Review by aweste

"Welcome Back From Vacation Mario"

Mario is a cultural icon that transcends the limited scope of video games. One would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't at least recognize the mustached plumber. With that in mind, to state that each new addition to the franchise has a lofty standard to live up to is an incredible understatement, which leads us to the all important question: Is Super Mario Galaxy the game fans have been waiting for? Read on to find out but be warned, I'm 101 power stars in and there are sure to be spoilers. This is Super Mario Galaxy masticated, digested and metabolized. You're about to enter the no-hype zone.

Despite the grandiose spectacle of Bowser and his fleet of airships ripping the Princess' castle from the surface of the Mushroom Kingdom and spiriting it away to the center of the universe, Super Mario Galaxy retreads the same Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach and Mario saves her formula used since the very first game. Sure, Nintendo added a few new characters, but don't expect the Pulitzer nomination committee to be calling anytime soon. Regardless, stranding Mario on a powered down space station (which serves as the hub world in this game) does provide the backdrop to completely shatter the logical limits dictated by any prior games in the series. This isn't your granddaddy's Mushroom Kingdom and, in fact, isn't even the Mushroom Kingdom at all. This time around, Mario has to explore unusual galaxies that are vastly different from the Mushroom Kingdom fans know and love. While this does give the game a slightly disjointed and random feel, it does allow the developers to go wild with some of the galaxy concepts. The flip side is, it provides for extremely varied gameplay to keep you from getting bored. By suspending traditional "Mario" logic, the developers were free to return to the whimsical-style of level design present in the first three entries to the series. Why is that platform just floating there for no reason with nothing to suspend it? No need to analyze it, just jump to it before you die.

Though the Mushroom Kingdom may be light years away, all of the typical Mario locals are represented (grassland, desert, snow, lava, underwater, haunted house, etc.). However, the designers did take quite a few liberties, particularly with some of the single-power star Mini-Galaxies. With few exceptions, these wacky galaxies are some of the most creative and interesting levels in the game. For example, in the Hurry Scurry Galaxy, Mario must collect musical notes (which combine to play classic Mario tunes as you gather them) on a small metal satellite composed of panels that shrink and disappear the moment you touch them. In the Loopdeloop and Loopdeswoop galaxies, Mario surfs through ridiculously twisted water slides on the back of a giant stingray in a race against the clock. In the Sweet Sweet Galaxy, Mario runs through a bizarre obstacle course composed of candy and cake that requires some impressive and nimble leaps to nab the power star. While these Mini-Galaxies are certainly a highlight of the game, by no means do the regular levels leave you wanting. Galaxy's levels run the gamut from the typical Mario locales to planet hopping odysseys where you're required to perform tasks such as taking down an enormous mechanical Bowser toy or infiltrating a heavily armed warship as it idles through space. Most importantly, the developers were careful so as not to overuse clever level mechanics, preventing that I've already played this level too many times feeling. Then, just when you think you know a level inside and out, comets appear in orbit around the various galaxies, imposing such challenges as racing against a cosmic Mario doppelgänger or completing a specific level (or portion of a level) without taking any damage.

From the technical side Super Mario Galaxy proves that, despite lacking the technological horsepower of the Xbox 360 or the PS3, talented artistry can perform wonders with the Wii hardware. Granted, the tech-dork inside of me still wonders what Mario would look like flattening Goombas in high definition, but I cannot deny how beautiful Galaxy is visually. From the shimmering surface of the water to the sleek metallic curves of a satellite floating through space, every aspect of Mario's world is stunning—in its own weird and illogical way. The lighting effects are particularly impressive, as each galaxy overflows with interesting objects emanating that hazy luminescence necessary to achieve a truly outer space feel. Whether Mario rockets to safety past an erupting volcano or uses homing Bullet Bills to take down a huge armored robot the size of a small moon, the explosions are big, bright and frequent. Moreover, the attention to detail is, at times, astonishing. From the chubby, child-like Lumas blinking with their beady little eyes to the behemoth bosses stomping around tiny planets obviously not intended for residents of their girth, every inhabitant of this odd universe has a lot of character. One can't help but smile when Bowser, Jr. first appears sporting a handkerchief tied over his mouth, bandit-style, with a set of vicious teeth painted on it to cover his toothless infant mouth. Hey, when you're Bowser's son, you have unusually high standards to live up to. On that note, Bowser is easily one of the most impressive characters, both from a visual standpoint and because, for the first time ever, he truly looks sinister—no small feat when considering the cartoon-like nature of Mario's world. The moment he makes his first appearance, Bowser is the fire-breathing, plumber-stomping, regal jackass you want him to be.

It is very clear from my time spent with Super Mario Galaxy that the developers understood the inherent strengths and limitations of the system and used this knowledge to create a technically sound and virtually flawless game engine. Galaxy consistently runs at 60 frames per second regardless of the on-screen action, which is impressive and necessary, as some of the quick jumps required in the later levels would be nearly impossible with any sort of slowdown. Considering that Mario spends a lot of his time planet hopping, soaring back and forth between the stars, I expected pop-in to occasionally rear its ugly head. To my delight, however, the draw distance is impressive and pop-in is almost non-existent. In fact, the only instance of pop-in I experienced occurred as I fell into the black hole situated in the middle of a galaxy following a missed jump. It must be said however, that I fell a long distance from the level's playing field before the pop-in occurred. Textures are crisp, highly detailed and bring the different galaxies to life. Metal surfaces gleam with highly polished sheen, lava sizzles and oozes with a menacing glow and grasslands look satisfyingly organic.

Even from its humble beginnings (what Mario fan can't hum the World 1-1 tune from Super Mario Bros.?), the music in Mario games has always been simple, but catchy. Galaxy is no exception. Longtime fans are treated to a varied mix of new and classic tunes, all with an oddly “galactic” twist to them. The sound effects, while certainly not revolutionary, serve their purpose without being intrusive or annoying. The coos and gurgles of the Lumas you encounter are cute without being overtly sickening while the excited (yet slightly grating) murmurs and groans from your team of interplanetary Toadstool explorers work for the characters. Once again though, Bowser takes center stage, as he communicates in a dialect composed solely of grunts and roars that matches his sinister image perfectly. Last but not least, Mario still features the little quips and grunts that (no offense to Charles Martinet) I've always found moderately irritating.

The controls are intuitive and comfortable from the moment you pick them up. Regardless of the terrain, Mario handles exactly as you would expect. I've never personally been a fan of the ice and snow levels, as the slippery surface mechanic seems to be an artificial way to increase the difficulty level. However, this time around, with a quick flick of the Wii remote, Mario has the ability to skate across icy surfaces with ease. The few abilities that do require movement of the Wii remote (most notably Mario's spin attack) feel natural and responsive. At times, the slight delay between consecutive spins can be annoying but it certainly doesn't hamper gameplay. If anything, I applaud the developers for keeping the motion controls to a minimum, as opposed to tacking them on wherever possible (I'm looking at you Super Paper Mario). A few of the control schemes have a slightly steeper learning curve, particularly in the levels where Mario finds himself riding on top of a giant ball. These levels require you to hold the Wii remote vertically and tilt it in the direction you wish to move. While this is actually an effective and creative approximation of balancing on top of a sphere, it does take a little practice to master. Although you'll never be able to turn on a dime, over time you will comfortably roll Mario around and through obstacles. Without question, the worst control scheme definitely belongs to Mario's Spring power-up, fittingly put to use in the Toy Time Galaxy. However, in Nintendo's defense, would you really expect a chubby plumber wrapped in a spring to handle like a Porsche? Again, with a little practice, the quirks to navigating these levels eventually becomes more natural.

I must admit I was a bit apprehensive upon learning that, as opposed to complete camera control, players are limited to being able to re-center the camera behind Mario with a push of the C-button. However, the in game camera works well for the most part, with the exception of a few instances where it moderately hindered play, all of which were underwater portions of the game.

So what's the bottom line? Super Mario Galaxy is an unequivocal return to the core gameplay that made Super Mario Bros. an instant classic: challenging platform hopping. This factor alone makes Super Mario Galaxy a certified must buy for any Wii owner. Super Mario Galaxy is heir to the throne and successfully washes the mediocre taste from your mouth left by Super Mario Sunshine. Is Super Mario Galaxy in league with the hallowed Super Mario 64? No, it's bigger, better and sits in a league of its own. To confirm my initial impressions, it is the Super Mario Bros. 3 of the 3D generation.

The Good:
- Mario returns to challenging platforming roots.
- Stunning visual presentation.
- Extremely varied and unusual levels.
- Just plain fun.

The Bad:
- Variety in levels gives game a bit of a disjointed feel.
- A few of the alternate control mechanics take some time to master.
- Lack of complete camera control can be moderately annoying at times (specifically underwater).

The Ugly:
- Absolutely nothing.

Final Grade: A

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/10/07

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

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