Saturday, September 05, 2009

Super Mario Galaxy

9.0 [Incredible]

Gameplay: 9
Visuals: 10
Music: 9
Sound: 7
Value: 8

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Multiplayer: Offline co-op (kinda)
Console(s): Wii
Reviewed on: Wii
ESRB rating: E (Mild Cartoon Violence)
BMR rating: E (Mild Cartoon Violence)

Good Points:

Expertly-designed levels - Fantastic music - Amazing graphics - Lots of variety - Excellent controls - Traditional Mario style merges perfectly with outer space splendor - Boatloads of pure fun

Not So Good Points:

Too easy to get 100% - Hub world could be more interesting

It would be no hyperbole to state that Super Mario 64 is a phenomenally tough act to follow. Whether or not you are one who believes that Super Mario Sunshine succeeded in this task, there's still a pretty good chance that Super Mario Galaxy will amaze you like very few games have before. What we have here is a quality product, top to bottom, and one that makes Mario fans around the world proud. Once again Mario takes the spotlight in a 3D platformer that has the beloved plumber leaping through fantastical lands, grabbing gold coins, and doing all that Mario stuff that you remember so fondly. But this time... he's in outer space.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. There's a pleasant little story that goes along with the adventure, so let's lay it out real quick. Princess Peach sent a special invitation to Jumpman himself to attend the mystical Star Festival, and being the jolly Italian that he is, Mario accepts. However, during the festival, the evil Koopa King known as Bowser shows up, and panic ensues. The Princess, naturally, is kidnapped, and it's up to Mario to rescue her. He somehow winds up in space, meets a beautiful woman named Rosalina, and the adventure begins! There's also an optional storybook sequence that you can partake in if you so desire, but despite the charming visuals, I didn't find it to be particularly interesting. All in all, it's a simple plot, and that's just fine. It sets up a likable quest and focuses on the real meat: the gameplay.

Rosalina's floating spaceship acts as your hub, and while it's nowhere near as imaginative or fun to explore as Super Mario 64's castle was, it serves its purpose. From there you can access the various galaxies (or, put more simply, levels), interact with the inhabitants (including a ridiculous group of Toads known as the Toad Brigade), or just jump around and do some acrobatic tricks. Each galaxy has its own set of Power Stars to collect, which presents a varied amount of challenges to complete. As you unlock more Stars, more galaxies will become available to you, so you can pick and choose which levels you want to play at your leisure. This is a pretty familiar chain of events for most Mario veterans, but the actual galaxies are surprisingly different than you might expect.

First of all, the levels are more linear than the previous games. Rather than the sprawling locales of the past, the paths are usually more straightforward, striking a delightful blend between the 2D and 3D Mario experiences. But what really sets Super Mario Galaxy apart from the crowd is its crazy laws of gravity (or lack therefore of). You'll find yourself running upside down, sticking to objects that seem more the size of a cantaloupe than a planet, and leaping into the air only to get pulled into an awesome gravitational rotation of a pint-sized planet. Yet through all this insanity, the camera keeps up with your movements perfectly and the level design stays consistently excellent. You can also count on grabbing a number of different power-ups that give Mario a plethora of interesting abilities. Unique ideas thrive in this game, and you'll find more platforming goodness than the world has seen in quite some time.

No, your eyes do not deceive you. This is actually a very common activity in the world of Super Mario Galaxy.

Although you don't get a water pump that allows you to hover every which way as seen in Super Mario Sunshine, you do get a helpful little spin attack that boosts your jump slightly, which is more important than it may sound. You have to shake the Wii remote to perform this vital task, but it's actually not an annoyance at all. If you prefer, you can force yourself to not use this luxury and rough it out like the old days, which can make the experience more satisfying. You can also point the remote to collect star bits and fire them back at enemies, stunning them momentarily. A second player can hop in to interact with the environment in a variety of ways, which makes the game easier if that's what you want. The only other motion-sensing portions of the game are quite fun and brief, which is only a good thing.

The sheer number of joyous activities you can do makes the game even better. You'll find yourself flying through the air clinging to a giant dandelion, ice skating upside down, dodging deadly magic spells, swimming through underwater caverns, launching out of volcanoes, and so much more. It's very rare to find yourself bored or frustrated in Super Mario Galaxy, and it wouldn't be a stretch to find the the game's cover art under the word "fun" in the dictionary. The biggest complaint is that it all seems to be over so quickly: I finished with 100% earlier than I had hoped. A multitude of "Prankster Comets" eventually pop up to increase the difficulty by setting special conditions on some of the galaxies, including missions such as collecting purple coins, competing in races, and just beating the clock. While these comets are great additions to an already great game, I still found a lack of that certain challenge of collecting all the hidden objects and defeating death-defying level design that most other Mario platformers have. Don't get me wrong, your skills will be tested and it'll take some time to beat everything (especially since there's a way to replay the entire game in a harder difficulty), yet I can't help but to wish that I could spend even more time trying to finish it all up. Part of the reason that it seemed so fleeting is no doubt due to the extreme fun and beautiful presentation that you will constantly be surrounded by. (Obvious transition alert.)

Super Mario Galaxy is a visually spectacular game, and is easily one of the best-looking Wii games out there. A rich, vibrant color palette compliments the wonderfully animated characters and diverse scenery. Not every stage takes place in the deepness of space, so you'll find yourself in sandy deserts, sunny paradises, and all kinds of lovely locations. From bright flowing lava, to crystal-clear splashing water, to the deep star-speckled vista of space, it's a pleasure to have eyeballs when playing this game. The game's music is no slouch either. While you can be sure to hear a few classic Mario tunes here and there, Super Mario Galaxy's music is at its best when the beautiful and sweeping orchestral soundtrack kicks in, which is surprisingly fitting for the red-capped hero's epic adventure. As you soar through the stars and listen to the soundtrack suddenly give a triumphant flourish, a mixture of grandeur and wonder is undeniably in the air, which really makes Super Mario Galaxy something special.

Just this image alone is enough to simultaneously cause Mario fans to cry tears and joy and wonder excitedly whether they should jump off the waterfall or swing on the palm tree trapeze first.

And so another Mario game is immortalized in the great library of Nintendo classics. With unprecedented graphics, an amazing musical score, fantastic level design, and a ton of heart, we have here a winner in almost every regard. The experience may feel a little short-lived for collect-a-thon enthusiasts (such as myself), but it's only natural that time flies when you're having fun. And with its classic platformer style and fresh gravity-bending mindset, that's exactly what the game is: fun. Super Mario Galaxy, without a doubt, puts the magic back into video games.

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