Review by Reptobismol
"Not even outer space is safe from Goomba infestation!"
When screenshots and video footage were first released long ago, it was understandable for some to be less than psyched for the game. Super Mario Sunshine left a bad taste in a lot of mouths, and here was presented what appeared to be a gimmick more unorthodox to the Mario universe than FLUDD- clusters of miniature planetoids with their own gravitational pull, complete with interstellar space travel. This drastic change brought on a lot of skepticism. However, after playing the game through to the end twice, I can assure you that this is definitely a worthy successor to Super Mario 64. That said, one cannot go into this game expecting more of 64; the two games are very different. Galaxy alters the dimensions and takes platforming to a level never explored, while still retaining all of the look and feel of a Mario game. If you cannot rid yourself of the mindset that 64 is the be-all to end-all of platformers, chances are you'll be disappointed.
While many features of the game are to be praised, I might as well begin with the most important- the gameplay. Mario retains many of his classic moves, among them the triple jump, side somersault, backflip, and of course the long jump, which one quickly finds himself using religiously. There is also the ability to crawl, which even more quickly one will find to be quite useless. With no punches, kicks or water packs, Mario's offense is left up to the multipurpose spin, along with the occasional stomp and ground pound. While spinning in itself is not exactly new to Mario, this time around it is the bread and butter of his arsenal and serves more purpose than ever before. From smashing enemies and objects alike, to getting much-needed air on difficult jumps, the spin nearly rivals Mario's jump in both required and beneficial usage. Naturally, a move applicable in so many situations must be quick and easy to unleash; knowing this, the move was mapped to the Wii remote, and is executed with a single shake. This is highly responsive, as is every single element of the controls, and the game will never be hindered because of them. Movement is also very tight and smooth with the analog stick. Because they were so well implemented it takes next to nothing to become accustomed to holding and using the nunchuk alone, without the feeling of clutching a single controller.
At first glance, one might be mislead into believing that the levels are largely comprised of single spherical objects interconnected by warps; this is not so. While it is true that many individual areas fit this description, the levels and environments in themselves are very large and vast in design and shape; those spherical planetoids merely accompany the central portion of the world. As for central areas, some worlds(or "Galaxies" as the game calls them) have an extremely large piece of land, with varied terrain, their own network of platforms, and numerous interactive objects and features. Neighbored by much smaller planets, these massive chunks of earth are basically the closest thing you'll get to a level similar to that of 64's or Sunshine's. Other galaxies really don't have any main planet if you will, but rather consist of several smaller yet decently proportioned land masses. And lastly, there are a couple of galaxies made up of very many planetoids, with the rare full-fledged planet or monumental structure thrown in. These latter two galaxies are traversed primarily via warp stars, but it must be said that they don't feel at all sparse in activity, or especially claustrophobic. You'll take them exactly as you would the enormous land masses, only piece by piece. The environments cover all the basic necessities of Mario, including a forest depicted in autumn(which is under fire for being a mock-up of a previous galaxy, but trust me, the actual gameplay is completely different;) a haunted cove, complete with an underground lake and shipwreck; an icy mountain, this time swirled together with a lava-filled temple, combining contrasting hazards into one; a space station embedded in rock, with innumerable cannons and ammo; and my personal favorite, Toy Time, depicting a bedroom, its levels comprised either of multicolored towers of blocks and bolts or an array of dessert foods, complete with plates and silverware all arranged to provide an amazing platforming experience.
All of these galaxies have areas that exploit the big mechanic introduced in Galaxy, that being the ability to explore all surfaces of an object, including the underside. The dimensions flip and rotate seamlessly for Mario, allowing him to walk and explore wherever the gravity won't be an obstruction. There's even a cool orbiting effect when taking a big leap forward, and the planet rotates to the corresponding side. On that note, far from every edge is safe for travel, and the game is no stranger to bottomless pits; curiosity inevitably leads to 250-mph breaths of fresh air. The game also introduces black holes, which accompany many areas and turn your botched jumps into meals. It's pretty easy, however, to tell when something is safe to leap to- or onto, for that matter. Almost all planes made for safe travel will have rounded edges or some other obvious sign. It can be very disorienting at times, especially when trying to complete a task on the underside of a planet, and will undoubtedly lead to a bit of frustration. This isn't an oversight, though; it merely adds to the difficulty.
What about powerups? You can't have a Mario game without them, and Galaxy has more than it knows what to do with. This can end up being a flaw in some regards, as depending on how much fun you have with one, you may wish it was made available in more than a couple levels. None of Mario's alternate forms end up serving a purpose or even make an appearance in more than a few levels apiece. That may be all well and good for Fire and Spring Mario, the latter of which scrapping all of Mario's abilities save for the ground pound in exchange for slinky-like, incessantly bouncy movement and an extremely high jump. Ice Mario however provides some extremely cool attributes, such as freezing water into platforms, and allowing one to walk or "skate" over lava. One particular level(in fact the very first opportunity you are given to try this item) makes an ingenious and fun use of the item, only to never introduce the opportunity again. It's a real shame. Worst of all is the Red Star which allows Mario to fly exactly as the Wing Cap did; not only is it only used with purpose in one bland level, but it is made available to you permanently afterward with no real place or incentive to use it. I feel this was added as an afterthought. Rainbow Mario, gained via invincibility star, is a real treat to wreak havoc with and unlike most powerups, exists in many places throughout the game. Bee Mario, allowing you to briefly fly, crawl on honeycomb, and walk on "light" objects is also the most extensively used powerup, at least in consideration of stage length. Another huge disappointment goes to Boo Mario. There was so much unused potential for this form, allowing you to ascend high into the air and pass through some walls and objects; it was not only sparsely used, but didn't even take full advantage of its abilities. I don't see the scarcity of the power-ups as a true flaw, however, not only because the levels are more than fun enough without them, but also because they're gimmicky enough that one would get tired of them quickly due to overuse. All of them get at least one level putting them to good use, giving you a fun experience.
Super Mario Galaxy's gameplay does take some intense heat in two areas, the biggest of which being its linearity. While many areas do allow for a lot of exploration and freedom, some gamers criticize that every level basically has only one path that must be followed to reach the end, and that stars can only be gotten in one particular level, never allowing you to simply enter and play for whichever you choose or come by. I feel that these criticisms are fueled 90% by nostalgia, by people who can't get over the idea of having everything open to them at once. I also feel that the benefits of linearity far outweigh the cons. The biggest example is that the levels take much longer to complete, and keep the majority of the terrain and areas diverse. With Mario 64, you see the same thing every single time and often(especially with levels like Tiny Huge Island or Hazy Maze Cave) must traverse a sizable portion of it over and over again with each playthrough. Many of Galaxy's levels start you on the same single piece of land and then immediately branch out to something completely different for the entire duration. Point being, every level provides a different experience. The fact that one cannot go after any star on a whim and must play the level pertaining to that particular star is negligible, and quite frankly I think being upset with that is pathetic.
Also under fire is the camera, which I will agree is far from perfect. While it may be a step forward compared to cameras of old, it still has some glaring flaws and will make for a little or a lot of frustration. Namely, underwater. The camera refuses to stay positioned behind Mario and often rotates itself as it pleases, making it nigh on impossible to tell where an object is exactly in relation to Mario. Making a simple error such as swimming into a wall or enemy and the "stumbling" as a result will distort the view even more. Water galaxies or areas requiring swimming are not too few in number, either, so being at odds with the camera is inevitable. On dry land, the camera can still be a real pain in the ass. While you are able to center the camera, rotate it left or right or position it behind you, these instances have a knack for never being available to you when you really need them, and attempting to shift the focus will get you an angry beep. This mainly occurs when Mario is trying to progress forward but cannot see what he's running into, or otherwise is forced to make what feels like leaps of faith, because the camera does not allow you to see everything you need to. Lastly, on occasions you are given full reign of the camera, it will immediately revert back to what it thinks is the necessary position, thereby giving you a disorienting view of Mario's position relevant to the task at hand. This quirk is generally limited to planetoids with every surface available for travel.
A smaller complaint is its overall ease, at least in comparison to the previous two 3-D Mario platformers. To that, I have two things to say; first off, the game still has its share of tough stunts and entire levels, to give players a run for their money. Second, a game doesn't need to be an exercise in patience and frustration to earn some respect. It isn't a walk in the park. As far as the comparison itself goes, Mario 64 and Sunshine's difficulty was not entirely derived from positive aspects. 64 had what is considered to be an atrocious camera, and Sunshine was chock full of stupid and annoying quirks, along with the occasional constraint placed on a level to make it easier to die. The game also throws lives at you, making them very easy to accumulate, and along with numerous checkpoints throughout most levels you'll find it difficult if not impossible to Game Over. I myself have never gotten one.
The last of the complaints, and the most menial of all, is the "hub" world, or basically the Observatory you use to access the individual levels. The observatory is pretty much bare bones, providing little more than the entrances to each world. There is an abundance of characters you won't be remotely interested in talking to or otherwise interacting with, and the occasional 1-Up scattered about. It lacks the aesthetics of both previous "hubs" and the activity(relevant to the gamer) of Isle Delfino. If any criticism of the Observatory should be taken seriously, it is that the single-star levels accessed on the outside of the hub are in plain sight and take no effort whatsoever to access. Isle Delfino's numerous stars were at least hidden to a degree. To that I have to say, while it WOULD have been a little more interesting to have to hunt these levels down, the fact that Galaxy's "filler" stars are whole levels in themselves, many of them being beautiful and extremely fun levels no less, makes it so easy to overlook. Appreciate the filler stars for what they are: awesome.
The graphics are beautiful and show off the Wii's potential. I see no reason to compare them to the 360 or PS3; just consider what the Wii itself is capable of. Levels are vibrant and colorful, as one would expect from a Mario game. The game was not made to be stunning on all TVs however, but to that extent I can't elaborate on which are the exceptions. For myself, this game was pleasing to the eyes.
The soundtrack is excellent. The orchestrated pieces are simply stunning... absolutely stunning. Most of them also go perfectly with their corresponding levels and give them an epic feel. The numerous synthesized tracks are also commendable, but nothing worth really gushing over. Play this game with your volume up, definitely. While there's no voice acting aside from tiny quips and phrases, and of course Mario's numerous high-pitched sound effects, I can't say that isn't a bad thing, after the abominable voice and script of Sunshine. Scrapping it was an improvement.
Despite linearity I feel many levels are so fun that you'll want to replay them anyway, and for that matter, beating the game with 120 stars as Mario unlocks a second character with very different physics, allowing you to play the full game a second time. It's highly worth it.
I don't like looking at things on a "point" scale, especially when there are so many things to consider with this game; when evaluating it I noticed things I would dock points for, but then realise that in the grand scheme of things it's irrelevant, either being balanced or offset by something else, or dwarfed by the magnitude of quality of something else. Having said that, if there's one thing that keeps me from labeling this game as perfect, it's the camera. It pissed me off frequently enough, and I think the developers could have improved it. Since Gfaqs doesn't operate on a decimal point system, and the camera is offset by everything else well enough, I'll leave it at a 9/10.
If you remotely like Mario or platformers in general, buy this game. You won't regret it. Personally, I think it's one of the best platformers I've ever played, if not the best.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/04/07, Updated 12/05/07
Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy (US, 11/12/07)
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