My family got our NES when I was about 7 years old. I was old enough to be able to play the games and comprehend them, but still young enough that I had the imagination to project onto the comparably simplistic games. When I played Super Mario Bros, I wasn’t just running and jumping to the right across a series of blocks; I was entering a huge, fantastical world full of adventure and magic. The subsequent two Mario games for the system certainly upped the ante in terms of their ambition and scope, but it still took a fair amount of meeting them halfway in terms of how grand and epic the games “felt” versus how they actually were. In addition, my imagination was still limited by the technology I had seen thus far. Not unlike science fiction from the 60’s and 70’s that supposedly took place in a technologically advanced “future” but didn’t even have things like digital number displays or full-color computer screens because those things simply didn’t exist in that time yet, I didn’t have the vision to see much further past the limitations of the NES. I would sometimes take my action figures and have them be characters in a video game, and more often than not I would play along the back of the couch or a similar narrow surface because I couldn’t conceive of games being anything but 2D and side-scrolling. The concept of a “3D game” just couldn’t be concocted by my young brain.
All that being said, it seems like a no-brainer that if I could show that version of me a single modern game, that game would be Super Mario Galaxy. Besides just being my favorite 3D Mario game (yep, Mario 64 diehards, I said it and I mean it), it is the one that would blow my young mind the hardest. Galaxy has that huge, grand, epic feel that I always imagined the NES Mario games had (but didn’t). I felt like the sky was the limit when I’d don a raccoon suit and fly in SMB3; imagine how Young Chris would feel when the Mario in Galaxy leaps through a star and takes flight, hurtling through space to the next planet. One of my favorite things about Galaxy is that, by having each level take place on its own planet or series of planets, the developers weren’t limited by a world theme in which to design levels around. So as you enter each new level in Galaxy, it can be almost any type of level, or multiple types of levels, and they can change completely from one stage to the next. I couldn’t believe how varied the levels were in SMB3, actually venturing outside of the cliches of desert, ice, lava, etc. But even then, once you entered a “world”, most of the levels within that world were relatively similar. Galaxy stomps that trope and kicks it into a black hole.
The other big reason I picked Galaxy ties into my limited imagination scope not being able to look past the second dimension. Not only is Galaxy a 3D game, but even among 3D games it stands apart in how it utilizes that third D. Gravity is constantly changing, causing Mario to go from running along the ground to running along walls and ceilings seamlessly, not to mention going airborne and careening wildly from one surface to the next, never quite sure where he’s going to “stick” or which direction he’s going to need to go in once he does. I remember barely being able to wrap my head around Mario 64 for the first time I saw it; I think that after seeing just one level of Galaxy, Young Chris is going to have to take a nap.
Child me would of course be blown away by ANY game from today that he played. But I feel like he’d need a point of reference and comparison. Just plopping him down in front of Metal Gear Solid or BioShock or Uncharted would just leave him feeling confused by what he’s looking at and what he’s supposed to do. He’d know the games look great, but he wouldn’t quite be sure what to make of them. However, to see Mario go from his 2D adventures to his most epic 3D one would be a lot easier to process. Plus, if I’m thinking realistically, Mario Galaxy would be a lot easier for him to learn to play than an Xbox or PlayStation game. Ultimately, Galaxy is perhaps the most purely “fun” game I’ve played in the last 10 years or so, and that was ALL I wanted in the games I played as a kid: to have fun.
Just think of how my action figure playing would’ve changed after playing Galaxy…