Review by bluej33

Reviewed: 12/14/07

Fun, pure and simple

The Mario franchise will forever be considered among the greatest of all time…better than Halo, better than Half Life, better than Prince of Persia (and maybe even better than Legend of Zelda?). And frankly, it’s easy to see why. Mario seems never to be content to sit on his laurels, and instead is always pushing the envelope, making games a bit better. Admittedly, there have been some weak links in the series (Super Mario Sunshine comes most readily to mind), but all in all, the series has given to us gamers among the best games ever to have graced our video game systems.

So needless to say, anticipation was running extremely high for the latest installment in the fan favorite series: Super Mario Galaxy. Indeed, that philosophy of innovation of the platforming genre seemed to be present, as this title took place not in the Earthly Mushroom Kingdom, but rather in outer space. And I’ve got to say, after countless hours of time with this game, I would admit that it lives up to expectation -- in fact, better than that, it exceeds them. I’ll say it right now: Super Mario Galaxy is the best Wii game on the market and the single best reason to own the console.

The plot of Super Mario Galaxy certainly anything new. Yes, you’re correct: as always, this Mario title features Bowser, evil king of the Koopas, kidnapping Peach. He’s captured her entire castle and hauled it up into space! And as always, his motives are unclear -- but it is clear, of course, that it’s up to the portly plumber himself to rescue the princess and defeat Bowser. But this time, our favorite mustachioed hero must fling himself into the dangers not of the Mushroom Kingdom, but into outer space. No, it’s not at all original, except perhaps for the whole space bit. Still, it provides a bit of an in-game motivation, not that a title this fantastically fun really needs it.

So begins your adventure. As usual, you take control of Mario, this time via rather innovative use of the Wii Remote. The Nunchuk’s Control Stick controls movement, and the A button controls Mario’s most basic action: jumping. Wii Remote movement functionality is also incorporated into the game’s control scheme, and I’m happy to be able to say that it really doesn’t feel gimmicky Why? Because it’s a simple movement, it makes sense, and there’s only one, so it can’t easily get confused with other similar motions. Shaking the Remote allows Mario to engage Launch Stars (more later), and execute a spin attack, which can both defeat foes and bounce back launched projectiles.

The outer space set-up is not a gimmick; it plays a huge part in the overall gameplay mechanic implemented by Super Mario Galaxy. The game is divided up into a number of different galaxies, which, like past 3D Mario platformers, consist of a number of different Power Stars to be collected. As you gradually collect more Power Stars, more galaxies will be opened up to you, and you’ll be able to access more levels, naturally.

And boy, are those levels incredible. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Super Mario Galaxy sports the best level design I’ve ever seen in all the games of the series. It’s always intuitive, yet also manages to remain somewhat challenging. There are some fun exploration factors within each individual level, but at the same time, it’s not a game that you’ll be spending a ton of time on just trying to figure out where you’re supposed to go next. One of the neatest additions to the gameplay mechanic is the launch stars that are prolifically distributed throughout all of the levels. These stars will, as their name indicates, launch you from planet to planet within the galaxy, allowing you to progress through the level at hand.

But level design doesn’t simply consist of muscling through each stage by jumping from launch star to launch star. There are environmental puzzles to solves, as well as enemies to defeat. Foes in Galaxy are much the same as they have been in past Mario games; the most common baddies you’ll find throughout your intergalactic trek are Goombas and Koopas. Still, there are some newcomers, which always provides some well-received variety. Defeating them usually requires just the spin move or jumping on them; many, however, have specific protections, which require you to find an alternate way of defeating them. Additionally, another attack move involves pointing the cursor at an enemy and hitting the B trigger to fire star pieces at him.

Environmental puzzles are actually surprisingly plentiful, but as you’d expect from a Mario title, none of them are really that hard. Oftentimes, the launch star is encapsulated and you’ve got to free it, or your passage is blocked and you’ve got to find a way to blast through. A lot of these “puzzles” are recycled, and seldom are new ones introduced. There are also tons of environmental obstacles, and these actually do manage to stay quite fresh. They range from flying meteors to reckless wind to flailing chains of fire and everything in between.

One of this game’s biggest highlights are the number of different abilities that Mario can adopt in his quest to save Princess Peach. These are introduced gradually throughout the game and all have something to do with the environment in which they are implemented. For example, as you traverse through the Honeycomb Galaxy, you’ll find a power-up that turns you into a bee (and a rather cute one, I might add) and allows you to hover for short periods of time and attach yourself to honeycomb. There are quite a few different abilities like this, and they’re all very well taken advantage of throughout the game. Plus, the fact that they really only show up in their respective galaxy ensures that they never get monotonous or boring.

The boss fights, as an any Mario game, are fun, though not incredibly memorable. Many of the boss square-offs just pit you against Bowser, and you’ll end up fighting the fiendish Koopa several times throughout the course of the game. The basic strategy for beating him never changes -- the only thing that’s different is that the difficulty is ramped up a bit each time. Needless to say, this isn’t one of the game’s strong points, although it still isn’t really a huge deal, seeing as these fights only come along once every several hours or so. The “real” boss fights, that is, those that are original, are actually quite fun, and involve a bit of challenge in determining how to defeat the monstrosity at hand.

Another plus of the boss fights is that they do a fantastic job of showing off Galaxy’s beautiful visuals. You’ve no doubt already hear it, but I’ll say it again: Galaxy easily has the best graphics on any Wii title to date. They’re crisp, clear, colorful, and downright beautiful. The animation runs consistently smoothly, with no drop in frame-rate at all throughout the entire game. Environments are beautifully rendered and lifelike, ranging from those with crisp blue skies and waving grasses to creepy haunted-house locales. The visuals are jaw-droopingly immersive and atmospheric, and in my mind really represent the epitome of what videogame visuals are all about.

The music is also pretty incredible, as you’ve probably come to expect from a Mario title. Themes range vastly, again depending upon the location in which you’re playing. The ability to really get you into an area of a game is a feat that few titles are able to accomplish, but Galaxy does so with ease. Galaxy isn’t one of those games where the music makes the game more realistic; rather, it simply makes it more fun.

There’s plenty of game value here, so there’s no need to worry about throwing your cash at a game that’ll only last you a few hours. The game will last you around 20 hours; perhaps less if you’re really great at platforming titles, and most likely more, if you’re just intent upon having a lot of fun with the game. It’s possibly to blow through the game and defeat the final boss by only attaining about half the game’s power stars. Honestly, though, I don’t know why you would; the levels are just so much fun, and you may even find yourself playing through levels multiple times. There are several different stars to be found in each level, and finding them all will eat up plenty of your free time.

Mario games have never been noted for their high difficulty level, and Galaxy is certainly no exception to that trend. It’s not an easy game, per se, but it certainly isn’t a hard one. If you just want to get through and beat this title, you’re going to have a very easy time of it. However, to truly get the most out of Galaxy, you’re going to want to spend time and get as many stars as you can -- and trust me, some of the stars in later levels are actually really tough to attain. The boss fights aren’t really that tough either, nor are the platforming obstacles. However, I can easily overlook all that. Why? Because, in short, Galaxy is fun, and isn’t that what videogames are really all about?

Galaxy also tries to throw in a multiplayer option, but it’s not good at all. A second player can drop freely in and out of the game to snag extra star bits by pointing at the screen and helping out with portions of the game. Seriously, though, it’s pretty shallow and boring for the second player. It’s no big deal, though, because this isn’t really a game to be played by more than one person.

I said it at the beginning of this review and I’ll reemphasize: Super Mario Galaxy is the best Wii title on the market to date. It combines everything needed to make a game great and ends up being one of the modern masterpieces of gaming. If you own a Wii and for some reason don’t own this game, I implore you: purchase it! You’ll be supporting what I consider the best title of this generation of gaming.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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

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