Review by brutusmuktuk

"A galaxy worth visiting"

The Mario series has been a special franchise for Nintendo. Its hero, Mario, isn't particularly charming. He's a short, chubby plumber who wears a red hat and shirt and blue overalls. He can jump, he can run, he can swim, and not much else without the aid of special items. What he allows Nintendo to do, however, is build a great game around him. With Devil May Cry and God of War and Ninja Gaiden, the game belongs to the heroes. Those games can get away with less than superb game design because their heroes can perform incredible feats. But Nintendo relies on great game design, and for a long while, the Mario franchise has revolutionized the game world around every corner. The first three Super Mario Bros. games, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 are pioneers in not just their genres but in revolutionizing game design. Super Mario Galaxy seeks to continue that trend, and succeeds to a very large extent, but it's become all too clear the magic is slowly fading from the series.

The Good:
+ Some great challenges
+ The gravity system works very well
+ Varied worlds and challenges

The Bad:
- A bit on the easy side
- Lacks the personality of Super Mario Sunshine
- Lacks the magic of the rest of the series

The Sweet:
~ Rosalina's storybook tale

As usual, Princess Peach is captured by Bowser and it's up to Mario to save her. But this only matters to the extent that it sets up the setting: in this case it's outer space, and Mario finds himself in a space station, the game's hub world, run by Rosalina, a princess of sorts who looks strikingly similar to Princess Peach. Only Rosalina is sexier and much less helpless. This space station is populated by star creatures called Lumas, which eventually transform into actual stars or some other space denizen. These Lumas are comparable to Super Mario Sunshine's Piantas only in that they populate the area with personalities. Since Mario himself has no true personality, Nintendo relies on its supporting characters to fill in that role. Super Mario Sunshine easily has the most personality of any Mario platform game, which means Galaxy doesn't quite compare. This fact doesn't make or break the game, however, since Galaxy is a superior game to Sunshine, if only because Galaxy corrects Sunshine's wild inconsistencies.

I will get to the bad stuff first, since this game truly is a great game. It's easy to measure Galaxy against Super Mario 64 and find its faults that way. Galaxy lacks Mario 64's magic and even the magic the series had up until Sunshine. It's clear that Nintendo attempts to transplant some of Mario 64's fundamentals to Galaxy, whereas Sunshine took quite a leap from those fundamentals. I can't help but think that Nintendo's attempting to regain the magic by stepping backward. It doesn't work. However, the lack of the magic sparkle and its fallings in comparison to Mario 64 isn't what keeps this game from masterpiece status. It's that feeling I had that Nintendo was holding back. The challenges, while consistent, were mostly easy. And where some challenges were fun, I usually ended up disappointed because they would conclude very quickly. It seemed that Nintendo could have taken things to the next level, but gave up, playing it safe, before things could make it that far. If Nintendo had taken Galaxy to that next level, it would have been a classic.

But Nintendo still does a lot of things right. The most significant aspect of the game is the gravity system. Most of the game's worlds are comprised of several planetoids that Mario has to travel between. A lot of time, a leap or a step takes Mario into a new gravity force, either on a new planetoid or by being pulled in a different direction. This is done seamlessly, which is key to the game, and the only awkwardness comes in controlling Mario when he's upside down or, even worse, on a wall. Gamers tote the great looking graphics of Gears of War or other “realistic-looking” games, but Galaxy truly innovates in the technical department, and not those games seeking to recreate realistic images. But because Mario Galaxy looks like a cartoon, many gamers probably ignore this fact.

The one thing having worlds comprised of planetoids does is reduce the opportunities for exploration. This is unfortunate, as the 3-D Mario games truly shine, even Galaxy, when you have the opportunity to explore the worlds. However, Galaxy is still able to create some great scenarios through its linear structure. There are mountain chases, similar-style chases upside down, moving platforms that require you to utilize either side of it, sling-shotting from place to place, and some puzzles that are truly creative and couldn't be done in any other game.

Challenges begin similarly as in the previous 3-D Mario games. At the start of the world you choose what you want to do, but in this game, it's impossible to get another of each level's core stars while going for another core star. There are hidden stars within a few of the core stars, but that's it. The reason for this is that upon choosing a challenge, the game opens up new paths and closes off other paths. This does limit exploration, but it also prevents confusion and endless searching. Because there are so many planetoids, and because they are in no way connected, the only way to allay frustration on the gamer's part is to open up only the paths that lead to a specific star.

And there are plenty of challenges to complete, with the signature 120 stars still intact. There are five different galaxies to explore, each with three core planets, a mini-game planet, and a boss world. The boss worlds alternate between Bowser Jr. and Bowser, and while Bowser's fights are fun, Bowser Jr.'s are flat. For each of the core planets you have six different stars to collect, including two comet challenges, in which you have to face a challenge that appears in conjunction with a visiting comet. These challenges include racing against a dark version of yourself, doing a time attack against a previous challenge, repeating a challenge with one maximum hit point, and several others. These challenges provide plenty of diversity, as well as some of the game's most challenging moments. The one life challenges provide some of the game's most suspenseful moments. Of course, there are other challenges found directly from the space station rather than a separate galaxy. These range from riding a manta ray to balancing on a giant ball and crossing a mini golf course. Whereas the main game is mostly a breeze, the side challenges will provide you with some decent challenges.

Mario can once again transform by changing his clothes, er, hat. Bee Mario allows him to fly and stick to honey surfaces on walls. This is the most fun early on when you have a good chance to use it. Boo Mario is the most disappointing because it's the most under-utilized. Spring Mario, which has received a lot of flak, actually gives Mario the opportunity to go through some of the game's most innovative and challenging courses. There are also the temporary powers of Ice Mario, who can skate on water and wall jump between waterfalls, and Fire Mario, who, in classic form, throws fireballs. Ice Mario is a lot of fun, but Fire Mario, alas, is not. I can't shake the feeling that Nintendo stuck him in just to please fans because you're not given much more to do with him than shoot stationary, non-threatening snowmen.

In less than twenty hours you can accomplish all of the above, and then some. The linear style of the game really puts a hamper on its length, although Nintendo does have a few tricks to increase the game's life. Unfortunately, it's a rather lame trick. Regardless, the game still has plenty of enjoyment in twenty hours' time. I've neglected to talk much about Rosalina, who has made an appearance in Mario Kart Wii and will probably continue to make appearances in future Mario multiplayer games. She's a surprise turn for the child-friendly Mario series because of her sex appeal, however G-rated. She has a spark about her where Princess Peach is naive, chaste, and somewhat dull. Is Rosalina going to steal the spotlight from Peach? I can't help but hope so, not just because of Rosalina's limited sex appeal but because she has more personality than Peach. Her storybook, which is about her life and how she ended up on the space station, is much sweeter than any story in any other game I've played before. If Nintendo wants to revitalize the magic, maybe they should add an edge, even if it is only as sharp as someone like Rosalina would bring it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/29/08

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

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