Review by lopp3

"Oh, the glorious memories."

Surely, SURELY any of you who have ever owned a Nintendo 64 or a Nintendo DS have experienced the wondrous magic of platforming that is known as Super Mario 64. It was the forefront of Nintendo's arsenal and the frontrunner of the times: it brought platforming in the third dimension while further launching Mr. Nintendo through the outer magnetosphere. Well it appears that Mario's broken clean out of Earth's magnetosphere and he's landed himself in space for this adventure. And, though Mario had some tough competition to deal with on his release (Assassin's Creed and Crysis came out the next day), he managed to shine through them all.

Super Mario Galaxy is a platformer/adventure game. It runs on a very simple formula. You have an overworld, in this case an observatory, and then you have rooms within the overworld. Each room can launch you to certain galaxies. Some of these galaxies will be available to you, while others you'll need a certain amount of Power Stars to access. Power Stars, you ask? Why, the lifeblood of the game, that ever elusive glowing yellow star which Mario has chased since the days of the Super Nintendo. When you launch yourself to a galaxy, you'll be shown the location of one and only one star (it's a star you can choose, you can pick a different one each time if you want), and you'll then be unceremoniously cannoned onto your starting location. So all you have to do is make your way to the star. But it's not that simple. Galaxies are, as should be given, composed of planets. These planets aren't usually too big, and you can travel between them using devices called sling stars. No two planets are the same, and each planet could quite literally be anything. Some planets have a hollowed space inside for you to walk, others are disc-shaped as opposed to spherical, the list goes on and on. Not every galaxy is made of planets, however. Some are just one giant lump, which you'll often have to scale or traverse fairly thoroughly and for quite a distance before reaching a star.

The control scheme with the Wii Remote is surprisingly clever. You move with the analog stick on the Nunchuk and jump with A, just like Super Mario 64. The other controls are, for the most part, very similar as well, like using Z to ground pound or crouch. The jumps are the same, with triple jumps, wall jumps, backflips, aerial cartwheels, and long jumps. Where things start to differ is the new attacking potential offered by the Wii Remote. By shaking the remote briefly Mario can perform a quick spin attack, as opposed to his oft-forgotten punch attack from the 64 version. You can also aim your remote at the screen and press B to launch a Star Bit, a little collectible item you can find just about anywhere. There are powerups too, though they're certainly neither the wing cap nor the metal cap (though they could be described as having the same function). Things like Bee Mario, which lets you fly, or Boo Mario, which lets you become invisible, will sound familiar. Fire Mario is also back from the Super Nintendo, ready to fry some stuff up. New to the team is Ice Mario, who can walk on water, which is a very awesome skill in the right contexts.

Describing the graphics in Super Mario Galaxy is somewhat of a challenge. It's almost hard to tell how good the graphics actually are, as the game overall has a very clean appearance. Many of the textures are relatively simple, though still very good looking, and the character design is cartoonish as usual. The graphical quality seems very impressive, certainly landing a top spot on the Wii. The sounds are nice as well, with fantastic remixes of classic Mario tunes, such as the cave music from Super Mario Bros. and the Bowser stage music from Super Mario 64. Nintendo finally managed to get that little speaker on the Wiimote to generate some tolerable sound, and the few noises it did make actually seemed to have reasonable fidelity. This was certainly an impressive feat; those speakers are pretty physically weak.

The gameplay, obviously, is where Super Mario Galaxy shines the most. While it's not as free-form as 64, it's still the same great platforming we've all come to know and love. The biggest difference now is that each planet, even each platform sometimes has its own gravity, allowing you to easily walk on the underside of things to get past an obstacle. Some of the puzzles the game features are quite challenging as well, though I have yet to encounter anything reminiscent of the infamous Pyramid Puzzle or Express Elevator Hurry Up from 64. Additionally, the level design changes with each star you choose, so there are always more puzzles and tricks in a galaxy than you realize at first. Thus, each time you get a star, you're overcoming essentially a whole new level. And, in addition to this, they throw yet ANOTHER ball for us to play with. And these are comets. Every once in a while, a comet will orbit a galaxy. When this happens, the normal stars in that galaxy will be removed and replaced with a special comet challenge. Each comet produces a different type of challenge: some make you complete a level very quickly, some make you fight a boss without getting hit, some even make you race a clone of yourself! Including all these, plus the hidden stars within each major galaxy, means you'll be spending quite a bit of time on each one. And that's a good thing; trust me.

Aside from the main galaxies, there are small, one-star galaxies which are essentially minigames and tests of skill. They're usually a good bit harder than regular galaxies and often require high degrees of precision. Some have you drifting over a poisonous swamp, some have you surfing on a manta ray, some have you hurling through space using weird sticky plants, and still others have you solving a puzzle on a dangerously electrified half-cube. They're welcome breaks from the norm, and there's just enough of them so that you can step out and do something different for a while without being forced to do them all the time.

The big objective of the game is to gather things called "Grand Stars". To procure these, you'll need to defeat a special Bowser or Bowser Jr. stage. These are individual galaxies and need to be unlocked just like any other, but there is one problem with unlocking them. If you play anything like me, you'll spend a good bit of time with each galaxy, usually earning most of the stars each one has to offer. The problem with this is that the game is designed for you to only get at max two stars from each galaxy to progress. So you may get in a situation where you can easily get two or three Grand Stars in a row, then be in a huge deficit of having a bunch of totally unexplored territory. This pacing issue is, nevertheless, a minor flaw, as you can simply forgo acquiring the Grand Stars until you want to, so the pacing is really up to you.

Super Mario Galaxy is a worthy addition to the long line of direct Mario games. With the same basic platforming elements set forth by Super Mario 64, shiny graphics courtesy of the Wii's more advanced hardware, and the excellent implementation of the gravity effect leads to a game that's extremely fun just to play. Galaxies can be so much fun that you simply want to go play them again, and you're absolutely free to do that if you so choose. Its small flaws are easily ignored, leaving the game essentially with no downsides. If you enjoy platforming, you need to play this.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/15/07

Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy (US, 11/12/07)

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