Review by LegatoBluesommers
"Gaming in its greatest and purest form"
Mario is a gaming icon. In addition to being one of the most recognizable characters in the world, his primary series of games always seems to be made to the highest of standards. The original hit, Super Mario Bros, single-handedly revived what was a dying game industry in the 80s. Super Mario Bros 3 showed us just how massive and breathtaking a game Nintendo could create on the old NES, and is still regarded by many today as the best video game of all time. Super Mario 64 brought the plumber into the 3D world and provided one of the few great reasons to own the N64 system, which would eventually crumble under the success of Sony's PlayStation. His most recent outing, Super Mario Sunshine, while widely viewed as a good game, was not as magnificent as some might have hoped due to some uninspired gameplay elements. However, with Super Mario Galaxy, the series is back with a vengeance, combining traditional platforming, new gamplay concepts, and a nearly flawless technical performance into one of the finest video games ever conceived.
Much of the gameplay is derived from past 3D Mario games. Mario's movement scheme is essentially identical to how he controlled in SM64, with a few changes. The various jumping acrobatics (double/triple jump, back flip, long jump, wall bounce) are all here. Instead of the punch/kick combo he used before, Mario's primary attack is a spin punch done by quickly flicking the Wii remote. Also, Mario can collect star bits scattered about and shoot them to a point using the remote's pointer. This feature is limited in its usefulness, but can be nifty in stunning some enemies in a pinch. Like past Mario 3D titles, the main objective of the game is to collect the 120 power stars scattered across the various galaxy levels. For this game, a lot of the platforming elements revolve around the ever-changing sense of gravity while moving across or between the planets of each galaxy. As a simple example, if you need to get to a planet that seems too high above your head to reach, you might just need to get high enough where your current planet's gravity loses hold and the next planet pulls you in. It can be a little disorienting at first, and those susceptible to motion sickness may want to be careful as your viewpoint often makes some wild shifts, but the system is fairly easy to adapt to. Another means of transportation between planets are the launch stars, which send Mario flying through space. The sense of scale and exploration as you move from planet to planet is incredible, and you often come across some breathtaking viewpoints of your surroundings, especially while in flight. In addition to the gravity-based puzzles, there are countless others, including musical mini-games and some situations where you have to use your enemies to help you unlock the path forward. Many of the power-ups from Mario games past are used in the game, including the classic fire flower and invincibility star. Some galaxies implement cool uses for the remote's other motion functions, like tilting the remote to maneuver a manta ray surfboard. Most galaxies also have at least one boss to take down, and while these battles are generally really simple, they are still quite enjoyable. In fact, the game as a whole is pretty easy, particularly in getting the first 60 stars (about as many as you need to finish the story). However, the others are somewhat more difficult to claim, and there are a couple that are quite challenging. My only real gripe in this department is the camera. In most instances, it is automatically in the best position, but in the cases where you would like to take control the manual controls are often severely limited or outright unresponsive.
Storyline has never been never been a shining element in Mario games, but there is a surprising amount of meat to the plot this time around, without dragging things out unnecessarily. The game begins as Mario is invited by Peach to come to the royal castle during a town celebration for the passing of a comet. However, Bowser naturally is there to crash the festivities, kidnap Peach, rip the castle out of the ground, and create a new empire for himself with her as his queen. Of course, Mario tries to stop him, but his henchman Kamella blasts Mario off the castle, which flies off into space. Mario lands on a mysterious planet where he is greeted by the equally mysterious Rosalina, who watches over the planet and the race of Lumas that inhabit it. She tells Mario about how Bowser snatched away her planet's power source, the grand stars, and how they will be able to pursue him once they are recovered. With this, Mario is off on his adventure. There are two things that make this story so charming. First is the storybook you unlock chapters for as you progress, which tells Rosalina's story of how she came to be who she is. Secondly is all the stuff that is going on in many of the galaxies. You often are asked to help the inhabiting species of a galaxy drive away some troublemaking monster, and the diversity of the creatures you meet and the things they have to say give the worlds a lot of character.
The visuals in this game are arguably the best so far on the Wii. Every single galaxy you visit is unique and alive with color. The game runs at 60 fps and never even thinks about slowing down, which is almost unheard of on the system. However, what really stands out to me is the musical score, which is absolutely incredible. Many of the classic Mario tunes have been updated with a full orchestral arrangement, all of which sound perfectly in place where they are used. On top of that, there are also a ton of new themes, some of which are on the same level of greatness as the older ones. While it would have been nice to see the game done up with the full voice acting treatment, the sheer superiority of the rest of the aural experience makes this oversight seem very insignificant. The game's presentation qualities are also worth noting. Loading times do not exist, or at least are so short that they can't be noticed. As usual, collecting all 120 stars unlocks a cool secret, and while I won't spoil it, I can say that it can extend the game's already respectable length considerably. Thankfully, Nintendo thought to use six save slots instead of three as before, so families with multiple gamers can enjoy the game without waiting for somebody to finish (now if only they'd adopt this same approach for Pokemon ).
Above all else, this game is shining proof that the Mario magic of old that makes his games so fun is far from dead. It is one of those gaming experiences that you want to keep going back to for the little things. You may want to revisit a galaxy just to hear the music, or to see a certain special viewpoint. It sets the bar not only for the Wii but also for the entire industry, practically daring somebody else to try making a game that's as well put together in every single aspect of its design. Forget that it isn't (gasp) absolutely perfect: if you have a Wii, buy this game.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/26/07
Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy (US, 11/12/07)
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