Release Date: November 12, 2007
If there's one game that Wii owners have been waiting for, it's Super Mario Galaxy. Mario games are almost always a treat, and Mario hasn't had a new 3D adventure since Super Mario Sunshine, way back in the early days of the Nintendo GameCube. While Super Mario Galaxy has been a long time coming, it's safe to say that it was worth the wait. It's the best 3D Mario title to date and very possibly the best entry into the Mario franchise, period. If you own a Nintendo Wii, you owe it to yourself to pick up this out-of-this-world game, but if you need further convincing for some reason, read on.
Being a Mario title, Super Mario Galaxy doesn't have a particularly deep or involved story. Once again, Bowser has stolen 120 stars and kidnapped Princess Peach, this time in an attempt to conquer the entire galaxy. Mario, of course, sets out to foil the dastardly lizard's plans once again, this time with the help of a princess from the stars named Rosalina and her army of adorable sentient mini-stars called Lumas. It's not Shakespeare, but it works well for Mario. The real charm here is in the nostalgia. Super Mario Galaxy is packed to the brim with callbacks and cameos from other Mario titles and even an occasional reference to other Nintendo titles. While this may not appeal as readily to new players, gamers who've been with Mario since the NES days will find much familiar here.
Mario hasn't changed too much from his abilities found in Super Mario 64. In fact, any gamers who've played that title should find themselves able to leap in without hesitation, and the few new moves that Mario has are all quite easy to learn. The most important new move Mario gets is the spin attack: by shaking your Wiimote, Mario will spin in a circle, hitting everything nearby. The spin attack can activate switches, unscrew screws, damage enemies, give Mario a slight boost when done in mid-air and countless other things. Surprisingly, it feels quite natural; shaking the Wiimote and performing the spin attack becomes second nature in a matter of moments, and learning when to use this new technique doesn't take long at all.
While Mario doesn't have many new moves, he has access to a wide variety of new power-ups. Various mushrooms and flowers can now turn Mario into a bee, a ghost, a coil spring, the classic Fire Flower Mario or even a living ice statue. The interesting thing about these power-ups is that they're a bit different from the usual Mario upgrades. Rather than lasting until Mario takes damage, they instead use a Wario Land-inspired method, where Mario remains in this form until he takes damage, a time limit expires or he interacts with specific environmental objects. For example, Mario loses his bee outfit when he touches water, and Boo Mario reverts to his living form when he encounters sunlight. It's an interesting twist on the usual Mario power-up formula, and it does an excellent job of preventing the upgrade forms from making the levels too easy, while still allowing gamers to play around with them for a while.
The Wii controls in Super Mario Galaxy are quite interesting. On the surface, they seemed fairly tacked on: You use the pointer to aim at various objects on the screen and interact with them. It's difficult to describe exactly how well this works without seeing it in motion, though; the pointer becomes a sort of avatar for your player inside the world. You can collect items, shoot Star Bits at foes and brush snow off the ground, among other things. It feels perfectly natural; allowing players to control both Mario and the Wii pointer at the same time opens up a bundle of interesting tactics, although admittedly, most of your time using it will be spent collecting the glowing Star Bits.
The real fun comes when gamers bring in a second player. The second player takes control of a Wii pointer of his or her own (called the co-star) and uses it to aid the gamer controlling Mario. The second player can also collect objects; use a "stun shot" to freeze platforms and enemies, making it easer for Mario to jump on them; point out places to go or the two players can even work together to perform a special super jump to reach previously inaccessible locations. While it isn't necessary to use co-star at all to beat the game, the ability to do so makes it a lot of unique fun for friends.
Much like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, Mario is spending this game collecting stars — 120 of them, to be precise. The various stars are scattered among a number of different galaxies, and Mario has to travel to each one to collect them all. The real glory here is the difference in the missions. In one mission, Mario may have to defeat a nasty mole that is terrorizing some innocent bunnies. In another, he has to sneak into an enemy spaceship without being noticed, and in yet another, he might have to defeat a giant toy version of his arch-nemesis, Bowser. You never do the same thing twice. There's very little repetition, and even when you have to perform a task that's similar to something you've already done, there's always a twist to prevent it from feeling the same.
Even better, the annoying collection missions and often obscure level objectives that filled the last two Super Mario 3D titles are mostly gone, replaced with levels that are far more linear. However, this is a case where linearity isn't a bad thing; it helps the game feel much more like its 2D counterparts, allowing gamers to focus on having fun, rather than deciphering riddles.
While the aggravating collection missions are mostly gone from Super Mario Galaxy, one holdover does remain: purple coin levels. It requires Mario to run around one of the levels that he's already completed and collect 100 of the little buggers, sometimes with a time limit. Players have to search every nook and cranny to find where that one last purple coin is hiding, making it a lot less fun and intuitive than the other levels in the game. Thankfully, most of these levels are fairly small and easy to navigate, and finding the required coins doesn't take too long, but comparatively, purple coin missions feel slow, tedious and more like a chore than fun. The good news is that not only are these missions optional, but they also aren't even unlocked until you've already finished the game, so only players seeking to earn all 120 stars will ever have to do them.
Beyond the missions found inside galaxies, Mario can also unlock the ability to travel to distant star systems to compete in special bonus mini-games for stars and other prizes. Surprisingly, these mini-games are a lot of fun, and each of them involves using the Wiimote almost exclusively. Mario will surf on a Manta ray with the Wiimote as a steering wheel, play a carbon copy of Super Monkey Ball by trying to guide a star-in-a-ball toward a goal and float through spike-filled stages in a flimsy bubble. The big surprise here is that these levels don't feel tacked on at all. Taking a break from jumping from platforms to do a bit of ray surfing is actually quite fun and challenging, and I was surprised to find myself wishing that there were more of these levels. The Wii controls work quite well, and while it may take gamers a couple of tries to get the hang of the unusual methods, before long, most players should have little trouble with these mini-games.
Perhaps the only real bad thing one can say about Super Mario Galaxy involves its camera. Roughly 90 percent of the time, the camera is fine, set in a fixed position that shows the player exactly what he needs to see. The problem comes with the other 10 percent, where the camera insists on looking in the wrong direction. This occurs particularly often during Mario's few underwater adventures, although from time to time, it will occur on dry land, too. The big problem here is that the player has almost no control over the camera. Technically, it is possible to use the left and right d-pad buttons and the C button to move the camera and center it, but this feature is disabled most of the time, and the few times you actually can use it are the times you have no need for it. This certainly isn't a game-breaking problem in the least, as the few camera problems rarely cause more than minor inconveniences, but it can be rather frustrating, especially on the purple coin missions
Beyond the camera, there are few complaints about Super Mario Galaxy. Admittedly, the game is rather short, and getting 60 stars to see the normal ending probably won't take most gamers more than a couple of days. However, Super Mario Galaxy does offer quite a bit of extra value beyond simply completing the game, ranging from another 60 stars to find, to Mario's brother Luigi as an unlockable character with his own 121 stars to search out and discover. However, Super Mario Galaxy, much like Super Mario 64, is fun enough to play multiple times, and the replay value is solid enough to ensure that gamers will get plenty of play time out of this title. Beyond the length, Super Mario Galaxy is also a bit easy, with rather simplistic boss fights and an overabundance of extra levels. Some levels, particularly some of the purple coin levels, provide a degree of challenge, but otherwise, don't expect it to give you much difficulty.
Unsurprisingly, Super Mario Galaxy looks really good. All of the characters models are great, have solid and smooth animations and are simply a joy to look at. The real star of the show, however, is the various galaxies that Mario explores. The level design is simply extraordinary, and every galaxy feels unique. One moment, Mario may be exploring a frozen planet with a molten lava core; the next, he's flying around a giant version of a children's playroom, complete with 8-bit versions of himself adorning the walls and the next, he's assaulting a giant enemy dreadnaught. Not only is each level unique, but they all look impressive and are packed with tons of detail. There's really nothing bad to say about Super Mario Galaxy's graphics, and they're among some of the very best you'll see on the Wii.
If the graphics are great, the music in Super Mario Galaxy is unsurpassed. The orchestral score is simply mind-blowing, mixing classic Mario tunes with brand new themes, and all of them sound great. The themes sound a bit more epic than usual, which fits wonderfully well with the galaxy-spanning themes of Super Mario Galaxy, not unlike the tropical tunes found in Super Mario Sunshine. Perhaps the only complaint to be found with the sound work is with the odd voice acting. As a Mario game, it's fairly light on the text, but when characters decide to talk, they only speak one word of what appears in their text bubble. It's an odd choice and feels rather tacked on. However, that's the only negative to offset the otherwise unbelievable high quality audio.
If you have a Wii, you owe it to yourself to get Super Mario Galaxy. It's the best Mario's been in years and perhaps his very best game ever. The combination of great level design, fantastic graphics, easy-to-learn controls, glorious soundtrack and just the overall wonderful presentation make Super Mario Galaxy a real winner. The only negatives are a sometimes-wonky camera and a fairly short length, but unlike other short games, Super Mario Galaxy offers enough to make you want to replay it again and again, and the addition of Luigi has a bonus playable character only sweetens the deal. If there is one game you have to own for the Wii, it's Super Mario Galaxy.
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