"Exactly what one would expect from a "Mario in Space" - pure awesomeness"

Being the pioneer of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional platformers and having the most popular character and series in videogaming can really set standards high. This was apparent with Mario's last title, Super Mario Sunshine, receiving very mixed reviews and opinions. Perhaps related to that, Super Mario Galaxy met mixed previews. Would the motion sensing controls just be a big gimmick? Would the gravity mechanics just be a cheap cover-up of a Mario 64 copy? As it's release date drawed near the answer became rather clear though and most worries were put to rest, SMG was great. No, wait, not great. Amazing. Super Mario Galaxy perfectly captures the feel and appeal of the Super Mario series without making it feel outdated to current generation standards and packing in some amazing gameplay that Mario fans will be very familiar with but with plenty of new twists added.

Super Mario Galaxy continues the basic formula started by Super Mario 64, putting players in a decent-sized hub world where they can travel to a couple dozen worlds (this time Galaxies) collecting stars. Only a fraction of the stars have to be collected before the final area can be reached and the game beaten, but players who persevere collecting them all will earn a handful of fun bonuses. Mario has the same repertoire of jumps and flips he had in Super Mario 64, which still feel absolutely perfect. His punch/kick combo has been replaced by a simple spin attack, which sounds disappointing at first but ultimately feels much more intuitive and makes for more interesting battles. Mario also has a slew of new transformations this time in the form of Mushrooms. By collecting one of these Mushrooms he gets new abilities, Bee Mario can fly for short bursts, Ice Mario can run on water and turns the surface into platforms, Boo Mario can hover and turn transparent, Spring Mario can do super jumps and Fire Mario has his classic fireball throwing ability.

Of course, the biggest change to the gameplay is that we're in space now. Many of the levels are still of the standard "flat" variety where if you walk off the edge you'll fall to your death. A new design though is many levels that are large systems of planetoids that have their own gravity. Meaning you might be on a cube-shaped land mass floating in space and you can run all around it, on any of it's six sides. Mario usually can't get off a planetoid on his own, meaning he often has to hunt down a way to advance. This often comes in the form of launch stars, the smaller of the two launching Mario a decent distance in the air and the larger of the two launching him into fantastic flights throughout the galaxy that often span 10-15 seconds. Though these segments can at times feel a little too linear, not enough can be said about their creativity and variety. Every zany and absurd design and challenge the developers could conceive using gravity and planetoids is thrown at the player, meaning almost no galaxy offers a run-of-the-mill path to it's stars. Plenty of amazing side-scrolling areas are included too, feeling very reminiscent of Mario's 2D days. Just any way you look at it the level design here is absolutely amazing, rivalling any past Mario game.

Another new feature is star bits. Using the Wiimotes IR sensor the player can control a small icon on the screen independent from Mario. Using either this icon or Mario himself the player can pick up shiny Star Bits, which sort of look like rock candy. These can either be shot at the enemy to stun them or saved up as a sort of currency that will be used to open up lots of bonus stars and galaxies. Most enemies pose minimal threat though, making it pretty pointless to use up Star Bits on them. And while the game does sprinkle coins throughout galaxies that can only be activated by shooting a Star Bit at it, the whole Star Bit shooting feels quite a bit unrealized. Probably because the developers didn't want to have a hybrid shooter/platformer, but a few more uses wouldn't have hurt.

One more new Wiimote-centric feature, like the typical platformer SMG has several different mini-game style segments that recur throughout the game. One game has players blowing Mario in a bubble with the cursor on the screen, another has them piloting a Manta Ray by twisting the Wiimote, and one more has them rolling a ball Mario is standing atop of. These mini-games do a good job of throwing in some non-platforming variety, though ball rolling often crosses into the realm of obnoxious.

The plot is typical Mario affair, Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach and has a new plan for creating his evil empire. Nothing overly compelling here, but the charm around all of the characters and the worlds will keep players drawn until the end. Throughout the game Mario will be helping adorable little penguins, bees, rabbits and Luma (tiny little stars brimming with personality). As he hunts for stars the Toad Brigade and Luigi will frequently make appearances in the stages too, sometimes giving helpful hints but usually just being goofy. It's a beautiful cartooney world that is child friendly but has been masterfully put together so older players won't be put off.

Visually the game is outstanding as well. Plenty of current generation titles have surpassed it from a technical standpoint, but on the Wii few titles can compare. Mario and the other characters are perfectly rendered and animated, and the planets and stages and, well, pretty much everything else just looks amazing. From an artistic standpoint as well, everything is just brimming with charm and personality so that you almost can't bring yourself to look away.

And the music, purely mindblowing. So many of the compositions here are moving, just epic and outstanding. The different themed galaxies all have their own special themed music that perfectly sets the mood. Lots of classic Mario tunes have been spruced up for his new game as well, so long-time gamers will have even more appreciation there. The voice acting this time around is limited, with characters usually only uttering short words or phrases during text conversations for emphasis. Some might regard this as a step back for the series, but many people see it as exactly as a Mario game should be - perfectly preserving the classic charm. My only complaint is Bowser's grumblings sound a little goofy.

Mario himself controls just about perfectly. His spot-on mid-air control has always been the subject of praise for the series and feels just as good here. The motion sensing controls aren't quite as intuitive as Mario, but generally feel just fine as well. The only really awkward motion sensing activity is ball rolling, where the player holds the Wiimote pointing straight up and has to tilt it in any direction to roll. This would work fine if you didn't also have to have your thumb on the A button to jump. Another pretty big issue is the camera. With all of the controls in the game camera control had to be mapped to the d-pad on the Wiimote. D-pad camera control never exactly sounds good, but it just feels archaic here. Rotating the camera flat out doesn't work in so many areas, and when it does work it has a habit of stopping just short of the angle you wanted. Luckily the camera works perfectly for following Mario through the stages, the problem only arises when players are trying to explore or get a different view on something.

SMG isn't a challenging game altogether, though it does throw a few curveballs at the player with some of it's stars. Still, playing in shorter spurts someone could probably get all 120 stars in about two weeks. The game offers incentive for collecting all 120 stars again for players looking for more to do with the game, and also offers a mild 2-player mode if a friend wants to get involved in the action too. Past that not much is specifically offered to keep players playing. It isn't needed necessarily, so many of the stars are so much fun it'll probably keep many players coming back just to enjoy a stage again.

Gameplay - 10/10

The gravity and motion-sensing mechanics play very nicely, and the gameplay is the exact kind of fun a platformer should be.

Story - 8.5/10
Not a deep plot, but it is hard to complain about a classic Mario storyline filled to the brim with charm. The ending is just about as good as videogame endings get too.

Visuals - 10/10
Beautiful on a technical and artistic level. Essenitally no graphical glitches to see whatsoever.

Audio - 10/10
Amazing soundtrack, limited voice acting is the way to go, in-game sound effects also sound great.

Controls - 8/10
If it wasn't for the camera, pretty much perfect. The camera isn't too big of an annoyance at least.

Replayability - 8.5/10
A second run-through and plenty of fun stars worth replaying on their own will keep players coming back plenty.

Final - 9.6/10
Super Mario Galaxy successfully implements several new gimmicks/features that work out great, but in the end what makes the game amazing is that every galaxy, every star, every minute played just feels exquisite and fun. Practically nothing feels like filler, every area hits the player with unique challenge, charm, ingenuity, or usually a mix of all three. Like his past titles, Mario has once again set the standard for current generation platformers and made his game the face of the console it was perfectly designed for.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/08/08

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

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