As games grow more sophisticated over the years, it is necessary for developers to insert some kind of narrative into their creations. Even fighting games like SoulCalibur often have a tacked-on "plot" about an evil sword to try to give players some purpose for beating the brains out of NPCs when their friends aren't around to play. These days, video games are often touted as the newest story-telling medium, taking the place of television. Many of us have been moved by the stories of certain video games, in the same way that we are moved by novels, movies, and TV shows. So, how important is the story in a game?
First and foremost, a game is a game. If the gameplay makes you hate the world and everything in it, you should stop playing. Glitchy cameras, awkward movements, and poorly-designed combat are all signs that the developers either weren't trying hard enough or didn't know what they were doing, and said developers should not be rewarded with money. A game with bad gameplay is always bad, and a game with a bad story can still be good. However, I am here to assert that a game with a bad story cannot be great.
Exhibit A: Super Mario Galaxy 2. The original Super Mario Galaxy is easily one of my favorite Nintendo games of all time. Gameplay-wise, the sequel was certainly better. Riding Yoshi in space? Amazing. Plus there were some sufficient challenges for us hardcore platformer fans. I won't say that I didn't like the game, or that I didn't play it during every second of my spare time until I had collected every last star possible, but Super Mario Galaxy 2 disappointed me.
Considering Nintendo's history of charming and hilarious writing, I was unpleasantly surprised to see that they recycled the plot from Super Mario Galaxy to create the sequel—and I was shocked to see the reviewers keel over in absolute worship of Super Mario Galaxy 2. No game deserves a 5/5 when the developers demonstrate a complete lack of effort in such an important aspect of the game. It can't be that hard to figure out some other reason for Mario to run around in outer space collecting stars. The third Paper Mario game proved that he doesn't always have to be rescuing Peach.
The story of Super Mario Galaxy 2 had an overarching purpose that went beyond saving the princess. There was Rosalina, who acted as a guardian of time and space and all that exists. Not only were you rescuing Peach again, you were helping Rosalina restore balance to the universe. Something like that makes a game more compelling and immersive—you feel more invested in your mission. Helping a fat star restore his giant Mario's head doesn't have quite the same effect.