Despite what impressive sales may have been seen thanks to its mini-game compilations, trying to sell this “gimmicky” console to the core gamer was something else entirely. While the admirable Legend of Zelda series graced the Wii at launch, its Gamecube counterpart disallowed the exclusive moniker—and left a sense of the new control scheme feeling tacked-on. Sure, one could pinpoint Metroid Prime 3: Corruption as a fine example of a blockbuster exclusive delivering the goods of first-person shooters with motion control, but we still required…more than that. Rather than being a distractive novelty, an important game needed to act as both a vehicle for the unique motion structure while feeling so ingrained into the gameplay as to feel natural. It should come as no surprise to see Nintendo wouldn’t allow Mario to rest on his laurels for too long before showing the world what next adventure he was capable of accomplishing on this device. With another excellent display of adding new parts to the same engine, the venerable series of 3D Mario games once again shows how easy it is for this plumber to overcome even the most astronomical of demands.
The story begins with Princess Peach inviting Mario to the Star Festival, a convivial celebration in Mushroom Kingdom that occurs every century. Shortly upon arriving, Bowser and his armada of spaceships rip Peach’s castle out of the ground. Despite his best efforts, Mario is not able to stop Bowser from succeeding in his goal. The chase we’ve come to know and love since the NES era is on once again. Mario’s unsuccessful first attempt to save Peach resulted in him discovering the enigmatic enchantress Rosalina, her comet observatory, and her companions known as Lumas. Since Bowser had stolen all of the stars powering this station, Mario’s tasked to retrieve them scattered about different galaxies in order to go to Bowser’s lair at the center of the universe.
As anyone familiar with the series’ tropes typically positioned into the story, the task and how it unfolds mirrors that template, but with a celestial theme: go into a certain building, choose your locale to hunt for stars, fight the important boss relegated to that set of galaxies to illumine the next building, etc. Despite this redundancy wearing thin for quite some time, credit should be given for the quality cinematic cut scenes pushing everything forward. Most of them are transient in length, but supply some fun moments of action. If there’s any key annoyance—which I admit is just a personal preference—most moments of spoken dialogue is just the characters spouting the first one or two words of their speech and staying silent the rest of the time text is supplying information. It serves no purpose.
Even though most ideas like the ‘save the princess’ premise and thin exposition for most characters are par for the course here, a stunning slice of backstory is also presented in the form of Rosalina’s Storybook—and is one of my favorite surprises here. What begins as a simple account to provide context of how Rosalina acquired this observatory/spaceship eventually crawls into revealing important moments of her childhood, and begins tackling heavy issues, such as death, in later chapters (I kid you not). What makes it so startling for a Mario game to confront this is how innocent the saccharine bedtime story is displayed: hand-drawn pictures in the background of the text, lullaby music, and a portrait viewed from a child’s perspective. These aspects hit home all the more because of how wildly it juxtaposes the fun nature of everything else here. Outside of the sheer joy of discovering more galaxies, Super Mario Galaxy (SMG) provides a nuance from its storytelling norm that made this one of the most interesting of its game worlds yet.
Overall, the main plot only differs with the space setting and some extra characters. Yet, even the small side-story presented feels like the perfect way to bolster narrative in these types of Mario games, especially when considering it with the true ending. Some—possibly many—may argue there being no reason to have it here at all; but since this is segregated and purely optional, purists don’t even have to worry about this being forced on them.
Not only just because of a different control scheme, the reason SMG fits for a Wii title is by pushing the system farther than anything previously seen (though Twilight Princess looked great as well). Aside from running on a smooth frame rate, there’s a litany of great animations and other particulars which look excellent. Outside of technical design, another aspect to praise would go towards the wonderful art design throughout all the distinctive worlds to explore. What was disappointing about Mario Sunshine (the previous 3D Mario title) was how so many of the different levels had to rely on a sandy beach aesthetic as a background, which hampered the diversity associated with the series. With SMG’s setting in space, even the sky doesn’t seem to be the limit here! From a galaxy filled with large toys, ghastly mansions, and sundries of other worlds, so many locales are teeming with their own sense of variegated vibrancy and distinct character.
Audio merits a healthy amount of praise as well. Although a large amount of antiquated beats are here, these tweaked renditions backed by an august orchestra and a modernized approach make them even stand up against the originals. New tracks here are also some of the most memorable since the series’ beginning. Most of the effects heard here seem perfectly fitting as well, even the cutesy shrieks of pink, bloated Lumas when they “TRAANNSFORM.” The only quibble that remained noticeable throughout the adventure was the low-volume aural queues made from the Wii-mote’s speaker whenever triggered by certain actions. As mentioned before, I don’t think voice actors left to saying a few words here and there serves much of a purpose during story segments, but it’s reasonable for anyone to say too much would infringe on the purpose of this platformer.
Although the star-hunting structure is the same as previous entries, it’s the newfound manipulation of gravity that sets comparisons worlds apart. In SMG, these multitudinous “galaxies” feel more like floating spherical landmasses and/or abstract puzzles rather than planetoids. These areas each have their own gravitational pull, which allows Mario to trek just about anywhere on them; upside down, right side up, sideways, there’s a plethora of ways to discover hidden areas or simply play around with the physics. The way to typically get from place to place in each galaxy is via launch stars which demand you to shake the Wii-mote to ingress to the next location. Another way to maneuver is by floating through space to grapple onto pull stars while cocooned in a bubble.
Reshaping rather than retooling is what brings this mascot back to such familiar foundations started on the N64. To expound upon that: even though several motion moves are required, what’s emplaced feels both less obtrusive than the FLUDD in Sunshine and also slims down the collect-a-thon system of 64 immensely. Outside of the fluid analog controls used for running, jumping, and typical combos, motion is designated for just about everything else. The key attack is shaking the Wii remote to make Mario hit enemies with a spin move. Lesser attacks like throwing shells and such are also dedicated to quick motion gestures. Despite these overtaking antiquated button-pushing, most are so fitting that it makes them feel like unobtrusive nuances. There are more demanding uses of motion. Outside of what’s previously mentioned, the remote is also used as a pointer that displays a tiny icon on the screen to collect star bits, which acts as both the in-game currency and an auxiliary weapon. By pointing anywhere on screen and pressing the B button, star bits can be shot at enemies to stun them or fed to certain Lumas so new galaxies can be unlocked. A few specific stages are the only moments in which true motion control is used: vertically holding the remote when Mario’s atop a ball or horizontally twisting side-to-side to steer when ray surfing. Regardless of importance, these multifarious changes all provide great variety but not to the point of making the simplistic, accessible nature become atrophied from it.
Despite having such mind-blowing concepts, there’s no need to worry about figuring out each step at once; in fact, difficulty ‘ramp’ would be a more appropriate term than ‘curve.’ How the difficulty is increased brings a double-edged sword for older and younger players. Although the game is great family fun and supplies subtle training wheels for even the youngest of platformer fans to understand, the sixty-star minimum to complete the game can feel too easy for veterans IF they decide to get the lowest requirement of stars from each dome to keep moving forward. Fortunately, hankering to acquire more than the requisite number—up to the one-hundred and twenty star maximum—will result in anyone getting their fill of challenge. The most interesting wrinkle to bolster this comes in the form of comets. Appearing randomly, these celestial bodies change the rules in some significant way: time trial to capture a star, one hit results in Mario losing a life, racing against doppelganger Mario, and more. It’s a welcome dynamic designated pro rata throughout most galaxies that encourages replaying for the thrill of experiencing those levels in a new way (as if they weren’t fun enough to replay on their own).
In what has to be the best nod to more suit-focused Mario games, SMG delivers more than half a dozen power-ups into the mix. For instance, Mario takes the form of a bee in a few levels, capable of being airborne for a short time and latching onto honeycombs. Outside of that, new and old abilities range from turning invincible, throwing fire, freezing portions of water to walk on it, launching great distances by being wrapped up in a coiled spring, and becoming a boo that can go through walls. Although some have been recycled ad nauseum, newer abilities work perfectly within each situation and provide a great deal of fun—with the bee power-up being one of the series’ most enjoyable yet. The only problem with the spring suit is the unwieldiness of controlling it for certain obstacles that often demand too much precision.
Even though all of the pristine facets regarding controls, accessibility, and originality are enough to make a great title, what makes this adventure unforgettable is the level design. More than just looking great and handling the psychics perfectly, the amount of cunning devises laid throughout so many of these areas is of such an abundant assortment. One moment could demand surmounting a huge boss by climbing on it and the next advance through a tube-like structure with gravity intentionally portioned in both directions. And with all of the disorienting demands the game pushes on you, the fixed camera angles are almost always aimed appropriately. There were a few times in which it lost sight of Mario, but rarely enough for it to only be considered a nitpick. In the end, so many of these vibrant, strange venues offer a delightful amount of quirky absurdities and different ideas for them to never feel as if they’re beginning to blend together.
If only investing the minimum amount of time to complete, the campaign will offer roughly fifteen hours of playing time. If attempting to acquire every star to get a secret ending and a secret character, the time will double, possibly triple, that amount. There is co-op functionality; but rather than joining the fray, the second player acts as more of a ghost that can aim their Wii-mote at the screen to pick up and shoot star bits, halt certain enemies, and cause Mario to jump or spin. When it’s all said and done, the co-op feature feels tacked-on and will probably cause more feuds over who gets to be first player then elicit any actual teamwork. For online, players can take pictures of their accumulated star list to send to their message board or friends; a limited use of the online service, though it can certainly impel light-hearted competition.
Ever since the land of bom-ombs and luging penguins provided the backdrop to one of the greatest leaps forward in 3D platforming, there’s rarely been such a wonderful game quite like this one. Going by Nintendo’s strict focus of making an appealing game to everyone, we’re given adorable aesthetics and squealing little stars surrounding one of the plumber’s most inventive and focused games yet. Is that to say it’s without shortcomings? Absolutely not: a too-gradual difficulty curve and tacked-on co-op can’t be ignored. But when this sort of title is even able to elicit astonishment—however slight—in storytelling in tandem with the grandiose gameplay revolution, there’s simply no questioning this is a game that shoots for the stars.
coolbeans’ *Certified FresH* Badge
coolbeans’ 2007 Game of the Year Nominee