Review by Sir_Enigma

"Circumnavigating Giant Spheres: The Game"

Mario (aka “Jumpman”) is arguably the Mickey Mouse of the gaming world. Some claim that the “Super Mario Bros.” series revived the gaming industry; others say it simply created it. Or maybe nobody argues either of those points - I haven't checked my sources. But either way, the series has omnipresence in the gaming world. Mario's signature ability to jump has been spread across many genres and plagiarised by every mascot character from Sonic the Hedgehog to the Crash Bandicoot. Why couldn't SEGA or Sony have invented “Crouchman” or “Throwman”? I'll tell you why - because no one can just implement a bodily function into a game the way Shigeru Miyamoto did. Mario introduced jumping to society, and I have the Wikipedia article to prove it.

Sadly, the Mario name often pops up where it shouldn't. In recent years, we've seen maybe one too many “Mario Party” sequels and sports titles. But the line-up of games with Mario in them is somewhat synonymous to the game industry in its entirety. For every five or so sports titles in the franchise, there's one great Mario platformer that's at least worth a look. And some, like “Super Mario Galaxy”, are even worth a play.

Of course, many gamers are still looking for a title to completely sweep “Super Mario 64” out of the water - a title that'll never exist in their books. But while some elements of gameplay live on in this game, it ultimately makes way for itself by introducing several new characteristics (gravity, Star Bits, the spin ability etc.). Strap yourselves in, review junkies, for I'm about to give you a lesson in How Do These Innovations Help The Game 101.

GAMEPLAY = 8.5/10

This game manages to stick to tradition while not completely clinging onto it. It's the spiritual successor to “Super Mario Sunshine” for the GameCube, which was in turn successor to “Super Mario 64”. This basically means that you follow the formula of collecting stars in any preferred order for the purpose of opening new worlds - or galaxies in this game. So it's like a SM64 sequel with the FLUDD of the Wii generation. Though there are also several innovations.

The greatest innovation would have to be the gravity mechanism. Yes, yes, I know. There have been a few games with gravity in them before. But SMG takes this concept one step further by presenting small planets that you can circumnavigate without falling off. Beside these there are twisting pipelines to run up, or in some cases, tunnels to run inside of. But there needs to be a way to launch from planet to planet, right? Well, that's what Launch Stars are for. Aside from this, some levels are just traditionally flat as in your standard 3D platformer. There are also flat lands like these scattered amongst the mini-planets. The sectioning of galaxies into chunks that you launch between likens this game to the 3D Sonic series, and makes for some pretty interesting gameplay.

Rather than punching or spraying enemies, you spin into them in this game. While you have to defeat certain enemies in certain ways, usually by stunning them or using available items, bagging a baddie generally involves a combination of spinning and stomping. Another new function to the series is the Star Bits that you pick up using the cursor on-screen. These can be shot at enemies to stun them, or used to feed the hungry Luma children throughout the game. Though you still feel that these Star Bits could have been given greater significance, given the sheer amount you'll obtain in your quest.

With the innovations aside, I'll jump into the cons of the game. Firstly, some of the levels seem fairly short when compared to the missions from SM64 and SMS. There are a fair few 1-Up mushrooms lying around in the levels, which in my case meant not a single Game Over screen (though I did come incredibly close on one occasion). You do however die pretty often in some levels. But there's one con in this game that outshadows every other shortcoming you could possibly think of..... While “Super Mario 64” set a standard for 3D platformers, it also began the era of God-awful camera angles. With the unique gravity engine in mind, “Super Mario Galaxy” lifts this abominable camera control / positioning system to a new record of badness. At points, I almost felt that Crappy Camera could have been a sub-genre for the game.

But these barf-inducing camera flaws can, nay, must be overlooked, for there is a true gem underneath. Considering you generally only have 3 pieces in your health bar, this game at least keeps you on your toes for harder parts. And I must stress for all you hardcore gamers out there that there are harder parts in the game. Regardless of difficulty level, this game offers plenty of what people turn to a Mario game for - fun. There's abundant replay value (though without letting any spoilers slip, you might feel like the game just rehashes at one point), and such creativity in the level design that you'll likely go back to some levels just for the sake of it. And let's not forget the hour or so that'll be spent just standing dormant, soaking in the smaller details of particular areas. Some minor (and one major) letdowns aside, this game more than delivers in the gameplay department.

GRAPHICS = 9/10

These are likely the best graphics I've seen on the Wii so far. Which might not compare to the graphical detail seen in games on other consoles, but the artistic style here more than makes a name for itself. Like you'd expect from a platformer, the diversity of locations allows for basically every colour on the palette. It's astonishing how there can be such vibrant colour in the most ominous areas of the game. I've mentioned colour, now what's that other aspect of visual art? Oh yes, shape. There are some truly weird and wonderful shapes in this game, leading you to think M. C. Escher designed the game (the gravity device helps). There are some nice textures in this game too. And don't get me started on the lines.

Some polygons here and there may seem a little edgy, and not all objects look crisp up close. But none of that matters when you're being launched from one planet to the next, sparkling rings of Star Bits surrounding the path, too much visual majesty zooming past for you to possibly render in that little amount of time... Yes, indeed, this game is a whole eye candy store made to seduce the child within (or for any actual children reading this, the child with-out).

SOUND = 9/10

I read in a Guinness World Record book after playing through this game that the music was recorded by a full orchestra. And here I was, thinking it was all done with 8-bit MIDI sequencing. Seriously though, the music in this game is on a level of its own. The tunes are as inspired and epic as the galaxies they occupy, and set perfect moods for the atmospheres of each level. The compositions in the Boo, lava, and dreadnaught levels are the songs that'll remain in the heads of the next generation of young gamers well into adulthood.

Other sound effects in this game are done well too. Like the voice acting, for example. Though the dialogue comes mainly through printed text, the characters let out a few utterances or cries here and there. Peach is no longer the dolphin whisperer she was in “Super Mario Sunshine”, and the Toads all speak in convincing mushroom accents. There's an assortment of different lines the Toads can speak, from “Wha-hoo!” to “Oh no” sounds. Perhaps my favourite voice acting came from the Lumas, who make endearing “Puwwww” cries and laughs throughout the game. The soundtrack in this game is the key minimum that every platformer from here on out should aim for.

STORY = 7/10

I'll be honest: the story isn't the greatest factor here. It wasn't in SM64 either, so if you're judging this game in comparison to its ancestor, you shouldn't be too disappointed. That's not to say the story isn't deep enough to keep you interested, though. There's plenty of suspense, but the plot just isn't the aspect of the game that's likely to keep you hooked.

The most effective plot device would be the Storybook - a book in which chapters are added for every so many stars you collect. These chapters tell the back story of new character Rosalina (or as the Lumas call here, “Mama”). In terms of the main story, you'll hear repeated mention of Bowser's “ultimate plan”, which when unveiled will make you say “Oh..... That's cool, I guess. I mean it's more of an aspiration than a plan, but oh well.” The dialogue coming from the characters you interact with adds some light-hearted banter to the game, offering simple comedic value.

OVERALL = 8.5/10

Like movies, game franchises have the potential to succeed or fail over time, but “Super Mario Galaxy” proves that game franchises have a better chance of redemption even after 20 years. This game is fresh, fun, epic, and captivating enough to make you forget about the torturous camera angles. Having not bought a Mario game for at least three years, I was easily able to step back into the series without feeling like I was out of my age bracket.

If platformers are your genre of choice, this is the game to buy this year (assuming you only buy one game a year). As the gravity innovation proves, Nintendo can draw the line between experimentation and gimmick. If you want something different yet familiar, like a chocolate bar with a Red Bull centre, then don't pass up the opportunity to play this game.

FINAL VERDICT

Experiencing this game, it makes you wonder what wonderful and wacky step the Super Mario series is going to take next. Burst with snacky happiness and transform into a launch star, then blast into your nearest gaming store and pick up a copy of Super Mario Galaxy while you still can!


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/23/08

Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy (AU, 11/29/07)


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