to my fourth graders. (Actually, I think I did a few years ago.) Some students might just enjoy the story and think about what a great friend the tree was. Others might go deeper into the author’s messages… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
6 years 2 months ago
I think Brad raises an interesting topic here. I’m a long time gamer–not an expert, but not casual either. I’ve played through all of Galaxy 1 and am now about 1/3 of the way through Galaxy 2. I found a great deal of Galaxy 1 to be frustrating rather than fun, partly because I don’t think the camera is nearly as perfect as most critics made it out to be and because the controls seemed a bit too slippery. While I appreciate the streamlined hub world of 2, I still find the game more annoying than enjoyable. I think part… Read more »
Vince
Guest
Vince
6 years 2 months ago
I want to puke every time I read the words “casual gamer”. There’s no such thing. Nintendo has never refered to anyone as casual nor hardcore and there’s a reason for it other than a jaded sense of PR moves. Was everyone who played the Atari 2600 or NES casual gamers? Casual and hardcore describe a playstyle, not a game or system or person. I can be hardcore with Tetris, playing to level 100 or more. I can be casual with Gears of War, popping in for a game of multi-player for 10 minutes at a time. I’m a veteran… Read more »
Odofakyodo
Guest
Odofakyodo
6 years 2 months ago
Hey Brad, As a new parent myself I am starting to look ahead to when my son is capable of playing games and, well, confronting more complex life challenges. So your observation here is interesting to me. Your last paragraph struck me as being incomplete. I mean this in the sense that I think there are a lot of examples of works of art that appeal to both kids and adults. In the realm of books, for example, I would say that Harry Potter has thrived with audiences from multiple age groups. How about Through the Looking Glass or The… Read more »
crackajack
Guest
crackajack
6 years 2 months ago
I am no kid anymore… most of the times… but i got frustrated with Galaxy1 in some levels… some segments are just hard, easy to die, tough failing is not as punishing than it was in previous Mario games. iirc Sunshine had no checkpoints, Super Mario Land level 3-2 was a nightmare i can remember. Looking at Galaxy, most of all it takes patience to get through and even more to get all stars, it’s a really long game, and there is plenty of choice when you can’t do one level, just play another. You have to have a certain… Read more »
Li-Ion
Guest
Li-Ion
6 years 2 months ago
There are some game series I don’t really care about anymore. For example everything including Mario and everything including Zelda. The last Mario game I played through was Super Mario Bros. 3, the last Zelda game I played through was Zelda 2 – Adventures of Link. Later games I was trying on occasion, but I’m pretty sure now that I will never play any Mario- or Zelda-game ever again. The perfect 10s that SMG2 got by the truckload didn’t change my opinion at all. If there would be no more games coming out starring Mario or Link, I think I… Read more »
Living Suede
Guest
Living Suede
6 years 2 months ago
Second player in the original Mario Galaxy was kind of a pointless inclusion, however in Galaxy 2 its a really useful parental tool. Second player can now kill enemies, collect lives/mushrooms, and hold platforms that normally disappear. If you were playing as second player you could help your son navigate the more difficult levels. You stated “I started to wonder what would really be lost if Nintendo had made Galaxy 2 easier and positioned it strictly for casuals and kids?” I’m sorry, but I completely disagree with you. I don’t want them to dumb-down Mario. I’ve been playing Super Mario… Read more »
gamefreak666
Guest
gamefreak666
6 years 2 months ago
Mario Galaxy 2 is not nearly as difficult as alot of the reviews and feedback have suggested. There is alot to see and do, but to get the initial 120 stars, I would say that 3 were problematic at best. The boss levels were particularly disappointing and overall I would say that it was no more difficult than Galaxy 1. As mentioned in your recent podcast aswell, Mario is the ultimate whore when it comes to appearing in lame sports titles and party games, so I believe that Mario already exists as a casual icon aswell as the old-school icon.… Read more »
Greg
Guest
6 years 2 months ago
As a kid, Mario–as well as some of my other games–had a certain grandeur to him because his games were hard. The first levels would always be doable, the next ones would be challenging, the next ones would be killer, and who knew what was beyond that? Frustration in gaming comes when you have an expectation that you can beat something. As a kid, I never got frustrated with video games–something would game over me, and that was disappointing, but oh well. You were still playing a game, and there were still plenty of levels there for you to play… Read more »
wpDiscuz