Review by Arkrex
"Thank you Mario, but our princess is in another GALAXY!"
Super Mario is Nintendo's mascot for a very good reason. The portly plumber has showcased the best of platforming games for every gaming generation since his inception in 1985. When he first hit the 3D realm with Super Mario 64, the occasion was nothing short of revolutionary. Then came Super Mario Sunshine, which was met with a mixed reception due to the introduction of a gimmicky FLUDD device and the deviation to a predominantly tropical setting. Shigeru Miyamoto and his R&D team have been hard at work to rectify their lukewarm GameCube effort and the result they have to show is Super Mario Galaxy - Nintendo's most ambitious project to date. To say that it carried a lot of hype with it is an understatement, and most games would be squashed under such immense pressure. But Mario really is a "super" man, and with the power of the Wii he has finally delivered a gaming successor worthy its revered heritage.
Super Mario Galaxy is arguably the best Mario game ever made.
It all begins with Princess Peach being kidnapped by the dastardly King Bowser, only this time instead of whisking her away to his humble abode, he takes off with your special friend into the cosmos, well out of reach for any human no matter how super he is. However, Mario soon encounters some perky little alien creatures that call themselves the Lumas, and they offer to help Mario bring the evil Koopa king back down to Earth where he belongs. A somewhat cliched beginning, but it sets the scene for an intergalactic ride the likes of which have never been seen before.
Super Mario Galaxy offers a similar set-up to plumber's previous two 3D platformers. The aim is search out a myriad of levels for well-hidden power stars which are used to make further progress in the game by unlocking new stages as you inch your way closer to Bowser's keep. The difference here is that each level is a miniature galaxy comprised of many planets and other celestial bodies that turns the conventional 3D Mario formula upside down and spins it around continuously to reach dizzying heights.
For the first time ever in any 3D video game, all angles are covered. That is, if Mario walks off the edge of a planet - some of which are four times his size, others factoring in the thousands - he will continue walking along upside down to reappear from the other side. This mechanic can be somewhat disorientating at the start since the camera can't be controlled freely a la Sunshine, but the set angles are generally very good and you won't be fighting it anywhere near as much as you had to in Mario 64.
Each planet could be considered to be an individual platforming challenge that Mario must overcome. Sometimes it is simply a matter of carefully running over to the next launch star that will send you soaring over to another planet, but oftentimes you will have to weave between a large variety of enemy types and survive several environmental hazards such as spurting lava, mobile electric fences and platforms that crumble under your weight just to catch a glimpse of your way out. You may only be aiming for a single power star each time you enter a galaxy, but there are a ton of challenges that you'll have to conquer if you hope to get there making Super Mario Galaxy at least twice as long as Mario 64 and Sunshine that came before it.
The beauty of the planetary system means that when you are going for different stars in the same galaxy, you hardly ever cross over the same area twice, and when you do, things are changed around so that you will still have to think on your toes. For those that enjoyed the exploration aspect of the previous 3D Mario titles, this isn't of much importance in Galaxy. This game plays more like a 3D representation of old-school Mario platformers rather than a complete re-envision like Mario 64 was. Progression from planet to planet is fairly linear, and although you are given brief hints as to the location of most power stars, you don't need them so long as you follow the proverbial yellow brick road that's laid out for you. In other words, if you like repetition in your game, you won't find much of it here.
Once again, there are 120 stars to collect (121 if you want to be fussy), but you needn't find all of them - 60 is enough - to fight the final boss. As I have already said, the tasks that you must accomplish to reach each star are more complex than before, but they are still relatively easy for any veteran 3D Mario gamers (of which should number in the millions). As such, the game will last anywhere from eight to twelve hours for most, but then that's really only half of what Galaxy has to offer.
The deeper you travel into Mario's universe, the more creative the level designs become. There are the typical water worlds, lava and frost-filled landscapes and scorching deserts, but then there are also cute, little toy box stages, challenging dreadnought levels which are very reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, a number of ingenious gravity switching scenarios, and even areas which build themselves as you go along. Each power star course never consists of just doing one thing. For example, you may be clued in to blow up a cracked wall at the bottom of a lake bed, but on doing so you will be flushed out into another planet where your star lies at the end of a Whomp-filled maze. You never know what will hit you next and this element of surprise never fails to make my jaw drop.
The variety of levels, and the variety seen within levels is simply amazing. There are sections when the focus shifts to a 2D perspective and these play out like the best parts of New Super Mario Bros. and even better in some cases. Remember those times in the 2D Mario games when the screen would automatically scroll from left to right forcing you to keep a quick and steady pace? They have been faithfully recreated here in the form of surprise trigger events such as a volcano that is rapidly sinking into the lava, or an inverted transparent container that's rapidly filling up with sand as you struggle to escape its labyrinthine interior (and upside down, too, no less!) It gets even better later on when comets are introduced which greatly affect the gravity of the situation. The effects range from making enemies move faster or placing you in a one-hit-death scenario, to having to race against a shady clone of yourself or speed running solo. These make for some of the most challenging 3D courses ever devised (and they aren't difficult for the wrong things, i.e. a wonky camera).
Then there are the bosses, most of which are gargantuan in size and all of them brilliant in their design, battle strategy and fun factor. There are plenty of them to go around, too. It wouldn't be a Mario game without special power-ups and Galaxy boasts more than Mario 64 and Sunshine combined. Mario can turn into a hovering bee, a transparent Boo (a ghost), a bouncing spring apparatus, an ice man who can walk on water, and finally we get to play as a 3D fireball-flinging Mario upon consumption of the famous fire flower! Koopa shells also make a return, more useful than ever before especially when riding waves, and a life mushroom will double Mario's health in the short-term much like how Mario grew to his super form back in the old-school days! And then there a bits where you get to race on a manta ray or roll about on a ball a la Super Monkey Ball, both of which utilise the Wii's motion controls to good effect.
There is so much goodness in Galaxy that it is difficult to pinpoint any shortcomings it has. The camera tends to be a smart one, accurately fixing itself at the best angles for any given situation, but in the more open areas, and especially whilst swimming underwater, it can be quite disorientating and the lack of manual freedom like that seen in Sunshine is sorely missed. You do get used to it, though, and chances are that any deaths you incur in the tougher stages are purely a result of your own botch-ups and not the somewhat floaty camera.
I have already said that Galaxy does happen to be a very linear game without much freedom of exploration, but if you are someone who prefers the 2D platformers over 3D ones, you'll love how there's ALWAYS something going on in Galaxy. The environments themselves are actually quite small despite their expansive appearances (lots of glorified "space" in between planets), but this has made it easier for Nintendo to provide us with an unreal variety of things to see and do. There is also a two player co-op mode of sorts whereby the second player can help Mario to collect star bits (used as stunning ammo and to unlock new galaxies when paid in bulk) and even halt enemies in their tracks by simply pointing at them. It may not be an equal gameplay experience for both players, but it's great for helping out someone who isn't as well versed in video games so that they can enjoy it as much as anyone else, and with the ability to join in at any time, it's a great addition that's not just tacked on for the sake of having a multiplayer mode.
Screenshots will show you how good Galaxy looks with its vibrant galaxies bustling with tons of cosmic activity, but when you see it running for yourself at an incredibly smooth framerate and loads of glittering effects bursting from all over the place, you'll understand what I mean when I say that this is easily the best looking Wii game to date. The soundtrack is just as magical with plenty of classic remixes given an orchestral overhaul coupled with a couple of brand spanking new ones which aren't quite as hummable, but equally as mesmerising. Everything combines with one another perfectly to make Galaxy not only an amazing game to play, but to watch as well.
The Nintendo Wii has had a dearth of quality games after its initial glowing debut, but the promises of revolutionary gameplay have started to come to fruition. Super Mario Galaxy is a 3D platformer that redefines how we play platformers. Anyone could have easily given a nameless hero a floating backpack device and raked in millions, but I wonder how many, if any, would be able to replicate the imaginative gravity-defying antics of Galaxy. Everything you loved about the 2D AND 3D Mario games has made its way across to Nintendo's latest baby, and apart from a handful of niggling camera/control issues, it's more perfect than you could possibly imagine. If there was only one reason to get a Wii, this would be it.
VERDICT - 10.0/10 Can 3D platforming get any better? No seriously, can it??
(Some purple coin challenges are a bit lame, though... but obtaining perfection is deeply satisfying!)
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/30/07, Updated 12/20/07
Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy (EU, 11/16/07)
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