Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) review
"Once he satisfies the current requirements, a new launch pad appears and he can rocket off to his next adventure. Usually, it's another planet with a new assignment. Each area mixes objectives so often that it's almost impossible to get bored because there's always something new on hand. Sometimes you'll clear a stage and go back to it not because you have to, but because you're not yet finished having fun!"
When I was a kid, I couldn't afford many games. Purchases were reserved for the weeks following Christmas, or early Spring as family members across the United States joined in joyful celebration of my birth. Such events generally left me with funds enough to pick one game that would keep me busy for the next half-year. Those were special occasions, so the last thing I wanted was “just another Mario game.” I would pick up something more bizarre--usually an RPG or a few bargain-priced games from an old Sears catalog--and pass on the portly plumber. Now, years later, I find that I've parted ways with most of those “special” titles, yet Mario still figures prominently in my collection. It's funny how that works.
For two reasons, Super Mario Galaxy on the Nintendo Wii reminds me of those days. The first is that his newest title again runs the risk of being lost in the sea of spectacular adventures people won't remember six months from now. The second is that, as usual, Mario's return to form has the earmarks of a game many players will cherish for years to come.
Its quality isn't immediately apparent, but you'll be good to go in about five minutes. Super Mario Galaxy begins with a festival celebrating the long-awaited arrival of a mysterious comet that appears in the skies every 100 years. Mario has just received a summons to the castle from Princess Peach. Sound familiar? It's the sort of plot device that has been used so many times by now that you probably have it memorized. Bowser's arrival and the subsequent disasters that follow aren't even surprising, nor is the request that you gather stars from all over the universe to set things right. It feels like someone ripped it straight out of Super Mario 64. Once you look past the timid opener, though (or embrace it, if you're in a nostalgic frame of mind), everything improves dramatically for the game's duration.
The fun starts with the levels, which all begin with Mario soaring through space before landing on a planet that serves as the area's starting point. From there, he'll have to satisfy certain requirements to progress. Perhaps that means gathering five star bits (a task nowhere near as tedious as you've seen in similar games throughout the years). Maybe he has to destroy a boss-like creature, or he might need to solve a simple puzzle. Once he satisfies the current requirements, a new launch pad appears and he can rocket off to his next adventure. Usually, it's another planet with a new assignment. Each area mixes objectives so often that it's almost impossible to get bored because there's always something new on hand. Sometimes you'll clear a stage and go back to it not because you have to, but because you're not yet finished having fun!
Clearly, the developers wanted to trim anything that might get in the way of gaming bliss. Even the camera struggles so typical of the genre are gone. There are some oddly-shaped planets and you'll often see Mario dashing all over their surface while the camera follows him around automatically without any input from the player at all. You don't have to press even a single button. Certainly there are moments where you'll be disgusted because the perspective hasn't swung around to show you what you need to see, but such instances are extremely infrequent and no more plentiful than in games where you're given full control.
Without the need to focus on the camera, you can instead turn your attention to other matters, like the abundance of puzzles placed along the way. Their number and nature may surprise you. For example, one stage includes some waterfalls cascading from a series of islands overhead. You can grab an ice flower, which then lets you run around the surface of a nearby lake for awhile, turning it into a makeshift bridge. The savvy player will take that knowledge and use it to wall hop up frozen waterfalls to ledges high above, where he can then locate a hidden star. That's just one example of many available throughout the game. They're seamlessly woven into the experience, too, so there's never a jarring disconnect.
Bosses serve as another of the game's highlights. One memorable encounter is with a large mole that lurks beneath the surface of an orb-shaped planet with a large tree. The dangerous enemy will burrow about and do some definite damage if he collides with Mario, yet you can do ground stomps that will force him to the surface. From there, a quick shake of the Wii Remote will send him spinning. Repeat that a few times and he'll be headed to the mole playground in the sky. In another encounter, a monster is manning a gun turret that fires dangerous blobs your way and you have to avoid the projectiles until you can work your way around to mount a jump attack from a nearby platform. Some situations can get really tense, but in a very good way.
I mentioned the Wii Remote, so I should take this opportunity to point out that the Wii hardware never once gets in the way of a classic Mario experience. The Nunchuck device controls movement and you press the 'A' button to jump, just like always. If you want, you can head into a quick spin attack by shaking the remote, at which point Mario will whirl about briefly like a cyclone and do damage to most enemies. You can also sweep the screen for star bits, but that's completely optional. Play control is definitely a department where the game could have fallen apart if the developers tried to get needlessly creative, so it's good to see that they knew exactly what they were doing.
That proficiency extends to the game's audio and video, as well. There's just no question that Super Mario Galaxy is one of the prettiest Wii games around. At times, it looks almost like it would be at home on the Xbox 360, with incredible texture detail and lighting. Draw distance is equally impressive, meaning you can look out over the landscape and perhaps even to planets beyond without everything popping into place only as you draw closer. The music is remarkably crisp, as well. There are some beautiful remixes of classic tunes from the franchise's history, plus some new stuff that fits in perfectly and has an infectious quality. The plumber's tradition of pushing the current hardware is completely upheld and bodes well for future software.
One final thing worth mentioning is that the game is quite lengthy. You can certainly rush through it in a few short days if that's how you want to play, but that's a good way to ruin an experience that otherwise will likely prove more magical than anything you've encountered before it. As cliché as it sounds, Super Mario Galaxy is about the journey, not the destination. It's not over when the credits roll, either. You can keep playing to find stars and mini-games you might have missed, plus it's even possible to swap plumbers and explore galaxies as Luigi, if you satisfy certain requirements.
There's no doubt that 2007 has been an amazing year, filled to the brim with some of the finest games we've seen in a long time. You can look to any system and find something remarkable, but only Wii can offer one of the finest Mario outings in years. Super Mario Galaxy offers plenty to keep you busy for a long time, but ultimately its greatest strength is the one it shares with so many of its predecessors: its many commendable elements join together for one future-proof package. Five or ten years from now, people will still be playing it and loving it as much as they do right now. What is it about Italian plumbers that's so special? It must be something in the water.
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 17, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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