Super Mario Galaxy
November 1, 2007 (JP)
November 12, 2007 (NA)
November 16, 2007 (EU)
November 29, 2007 (AU)
Super Mario Galaxy is being hailed as the Wii’s best game yet, and one of the greatest games of all time. And for the most part, it’s an excellent game, with through-the-roof production values, a stellar presentation, and some of the best classic Mario gameplay yet. There’s a good variety of stuff to do in Galaxy, and the game exudes a high level of polish that is found in few other games today.
Galaxy starts off with a bang – literally. Bowser attacks Peach’s castle along with a horde of UFOs, raining down fire and destruction on the Star Festival. When Mario arrives to save the day, he is blown into space by Kamella, Bowser’s Magikoopa henchwoman, and Peach’s castle is uprooted right up from the ground and taken into outer space with Bowser and his henchmen, who plan to take over not just the Mushroom Kingdom, but the whole universe. When Mario wakes up, he finds himself in the Gateway Galaxy, where he meets Rosalina and her Luma friends, and thus the game begins.
This opening sequence and all the cutscenes thereafter are done entirely with the in-game engine, and they look much better than even the CGI scenes in Sunshine. The game as a whole is the best-looking game on the Wii by far, the best-looking Mario game, and one of the best-looking games on any system. The worlds are bright and colorful, there are no jaggies, and everything is fluid. This is truly one of the first games on Wii that could not have been done on the Gamecube.
Galaxy is, at its core, a traditional Mario platformer through and through. You’ll have to jump, climb, and swim your way through individually themed levels, jumping on enemies such as Goombas and Koopas to defeat them, and seeking out the star at the end of each level. Many levels have boss fights at the end, and for the most part, each one has its own unique way to be defeated. Quite a few of the bosses reappear throughout the game, but the overall variety is enough to make that a non-issue.
There is a great variety in the environments in Galaxy as well. Most gamers were disappointed when the majority of Sunshine’s stages all had the same island theme. Save for a few stages, there was little variety in Sunshine’s level design compared to Super Mario 64’s. Galaxy returns to the level design roots of 64. Even though the whole game takes on a space and gravity theme, the different galaxies have their own unique themes. Throughout the game you’ll traverse through a lava galaxy, a beehive, a wind-themed galaxy, and even a toy-themed galaxy, just to name a few. The variety in the game ensures that it doesn’t get boring quickly.
However, the level design isn’t without its glaring faults. Most of the galaxies are quite linear – not allowing the freedom to explore that was found in 64. You have a good amount of freedom in choosing which order to tackle the galaxies, but once you choose a galaxy and a level, then you pretty much are confined to getting only that star and not searching for hidden stars and such. There are exceptions, of course, but the levels are designed in a way that you simply must traverse through the level to reach the star at the end, rather than explore the level and hunt for the star (and maybe even find some hidden stars along the way). The levels in Galaxy are also fairly small and split apart – there are quite a few larger levels, but many galaxies are simply small planets linked together by pull or sling stars. Many of the hidden stars come from comets, which randomly appear in a galaxy and pose a special challenge, such as a speedrun or a no-hit challenge.
Mario games have never been known for their story, and Galaxy is no exception. While the story as a whole is one of the stronger ones in the series, in the end you still are jumping through random themed galaxies that really have no bearing on the story whatsoever, save for the fact that there’s a power star in each one. You use these power stars to power up the observatory ship, which serves as the main hub of the world. The ship is home to Princess Rosalina and the Lumas, who agree to aid Mario in his quest to stop Bowser from taking over the universe. Rosalina’s story is an optional sidestory that can be viewed in the library as parts are unlocked throughout the game. It has absolutely no bearing on the actual game’s story, however, and serves as just a diversion. While platformers don’t necessarily need a story to be fun, a more fleshed-out story with the different galaxies/worlds actually having a place in the story would enhance the game quite a bit. On the plus side, Bowser is back to being totally evil rather than the laughable villain he was in Sunshine, so that’s a definite improvement.
As a throwback to the days of Super Mario Bros. 3 and other older games in the Mario franchise, Galaxy features a bunch of powerups for Mario that are necessary to complete many levels. Some, such as the bee suit, are used quite a bit and allow Mario to fly around for a limited time as long as he doesn’t touch water. Others are used in only one or two levels, such as the Boo suit, which is disappointingly used in only a few short instances and serves little purpose other than getting through barred doors and windows. Most of these powerups work and control well, with the exception being the spring, used in the toy galaxy. Mario continuously hops around without stopping while in spring mode, and it is an absolute nightmare to control, especially when trying to make some of the more precise jumps.
Galaxy manages to make use of the Wii’s control scheme without it becoming overbearing. Mario is controlled with the Nunchuk’s analog stick, and the A button on the Wii remote is used for jumping. Shaking the Wii remote performs a spin attack as well as launches Mario from sling stars, and the infrared pointer is used to collect star bits, which reward Mario with extra lives upon reaching 50 and are also used as currency. Star bits can also be fired using the B trigger. The Nunchuk’s Z trigger centers the camera behind Mario, while the d-pad provides a bit more (almost useless) camera control. For the most part, the controls work well, except that sometimes the spin attack can get a bit unresponsive. It’s not enough to cause a major problem though.
The gameplay itself is centered around a new gravity concept. In platformers, most of the time when you jump off an edge, you plummet to your death. Not so in Galaxy, where Mario can go upside-down, around, and everywhere in-between. Of course, you just can’t go jumping off ledges everywhere you go – black holes abound, and they suck Mario into them if he jumps off an edge near one, causing him to lose a life. The gravity system is a revolution in platforming, and for the most part it works well, although it takes a few levels before you get used to the camera angles and going upside down. The much-praised platforming levels from Sunshine also reappear quite a bit in Galaxy, and they incorporate this gravity system for some truly unique results.
The controls and gameplay aren’t without their faults, however. Although the camera is far better than that of 64 and Sunshine, it is absolutely atrocious when underwater. The directional controls can get wonky underwater as well. Also, many of the bonus galaxies feature some Wiimote-centric minigame, such as manta ray surfing or guiding a rolling ball through an obstacle course. While these games should be fun little diversions, they only become frustrating when they are controlled entirely with the Wiimote’s tilt control. If guiding a bird in Twilight Princess controlled terribly with tilt controls, surfing on a manta ray isn’t going to be much better, Nintendo. We should at least have the option of using the analog stick, but the game offers no such option.
The difficulty of the game has been toned down considerably since 64, and the game is much easier than the punishing difficulty of Sunshine. Many times platformers’ difficulty comes in the form of frustration, but that’s very rarely the case with Galaxy. The learning curve is near-perfect, and the game provides perhaps the most balanced difficulty level yet in a 3D Mario game. You’ll clear the 60 stars required to access the final boss in no time – 10 hours at the most. However, there are 120 stars total in the game, so while you can go beat the main storyline after 60 stars, you’re nowhere near done with the game. Add the fact that there is a sort of “second quest” with an additional 120 stars, and you have a lot of gameplay here.
There’s a multiplayer co-op mode as well, a first for the series. One player controls Mario and a pointer while a second player controls another pointer. Using this, both players are able to collect star bits as well as fire them at enemies and objects. There are other smaller added advantages as well.
This is one of the only Nintendo games, and the first Mario game, to use a fully orchestrated soundtrack. The result is the best music ever in a Mario game, and perhaps even in a Nintendo game. The galaxies each have their own theme that suits the overlying motif of the galaxy perfectly. Koji Kondo has outdone himself with this soundtrack, and hopefully we’ll see an orchestrated soundtrack become the norm in Nintendo games from now on.
Super Mario Galaxy isn’t the perfect game that many people make it out to be. But it’s still the best 3D Mario yet and one of the best 3D platformers of all time. It has a high level of polish, great innovation for the genre, attention to detail, and excellent gameplay and presentation. A few control quirks, some issues with the powerups, and the linearity of the level design keep it from being the “best game ever,” but overall it’s a must-own for anyone that has a Wii.
Tightest Mario platforming yet.
Creative level design.
Some controls are wonky.
Occasional camera issues.