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Super Mario Galaxy

November 26th, 2007 by

Vital Stats

Genre: Platformer
Players: 2
Online: None

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E
Release Date: 11/12/2007

Platforms

  • Wii

Mario is a video game icon; more famous than Master Chief and more durable than Sonic, he is virtually synonymous with video games. So, when the fat Italian stereotype goes on an adventure, the world takes notice. His latest outing manages to vacillate between serving the hardcore and the casual gamer, somehow without underserving either.

Nosce Te Ipsum
Mario has been many things in his career–a plumber, a doctor, an athlete, hero of a Japanese RPG, etc.–but he never strays long from his original job: platforming. It is well that this is the case; platformers bearing the Mario name (most notably Super Mario Brothers 3 and Mario 64) have often set the standard of quality to which an entire generation of genre games would aspire.

Super Mario Galaxy takes after Mario 64 to a great extent. There’s a hub from which individual levels branch off, and each level contains a number of stars that are found by sufficiently exploring the level or accomplishing some challenging task. The goal of the game is to acquire sixty of these stars and finally save Princess Peach from the evil clutches of King Bowser (oops, spoilers). Put another way, you’ll go out exploring themed levels for about 20 hours, collecting a star every five to twenty minutes, until you’ve seen about half of the game and can go catch the credits.

However, this gives short shrift the pure joy of Mario Galaxy: exploration. Mario has taken a nod from Ratchet and Clank 2, and instead of a level being a single (albeit rich and complex) world a la Mario 64, Mario instead takes to the stars and explores hundreds of charmingly distinct worlds. These range from the tiny networks of planets where the horizon is literally two inches away to vast interstellar dreadnoughts. Since no two worlds need to have much to do with one another, there’s always something new to see and do.

Part of the fun of exploring these worlds is determining which direction is down. Check your physics background at the door, because gravity is usually relative to the surface on which you’re standing. It’s difficult to imagine without hands-on time with the game, but the first time you take a long jump around the corner of a cubic world and almost achieve escape velocity while the camera rotates a stomach churning ninety degrees, you’ll know this is something exciting and new.

Revolutionary Gameplay. It’s an outdated pun.
Speaking of exciting new things, the game makes excellent use of the Wii’s remote functionality. Beyond the usual waggle, you can point at minor collectables to pick them up (saving the trouble of running over them), and certain segments of the game are controlled with the tilt sensor rather than the analog stick. In some of these latter sections, the imprecise tilt controls are used to capture the clumsiness of steering a ball by running on its top. This manages to tap into whatever animal part of the brain makes us lean when we really want Mario to go right. More demure gamers may not appreciate it, but it’s otherwise blissfully engaging. As a bonus, if you don’t like this kind of gameplay, the sections are optional (though completionists are stuck with them).

Another new element in the game is cooperative multiplayer. The term is applied a little loosely here, because both players don’t control separate little Italian plumbers as they gallivant through the hallucinogenic Mushroom Kingdom. Instead, the game’s design team has opted to inject some of the Wii’s mission to improve the accessibility of video games into the role of the second player. Accessibility means that gameplay is limited to pointing at collectible knickknacks to pick them up, clicking on enemies/projectiles to freeze them for an instant, and clicking on Mario to make him jump (though this last part is more often adversarial than cooperative). It’s not the most gripping gameplay in the world, but it lets the second player significantly contribute to Mario’s success by lightening the collection load and reducing the difficulty curve. It might not seem like much, but when 5 Bullet Bills swarm after Mario during a boss fight, it’s nice to have somebody at your back. The gameplay makes it difficult to recommend buying the game for the second player experience, but it’s a great way to get a significant other involved in your beloved hobby. Best of all, the second player gameplay is pick up and drop off, so second player can play without any kind of excessive commitment.

It’s Not Recycling If It’s Homage
The game isn’t entirely new, though. Veterans of Mario 64 will instantly grasp the physics, exceptional controls, and basic objectives of the game. Even on an alien world, wall kicking up a vertical shaft hasn’t changed much in the past eleven years. There is plenty of new stuff added on the top of the basic formula–new power-ups like the bee suit and corresponding new environmental challenges, gravity-based exploration, and all that Wii remote functionality–but when you’re not doing those things, you’re still just stomping the same goombas.

In an unlikely turn, however, some of the old stuff is new as well. In what can only be described as an act of wanton fanservice, Nintendo has resurrected elements of older Mario games for Mario Galaxy: spinning bolt bridges, airship armadas, and even the good old-fashioned star man. These and other elements have been sequestered in 2D for so long that seeing them implemented in a 3D platformer is a novel pleasure.

Easy On The Eyes And Ears
Graphically, the game isn’t as different from Super Mario Sunshine as might be expected. It’s emblematic of the fact that technology has reached the point where Mario can be rendered more or less perfectly with respect to his promotional materials. That said, there are some visual “wow” moments in Mario Galaxy, but they come most often from trying to visually parse up from down as they wildly change around you. That said, the game flows with silky smoothness, and a lot of work went into the visual design that gives all the environments a cohesive feel while simultaneously keeping the gameplay-relevant elements salient. If there is an uncommon graphical achievement, it’s the fact that, when you’re expected to collect 100 purple coins in a stage, they’re visible from any distance. It dulls the pain of finding that solitary missing coin considerably and should be a standard for any 3D platformer including that type of gameplay.

The game’s music is excellent, right down to the 2001-esque waltz that plays in the spaceship hub that connects all the levels to one another. There are a few homage pieces in here too, notably including some orchesteral arrangements from Super Mario Brothers 3 in some of the optional areas. The music even intersects with the gameplay to some extent as you’ll occasionally be expected to chase down elusive musical notes that collectively play classic Mario themes as you pick them up.

The voice work in the game is the minimalist Nintendo standard–mostly grunts with a light sprinkling of actual language. Princess Peach in particular has recovered from whatever massive head injury she sustained during Smash Brothers: Melee and aggravated during Mario Sunshine, and her voice no longer oozes with quite the same sugar-glazed negative IQ.

The game’s story is mostly nonexistent, but what exists beyond Bowser’s shenanigans is a story of personal loss and coping with grief in a fairy tale. It’s a strange decision, though not unprecedented (Super Paper Mario). Sadly, it does strike something of a discordant note in a game otherwise defined by bright primary colors and Mario whooping as he joyously explores an inviting world. It isn’t clear for whom exactly the story was written. Fortunately, it is entirely optional, so partake at your own discretion.

Global Assessment
Mario Galaxy would have been the perfect launch title for the Wii to win over core gamers, but since this doesn’t seem to be the primary mission for Nintendo’s little white box, perhaps the late arrival can be forgiven. The game manages to recapture much of the joy and novelty of Mario 64 without descending into pure derivation. At the same time, it integrates the Wii’s unique controls more seamlessly and to greater gameplay advantage than any previous action or adventure title.

Though it’s difficult to recommend that casual gamers spend money on Mario Galaxy, it’s probably worth a few hours of rental play, and it’s worth playing with a gamer friend. Hardcore gamers and genre fans probably already have it, but if not, then why are you still here? It’s probably the best 3D platformer of the year, and it’s certainly worth every minute you spend playing it. Go! Buy!

What It Costs: $49.99

What It’s Worth:

  • To The Hardcore: $50 (Buy)
  • To The Genre Fan: $50 (Buy)
  • To The Casual: $15 (Play with a hardcore friend)
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