Review by Anclation
"Yet again, Mario takes platforming to a whole new level."
Lets cut to the chase, Mario Galaxy is the game every Wii owner needs to own and for non-Wii owners it represents an extremely good reason to go out and buy the console. From Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3 to Super Mario 64, the short Italian plumber has kept raising the bar for platformers and with Mario Galaxy the bar has been set so high that I can't really see any other platformer matching it for rest of this generation. The pesky question of should I buy this game? now being out of the way, you might wonder exactly what makes Mario Galaxy so exceptional, so impressive, so downright fun to play? Lets take a closer look.
Super Mario Galaxy is the spiritual successor to Super Mario 64, the N64 classic that defined 3D platformers and in many ways 3D gaming, period. We have since then seen many clones and even another 3D Mario adventure, but as GameCube's Super Mario Sunshine didn't represent the huge leap from Mario 64 that had been expected, it failed to match the great expectations of many fans. With the arrival of the Wii however, another 3D Mario platformer was inevitable and a year after the Wii had been released, Mario Galaxy arrived to truly show what the console was capable of.
The story is Mario Galaxy is simple, yet compelling enough to keep your interest and some awesome cinematics make sure the presentation is far beyond anything that has been seen in a Mario game previously. Basically, Mario arrives in the Mushroom Kingdom to celebrate a Star Festival, but predictably the celebration is cut short by Mario's arch-enemy Bowser, who uses the Festival as cover to launch a surprise attack with his battle ships. What's worse is that Bowser has acquired a spaceship as well, which he uses to lift Princess Peach's castle up from the ground and into space. Mario tries to save Peach, but succeeds only in getting himself knocked into the cold, black depths of space. Miraculously, Mario survives the whole ordeal, and is even lucky enough to encounter a well-intentioned woman on the faraway planet he ends up on. That woman is the mysterious Princess Rosalina, who teaches Mario the spin attack which enables him to use the Launch Star, a useful tool for traveling through space. Rosalina also lets Mario use her Star Observatory for the purpose of discovering and traveling to distant galaxies in his quest to rescue Peach. The Star Observatory ends up acting as the hub world of Mario Galaxy, in the same way Peach's Castle acted as the hub of Mario 64.
Like in Mario 64, you will need to complete various missions in the different galaxies (as the gaming worlds are known in this game) in order to acquire stars, and if you have enough stars new galaxies will be unlocked for your gaming pleasure. The game's structure is largely open-ended, and you don't have to complete the galaxies in any particular order, giving you a lot of freedom over how you want to play the game. There are more than 40 different galaxies to visit, some hiding only 1 star, others containing as many as 7 stars. Apart from the standard missions, you will later in the game encounter various comets orbiting different galaxies, comets that change the way you play: Depending on the comet orbiting the galaxy, you'll be facing new tasks such as tackling a timed stage, racing a doppelganger Mario to the end of a galaxy or collecting 100 purple coins on the galaxy you're visiting. Successfully completing every comet challenge is crucial if you are to collect all 120 stars scattered throughout the galaxies.
The control in Super Mario Galaxy is pretty much like it was in Mario 64, save a few minor changes. This of course means that the control is superb, as tight and responsive as you could wish it to be and pulling off all of Mario's moves is a breeze. The changes made mostly affect the battle system, as you now use your spin attack (pulled off by shaking the Wiimote) to knock out enemies instead of punching and kicking them, and you can pick up so-called Star Bits and shoot them at enemies to temporarily stun them. The new blends in with the old seamlessly, and quickly becomes second nature.
If the control is similar to Mario 64, the rest of Galaxy displays tremendous innovation and it introduces two gameplay concepts new to the Mario platformers: The first is spherical worlds, as Mario now (in keeping with the space theme) is no longer limited to flat terrain and will be platforming on tons of planetoids and celestial objects of every conceivable shape and form. This concept also opens the door for a whole range of new platforming challenges, as Mario will have to run, jump and fight from every imaginable angle, whether it be upside down, sideways etc. What's really amazing is how elegantly this new gameplay-style is wowen into the core Mario platforming, with no learning curve at all, and how beautifully the spherical worlds and theflat worlds complement each other, the balance between them being simply perfect.
The second big innovation in Mario Galaxy is the gravity system that if features: If you jump off a planetoid you won't fall to your doom (unless there's a black hole nearby), but be pulled back to it due to the gravitational pull. This is why you will never fall off a planetoid when running around on it. Of course, if another large object is near and you jump sufficiently far, you might find yourself actually drawn towards that object instead of falling back on the first planetoid. The gravity-system is pulled off flawlessly and allows for some extremely enjoyable experimentation with gravity, as you jump around on the various objects and see what happens, where to gravity draws you. Gravity can also be manipulated in certain instances, as some stages within the galaxies will feature switches that when hit will for example cause up to become down or cause you to suddenly fall leftwards. Ultimately Mario Galaxy takes full advantage of its gravity system in order to offer myriads of incredibly imaginative challenges for the player to enjoy.
Variety is the spice of life
If you thought Mario 64's worlds were exotic, you ain't seen nothing yet: What say you about galaxies consisting entierly of toys and candy? What about galaxies combining ice and fire, a watery planet shaped like a giant fish or galaxies where platforms appear and disappear at random? Mario Galaxy features some of the craziest worlds ever seen in a platformer (and I mean that in a good way!), while the amount of variation between the 40 + galaxies simply beggars belief. And while offering all kinds of freaky space worlds, there's plenty of more traditional Mario stages to explore as well, like deserts, haunted houses, murky waters and green plains. Just don't imagine that if you've gotten one star in one of the galaxies you've seen all it has to offer, as different star missions will see you flying off to vastly different locations even within the same galaxy. The galaxy missions are usually linearly structured, with only one way to go, but the amazingly imaginative and varied challenges you encounter on your path make sure that you will never be bored while playing through them
Mario Galaxy also features plenty of great power-ups, some brand new (like the Bee suit, which allows Mario to fly, walk on top of clouds and climb honey-covered walls), some old and classic (like the Fire Flower, which enables Mario to shoot fireballs). The abilities gained by all the different power-ups will need to be fully mastered in order for you to reach every end star, something which (due to the excellent controls) thankfully will not be beyond most players. Unlike Mario 64, Galaxy also features plenty of great boss fights, pitting Mario up against a group of highly diverse baddies, all of whom require different strategies to beat. Though the battles in most cases are rather easy, they are highly entertaining all the same.
Not content with all of this, Mario Galaxy also adds to the mix stages where Mario has to balance his way to the finish line on top of a rolling ball, watery racing stages where he's riding a manta ray, stages where Mario's inside a bubble and the player has to use a bubble blower to guide him past the stage's perils, stages where he's being flung across the galaxy by giant slingshot-like plants, old-school 2D stages, stages where.....
Simply put, I could go on and on about the breadth of challenges, power-ups and means of travel in Mario Galaxy, but since I don't have all day it will suffice to say that Galaxy features enough material (in terms of great ideas, fun challenges and varied worlds) to have filled up several excellent, 3D Mario platformers. That all of it is packed into one single game however, is what makes Galaxy a true masterpiece.
In with the new, in with the old
While filled with innovative ideas, Mario Galaxy also features plenty of classic Mario characters and enemies, as well as plenty of references to past games, making sure older Mario fans will feel right at home playing it. In many ways, Mario Galaxy actually feels closer to the classic 2D games (despite the space setting) than Mario 64, not only due to the fact that you'll be using classic weapons (like koopa shells) and power-ups (the fire flower) to beat enemies, but also because the linear level-design harkens back to old-school run and jump gameplay and the pure, unadultered fun of 2D platforming at its best. And yet, Mario Galaxy also boasts all the strengths of the best 3D platformers, allowing the player to be completely immersed, while providing ample opportunity to experiment around with gravity and explore huge worlds (just because most star-missions are linear doesn't mean that there aren't also missions that encourage the player to explore the galaxies to the fullest). Mario Galaxy truly represents the best of both worlds.
Use of the Wiimote
While using the Wiimote and Nunchuck in many different ways, Mario Galaxy never lets the motion controls take over the traditional control system, as you still use the analog stick to move around and press buttons to execute most of Mario's moves. But while not allowed to take over the entire experience, the Wiimote still plays an important role, as it will be used to preform Mario's important spin attack, pick up Star Bits and pull Mario along various star paths. The Wii's motion controls also feature prominently in some of the more unique stages, as motion controls will be used to steer Mario along when he's balancing on top a giant ball, riding a manta ray or being blown around various galaxies while inside a bubble. It's all very nicely implemented and falls neatly into place within the wider game, providing an excellent example of how to take advantage of the Wii's unique control-system while not going overboard
Mario Galaxy is an incredible game, but it's not perfect. The biggest issue in the game is the camera, an Achilles' heel of many a 3D platformer. Usually functioning as an automatic camera that shifts and moves along with the action, Galaxy's camera mostly works very well indeed, but there will be times when it gets stuck in awkward places and the fact that it often can't be adjusted manually will be a source of frustration. Things get especially bad when swimming underwater, with frequently erratic movement and positioning. Another issue is how a couple of the power-ups really don't get much use at all, being only available at a handful of locations and never fully living up to their potential. Finally, while the overall difficulty level is very well balanced (getting the 60 stars required for beating the main game is quite easy, while getting all 120 stars represents a good challenge for seasoned gamers), the final boss battle in the game simply does not offer the necessary challenge to go with the epic setting.
Fun is everything
In the end though, Mario Galaxy is one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played and not just because of the perfect controls, the stunning variation or the peerless design. No, it's also due to the fact that the whole game is just so polished, that everything, from picking up Star Bits with the Wiimote to stomping enemies just feels good, feels right. This game literally gave me this stupid, happy grin whenever I was playing, as I was being swept away into the wondrous world of Mario Galaxy and all else ceased to matter.
Graphics and Sound
With all its other qualities in mind, Galaxy would be an amazing piece of software no matter what it looked and sounded like. But it also happens to be the best looking and sounding game on the Wii. In terms of graphics only Metroid Prime 3 comes close to matching it among existing Wii games, and with detailed textures, lots of sweet graphical effects (fur shading for instance makes many characters and enemies really come alive) and stunning draw distance, no better showcase of the Wii's graphical potential exists today. But beyond the technical aspect of it all, Galaxy comes off looking even better: The art in the game is absolutely stunning, and the diversity in styles coupled with the fabulous use of colors (colorful doesn't even begin to describe this game) makes it a marvelous treat for the eyes. On a purely technical level Mario Galaxy represents a significant graphical upgrade from Mario Sunshine, though not quite on par with the PS360 games. Artistically however, it is one of the prettiest games ever made.
Somewhat surprisingly, Mario Galaxy also features a superb soundtrack, much of it even fully orchestrated. Being a blissful mix of original tunes and great remixes of old favorites from Mario Bros. 1-3 plus Mario 64, Galaxy's soundtrack proves to be much better than those of past Mario platformers and gives the game the sort of epic atmosphere that other Mario platformers were lacking. The sound effects are great as well, making you feel all the more involved in the action and making even the small things, like preforming the spin attack on an enemy, feel all the more satisfying.
Getting 60 stars and finishing the main game doesn't take too long, maybe 10 hours for the average player. However, as you attempt to collect all 120 stars you'll find that the later challenges are both harder and more time consuming that the earlier ones, ensuring that beating them all will easily take some 20-25 hours even for more experienced gamers. The reward for getting the 120 stars is brilliant and will probably keep you playing the game for a good while even after having gotten all the stars. And after that you can still try to collect as many coins as possible on each star mission for a high-score challenge and engage in time trial races for the best possible time on various racing courses. There's even a two-player mode, where a second player picking up a Wiimote can help out by holding enemies still, picking up Star Bits, shooting them at enemies and otherwise aid player one. While certainly not on par with the extensive multiplayer modes of Rareware's later N64 platformers, it's still a welcome addition to the game. But none of this is what will keep you playing Mario Galaxy for months and months, as its superb replay value is really a by-product of the awesome gameplay, which ensures you will want to replay your favorite galaxies (and in this game, you'll have plenty of favorites) time and time again.
Mario Galaxy is easily the Wii's best exclusive game, boasting gorgeous visuals, an excellent soundtrack and fantastic gameplay. What Mario Bros. 3 was to the original Mario Bros., Mario Galaxy is to Mario 64: A big improvement on the original game that still manages to retain the core qualities that made the original great in the first place. It's not quite perfect, but seeing how much better it is than pretty much every other platformer on the planet, anything else than a top score would to me seem overly harsh. This is the best platfomer ever made, the best Mario game ever made, and a game no Wii owner can be without. Do yourself a favor and buy this game now!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/28/08
Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy (EU, 11/16/07)
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