Constituative Rules in Super Mario Galaxy

Posted: February 10, 2013 by lusarzewicz in Uncategorized

Super Mario Galaxy is a game with an extremely simple rule set when compared to most of today’s games. The operational rules (explicitly stated rules) in the game ultimately boil down to four options. Mario can move with the analog stick, jump by pressing the A button, shake the Wii-Mote to spin and attack enemies, and stop on things by pressing the Z button. It is in the games constitutive rules (options not explicitly stated) where the games enjoyment really comes out. Often times in games the constitutive rules are not stated because they are so obvious that a player does not need to be told that they shouldn’t commit these actions. For example, jumping off of the side of a cliff is a constitutive rule that, in most games, will get you killed. The unique setting of Super Mario Galaxy allows the developers to play with the conventional constitutive rules of platform games. Jumping off of the side of the level in Mario galaxy may not lead to an automatic death, it may in fact lead to a secret area that has an abundance of coins to restore your life.

A very interesting aspect of Super Mario Galaxy that I ran into in my second hour of game play was the introduction of costumes that change Mario’s ability, and therefore change the rules of the game. On my trip to a Bee infested planet, I picked up a Bee suit that changes the functionality of the A button. Instead of Mario having the ability to jump, Mario now had the ability to float for a period of around 30 seconds and stick to surfaces made of honey. However, if Mario is touched by any water he returns to normal Mario without any suit. This Bee suit changed both the Operational and Constitutive rules of the game. The levels where Mario uses the bee suit are designed in a completely different style than the typical Mario planet. The level that would have previously been unbeatable with Mario’s original abilities now became completely maneuverable. Falling is no longer the major threat to Mario, it is getting hit by water.

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Where Super Mario Galaxy really shines is balance of periodic and chaotic emergent systems to create a perfectly complex game. Super Mario Galaxies controls are simple, its levels are not. The games levels are varied, they involve fighting bosses, maneuvering through ‘star bites’ than can propel Mario through zero-gravity areas, maneuvering planets, and taking control of gigantic Pirate Ships that are traveling through space. None of these areas play out exactly the same way. The player is constantly being introduced to new ways to use the controls that you are extremely familiar with. The planets strike such a perfect balance of complexity that the game has never been so easy I had become bored with the game but it is also never so difficult that I had the urge to become unsportsmanlike, a cheater, or a spoil-sport. I have never had the urge to look at a guide for collectibles  I have never had the urge to enter a cheat code to make Mario invincible. The little details of Super Mario Galaxy, such as the varied enemy types, look of the individual planets, and interesting hub world is where the game separates its quality from other platform games. 

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