Super Mario Galaxy Review
Reviewed on Wii
Once each hundred years, a comet flies over the Mushroom Kingdom, leaving a trail of shooting stars and prompting a joyous festival. Mario was heading to the castle to enjoy the festival and the comet with Princess Peach when, once again, disaster struck. Not only was Peach abducted, her entire castle was stolen and carried off to a distant part of the universe.
Only by recovering missing stars can Mario restore power to the observatory hidden on that passing comet and travel to rescue Peach from Bowser's clutches. Again.
Cute. Super Mario Galaxy is the epitome of cute. And it manages cute without becoming painfully saccharine – the kind of cute that can't help but make a person smile, no matter what your mood is. To bring a smile to anyone's face, all you have to do is spin near a star, penguin or friendly robot and see them gleefully spin along.
Besides being cute, there's plenty of game and star collecting to do in Super Mario Galaxy. Like Mario's other 3D romps, Mario visits varied levels scattered around the universe collecting stars and coins (and now Star Bits), while leaping, ground-pounding and hurling fireballs to deal with Mario's many (but still cute) foes.
But Super Mario Galaxy adds a new twist: up, down, left and right are constantly shifting as Mario runs literally around the inside and outside of tiny planetoids and objects, and gravity shifts directions in some later galaxies, so that keeping your bearings is as much of a challenge as the traditional Mario-style star-gathering and platform-jumping. This constantly shifting perspective adds the biggest challenge yet to the Mario galaxy of games.
Save one factor, Super Mario Galaxy is a brilliant design. It's full of easily accessible levels, slowly building Mario's portfolio of moves until his complex array of jumps and mushroom-related transformations are completely intuitive. The cute and colorful visuals are engaging whether you are a six-year-old or a forty six-year old gamer. Most importantly, the game is playable by both the casual gamer who likes to hear Mario shout "Wheeeeeeeeee!" and the hardcore platforming fan eager for the most challenging levels available.
Every level (ordinary, secret, or more challenging levels activated by passing comets) ends with a star as prize. Overall, there are 120 stars, but you only need 60 to finish the main plot arc of the game and rescue Princess Peach. Casual gamers can pick and choose the levels that are most interesting or accessible and still reach Peach. Hardcore gamers can complete every level, including the Trial Galaxies and most difficult Purple Coin time trials. There are so many available stars that I still hadn't explored two of the six observatories (that lead to play areas) when I rescued Peach from Bowser's clutches.
Since Super Mario 64, the 3D Mario games have been brilliant fun, but have prompted complaints concerning the camera. The very nature of Super Mario Galaxy makes the camera a potential problem. Observatories can hurl Mario through space to visit distant galaxies. Those galaxies typically hold several stars as prizes, with individual planets (ranging from huge structures to tiny rocks) scattered around the galaxy.
The problem is simultaneously the coolest thing about Super Mario Galaxy. Mario can run right around these planets, space stations and wacky structures. The camera constantly shifts to keep Mario in view, but that means that to keep Mario running in a straight line, you'll constantly be tilting the joystick in different directions. Personally, I found the arrangements strange at first, but fairly easy to deal with. Friends who tried the game sometimes found it incomprehensible and frustrating.
I wouldn't hesitate to give Super Mario Galaxy to a young child to build skills in spatial relationships, but I'd think twice before handing it over to an older gamer who is less flexible concerning camera angles. Particularly since some of the later stars require coping with shifting gravity. The small planets did create a problem for me once when Bowser, during a boss battle, leapt right off the planetoid and continued to fall forever into infinite space, making the level impossible to complete!
Super Mario Galaxy manages to top its gravity-defying antics with its use of the Wii controller. Some of the motion-sensitive actions are obvious, such as having players spin Mario around with a quick flick of the controller. But there are plenty of clever tricks that implement the controller's abilities in a natural way. Levels have Mario hopping onto a manta ray to surf the galactic waves by rotating the Wii remote. Mario can stand atop a large ball and roll it by tilting the Wii remote. He can even float around in a bubble by using the Wii remote to blow air in different directions at the bubble.
What really keeps the Wii remote pointed at the screen are the star bits: the universe is simply filled with sparkling, multi-colored star bits that can be collected. They can be hurled to stun enemies, collected for extra lives or even fed to Lumas (juvenile creatures that mature into stellar objects) to make them overflow with snacky happiness. The star bits make the game interesting to play with two players. Called "Co-Star Mode" a second player can collect and fire star bits, making this a worthy co-operative experience, especially if you want to enjoy the game with a less-experienced gaming friend.
When it comes right down to it, Super Mario Galaxy is great fun, but the stunning visuals did more to keep me entranced than anything else. The colorful vistas are vivid, creative and filled with clever details. Moreover, Mario doesn't have to experience them in his usual suspenders and mustache. He can transform (with the help of mushrooms) into costumes that give him the abilities of a bee, ghost or spring. He can even eat mushrooms that allow him to freeze water, hurl fire or destroy everything he touches. The spring is a little hard to control (let alone use to beat a boss battle), but the other costumes are pure fun, and give Mario more freedom.
The gorgeous galaxies each have a theme, and in this, the Super Mario Galaxy designers have outdone themselves. Save the occasional re-use of a galaxy (Gold Leaf Galaxy, anyone?), every galaxy is unique, with its own visual stylings, be they comprised of children's toys (and classic Mario icons), a honeybee hive or propeller-powered pirate ships floating in space. And for every gorgeous visual there is an equally engaging soundtrack that responds to Mario. Mario can follow paths of notes to both play music at his own pace and reveal hidden features. The music changes as Mario's mood and environment changes, subtly transitioning, for example, every time he goes above or below water.
There's so much to love about Super Mario Galaxy that it's impossible to contain on a single page, and despite a few minor flaws, it's easy to recommend to gamers of any stripe or age.