If there were a mascot for video games, it would probably be Mario. The red-hatted plumber of Nintendo has been a household name since Super Mario Bros. was released on the NES in 1985. In that time the plumber has continued to grow and evolve with video games as a medium, often taking the first steps into new territory, but one game stands out above the crowd. 15 years ago, Super Mario Galaxy boldly went where the series had never gone before and became the best 3D title in the franchise.
While intrinsically linked to the Wii, the kernel of an idea that would become Super Mario Galaxy planted itself many years before the console’s release in 2006. In 2000, a tech demo for the GameCube titled Super Mario 128 was shown off. In order to show off the processing power of the console the tech demo showed Mario traversing spherical platforms that required the engine to emulate gravity in each sphere.
The director of the tech demo, Yoshiaki Koizumi, believed this feature should be used in a future game by Nintendo but was held back by the realities of designing an entire game that would be so taxing on the current hardware.
But in 2002, Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to begin work on a new Mario title and thought that Koizumi’s spherical platforming was the perfect jumping-off point.
Koizumi became the director of the project and would exchange ideas with Miyamoto throughout the project. They agreed that a journey amongst the stars and planets made perfect sense for the gravity-focused gameplay. What began as a tech demo would grow into a massive experience.
Each new Mario game pushes the franchise mechanically to new heights. Most famously, Super Mario 64 made the jump to 3D. Before Super Mario 64, Mario had always been restricted to two dimensions — it was almost impossible to consider a Mario game that wasn’t a side-scroller. Now, the idea of limiting the character to just two dimensions feels absurd.
Super Mario Galaxy’s gravitational gameplay feels like another leap forward, quite literally turning everything that players knew upside down. Giving Mario a new way to traverse the world opens up so many options.
In addition, the Wii’s motion controls are utilized perfectly in Super Mario Galaxy. The best representation of this is the spin attack. Created specifically for this game, Mario can spin and hit enemies in a radius around him. As the hardware for the Wii became finalized and motion controls were focused, the developers made the choice to bind the spin attack to a twirl of the nunchuck. By shaking the controller Mario will twirl around. This tactical feeling of making Mario act through your own movement feels fluid in a way that traditional gamepads never can.
After development, the team stated that the fundamental part of any Mario game is making the player think about how fun it is to play.
In a 2007 interview for Nintendo’s iconic Iwata Asks series, Koizumi said, "Fundamentally, I think a Mario game is the type of game that's really not about completing the game, but rather about having fun just playing."
To this day Super Mario Galaxy stands out as the best 3D entry in the franchise, becoming a pedestal to which entries like Odyssey are judged. New projects like Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope continue to emulate Galaxy, with the team telling Inverse that it was their major inspiration for the new tactical RPG.
In making Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo decided to shoot for the stars. Not only did they land amongst them, but they also created the most spectacular star in the sky and the pinnacle of 3D Mario games.