After the somewhat lacking Super Mario Sunshine Nintendo went all in for their new console exclusive who literally took Mario into outer space. Expectations were high but Nintendo untimely delivered a 3D Mario game that could rival the best of his 2D outings. Super Mario Galaxy takes everything good about the 3D nature of 64 and Sunshine, combines them with the more linear style of the 2D games and mixes in a lot of new concepts. With rock-solid controls, amazing level design and some of the best music ever from Koji Kondo and Mahito Yokota, Super Mario Galaxy is as close to perfect any 3D platformer can hope to be.
Super Mario Galaxy
Developed by Nintendo EAD
Released: 16 November 2007
Platforms: Nintendo Wii, WiiU (Virtual Console)
No spoilers to be found here!
Super Mario Galaxy is a 3D platformer where you travel to a bunch of different levels and earn stars. The game is very light on story and mainly consists of gameplay. You have complete control of Mario at all times and do your usual platforming, exploring landmasses and swimming. This time however, you get to jump around between small planetoids all having their own gravity, making for some interesting level design.
The Mushroom Kingdom celebrates the Star Festival every hundred years when a comet passes by. As Mario arrives, the festival is abruptly interrupted, as Bowser and his Airship army invades the Kingdom. Using an UFO, he drags the entire castle from the ground with Peach in it. Mario catches on to the castle, but is blasted off into space by Kamek. He later wakes up on a small planetoid and is introduced to Rosalina, the watcher of the cosmos and mother of lumas. She needs Mario to power her Comet Observatory and therefor he travels to all the different galaxies in order to find power stars and to rescue the princess.
Mario games aren’t really known for their stories and Super Mario Galaxy doesn’t do much to change up the formula. Princess gets kidnapped and Mario goes after her. What does make the narrative of this game stand out amongst the others however, is production value and scale. This isn’t a simple kidnapping, Bowser tears out Peach’s castle with an armada and then flees to the center of the universe in order to create a new galaxy only for them. Mario has to travel to all different galaxies in order to reach Bowser before it is to late. The developers thought so much bigger than they really needed, but it just gives the game such an epic feeling. The cut scenes all look surprisingly realistic for a Mario game and the ending is a great climax but also uniquely deep and philosophical. The developers could just have put in a short kidnapping cut scene, but they made it so much more interesting by raising the stakes and putting a ton of effort into the execution.
Most of the regular Mario characters are back and are simply themselves. They aren’t very deep, but neither are they supposed to. But then Nintendo made Rosalina. You meet her near the start of the game and you work together with her in order to complete your quest. She comes across as a more mature princess who say somewhat pretentious things but still has a kind of cool vibe. However, as you get further into the game you unlock chapters from her story book, which gives you her back story. It is told as a picture book but is surprisingly deep and emotional. You get to see where she came from and how she became the person she is today. This is probably the most background any character from the Mario universe has ever gotten and because of it Rosalina became on of my favorite characters from the series. I wanted to collect more stars just so I could aid Rosalina and accomplish her goal, as well as mine. Once again, the team really didn’t have to do this, Rosalina could just have been a Peach-clone, but they put in the effort and made one of the best characters of the series.
But when we are talking about Mario, gameplay is what matters. And quite frankly, Super Mario Galaxy has some of the greatest gameplay that I have ever played. The control is almost perfect. You control Mario with the Wiimote and nunchuck, which I think works great. After a few minutes, you will get used to all the different types of jumping and running you can do and they will become second nature to you. After half an hour, you wont even remember that you are holding a controller in your hand, as the gameplay really is that immersive. Similar to playing a fighting game or other gameplay heavy games, when you master the controls (and that really doesn’t take a long time) it becomes incredibly fun to simply play the game. You don’t have to go through the most impressive levels (although it definitely makes it more fun), simply goofing around in the hub area is in and off itself a fun experience. When you then put that fun into all these varied levels that I will talk about next, you have yourself one of the best gameplays in any game I’ve ever played.
This game also uses the Wiimote with its pointer and motion control, something that gets critique from time to time. The pointer is used for picking up star bits as well as minor attacks. As I replayed the game I was baffled by how fun and useful this system actually is. It rewards multitasking and skill, if you simply want to control Mario at all times, you don’t have to use the pointer. But if you want to spice up your experience, using the pointer to pick up star bits and stun enemies is a bit more challenging but at the same time rewarding if you master it. As a kid, I rarely stunned the enemies, but as an adult I used the function all the times. It makes the control scheme ever so slightly deeper and is a lot greater for it.
And then we have the motion control, as a few (as in about 6 out of 120) levels use the remote in different ways. Either you roll a ball with the remote as a joystick or surf on a manta ray by twisting your hand. These controls did take me a bit longer to learn and aren’t quite as responsive as the regular ones. However, since they are used so seldom and in short bursts I thought they added to the variety of the gameplay and in the end I had no problem with them.
Other than solid gameplay, creative and fun level design is what every Mario game worth its salt needs. As the title suggests, Mario visits a bunch of different galaxies throughout his adventure, both big and small. He goes through all his standard environments, but also a lot of new ones. Each galaxy contains 1 to 7 stars, which acts as the game’s levels. However, while most other Mario games feature about 8 worlds, Super Mario Galaxy has 42 separate galaxies, where most are very different from each other. As good and fun as the gameplay is, the huge and varied level design is what makes it a classic. As well as having different themes, most levels play very differently from each other. There are the bigger landmasses of Honeyhive which harken back to Super Mario 64, smaller linear platforming section in both 2D and 3D as well as playful use of the gravity mechanics. Almost all new levels (not galaxies, but the levels in them) introduce some new kind of mechanic, everything from new power-ups, to new enemies or others which mix up the gameplay.
That new feature could then be gone for the game for about 10-15 galaxies only to return later on, but used in a very different context. To top it all of, the game has a pretty open hub which enables you to choose which galaxy you want to visit next. This all combines in order to create a game where it is impossible to become bored. Almost every single stage introduces something new and you often have a lot of options regarding which level you should be playing next, spicing it up both mechanically and thematically. In the end, Super Mario Galaxy has some of the most varied levels and mechanics that I have ever seen in a game and it is quite literally impossible to become bored playing it.
Continuing on the track of praising the game to high heavens, the music is absolutely fantastic. For the first time for a Mario game, the soundtrack is completely orchestrated and the result is amazing. It has some of the most bombastic tunes with excellent melodies as well as more quiet and thoughtful tracks. All music accompanies it’s level very well and it is hard to find a dull track. The theme for the final boss is very epic and lends a lot to the more cinematic vibe the game was going for. Koji Kondo, one of your greatest.
As great as the game is, one thing that made me think was the post-ending gameplay. Hopefully you wont count this as a spoiler, but after you beat the game and collect all 120 stars, you get to replay it with a certain other character. The game itself is completely the same and if you beat it again, you unlock a secret final level. When I was smaller I loved to go through the game twice and the extra level at the end made it all so satisfying. Now that I’m older and don’t have the same amount of time as I used to, I don’t want to replay the exact same game again (especially since it is rather lengthy). Because of this, I miss out on some extra content by locking it away an forcing me to replay the entire game. Since I have played this game a lot when I was smaller and know how it ends, I don’t really mind this at all. I do however think that some players could take issue with this.
The game isn’t perfect however, it has some bad sides as well. Firstly, the camera and controls can get a bit messy when playing around with the gravity. Sometimes when you go around planetoids and change the direction of gravity, the camera has trouble showing an optimal angle and the controls can walk you in the wrong directions, making for some unfair deaths. It isn’t a huge issue, but can be irritating at times.
The entire life system in the game is rather pointless. You collect lives like every other Mario game and when you lose one you respawn at the latest check point. If you lose all and get a game over, you have to restart the level. Since most levels are rather short, this is never a big issue and since lives are so abundant, it makes the whole thing rather pointless. This system is a relic from the arcade eras and should either be revamped or removed.
Towards the end of the game, it goes from being a fun adventure with a lot of varied stuff to a chore where you have to do the same comet challenges over and over again. A few to many galaxies are reused later on as well as some bosses. It’s as if the designers were super creative 90% through and couldn’t fill out the last stages and had to reuse a bunch of stuff. This sadly is my biggest issue with the game and makes the last hours with it somewhat repetitive and simply not as good as the previous parts.
Super Mario Galaxy is a fantastic game. From the moment you turn it on you are having fun. The presentation is excellent with some of the best graphics on Wii. The controls are easy to learn but does reward skilled players. The game offers an incredible variety both from mechanical and thematical viewpoints. You can go from stomping bugs in a bee world to taking down a huge toy robot and finishing it up with a surf on a manta ray. The creativity doesn’t end and you are given so many options to enjoy yourself that it’s almost impossible to become bored with the game. The game is also far more cinematic then the rest of the series with a new character Rosalina who gets a lot of back story and makes her very interesting. The game actually has some serious moments that become quite deep, something entirely new for the franchise. And of course the music is amazing.
The game isn’t flawless however, as both the camera and controls sometimes get in the way of fun and the life system feels entirely unnecessary. But the biggest issue for me is the repetitiveness that you encounter when trying to collect all the starts. You end up replaying a lot of the same stages and challenges which actually aren’t that much fun. And the reward you get isn’t that great if you aren’t willing to replay the entire lengthy game. In the end, one of the best 3D platformers ever made, just stumbling on the finishing line due to some technical issues as well as repetitive level design towards the end. An amazing game that everybody should experience.
Cover image source: wallhd4.com