Review: Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii)

Super Mario Galaxy
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 11/12/2007

You’ve seen the previews, you’ve heard the hype. Super Mario Galaxy is supposed to be the best Mario game since Super Mario 64, the same game that many says defined 3D platforming as we know it today. With such a pedigree, the newest game in the series is preceded by huge expectations that could be hard to meet. After all, the franchise has given us many classics and even created a couple of genres along the way.

Personally, there’s no game I anticipated more than this one. Not even Super Smash Bros Brawl. or The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Mario has always been my man when it comes to losing me in fantasy worlds filled with wonderful creatures. From the first time I touched a controller, this is the series that has hit my imagination in the biggest way.

So, did Nintendo succeed in outdoing themselves? Can they top the standard they established over ten years ago? More importantly, is this game as fun as you would expect a Mario game to be? After all, it’s not a good Mario game if I’m not smiling like an idiot by myself on a couple of occasions.


STORY

Yes, it’s still about Bowser kidnapping Peach and Mario giving chase. What else did you expect? However, Bowser got creative this time around. Using spaceships, he ripped Peach’s Castle off the ground with hooks and chains and brought it along in space, just when the Mushroom Kingdom and its citizens were getting ready for a star festivals that happens once every hundred years.

Once. Every hundred years. That’s the time Bowser chooses to ruin the party. Now that’s the embodiment of the word “rude”.

This new situation provides some much needed change of scenery. Instead of simply running around Mushroom Kingdom, Yoshi’s Island or the other usual places, Mario has to jump from galaxy to galaxy in order to find stars that will give more power to the spaceship that rescued him, which will eventually allow it to reach the center of the universe, where Peach is being held captive.

There are also new characters to meet. Helping Mario is a girl called Rosalina who lives with star-shaped creatures on a space station/comet. If I can be serious for a moment, that new girl is way sexier than Peach has ever been. She’s even showing shoulders with that blue dress. Also joining the cast are the aforementioned star people, called Lumas, as well as new Toads with actual personalities instead of simply all being dressed the same. Of course, when I say “personalities”, it’s in the Smurfs-sense of the word. One of them has an explorer hat, another has glasses, one is always sleeping and one is a mailman. Still, it’s a nice change from the Toads being palette swaps of each others.

While the story is still a variation of a storyline that was established in 1985, it’s nice to actually get more meat around the bone. The back-story is explained in more details in a library which can be unlocked by acquiring more power stars. Sure, it’s not Shakespeare, but it’s still a great little bedtime story. I’m pretty sure you could read it to your kids if you have any, and they would love every minute of it.

Don’t expect anything like character development, but it’s a welcome change from what we have come to expect from a Mario platformer. Considering the genre, this is a very strong effort.

Story Rating: 6/10


GRAPHICS
I’ve been searching for a word to describe the way I feel about the graphics in this game. I decided to settle on “exquisite”. To say that this is the prettiest game on the Wii would be an understatement. Everything in this game is shiny and bright. The galaxies are all filled to the brim with little details that give each of them a very distinct flavour. It can be anything from debris floating everywhere around you in the Space Junk Galaxy, to the various cannons and traps that make Battlerock Galaxy look like one huge cosmic battlefield.

I’m not sure if I can express just how beautiful this game is in words. I guess I could describe it as classic Mario, but pushed to the limits. Some instantly recognizable enemies have been given a facelift to make them fit with the different galaxy themes explored through the game. The atmosphere through the different levels is just right, as it mixes the darkness of space with the bright colors we expect from the series. It skilfully mixes the excitement of novelty with old-school Nintendo. As an example, some of the galaxies that focus more on platforming even feature scenes from the NES days as backgrounds.

Finally, I have to say that the water effect in Super Mario Galaxy is simply gorgeous. Too often in video games, water looks flat and fake. Not this time. Ever since Wave Race 64, Nintendo has been responsible for the best-looking virtual water I have seen. I don’t know how much time they spent on it this time around, but hey, it looks good. They sure love their water effect, and it shows.

Graphics Rating: 10/10


SOUND
With its rich history, Nintendo is known to use various rearranged versions of songs from their previous games, and of course, you get a lot of that in Super Mario Galaxy . It does not populate the entire soundtrack, but it’s dosed perfectly, just to provide that sweet little feeling of nostalgia. People who grew up on the NES will probably smile when they will hear an orchestrated version of the flying ships theme from Super Mario Bros. 3, or a new variation of the underground theme from the original game. There are other classic songs like that hidden all over the game, and each one of them is a delight for your ears.

Let’s not forget about the new compositions too. The new stuff is memorable and can be compared without any complex to the best music the rest of the series has to offer. I absolutely love the intro music, which plays at the title screen and each time you enter a galaxy. It feels like Mario meets Star Wars, and it’s a total blast. It’s wonderful how much each theme adds to the style and atmosphere of each level. I haven’t heard a dull or boring track while playing this game.

As for the sound effects, everything is right on the money, from the small amount of voice acting to the subtle change of the sound your steps make, depending on what surface Mario is running on. It’s hard to find anything wrong with the different effects, as everything sounds as it should. Even using the long jump to hit a cliff head-on sounds like what you would expect a face smashing on some rocks to sound like. I swear, try it.

As far as I am concerned, this is a flawless performance from the composers and effect artists.
Sound Rating: 10/10


CONTROL
Once again, there’s nothing wrong here. One of the things that scare me each time I see an old franchise getting an update for the Wii is the possibility of too much waggles ruining the whole concept. I don’t mind flailing my arms if it makes sense, as in Wii Sports or Rayman Raving Rabbids. If it feels forced however, as in Red Steel, where opening a door and reloading your gun ends up being the same motion, things get boring real fast.

Good news! Super Mario Galaxy features motion controls, but only when appropriate, and only in moderate doses. You will shake the remote to make Mario spin, you will balance it to move a rolling ball or surf, you will point at stars to grab them and pull you forward, and it all feels very natural. It’s also extremely responsive, so I never found myself fighting with the controller to get it to do what I want. I have absolutely no cheap death to report due to malfunctioning controls.

The rest of the actions are all done in the way you expected it to be since Super Mario 64. You still have a variety of jumps which are all done with the same button; you can still do Mario’s famous butt-drop and it is still possible to move the camera, but this time using the d-pad instead of a second joystick. I have to mention that the camera seems more intelligent than in Super Mario Sunshine where it had more of a tendency to hide Mario behind walls. Not this time, as it is usually in a good position to show the action, and you still appear as a shadow when hidden behind an obstacle, which is rarer than ever. Even swimming, which I used to have a love/hate relationship with in platformers, now feels good. Instead of the constant pressing of a button to swim, you can now hold it down to kick your legs, or press Z to dive further. Finally, could we have found a swimming control scheme which feels effective? It’s only the icing on an already sweet cake.

Control Rating: 10/10


REPLAYABILITY
If there’s one weakness that platformers are usually associated with, it’s a lack of replayability. Traditionally, the only hope a platform game has of being played again is if it’s so good that gamers will go back to it once in a while, either for nostalgia purposes or to see if it still stands the test of time. Failing that, a lot of games try to extend their lifetime by forcing you to collect multiple objects hoping, that you won’t notice you’re not having any fun while doing it. Super Mario Galaxy strikes a good balance with the collecting aspect, and as you can guess, it has everything of a future classic.

Sure, it is still a platformer, and even though it tries to extend the main quest in many ways, it’s still shorter than your average adventure game. At least, everything that you will have to do in this game feels fun, satisfying and compelling. Gone are the 100 coins fetch quests to get more power stars. You only need 60 stars for the right to face Bowser for the final time, but in order to get 120 stars, you will need to save Luigi a couple of times, complete one-shot galaxies that are more of a throwback to 2D stages and more challenging than their run-of-the-mill counterparts and compose with prankster comets.

These comets are one of the best new features in this game. After clearing the standard mission-based stars in a galaxy, a comet will sometimes appear to change a variable, thus creating a brand new challenge. For example, sometimes you will have to race against a clone of yourself, or maybe the enemies will move faster. There are about five or so different kind of comets that affect the gameplay for a short while and momentarily add to the challenge. Now please watch out, the following paragraph will contain spoilers (which have already been revealed on the net), so skip right to the next one if you are the kind of person who wants to keep every revelation a surprise until the last minute.

After collecting every star in every galaxy, you will have unlocked Luigi, who can then go through the entire game by himself. His jumping and handling is different, effectively creating a second quest, or half of one, since the galaxies themselves don’t really change. Still, it’s a nice effort from Nintendo to finally provide a reason to keep playing after finishing the game for the first time.

Overall, Nintendo did try to pack this game with things to do, and they succeeded. The game feels longer than its predecessors. Collecting the 120 stars never feels like a chore, and even though it still goes by a bit fast, you will enjoy every second of the ride.

Replayability Rating: 7/10


BALANCE
The galaxies have a wide range of challenge. Even if one of the levels fails to tickle your fancy, you can be sure you will find another one more up your alley elsewhere. The fact that the game follows a non-linear structure allows you to wander all over the place until you find a stage you want to play. There are still restrictions on the number of stars needed to unlock some levels, but they are ridiculously low. You will often unlock galaxies so quickly that you will be left with five or six of them waiting in line.

The difficulty is never an issue, as you only need 60 stars to finish the game. This means that beginners can skip past the harder ones until they find a challenge that’s more fit to their skills. On the other hand, it also provides some gruelling missions for seasoned veterans to tackle, such as many of the bonus galaxies. These gamers can also try to collect every star in the game’s universe, which can be quite a task too.

My only problem is that in order to make the game beatable by everybody, they made the boss fights easier. They are still fun and imaginative, but once you figure out how to finish a boss, the rest of the fight is a piece of cake.

Balance Rating: 9/10


ORIGINALITY
You cannot really call Super Mario Galaxy “totally original”. Despite the new features, it is still the same old conventions that were established in 1996. No matter how you put it, it is still a game about collecting stars to save a princess. At least, the change of scenery provides more than enough thrills for the fans of the series. The new suits are also a good addition, even though they are only used sporadically. There are many other small details that put a fun spin on an old formula, such as the different shapes of the galaxy, the weird gravity and the prankster comets.

It’s still the Mario you know and love, but with enough new stuff to keep it all fresh. The result is that you feel as if you were discovering something new and exciting, but with that comfortable familiarity mixed in.

Originality Rating: 6/10


ADDICTIVENESS

I for one just cannot put it down. At work, there are two discussion subjects: Guitar Hero and Super Mario Galaxy. I’ve read about one of our forum members feeling some motion sickness from the constant spinning around, but trying to fight through it because he likes this game so much. It will not make a junkie out of you like Pokémon, nor will it make you want to practice incessantly like Guitar Hero, but it will probably be the only game you will play in your free time for a while.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10


APPEAL FACTOR
Mario is probably the most recognizable video games character of all time. I can’t really confirm, but recent surveys did show that he was more famous than some American politicians, and than Paris Hilton. Super Mario Galaxy is the biggest Mario game since Super Mario Galaxy. Children love Mario. Parents know that Mario is a safe bet. This game will probably sell tons of copies. Really, the only people who will dislike the game are those who hate platformers. Even then, Mario usually manages to go past that, reach the haters and gather everybody for a short moment of gaming bliss. I don’t think games get much more universally appealing than Mario. Even adults who moved on to bigger, manlier games grew up playing with the original game and might want to check it out.

Appeal Factor Rating: 9/10


MISCELLANEOUS
While Nintendo did try to change Mario’s usual playground in Super Mario Sunshine – and it was nice to see them try multiple variations on a different theme (tropical island) instead of the token ice level, fire level and so on – it wasn’t as effective as what they accomplished this time. The space theme gave the developers plenty of freedom and it shows. I didn’t think that a game could surpass Super Mario 64 in my book, but this one did it. It does so many things right and so few things wrong that you can’t help but be impressed by Nintendo’s dedication. This game was crafted by true artists at the top of their game. It doesn’t revolutionize the franchise, but it shines it up really nicely and makes it more fun than it has ever been.

One thing I didn’t mention anywhere else in this review is the 2-players mode. It’s nothing big, but it’s good enough to convince your friends to give it a try. At least, in my case, my brother liked it enough to keep collecting star bits and shooting baddies well past his bedtime. The helper role also makes the game easier for the first player, so I think it’s the perfect multiplayer initiation for someone who is just getting into videogames and wants to try something meatier than minigames collections.

Finally, it has come to my attention that many people have been suffering from motion sickness after playing this game. I can easily see why, considering the constant spinning and twisting involved in some galaxies. You will often have to follow Mario while he is upside down, and some levels feature many changes in gravity, allowing quick succession of screen-spinning camera angles. This issue will be hard to look past for some people, but the majority of you will probably have no problems whatsoever. Still, it’s important to mention it since it could completely cripple the game experience for those who have had difficulties in the past with motion sickness.

Miscellaneous Rating: 9/10


THE RATINGS
Story: 6/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 10/10
Control: 10/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 9/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal: 9/10
Miscellaneous: 9/10

Average Rating: 8.4
Final Score: 8.5 (Great!)

Short Attention Span Summary
As a big Mario fan, it was almost a given that I would like this game. Still, I never imagined that it would blow me away so much. I can’t talk for the rest of the team at Not A True Ending, but as far as I’m concerned, unless something really surprising lands in my hands by the end of December, this is my Game of the Year. If you have a Wii, go buy this game. It’s one of the best reasons to own one.