Super Mario Galaxy
Why are you interested in the Wii? Come on, be honest. It isnít the graphics. It canít be just the price. Donít tell me itís just because of the newfangled control scheme. Itís about the games, and you know it. There hasnít been much of a reason to get a Wii in the last few months. Sure, there has been a handful of quality titles added to its library (Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption head up that list), but there havenít been any truly amazing, awe-inspiring games to be seen. If you have a Wii, youíve probably been hoarding Virtual Console games as a justification for your purchase. Not that thereís anything wrong with that, but chances are, youíre in need of a something better right now. Something good.
Something like Super Mario Galaxy.
It doesnít seem very interesting at first. In fact, the plot is so stale and nonsensical that it almost feels tacked on. You donít really need to know who Rosalina is; aside from giving off a shiny aura and a few sagely words of wisdom, she has little importance overall. Nor do you really need to know the Lumas, which are nothing more than tiny, talking stars that float around Rosalinaís Comet Observatory. Why would Mario ever go to an observatory, you ask? Turns out Bowser has kidnapped Peach - again - and has whisked her off into outer space. Conveniently enough, the observatory is capable of interstellar travel. It just needs several Power Stars to get the engines turned on againÖ
See where this is going? If youíve played Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine, this plot should sound pretty familiar. This game borrows much from those titles; despite its beautiful design, the Comet Observatory is little more than an intergalactic Peachís Castle or Isle Delfino. The complex is made up of smaller sections, each of which contains its own dome-shaped observatory. Itís from these points that you can see the various galaxies Ė the apparently new term for Ďlevelsí Ė and choose whichever one you want to play. Like in previous games, completing a certain objective or challenge in a galaxy nets you a Power Star, which is used to power up the other domes. Since everything is run on Power Stars, you wonít be able to access the majority of the domes or their corresponding galaxies at the beginning of the game. Each galaxy has a number corresponding to the number of Stars needed to see it, which means that youíll be beating dozens of levels just to unlock new areas and challenges.
Thatís where the similarities end, however. Super Mario Galaxy may be a three-dimensional platforming game, but it crafts it in a style all its own. No longer are you limited to mere wall kicks and hard-to-reach platforms; several levels manipulate gravity and allow for much freer reign over the surfaces you walk on. This isnít just about jumping onto a higher platform. This is about walking on walls, ceilings, and sides of anything that might present itself. Itís not surprising that many of the initial stages of the game are comprised of small, spherical objects; theyíre just used to get you acquainted with the unconventional perspective. Mario could be dashing around a giant chunk of space rock, but the camera never allows you to think that heís on a completely flat surface. He can run up or down the screen, leap upside down into craters, and bound off the rocky surface towards anything else that might have a gravitational pull.
Contrary to what the promotional videos might have shown you, however, the levels or Super Mario Galaxy are not entirely made up of little round planets for Mario to jump over. Youíll get to wander over rockets, hedge mazes, winding paths, space colonies, and random junk. There are several levels comprised of such things, but many of the later areas are more focused on the blend of basic platforming concepts, the warped camera perspective, and the constantly shifting gravity. Take the Dreadnought spaceship level, for example. You start off by walking up the hull of the ship (dodging roving bands of laser guns in the process) and finding a way in. But once youíre inside, the game behaves more like a two-dimensional platformer; you have dodge motorized engine parts, kick your way up to another level, etc. But once the alternate gravity comes into play, youíll find yourself running up walls and using those same parts as makeshift platforms while you dodge spikes, cannonballs, and anything else you might find. Other levels force you to contend with a scrolling camera and ledges that vanish or appear inconsistently. Though most of the first few galaxies are fairly easy to complete, the gameís difficulty level gradually rises.
Regardless of their designs Ė some of which are extremely well crafted Ė each level has a fair degree of linearity. That can be a real downer, especially for those of you that loved the previous Mario games for their massive, exploration-based areas. In some of the stages, youíll simply have to follow the beaten path and contend with what obstacles, objectives, or enemies that hinder you. Youíll usually have to track down five shiny objects (note to Sunshine veterans: this is far less tedious than the coin collecting) and convert them into a star-shaped transporter. Doing so will launch you to the next section of the stage, which might require some platforming, hitting a switch, killing enemies, etc. Such design makes the levels seem more of a throwback to older Mario games than to the three-dimensional ones. The game balances this out by featuring several large, open levels for you to explore. Youíll end up diving into the watery depths of a fish-shaped asteroid, sneaking through a haunted mansion, or running through an autumn-colored forest. While itís usually obvious as to where your objectives lie, the wide variety of levels makes for a unique experience every time.
While the levels are already fun to replay, the game actually gives you even more reasons to give them additional playthroughs. Special comets occasionally show up near certain galaxies, making small changes to the levelsí designs. You can do speed runs of a given level, or even race a doppelganger Mario across courses laden with obstacles. Other comets strengthen enemies or dilute your strength as well. Thatís on top of all the hidden stars; youíll need to look carefully through each level to find hidden sections or objectives to complete. Getting a total completion rating is quite a task in itself; since it takes a minimum of 60 Power Stars (thatís half of the total amount, by the way) to beat the story, youíll spend well over ten hours collecting them all. After that, you can collect the rest as you please.
With so much insane platforming and awesome levels to contend with, youíd assume that Mario would come pack his usual brand of jump tricks, right? Mario may look like his usual three-dimensional self, but heís missing a few of the moves he had in previous games. He canít dive forward or slide on his belly, which makes the gameplay seem a bit slower. He canít do any of those fancy breakdance attacks anymore; instead, he does a Spin Attack (thanks to a timely shake of the WiiMote) to stun his foes, then follows up with an automatic punt if he gets close enough to them. However, the rest of the moves are back and easier to execute than ever. Since the majority of the jumps require only the A and Z Buttons, youíll never have to worry about getting bogged down by complicated controls. Between all the triple jumps, wall kicks, side somersaults, ground-pounds, and backflips, Mario will be as agile as ever.
The smooth platforming controls can be attributed to the minimal use of the WiiMoteís motion sensors. Instead, all of the motion-based controls (aside from the Spin Attack) come as secondary gameplay elements, like throwing shells or clinging on to certain objects. If you point the WiiMote at the screen, you can use it as a way to collect Star Bits, which are the used as currency, a means to unlock additional levels, or even as projectiles to stun enemies. Itís especially fun if you have a friend over for some co-op gameplay (armed with another WiiMote, of course), sniping enemies with the Star Bits while you focus on progressing through a level. Other aspects, however, are a bit more gimmicky; youíll have keep the controller steady as Mario balances on top of a ball, turn it to control his manta ray surfboard, shake it to make him skate, or determine the wind flow with a miniature fan. While the motion-based aspects are fairly useful, the simplicity of the regular controls ensures that anyone can easily learn how to play.
The game stumbles, however, when it comes to the items. Remember games like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, where you could use a wide variety of power-ups and items? Mario can pick up a Fire Flower and sling fireballs again, but the effect wears off quickly. Also, the fireballs are tricky to wield; since you have to flick the WiiMote to launch one, you have to make sure youíre facing the correct direction. By the time youíve gotten the aim down, youíll likely have lost the power-up. The Ice Flower turns Mario into an Iceman knockoff and grants him the ability to freeze water and create platforms, but suffers from the brief time limit as well. Spring Mario is arguably the best new suit; it turns Mario into a makeshift slinky and lets you perform some insanely high jumps. His other suits arenít nearly as interesting; his Boo and Bee outfits allow him to phase through some walls or fly for a few seconds respectively, but theyíre not fun to use. The only awesome item comes with Red Star; you can take to the starry skies a la the Winged Cap from Mario 64. Itís short, sweet, and oh-so fun.
Donít be disheartened by the lacking power-ups, though. The majority of the levels require little, if any use of the items. The galaxies are crafted to challenge your skills with the controls. Unlike the first few beginner levels, many of the later galaxies feature tons of intricate platforming challenges and fast-paced gameplay. Imagine climbing up a floating fortress. Not one thatís just filled with automated cannons and falling blocks, but one where all the outer walls separated into smaller bands of platforms rotating at different speeds. Imagine climbing up an island of hardened magma, frantically dodging falling fireballs and rivers of glowing lava as the ground slowly gets eaten up from underneath. You can practically see the heat shimmering off that lava, or how the level is cast in a red-orange hue to fit the ambience. Or how about being forced to stand on a platform while having to dodge a constant barrage of missiles and some cleverly-placed electric fences? The smooth animations and unrelenting chaos make for a lively, intense experience.
Such a presentation, however, would be nothing without the music to back it up. Super Mario Galaxyís soundtrack is an impressive assortment of orchestrated themes. Thereís nothing quite as exhilarating as climbing the back of a spaceship as itís being sucked into a black hole, only to hear the dramatic music steadily rising as you make it to higher ground. Levels with faster pacing are wonderful as well; as you feverishly leap from surface to surface, the music practically cheers you on. Veterans of previous Mario games will easily recognize the remixes of classic themes. With music sampled from the majority of the retro games (not to mention the countless other subtle references strewn throughout the cosmos) older fans will definitely appreciate the little details that make the game even more awesome.
Listen, folks. If you have a Wii and have any interest in platforming games at all, get this game. Yes, the basic collect-the-star formula has been retained from the last few titles. Yes, some of the areas are linear and the items could have been done a little better. But the sheer amount and variety of well-crafted levels cannot be ignored. The multi-surfaced design is a refreshing take on an otherwise stale gaming genre. The simple, responsive controls and steady learning curve ensure that any gamer, be they the child who gets this for his or her birthday or the weathered gaming vet, can sit down and give this game a spin. Even if there is a fair amount of fan-service present, you donít have to be some kind of Nintendo guru to appreciate whatís being offered here. If you ever need a reason for getting a Wii, Super Mario Galaxy is it.
Ten out of ten
- Some of the best platforming gameplay in years.
- Tons of diverse and cleverly designed levels make for a lengthy adventure.
- Speed runs and other challenges ensure plenty of replay value.
- Simplistic controls make the game easy to pick up.
- Stunning visuals and audio quality go above and beyond anything else on the Wii.
- The story is nonsensical.
- The items could have been crafted a little better.