It's getting to be a joke really. Just when you thought one console might have it over another one, along comes this
AAA title and that
AAA title. It almost seems unfair there would be this much tearing apart the games community and potential console owners this holiday season, but it's just what has happened and it's just what we have to deal with. On the Xbox 360 front the exclusive Mass Effect
makes a pretty solid argument for ownership, alongside other stellar cross platform titles like Call of Duty 4
and Assassin's Creed
, while the PS3 has its sleeves rolled up finally with both Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune hitting the black box this Christmas. The Wii, on the other hand, the console we all thought might have been heading for a downfall, has delivered the incredible Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
to those of us with waiting hands, while the hotly anticipated Super Smash Bros. Brawl will be arriving very early next year. Oh, and they have this little game called Super Mario Galaxy
Seriously though. Good God
this is good. Almost a little too
good. In fact it dwarfs almost every Wii game before it. To begin with – who says you need hi-def? Not Nintendo, that's for sure. The amount of colour, vibrancy and pure imagination literally seeping from every corner of this game is wondrous (bearing in mind it's set in space, so there are no corners
). Mario has never
looked like this. His world has never
looked like this. In fact, he’s never
faced this type of thing before – but neither have you. His usual happenings and our understood conventions haven't just been turned on their head, they've been torn asunder. To say Super Mario Galaxy reinvents the platformer would be erroneous; instead, what it does is redefine the videogaming boundaries of fun, in that, like my corners and space
joke above, it tears them away so all that’s left is a mystical and astonishingly inviting game-world, a not-so-empty vacuum of pure gaming space where imagination takes hold, flight and charge.
The game doesn’t need
a story – only a point. The same point, in fact, we’ve come to expect from the Mario lineage over and over again: Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach, please save her. That’s it. That’s all you need to know - your end goal. An end point that must be reached. Everything that happens in the middle then, needs no explanation because there’s no need. ‘Obstacles
’ before your ultimate goal is all we need to understand about the platforming element of each stage, and this is something Super Mario Galaxy does in spades. The setting is space, for no real reason other than its boundless possibilities; this is the past, present and future of platforming as we know it, and a more than fitting gap between beginning and end. The fun stuff. And it’s as engaging as it is out there. As mentioned above, you’ve never played a Mario game like this before, and while it most certainly doesn’t leap gaming forward in the same way Super Mario 64 did, it damn near perfects it.
If you’ve played either Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine, there is a bout of familiarity waiting for you here, beginning first and foremost with the game’s controls. Everything is the same, long jumps, triple jumps, wall jumps, backflips and u-turn jumps are all intact and seamless. Mario’s animations too, are very similar to what we’ve seen in the past. The game’s structure is also based heavily on that set in SM64. Instead of the Mushroom Kingdom castle we have the Observatory
as the game-world hub. From here you can enter various rooms which allow access to new galaxies. Within each galaxy there are a number of planets to visit, and based on how many stars you have collected, new planets and galaxies will become available to you. Each planet usually
carries a theme, but some are just creatively ardent for the sake of it, which is fine with me – the more eccentric Mario’s worlds can become, the more imaginative his invariable impediments will be, marking a shift into realms of pure platforming bliss.
Speaking of platforming, it’s almost safer to call this spaceforming
, really. There are platforms for Mario to scale, to be sure, but the way in which each planet or galaxy has reinvented the formula (with a little help from the ‘space’ theme) is borderline genius. Because of the vastness of each planet now, the manual camera controls have been stripped back from the brilliance we faced with SM64 and have been replaced with a dynamic camera that actually adds
to the overall impact of whatever platforming element it is you’re facing. More often than not you’ll be able to shift the camera with the D-pad, but for the most part I recommend sticking with the automated system (lest you need to hit first-person view mode so as to have a good look around at your surroundings), as it adds challenge, scope and is actually very intuitive. Moreover, the Wii control set-up isn’t really designed for an easy-as-can-be manual camera system, and it’s equally easy to see just how much impact this alone had on level and puzzle design (in a good way).
Controlling Mario is easy enough. The Nunchuk is used to move him about, the C-button centres the camera and the Z-button is used for executing long jumps and backflips as well as Mario’s infamous butt-stomp
, while the A-button makes him jump and the B-button is used to shoot the myriad of “star-bits
” you’ll collect – you can also shake the Wii Remote about and Mario will perform a spin-attack (you also need to do this to launch
through the star gates – see box out for more). Collecting is another big factor here, though in not nearly as intrusive a fashion as you might expect from Nintendo. There are coins, which act as both health and a means to gain more lives, but this time around there’re no 100 and 120 coin markers for extra secret stars. Instead, reaching a count of 50 coins will reward you with a life, 100, another life and so on; however, coins are actually few and far between in Super Mario Galaxy, which adds to the challenge when considering the aforementioned concept they’re used to regain health.
This time around Mario’s HP counter is only three bars thick which means being hit three times renders you dead. It might seem a little unfair, but gaining extra lives is incredibly easy so you’re almost never
in a position to face the dreaded “Game Over
” screen. That said, death can come swiftly if you’re not mindful of the whereabouts of coins and Nintendo have been clever enough to hide
them throughout each level. For example, there are three ways to attack enemies (specifically for coins, Goombas): You can shoot them with the star-bits you collect which will make them dizzy and vulnerable to either a kick (done so by simply walking into them in this state), or a spin-attack. You can also simply time a spin-attack which is powerful enough to take them out without stunning them first, but both of these methods will only reward you with star-bits. Butt-stomping them, however, will reward you with coins. Moreover, the scoring system for each level is based on coins collected giving you more than enough recourse to retry each level to find as many coins as possible.
Instead of old-school warping or cannons, Mario jettisons about Super Mario Galaxy through Star Gates. Most of the time these are scattered throughout levels unlocked and ready to use, but other times you'll need to collect a certain number of star-bits to feed to hungry Lumas characters or rescue trapped Lumas who will then transform into gates.
Once you've performed these tasks more gates will open for you giving greater access to either a level or even a galaxy and some gates will even reveal themselves mid-flight - so keep an eye out.
Another interesting addition to the game’s replayability factor comes in the form of comets
. Throughout your adventure, finished galaxies may be visited by comets; these comets can re-open planets you’ve already completed only with a specific challenge. You may have to race Shadow Mario through a portion of the level or attempt to beat a sub-boss with only one bar of health and no coins, among many, many more. It’s an excellent way to mix things up a bit, and is equally clever on Nintendo’s part in maintaining the tradition of unlocking secret stars
. The comets aren’t always available either, which makes finding them in various galaxies something of a bonus for hardcore Mario fans (like myself).
Keeping track of level completion is also easy, and Nintendo have been kind enough to give you a heads up when you’ve tapped an area completely dry. That said, just like SM64, there are hidden secrets everywhere, as well as single stars to collect not at all dissimilar to those found in secret areas of the castle in the aforementioned game. There are plenty of timed race missions (our old pals, the Penguins are back) as well as other fun stand-alone star-fetching goals which not only add to the game’s incredible design variety, but also help to break up the idea of completing a certain number of goals within each planet; paralleling the game’s overall freeform approach to the genre (and source material).
As you would expect from a Mario title, all this fun wouldn’t be complete without epic boss-battles, and Super Mario Galaxy doesn’t disappoint in this area. You’ll face Bowser Jr, Kammy Kooper and Bowser throughout your adventure, and each time you’ll also need to tackle a challenging course to be able to face them. Bowser himself looks absolutely stunning and more menacing than ever thanks to the game’s incredible polish. It’s also great to see old foes like Kammy pop up, but beyond the main guys, expect to face off against massive Piranha Plants and Giant Goombas as well as some new foes created specifically for this game. That said, there are also new and old friends such as the aforementioned Penguins as well as the much touted bees. In fact, certain galaxies and planets throughout will allow Mario to don specific new garbs, including the bee suit (which is very, very cool), a fire-ball suit and even a Boo suit. As you would expect these then give Mario new abilities alongside new challenges, again opening up the game ten-fold.
While earlier I mentioned there’s no real need
for a story, Nintendo have added one, nonetheless. The Observatory is the home of a beautiful girl named Rosalina, who is also referred to by the Lumas as “Mother
”. Within the Observatory there is a library which can be visited intermittently to have more and more of the game’s story revealed to you (though it isn’t available for the first few galaxies you tackle). For the most part it’s all superfluous, but for those who like a touch of tongue-in-cheek Nintendo humour, you might get something more out of it. Within you’ll learn just what the Observatory is, why Rosalina is there and just how powerful Bowser could become if he succeeds with his plan to create a new galaxy (none of this is spoiler material, by the way). Beyond the Observatory and the Library, there are also a number of familiar faces and names that will pop up throughout, which again help to flesh out Super Mario Galaxy as the most robust
Mario title ever crafted.
Despite being a new
chapter in the Mario book of platforming, Super Mario Galaxy does much to show off where it came from. While I’ve already paraded on about the controls and familiar faces, the game also goes above and beyond in the aural areas of outlay to establish itself as a game with roots
. This is easily the best score Nintendo have produced for a Mario outing with nods that go as far back as Donkey Kong riddled throughout the soundtrack – there are even small warp-pipe levels that see you chasing a spawning number of music notes; each one hitting an old note from the same warp-pipe music of the original NES Super Mario Bros. On queue, it’s all midi-based, but that doesn’t make it any less engaging. That said, however, there is still more than enough new
stuff here to reflect the ‘out-there’ “future of platforming as we know it” design Super Mario Galaxy is twisted with - the sonic balance throughout – like the game
– is almost perfect, and one surely to go down in Nintendo (and gaming) history.
All said, Super Mario Galaxy wouldn’t be a Wii-specific title without a little more interaction with the Wii Remote, and while there’s nothing groundbreaking in the sense of say, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, going on (beyond the shaking of the Remote for Mario’s spin-attack), there are a few subtle but worthy additions. For one, while you’re moving Mario about the game-world, you’ll consistently notice star-bits falling from the sky, from defeated enemies, broken crates and more, filling up the play-area. Thankfully, instead of having to run Mario into all these loose bits of stars, there’s a constant on-screen star curser generated from the Wii Remote. Simply run this curser over any star-bits you see and they’ll immediately be collected. You can also have a second player doing this on your behalf (hence the SMG Quick Fact “coop-ish
” listed above) with a second Wii Remote. You’ll also use the Wii Remote as hands during certain puzzles, while the Remote’s motion sensing capabilities are brought into play in a number of race goals as well as a very memorable Super Monkey Ball-esque level.
While Super Mario Galaxy is not
the giant leap forward in gaming we got from Super Mario 64, it stands as a perfect culmination of all the best elements of both Mario titles in general, and platforming as a genre. Each puzzle is unique and challenging, but never once over-bearing or contrived. The game’s pacing is nothing short of perfect while the setting offers unparalleled access to any number of varying puzzle/platform/action-ing
ideas. Each and every level you visit is stunningly crafted and beautiful to look at, not only by Wii standards, but many PS3, PC and Xbox 360 titles as well. From this point on there is no
reason any Wii game can’t present itself with this level of polish, and Super Mario Galaxy will forever be the yardstick by which all Wii games to follow are judged. At this point in time it’s highly likely we’ve found, not only our Game Of The Year
, but a true masterpiece in the name of videogaming fun. There are few titles as engagingly simple yet irresistibly challenging as Super Mario Galaxy, but when the next one comes along I’ll be waiting with baited breath.