Review by 94067

"While a good game, lazy and questionable design choices weigh it down"

I've never really been a fan of Mario, in fact the only game in the series I really enjoy is Yoshi's Island, which is actually one of my favorite games of all time. This review, like many others, is biased, but I believe that there are two major aspects that bring down the game as a whole--repetition and camera issues.To be fair, Super Mario Galaxy is a good game, and I cannot stress this enough. It's worth buying and is an enjoyable experience, but I don't see why it gets showered with endless praise and hailed as one of the best games ever, when in fact Super Mario 64, which predates it by a decade, was a much more polished and refined experience. This isn't going to be a review lamenting the dissimilarity to SM64, as I didn't very much care for that either, but how Galaxy falters in its own right. If you don't agree with this review (especially the first point) I can't say I don't blame you, especially since the hype surrounding SMG is incredible.

Unlike Super Mario 64, when you had to look around for the star and then find a way to actually do whatever you had to do to get it, Galaxy's stars are more of a to-do list, rather than an adventure. They're treated more like the goals at the end of a level in one of the 2D games than something you need to explore to find. To make this worse, there are stars you can only get by completing a previous task but with extra restrictions, such as a time limit or only being able to take one hit before dying. These effects are brought on by certain comets that rotate around a level. These comet stars are incredibly annoying because they make you do what you've done before (typically no less than 5 minutes ago) again, only with some arbitrary restrictions. Most boss fights end with you getting the star only to have to do it again without getting hit to get another, and that cheapens the star you just collected, as though the game is telling you to do better. Yeah, you don't have to do it, I'm aware of that, but padding the game down with repetitive tasks is a lousy way of extending the amount of content it has, especially when it's a first-party game. I expect this from studios that are strapped for resources, not Nintendo with its flagship series. While we're on the topic of repetitive tasks, just about every Galaxy has a specific star that can only be received after you collect 100 Purple Coins in that Galaxy. Super Mario 64 did the same thing, yes, but there's a pretty huge difference here--SM64 only made you collect eight Red Coins and didn't place a time limit on it. To make things worse, the 100 coins must be collected in a single instance of the Galaxy--they're not like notes in Banjo Tooie that can be collected over the whole series of "episodes" in a Galaxy, a system that would have made exploring much more enjoyable. I'm aware that there's the same issue here of not having to get these stars, but the same justification applies--padding out your game with asinine, repetitive tasks is not a good move.

I mentioned that collecting the stars is more of a task than an exploration, but this I think comes as an intended design choice. Just because it's intended, however, doesn't mean I can't hate on it. Galaxy isn't the same adventure game like SM64, and if you're expecting one you'll probably be a bit disappointed. For the most part, levels are much more linear and change a great deal more than SM64's did from episode-to-episode. The linearity is fine, if it took a while to adjust my expectations to, but there's a problem in how the game sets itself up. The first few Galaxies you go to have planets that look not unlike Bob-omb Battlefield--big, open worlds that you could explore. Unfortunately, this is mostly a facade. Galaxy's Galaxies (that was fun to write) are an interesting transition of SMB3's and SMW's levels into 3D. They give you an illusion of open-endedness when there's really only one fairly straightforward path. Again, this is a design choice and works fairly well when you get used to it, but there's some deception with the presentation. While there are Galaxies that are a bit more open-ended, they don't pop up until much later in the game. Personally, I felt that the Galaxies being broken up into smaller planets hurt their "feel"--I can't remember many Galaxies at all, but this is a hotly contested opinion, and I don't necessarily hold it against the game. It's something like the overworld situation in Zelda's Wind Waker--there's a bunch of islands, sure, but the lack of a traditional overworld is jarring and ends up making the game seem smaller and less cohesive.

In summary, I miss the exploration in SM64. You could get almost any star without having to select that specific star when you were going into the world, even if some of the stars were simply placed at the end of a path. Because SM64's worlds were more open, you wanted to get back into them after getting a star to explore a different area. Galaxy, on the other hand controls which stars you can get and at which times. I have no problem with linearity, but the presentation of its levels as open-ended is deceiving and frames the game misleadingly. I'm not counting this as a flaw against the game, but rather as a personal opinion. Rather, the flaws are the repetitive tasks (Comets, Purple coins), and what lies in store.

What was the biggest hurdle to 3D Platformers back in the early days of the N64 and PlayStation? Getting the camera to cooperate. Nintendo, so loving of its history, has decided to reintroduce this problem even though it wasn't a big issue at all in SM64, so I guess it's compensation. Simply put, the camera in Galaxy fuctions at bare minimum. It's decent enough on ball-shaped planets, but on traditional flat worlds, it does an awful job. For some baffling reason, repositioning it behind Mario makes him stop, which is a great way of competely stopping your momentum. You have little to no control over it, and in the very few areas of the game in which you can adjust the camera, you can only nudge it a little to either side. The camera seems to fear Mario, as it keeps its distance, which makes determining which way Mario is facing more difficult than it should be. In a game that focuses around running and jumping, this is a pretty serious flaw and I have died more than a few times because I was facing the wrong way and couldn't tell. Worse yet, I have even walked straight into a bottomless pit because the camera wouldn't turn around Mario and show me that I was about to walk off the edge of a disc. Although not technically a camera issue, there are quite a few portions of planets that play in two Dimensions rather than three. Yes, Super Mario Galaxy is a 3D game and I expect 3D gameplay, but these segments are well-designed nonetheless so it's not a huge problem only it kind of cheapens the effect, but you still control Mario in 3D. In simpler terms, when you move him around, you don't simply move left or right (like in every 2D Platformer ever), you move like you would in three dimensions, in all 360 degrees. Why is this a problem? Because you can unwittingly cause Mario to jump off a wall into oblivion because the goddamn camera isn't close enough to show you that he's not facing completely left or completely right. It's a minor issue for the most part, since there aren't many of these 2D areas, but it's a problem nonetheless.

Actually, in all honesty that's what most of this review is. By and large, Galaxy is a good game. I'm not particularly enthralled by it because I don't much care for the Mario series, but it's worth playing nonetheless. Yes, there are some pretty significant problems, but the repetitive tasks are strictly optional and the game is easy enough such that dying all the time because the camera is so unworkable isn't too great an issue, but these issues still detract from the overall enjoyment of the game. I know I'm making a great many comparisons to SM64, but the fact is that Galaxy is out-paced by a game a decade older than it. SM64 had almost no repetition and the same amount of stars. The camera controlled like a dream for the most part, and you were free to get whatever stars you could figure out how to get. For Galaxy, the devil lies in the details. And the camera, that too.

How about the good parts of Galaxy? There were some moments that made me feel like I had actually accomplished something. The three Gimmick Galaxies, as I like to call them, all focus around some aspect of the Wiimote's motion-sensitive nature and are extremely difficult to complete. However, completing them felt amazing and made it worthwhile, especially since the game didn't yell at me to do it again only faster. Unfortunately for Galaxy, all of its cooler levels are placed toward the end of the game, and like I've said, if you really wanted to, you could beat the game without even seeing these levels. Had these levels been earlier on, or earlier levels structured more like the later ones, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Galaxy's first half feels more like an extended tutorial than a proper game, but that's probably meant to pander to younger audiences, while the vets get the later Galaxies. When I was facing down Bowser rendered without jagged edges, I'll admit that I got a little chill down my spine. His choral music feels a little out of place, though. The addition of more bosses helps a lot, as I'm a sucker for them, even if I have to do them over again without getting hit and when they start repeating themselves. Some of them are your typical 3D platformer boss fare, but others are unique and refreshing, like the awesomely-named Bouldergeist. Galaxy has its good moments, but unfortunately they seem to fill up the latter half of the game, and I'm afraid that the first half was too average/easy/boring that it caused me to become jaded.

There are some less technical aspects of the game I didn't quite like. The powerups all feel super gimmicky and I forgot they even existed until I used them. I don't know exact numbers, but I have a feeling you can count all their individual uses on one hand. Oh, and flying Mario controls like so badly I thought my Wii was malfunctioning. The life system is completely out-dated and pointless but hoping for it to vanish at this point is a lost cause. The music typically fits the mood and it's all pleasant to listen to, if not memorable. I do hate that rolling ball song, though. The game looks alright, but some Galaxies seem to just be previous ones spruced up, as though they were running out of ideas. I have to give them credit for the sheer amount of levels in it, though. I can't say I remember any specific Galaxies, but that's subjective. Even the planets deal seems like a gimmick. For the most part, you rarely need to walk around all sides of a planet, and even when you do, is there really that much difference between walking around a sphere and walking around on a flat plane? Personally, I would've opted for a traditional 3D game with better camera control than the gimmicky system we got. Most levels don't even seem to use the planets that much, taking place on more traditional settings. There were cool platforming segments that you had you walking around a cylinder, I'll admit, but when you get down to it, it's more of a tech demo (apparently programming around spheres is difficult) than a practical innovation.

Galaxy is good. It's not perfect, I don't think any game can ever be, but the flaws it has are pretty glaring and definitely detract from the quality of the game as a whole. In the end, part of my dislike for it likely stems from the fact that it's a Mario game, but I like to think that I've picked out objective flaws. In the end, how you like your levels laid out is your preference, and don't think I'm taking away points from Galaxy because its linear--how I feel about that doesn't affect my score. I'm taking points away from Galaxy because of how easy the vast majority of its stars are to get, and the Comet and Purple Coin segments. The lack of camera controls trump this, as the Comets and Purple Coins are at least optional, but how a game can be played is unavoidable. Like I've said, in general, Galaxy is a good game. Perfect? Hardly. Good enough to pass time with? Yes, and there are enjoyable moments but questionable design choices made it a flawed experience.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 05/24/10

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

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