Review by Punk In Drublic 18
"A step backward in the Mario series."
The Mario games have been around for over twenty years, and as such have developed quite a legacy, as well as a standard to live up to. The first 3d entry in the series, Super Mario 64, threw conventionality out the window and completely shocked and awed the video game industry with its innovation and style. The second 3d installment, Super Mario Sunshine, took Mario 64 to the next level, introducing a more cohesive environment, even better controls, and a completely innovative new game play mechanic which made the game really feel like something different. Super Mario Galaxy had quite a lot of hype to live up to, indeed. Yet it turns out that Mario Galaxy completely ignores the series' progress achieved with Super Mario Sunshine, and instead harkens back to 1996 gaming.
Mario 64 was one of the first games to utilize the "central hub" concept. Sunshine built upon the castle in 64 by presenting an entire beautiful tropical island to explore. Mario Galaxy simply copies the castle from 64, and puts it into outer space in the form of a space station, while making it much smaller . From this space station, you access different worlds to collect stars, which open up new worlds. After a certain amount of stars collected, you can fight the final boss. Sound familiar? There is one difference here though; fun side missions, such as collecting blue and red coins, are either greatly reduced or gone. These missions in SMS provided different ways to experience familiar levels, and the blue coins added a strong sense of exploration. The lack of this mission variety is a surprising step backward for the series.
The story is nonsense. The premise is that there is a 100 year festival to celebrate a star, but during this festival Bowser interrupts and literally rips the Princess's castle into space. In a completely random stroke of luck (read; amateurish plot device) Mario is transported into space and begins his quest. After the original and excellent story of Mario Sunshine, this story, filled with video game cliches and amateur story telling, is very disappointing. The story isn't all important in a Mario game, but that's still excuse for Nintendo to take the easy way out in regards to plot in 2007, when we expect our games to have better, more epic, stories.
The entire game takes place in outer space. While this had the potential to result in a cohesive environment laced with immersion that makes the player feel like part of the game, what we have with Super Mario Galaxy is a disjointed mish-mash of different themes. It seems as if the development crew simply tried to come up with as weird themes as possible, without giving much effort to immersion or cohesion. You'll find lots of variety, but that's not always a good thing. Sunshine proved that a Mario game could have a common theme and make you fall in love with the world, but Mario Galaxy is truly out-of-this-world in this regard; you cannot fall in love with these environments, because they are so random. Another step back from Sunshine.
The controls offer another way for the game to kill any sense of immersion. One of Mario's power ups is ridiculously hard to control, and certain missions, like the Sting Ray ride and the Ball, are equally as wonky. This is more due to the Wii's primitive motion controls than the game itself, but the problems still can't be ignored. The game also includes pointer functionality. You can use the IR on the Wiimote to collect power ups around Mario and interact with the environment. Interacting with the environment is a great idea, but ultimately remains undeveloped. Making power up collecting easier by pointing is a gimmicky idea that is done better in certain games without motion control. Thus, the controls are another step back from the perfect ones of Sunshine.
The game takes place on a multitude of spherical worlds, as well as some larger planets with a more traditional playing field. However, due to the lack of buttons on the Wii controllers, camera control has been taken away from the player. Instead, an automatic camera tracks player movement through the game. This works fine, even great, on the small spherical worlds. But on larger terrain, it feels archaic not to be able to move the camera with something akin to the C-Stick on the Gamecube controller, because it felt so great there. The camera is another surprising step back from Sunshine.
The gravity concept is fun at first, and is used in some interesting ways in the middle of the game, but towards the end it loses its appeal and becomes a gimmick. It seems like there was a lot of potential here, but cleverly designed puzzles and environments are almost non existent. The game makes you feel, the whole time, like you are about to uncover some truly great game play moments, but never delivers.
The visuals are pretty good for a Wii game, but the environments are usually very tiny and bland, and the game is displayed in a disappointing standard resolution. The framerate is rock solid 60 fps, but the sacrifice to make it SD aren't worth it and make the game look worse because of it. The game is easily outclassed by games on competing systems; in fact, it doesn't even come close. The music is great, but the lack of quality voice acting really hurts this 2007 game. The core game play is solid, but the vast majority of it has already been done in Super Mario 64.
In Super Mario Galaxy, an otherwise decent effort is ruined by some poor design choices, unintuitive controls, a poor camera system, and a total lack of game play innovation. The best way to describe Galaxy is that it is a complete step backwards from Sunshine, back to Mario 64. What worked well in 1996 is stale now, and the progress made in regards to control and camera were thrown out the window. The game does have its fun moments, despite its problems, and is quite playable, so the final score is a 5/10.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 11/14/07, Updated 11/15/07
Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy (US, 11/12/07)
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