Every once in awhile I like to raise a toast to stories that sneak up on me and announce themselves in unexpected ways. I’m not talking about novels or short stories. I encounter plenty of awesome stories in the prose fiction form I’m typically acquainted with. But it’s always a special surprise to listen to a song or view a picture or painting and have a unique, noteworthy story present itself.
In this case, the source of this unexpected story is a video game, one that I suspect many of you are familiar with.
Super Mario Galaxy is easily one of my favorite games all-time, and probably my favorite Mario game (although I do have some precious memories of playing Super Mario 64 when I was much younger; I still think the Nintendo 64 is the best game console ever). The gameplay mechanics are practically perfect, and the game is just plain fun.
The main story of the game itself is headier than your typical Mario game. Yes, Bowser still kidnaps Princess Peach, and Mario still has to “storm the castle” to save her. But the castles aren’t really castles so much as islands that fly through space. Black holes, lightspeed travel, star-powered space stations. Above all, not only does Peach’s life and happiness hang in the balance, but ultimately the fate of the universe. Very heavy, in its way.
This, however, is not the story I want to profile.
Within the main action of the game, you inhabit a hub world that connects to all the other levels in the game. It’s called the Comet Observatory, and it’s run by a sweet-natured, motherly blonde named Rosalina (who, come to think of it, is actually one of the best female characters I’ve seen in a video game). She could be considered a princess in her own right, much like Peach, except her kingdom is the universe itself and her castle is the Observatory. Her subjects are also sentient little star people named Lumas, so it appears both princesses Rosalina and Peach have a thing for ruling adorable little pseudo-human creatures.
On one of the levels of this observatory is the Library. In terms of the main game, nothing that happens in the Library could be considered essential to the game, as far as completing necessary tasks is concerned. As far as I’m concerned, however, what happens in the Library is more essential than anything else in the game.
You see, if you go to the Library, you get to listen to/watch Rosalina tell her story, in illustrated storybook form. The story is about a little girl who makes friends with a star and decides to explore the universe. The surprise isn’t that the little girl is Rosalina; that much is a given. So is the fact that eventually you learn how she grew up from that little girl into a mature, if perhaps melancholy woman running an interstellar space station.
That story has stuck with me longer than anything else from that game. That story touched me so much, come Chapter 7 I actually had to set the controller down for a minute or two and settle myself before I could continue playing. And then I watched it again later.
I won’t tell you the whole story. Instead, I’ll leave it to you to watch it, just as I did.
If Nintendo put this into actual print form, it would be one of the best children’s stories ever written (in fact, there is a print version, but there’s only one copy in existence). It has that special mix of whimsy, invention, wonder, and a sense of both the joy and sadness of childhood. It reminds me very strongly of perhaps the best children’s book ever, The Little Prince, and not just because both stories involve little blonde voyagers travelling in between planets and stars.
Rosalina’s Storybook caught me off-guard while I played the game. I think it’s because I wasn’t paying attention to it at first. Those who know video games know the general deal about side quests: they may be fun, and they might even net you some special goodies, but they’re not necessary. So I watched the Storybook without guile or pretense, taking it as a sweet little story, until it wasn’t just a sweet little story anymore. I think the story stands as an example of something I want to do with my writing and the stories I tell: I want to lower the reader’s guard, so they will do away with cynicism and take the story as it is, so I can make a special impact on them. Hard to think a little side story in a video game could remind me of that, but hey, stranger things have happened.