Review by SilverMelee
"The Super Mario 64 sequel we've been waiting for... almost..."
For a long time, people have been wondering when we'd finally get a sequel to the 1996 hit Super Mario 64. Sure, we got Super Mario Sunshine in 2002 and although it was pretty good, it wasn't really the sequel we were hoping for; the implementation of F.L.U.D.D. turned off some gamers, the lack of variety in environments (what was your favorite level? The tropical-themed one, or the tropical-themed one?), and the debut of both Petey Piranha and Bowser Jr. (unlikeable characters that inexplicably found their way into all sorts of Mario spin-off titles) were just a few issues the game had. But then we fast forward five years to Super Mario Galaxy - is this the sequel to Super Mario 64 that we wanted and were hoping for? I like to think so... of course, the question of it actually being better than the N64 platformer is another story.
As is the usual premise for a Mario game, Bowser kidnaps Peach and Mario has to rescue her. This time, Mario will be getting help from a woman named Rosalina (who looks an awful lot like Peach, but with a different dress and hairstyle...) and her "children," the Lumas (pudgy star-like creatures). It seems Bowser has taken the princess to a far away place in the universe, and in order to get there, Mario's gonna need to help Roslina get her starship (which doubles as an observatory) back up and running. It's a simple story, with no real twists (there is an... unusual ending... but I won't spoil that), but I guess it gets the job done.
The game itself tends to make use of its gravity gimmick; there will be times when Mario can venture to the underside of certain "planets" and back to the top, making many of the game's floating platforms more than just some two dimensional planes. Sometimes Mario will find himself walking up walls or even on ceilings! There are also side-scrolling areas where the gravity will shift depending on where Mario is (the places where the gravity shifts are often clearly labeled), and this can make for some fairly fun old-school platforming (with a unique new-school twist). But for those of you who aren't entirely into the gravity gimmick shouldn't worry, because there are still plenty of levels with more traditional platforming (where up is up and the platforms lack undersides that can walked on) - but don't think things will get stale; there's new power-ups to use, as well as new tricks for Mario to pull off (such as using Koopa Troopa shells to better maneuver around in the water). Compared to the previous year's New Super Mario Bros., it was actually fun.
It should be worth noting, however, that the levels themselves are built considerably differently from Mario 64 and even Sunshine. Unlike its predecessors, the level design in Galaxy is generally much more linear. Whether that's actually a bad thing or not, I'll leave up to you, but I had mixed feelings about it. You see, in Mario 64 and Sunshine, players were able to go almost wherever they wanted in a level and could even collect stars/shines for episodes they hadn't even unlocked yet. I really liked that sense of exploration, but it isn't really present here in Galaxy; if you choose an episode, you have to collect that particular star (outside of hidden stars, of which most galaxies only had just one). Even when it comes to hidden stars, you have to choose the particular episodes in order to get them (episodes with hidden stars will be marked with a "?" symbol once you collected all the main stars in that level), there's no choice at all in the matter.
To make matters more disheartening, the levels themselves (or "galaxies," as the game calls 'em) don't even have many stars to collect. Let's compare - the larger levels in Mario 64 each contained six stars (plus a seventh for collecting 100 coins). Sunshine built upon this with its larger levels having 8 normal shines, plus 2 secret shines and an eleventh shine for collecting 100 coins in a level! How many stars will your larger Galaxy level... er, I mean "galaxy"... hold? In most cases, three, with one hidden star and one "comet" star (more on that below), upping the count to five (usually). That's... kind of a step down, huh? Yes, it also means more galaxies in general (and there's a fairly good variety amongst these galaxies), but the fewer stars, combined with the generally linear nature of each level, only serves to make these galaxies less memorable. Say what you want about Gusty Garden Galaxy, but it's no Big Boo's Haunt or even a Ricco Harbor.
And then we have the Prankster Comets. These things start showing up not long into the game, creating "unique" scenarios. Complete the scenario to earn a star. Prankster Comets only show up in the "three-star" galaxies (as opposed to the smaller "one-star" galaxies), and each of these galaxies will only have one comet scenario. It seems like a nifty idea, up until you realize most of them require the player to repeat a certain scenario that they already completed... but with a twist! Big deal. We have the red Speedy Comet (you know that scenario you just beat? Here's a time limit, now go beat it again before it reaches zero!), the white Daredevil Comet (you know that boss character you just defeated? Now do it again, but this time, don't take any damage!), the yellow Fast-Foe Comet (take a wild guess), and the blue Cosmic Comet. This cerulean variety of comet is actually the only one whose scenarios aren't repeats of a previous scenario. Instead, Mario will have to race a shadowy version of himself (no, it's not Shadow Mario) to the star. Said races don't take too long and are fairly simple, having you run through a basic section of the galaxy you're in. To say the least, it's a nice change of pace compared to the other comet events, even if it only occurs on only three or four galaxies.
We also have a bunch of old and new power-ups that Mario can use to help him collect the Stars, such as the Fire and Ice Flowers and the Boo Shroom (my personal favorite). With the exception of the Spring Shroom, they're all pretty unique and fun to use... Unfortunately, the only one that really sees prominent use in Galaxy is the Bee Shroom - this item allows Mario to fly for a short time, as well as walk on clouds and flowers, and even climb special honey panels. Yes, I think it's a fun power to use and it works pretty well, but I really would've liked to see more of the other power-ups (the Boo Shroom in particular is only used in three scenarios the entire game)... well, maybe not the Spring Shroom, as using it wasn't very fun and the controls didn't always cooperate with me. Seriously, that stupid power-up can go burn in Lethal Lava Land for all I care.
Oh, and Spring Mario wasn't the only instance of iffy controls. There were quite a few instances where Mario became confused as to where I wanted him to go; these issues often occurred whenever I wandered onto the "underside" of a planet or whenever the camera decided to "shift" to show Mario walking on ceilings or walls. With this, the controls also have this annoying tendency to "shift" with it, meaning in one instance up is up and down is down, but the moment Mario gets to a certain part of the planet that isn't a flat plane of land, the controls "shift" here so up is down and so on. It was confusing, and because of it's implementation, I often wound up literally driving Mario in circles by accident.
And then there's the camera itself... it's very uncooperative and in a lot of areas is usually in a fixed position and can't be adjusted by the player at all, sometimes making it hard to see what's ahead of (or behind) Mario. It especially awful whenever you're in the water, since it's almost impossible to see around corners or obstacles. Super Mario 64 had a pretty lousy camera, too... but I'm willing to cut that game some slack since it was Mario's first real 3D outing and Nintendo's first real attempt at making a 3D platformer. You'd think after over ten years, that Nintendo would've learned how to fix these camera issues.
On the topic of things that shouldn't be present in a 2007 game, and I actually complained about this in my New Super Mario Bros. review, but I really must complain about it again, is the lives. Why are we still using a lives system, Nintendo? This mechanic was already starting to show its age in Sunshine, and you guys aren't doing Galaxy any favors by keeping it around. I can't help but get the feeling that Nintendo knows this, seeing how the game gives out 1-Up mushrooms like its free candy (indeed, the main hub has a quite a few areas where they respawn and you get a 1-Up for every 50 Star Bits you find), and while it keeps the lives system from really getting in your way, it does serve to make its existence rather pointless. After all, if Nintendo's gonna go out of its way to give you all these extra lives, then why even bother keeping the mechanic around?
Galaxy ditched the cel-shading that Sunshine used in order to go for a more detailed art direction (read: textures). There's not much I can really say about the visuals; they're still as bright and colorful as they always were, and I rarely noticed any jagged edges. The galaxies themselves had a fair bit of variety to them, with various unique themes (including a toy box theme and even a dessert-themed level!). So the visuals are pretty nice by Wii standards, but compared to the music...
Unlike previous Mario games, Galaxy actually has a number of songs that are played by an actual orchestra, and the songs played by the orchestra are fantastic. These songs were definitely the strongest parts of the game's audio; epic melodies, many of which giving the player a feeling that this is indeed Mario's greatest adventure yet. I especially liked how if one was to listen closely, you could hear the electronic beeps and other such noises to help give Mario's journey more of a "spacey" feel to them. If there's one thing that disappoints me, however, it's that not every song is orchestrated, and the non-orchestrated songs don't quite give off the same "epic" feeling. Yes, I understand that not every situation calls for an orchestra, but I really think it wouldn't have hurt... I will concede, however, that many of the non-orchestrated songs are pretty catchy (the fact that the instruments used are much higher quality than the ones use in Sunshine helps, too).
Music aside, the rest of audio seems pretty inoffensive and nothing seems to stand out from the crowd. Good. It should be worth noting that unlike Sunshine, there are no cutscenes with full voice acting. While I highly doubt anyone is going to miss Bowser's hilariously awful voice or any of the other voices that haunted Super Mario Sunshine, I don't think Nintendo should've abandoned it altogether - I think it can work so long as you find some voice actors that aren't completely terrible. Instead, most of the dialogue consists of text boxes, with the character saying a word or making a noise, even in cutscene. Like I said, nothing offensive.
Replay value can be found via the Purple Coin Challenge, which adds 15 new stars and is unlocked after beating the game. This alone adds a few extra hours to the game, and even after obtaining all 120 stars, there's still a few more goodies for those who are extra dedicated, although these aren't particularly great. Still, it's there for those who are interested. Now, is this game worth the $50 that Nintendo is asking for (and even with the release of the sequel, are still asking for)? No - the game just doesn't offer enough entertainment for such. I do, however, believe it is worth at most a $40 purchase, so if you see it going for that much (or lower) then you should probably consider picking it up.
Super Mario Galaxy is still, by all means, a fun and entertaining game (that already puts it miles ahead of the previous year's New Super Mario Bros.) - it has a lot of good moments, and it even has a lot of great moments, but the overall experience is dragged down with iffy controls, a crappy camera, and a considerable deal of repetition (especially if you're trying to go for %100 completion). Is this game better than Super Mario Sunshine? Yes. But is it better than Super Mario 64? Not quite, although it does come close at times in terms of quality. Nevertheless, it's still an entertaining game and Mario fans are sure to love it.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 11/16/10, Updated 11/30/10
Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy (US, 11/12/07)
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