'Super Mario Galaxy' Was Brilliant, But Motion Controls Ruined It
The Wii was ostensibly designed to be more accessible to more kinds of players. But motion controls don’t work for everyone.
Ten years ago, Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii. It was a brilliantly designed game: a platformer that had revolutionary ideas about gravity, scale, and pace. It was colorful, and introduced the world to bee Mario!
I have fond memories of the early portions of the game, in the Honeyhive Galaxy, cavorting as a very cute bee, and in the Supersweet Galaxy, running around ice cream and cookie stages.
But sadly, Super Mario Galaxy was also—very literally—a pain to play.
I have this weird condition called Madelung’s deformity, which basically makes my wrist kind of fucked up. Ten years ago, before I made everything much worse by boxing with it, it was still pretty bad, and motion-controlled games (especially on the Wii) were an issue. I can’t hold my wrist in that kind of position for long without introducing serious strain, nor could I flick my wrist without any consequences, so I could only play the game in relatively small chunks.
I only finished Mario Galaxy by basically watching friends play, and participating in “baby mode” (using my better wrist to collect stars). This was before Twitch, so, friends were the best option to see something to the end if I couldn’t physically play it myself.
All of this would’ve been moot if, say, there was an option to control the game with a Gamecube or Wii Pro Controller. There wasn’t anything special about that goddamned Wii-mote, other than the empty (for me) promise of making games more “accessible.” There was nothing inherent to the Wii remote that made the game better by all that RSI-inducing flicking and holding and pointing, and I’ve only gotten angrier throughout the years that hey, no one at Nintendo stopped to think about better accessibility options.
Platformers are my jam. 3D platformers (and immersive sims!) are my favorite genre. I’ve never met a Mario game I didn’t like, and there are few that I haven’t fully loved. Mario Galaxy and its sequel are sadly among them, and only because I had such a painful time playing them.
This would only get worse over time, culminating in one of the saddest damned experiences I’ve ever had with a game, in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which used the Wii Motion Plus controls. Not only was it painful, but I could never get those controls to fully work properly. I made it through a huge chunk of the game, but somewhere along the line, I needed to use the flying bomb critter in a specific way that the fucking controller just wouldn’t register, halting my progress. I proceeded to do something like 10 hours of sidequests, since I adored the game and didn’t want it to end, but there it was. Motion controls completely ruined the experience for me.
With the Switch, and with Mario Odyssey, I’m doing ok. There’s a way to map everything to a button, so I don’t need to worry about aggravating my bad wrist with unnecessary flicking and flapping. Nintendo seems to have learned—or maybe just listened—to concerns about accessibility, at least in some ways. The company added button mapping to Arms this summer, another helpful step forward.
We're not there yet, though. Recall the story of AJ Ryan, a disabled player who can't play Breath of the Wild, and you'll see that Nintendo still has a long way to go.
I do truly wish that Galaxy will be re-released on the Switch one day (along with its sequel and Skyward Sword), in a format that I can actually play. It’s a brilliant game, one that I’d love to fully experience without hurting myself.