Super Mario Galaxy: Lives and The Essence of Mario

Nintendo has gotten into the habit of publishing really long interviews hosted by its president, Satoru Iwata, talking to some of the many people responsible for the Wii, its built-in channels and some Wii games. They’re interesting in the sense that they’re quite honest and go into a lot of depth.

Recently, the first two of four “interviews with the creators or ‘Super Mario Galaxy'”:http://uk.wii.com/software/interviews/mario_galaxy/vol1/ were published, and again they’re very much worth reading.

h2. Mario’s Lives

The following, something said by game director Yoshiaki Koizumi, grabbed my attention:

bq. “Since we’re talking about the intensity of the game, I placed a rather bold suggestion for this game. I wanted to change the life meter’s maximum to 3. With this, Mario ends up losing more lives as a result, but at the same time we increased the number of 1-Up mushrooms that are available throughout the game, and created checkpoints. In Mario 64, the life meter’s maximum was 8. That meant it was rare to lose a life. The life meter’s maximum was also 8 in Super Mario Sunshine, but I felt that the life parameter didn’t really tie in to the intensity factor. Even when you find a 1-Up mushroom, you don’t think much of it. So this time, we changed the life meter’s maximum to 3, and it became a lot easier to lose a life, but you could get more 1-Up mushrooms to compensate.”

Ever since ‘Super Mario World’, where the player could save his or her progress for the first time in a Mario game, I’ve wondered about the need to track the amount of remaining lives. Sure, it’s a typical nostalgic game element, but do we really need it? After all, after losing his last life, the player can still continue where he left off.

It’s beyond me why the Super Mario Galaxy team wouldn’t just give the player an infinite amount of lives and take him back to the last checkpoint after he dies. It works for shooters like ‘Halo 3’, so why not do it here?