Review by Ravaged Sanctity
"Power Star Galactica"
What is video gaming? A simple answer would be a form of virtual entertainment. Some may regard it as a form of art, glorifying a game's creative design and the way one interacts with the piece of artwork. Others may consider it as an opportunity to escape from reality, accomplishing tasks that would otherwise be impossible in the real world. And a few lost and misguided souls may consider video gaming to be mindless garbage that makes the world's children fatter, lazier, and more violent. With the possible exception of that last one, Mario has been able to accomplish and explore all of these possibilities. From that very first Goomba that Mario ever-so-heartlessly took life from, this industry icon has set the benchmark for the form of simplistic yet challenging entertainment and art style that all other franchises have persevered to match or exceed. Yet in over twenty years, few have succeeded. The reason is that Mario represents what made video games such a popular pastime in the first place. In an age filled with high-definition visual glamour and methods of interacting with fellow gamers worldwide, the ways of the plumber seem simplistic and outdated. With Super Mario Galaxy, however, Nintendo aims to put Mario back on the map.
Developing an involving and well-developed story seems to be the last priority in Nintendo's plan, though. In spite of the rather simplistic storytelling, however, the opening cinematic is still rather breathtaking. The game begins with Mario receiving an invitation from Princess Peach to attend the Mushroom Kingdom's Star Festival. As the plumber strolls through the village in front of Peach's Castle while being greeted by the happy-go-lucky Toad townsfolk, a series of daunting airships emerge from the clouds. One-by-one they launch a series of fireballs unto the unsuspecting village, obliterating structures and encasing Toads in crystal. Peach looks onward toward the destruction from her castle porch, embracing a newborn Star child. Amidst the chaos, Bowser himself emerges from one of the airships, inviting Peach to join him in the building of his new space empire. As Mario races towards Peach's Castle, a UFO appears that fires a circular laser around the castle's base. The airships each drop a giant hook into the ground along the circle's edge, lifting the castle from its foundation and carrying it into the cosmos. Mario, who is barely hanging on to the castle's ledge, is suddenly zapped by a Magikoopa and plummets into the deep void of space.
You will awaken on a small circular planet inhabited by three rabbits. As they invite you to play a game of hide-and-seek, the game will ease you in to the basic controls. Up until this point, a lot of games on the system have either underutilized the remote, making it feel like it could be done on any other system, or have completely abused the motion-sensing capabilities of the controller. Super Mario Galaxy strikes just the right balance, however. The controls are intuitive yet easy to master, and the motion-sensing component, which is used to execute Mario's spin attack, is simple and effective. What proves somewhat more disorienting is the gravity system, in which many of the game's landmarks take place on these minuscule planets. Walking topsy-turvy on these planets takes some getting accustomed to, but the game eases you into these types of challenges which are ultimately what make this game's stage design so creative. You will also find yourself traversing other objects besides planets that have a gravitational pull, enabling you to walk on their undersides and whatnot. In spite of the initial awkward feel, the gravity physics are absolutely spot-on, pulling you toward the nearest spherical object and never causing you to lose balance.
Mario's basic moves are similar to those found in the past 3-D titles, with a few new quirks. Veterans of Super Mario 64 will welcome the return of the long-jump technique, while Mario now has the ability to crouch and walk simultaneously (substituting crawling). Wall kicks, back-flips, and triple jumps prove as useful as ever when it comes to traversing high ledges. The most notable and versatile addition comes in the form of the spin attack, executed by shaking the remote lightly. This attack can stun enemies, shatter objects, or be used to heighten a jump. After learning the basics and retrieving the Grand Star used to power the Comet Observatory, Mario will arrive in the aforementioned observatory, which acts as the game's main hub. Its keeper, Rosalina, will assist you in your quest to retrieve the princess from Bowser's clutches. Inhabited by a star species known as the Lumas, the observatory yields back to the more simplistic hub style of Peach's Castle, featuring numerous portals to access other galaxies. While part of me misses the vast freedom, exploration, and interaction of Delfino Plaza, Super Mario Galaxy makes sure to focus its primary action on the stages themselves.
Speaking of stage action, the stage design is phenomenal. Rather than creating one vast area for Mario to explore, Nintendo has divided each stage into multiple segments, which, while a bit more linear than the standard design, helps to convey the pure platform action more effectively. No longer is the focus on tediously collecting trinkets or accomplishing a simple objective like pounding Chain Chomp's gate. The game sports the core platform elements that have been lacking from numerous games that consider themselves platform titles. As you traverse sideways or upside-down while leaping across chasms, you will feel a sense of nostalgic wonderment not present in the majority of titles in the genre. But the game has more than merely nostalgic value going for it. The designs of the planets are brimming with creativity, ranging from odd convex spheres to gargantuan cubes to bizarre shapes that don't even have names. The game isn't merely limited to tiny planets, however, also covering basic stage archetypes to explore, including your standard ice, water, desert, and lava worlds. One moment you find yourself in a sadistic toy universe, while the next you're trapped in a dreadnought of cannons and lasers. One of the most creative galaxies features solid matter constantly disappearing and reappearing, forcing you to keep up the pace with the solid ground.
Super Mario Galaxy brings a few more innovations to the table to spice up the gaming experience, each making a unique usage of the Wii remote. Launch Stars are common features that are activated by shaking the remote nearby, used to propel Mario toward a new segment of the stage. Pull Stars are activated by pointing the remote toward the star, which will drag Mario upwards and suspend him in a floating bubble. If Mario sticks to a Sling Pod, he can be flung into the distance by pulling the pod back with the pointer. A few stages are even fully reliant on their own unique gimmicks. One stage will have you piloting a manta ray through a watery racetrack suspended in mid-air by tilting the controller left and right. Another stage will feature Mario balancing on a giant ball, in which the remote must be tilted in all directions to steer him through a treacherous obstacle course. These types of gimmicks feature solid motion sensitivity that makes things enjoyable while not completely abusing the motion capabilities of the system. A lone exception comes in the form of stages where you must blow Mario around in a bubble via the pointer. The process is more obnoxious than it is difficult, featuring limited control over your direction. But fortunately, this type of mission only pops up twice throughout the entire game.
Of course, no Mario title would be complete without a plethora of items at your disposal. An abundance of coins lay before your eyes, and this time, the game is not going to ask you to tediously collect a billion of them, as monotonous collecting was one of the greatest complaints of the previous installments. Perhaps even more common are Star Bits, which can be shot at enemies to stun them or used to feed hungry Lumas in order to open up new pathways. Power-ups have made a return in their full glory, featuring both familiar and newer abilities. Donning the Bee Suit enables Mario to fly briefly and climb sticky surfaces. The Boo Suit makes Mario ghostly, allowing him to float and pass through solid bars. Making its triumphant return after its absence in the previous 3-D Mario titles is the Fire Flower, which temporarily gives Mario the firepower to incinerate anything in his path. Another new addition is the Ice Flower, which allows Mario to freeze and walk on water like the holy deity that he is. And lastly, the Spring Suit will encase Mario in a giant coil, enabling him to bounce to extraordinary heights, albeit with difficult controls. Such features really help add to the immense variety of play that Super Mario Galaxy has to offer beyond basic platform action.
And what would a game featuring everyone's favorite forced Italian stereotype be without a hoard of enemies to inhibit your progress? Standard Mushroom Kingdom baddies are able to thrive in space, with Goombas, Bloopers, Boos, and Monty Moles attempting to send you into the great beyond. Several new breeds of intergalactic foes will also greet you in a rather unfriendly manner. The highlight of the cast of darkness, however, comes in the form of the epic boss battles. While most of these fights are not too difficult, a few twists and unique combat strategies help to enhance the experience into a truly intense one. In one battle, you will be squared off against a rocky spirit who will attempt to crush you with his stone fists, and you must counter his attacks by latching onto one of the Boo's tongues and swinging it back at him. Another battle will feature a giant hideous spider that sprays toxic ooze, in which you must utilize the Sling Pods via the pointer in order to fling Mario into its weak spots. The Bowser battles are perhaps the greatest highlight, which feature a one-on-one combat on a trap-filled sphere, accompanied by an epic background choir to really enhance the intensity. The energy of the battle increases as you repeatedly send Bowser spinning around the sphere.
In my own personal experience, I found the majority of Super Mario 64 to be too straightforward and simple, while Super Mario Sunshine occasionally pushed the line between difficult and downright frustrating. Super Mario Galaxy strikes the right balance in difficulty, however, as while the minimum number of stars required to complete the game is not too difficult to collect, those aiming to retrieve all 120 Stars will face some of the most challenging moments in Mario's history. Yet these missions never become overly infuriating, as they aim to make the player improve themselves by attempting the stage repeatedly until they succeed. With all this glowing praise for the game, though, can Super Mario Galaxy do any wrong? Well, one of the primary flaws of the past two 3-D Mario titles was the unreliable camera, in which it often became difficult to control and often created inconvenient angles for the player. While Super Mario Galaxy aims to alleviate most of these problems by setting more accurate fixed angles (which can be adjusted via the D-Pad), the camera still stumbles at moments. Most of these instances will not yield Mario's death, but it becomes a little obnoxious when the camera is trapped behind a giant tree or pillar, completely obscuring your view of Mario.
The game's visuals are stunning, so much so that I don't even feel the need to justify that with the phrase for a Wii game. Realism is a challenge in a cartoon-like franchise such as Mario, yet the textures are fully detailed, with grass glistening in the light and lava glowing a fiendish blend of red and black. The crystal-clear water in particular looks spectacular, with superb-looking ripples and light refractions. What may be equally as impressive, however, is the audio. After all these years, Nintendo has finally discovered what orchestra is. There are numerous remixes of classic themes to be found, including Koopa's Road and the daunting airship theme. But what are perhaps even more impressive are the original compositions. For instance, the triumphant theme of Gusty Garden Galaxy helps turn the feel of a whimsical garden in the sky into an epic venture through a perilous windblown work of art. The serene theme of the Dreadnought Galaxy acts as a fitting contrast to the perils that inhabit the rocket base, almost soothing you while you frantically attempt to dodge oncoming fire. The voice work is alright, though kept to a minimum. Mario has a few amusing exclamations, but as a general rule, the game's characters are limited to random sound effects.
Super Mario Galaxy is, in essence, the definitive platform title. It takes a basic theme, incorporates it into some of the most creative stage designs ever conceived, and creates an artistic masterpiece. It uses its more linear stage approach to its advantage, utilizing some of the most solid platform elements and mechanics seen since the genre arrived in the third dimension. The controls work like a dream, being easy to pick up while not feeling tacked-on. The game even eliminates the tedious collecting aspects of the previous titles in favor of additional exploration challenge. The innovations are effective without being too disorienting, the cast is delightful and creative, and the game's challenges strike the perfect balance of difficulty. The visuals completely blow away anything else found on the system, while the soundtrack is an immense evolution for the franchise. And in regards to the few flaws the game does have, they are generally so insignificant that they hardly detract from the gaming experience. All you gamers who have a scope beyond party games - this is the reason you bought a Wii. Both retro gamers and virtual newcomers alike will be able to appreciate the effort that has gone in to making this the new benchmark for all future titles on the system. Welcome back, Mr. Mario.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/19/07
Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy (US, 11/12/07)
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