Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Galaxy Cover
Platforms Wii
Genre Gravity bending platformer
Score 10  Clock score of 10
Buy from Amazon

I loved Super Mario 64. It was the first game I ever played on what is one of my favorite consoles, and my memories of the game have stuck with me to this day.  The running, the jumping, the exploration of huge levels, it was incredible.  Mario made the best transition to 3D ever, well, until Ocarina of Time came around.  The next 3D Mario iteration was Super Mario Sunshine, which I was less then enthused about.  I'm not sure if it was the water pack gimmick or what, but I was never convinced that it would be worth playing.  Nintendo has finally delivered its third true 3D Mario game (well, two and a half years ago) with Super Mario Galaxy.  While it is almost unrecognizable in terms of what a Mario game should be like, it plays just like Mario 64 did 14 years ago: awesomely.

Galaxy's gimmick is that instead of featuring one giant, flat plane, each world is made up of small, Little Prince-like planets and objects.  Gravity and physics are now Mario's biggest friend and foe, as you're constantly being challenged in new ways to jump and explore.  I love games like Braid and Portal that challenge me to think and play different, Super Mario Galaxy joins that elite group, in my opinion.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is due in less than two months, and it'll probably be the first Wii game I buy at launch in over three years.  I'd love to have a first hour review of that game at launch (hint, hint, Nintendo), but I've got a first hour review of this game also on the back burner.  Here's my full review of Super Mario Galaxy.  I collected all 120 stars in the game which took me about 25-30 hours.

What I loved: Imagine pulling off a long jump on a tiny planet and the gravity flings Mario all the way around the world and you land right where you took off.  Then you backflip out of the gravity on the planet you're on and flip onto the planet that was above you, where you jump into a blast star and Mario flies across the galaxy with his arms spread apart in pure joy.  Well, maybe Mario was scared to death but I was loving it all and had a huge smile plastered on my face.  Super Mario Galaxy is sheer awesome platforming.  It's platforming unlike anything I've ever played before.  Gone are the concepts of regular up and down, and enter up and down that can switch at any moment, or even bend sideways.  I never thought I would be challenged beyond how fast my fingers can move in a Mario game.

A Mario game wouldn't be a Mario game without the variety of levels, and Galaxy has that in spades.  We of course get the typical lava level, and desert stage, and the underwater swimming stage, but they're all done so cool in Super Mario Galaxy.  There's a truly memorable swim race level where the water is just floating in space like in the movie Abyss, and this is all happening while you're surfing on a stingray!  Some of the original levels have you blasting around space junk or climbing around a Mario themed bedroom on the lookout for that elusive star.

But really, this game just plays like gold.  Galaxy is like Mario 64 on crack: the worlds are crazier and you're pulling off bigger moves than ever.  Everything feels so natural (except for what I note below), there's really no other game series out there that makes you feel like you have so much power to do whatever you want, and with all the crazy physics and gravity additions, everything feels awesome.  Nintendo designed the levels perfectly to allow for risky long jumps over lava, triple jumps that allow you to just make it up onto a ledge, and a perfectly flowing backflip into the blast star.  I rarely felt like I couldn't pull a jump off.

Surprisingly, there are some pretty epic boss fights in Mario Galaxy too.  What makes some of them particularly challenging are the small stages you forced to fight on.  I actually had decent trouble with the game's first boss because I hadn't caught on yet to the game's small planet strategies.  The Bowser fights are honestly a ton of fun, a great mix of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario 64, and the great physics of Super Mario Galaxy.  I was really impressed by the thought Nintendo put into the boss fights, especially in a Mario game.

Super Mario Galaxy Water Stingray Surfing

What I liked: Another Mario Bros. staple are the powers, Galaxy introduces a few new ones with the bee suit and the ability for Mario to turn into a Boo ghost.  Honestly, the bee suit is decently cool but the Boo transformation is pretty gimmicky.  With the bee suit on, you can fly around for short periods of time but it removes almost all your other jumping abilities.  I wasn't really impressed with this suit until one of the last stars where you had to spend an entire level in it collecting purple coins.  The stage had some really challenging gaps that had me impressed with my own abilities (and Nintendo's level design I suppose).  The Boo transformation is only used a few times and in obvious situations.  Too bad.

Galaxy also features a fire flower and ice flower.  Pretty typical attacks but the ice flower lets you run on water (it creates ice underneath your feet) which is used pretty effectively.  There's also one more semi-secret power-up that is sorely underused.

Nintendo introduced a Wiimote waggle move to spin Mario around like the B spin in Super Mario World.  It's his main attack now, but only works so-so, in my opinion.  Something about shaking the Wiimote just doesn't feel right.  You can also point the Wiimote at the screen to pick up Starbits which are necessary to collect a couple of stars in the game.  It's a bit addicting collecting the bits along with regular coins.

One of the most interesting choices was how Nintendo chose to round out the last set of stars.  They added a set of challenges featuring speed-runs, no-health boss fights, and fast moving bad guys.  This basically means you'll be replaying stars you already grabbed, but with an added twist.  The final stars are purple coin challenges: in Super Mario 64 you had to collect 100 regular coins to grab a star, but in Galaxy you are tasked with collecting a set of purple coins.  Sometimes you have to collect exactly 100, and sometimes you only have a minute or two to collect two-thirds of the coins on the field, but these are the game's ultimate challenges.  They can be very frustrating at times, but also very rewarding.

Super Mario Galaxy Lava Volcano Blast

What I didn't like: My only complaint (besides the annoying cutscenes and the story in general) is that sometimes Mario becomes rather difficult to control. The biggest contributing factors to are that the camera is essentially uncontrollable unlike Super Mario 64, and the gravity flips can make it tough to know what is "up".

Let's hit on the camera first.  In Super Mario 64, the four C-buttons controlled the camera: left and right swung the camera around and up and down zoomed it in and out.  This worked perfectly and you barely ever felt like you were out of control of your surroundings (it had better have worked well considering the Nintendo 64 controller was designed for Super Mario 64 first and everything else second).  However, in Super Mario Galaxy, you're theoretically given the ability to control the camera with the Wiimote's D-pad, but the game hardly ever let's you do anything with it!  Want to actually see what's over there?  Uh, sorry, you can't unless you somehow manage to move Mario in just the right position with his nose pressed up against a tree.  It's a bit baffling why they don't actually let you look around dynamically, especially since you can typically press up on the D-pad and look out of Mario's eyes directly (but you can't even always do that).

Secondly, the game's constant gravity shifts and tiny spheres and ellipses can make it really confusing on what direction is what.  It's going to be really hard to describe the nouns here if you haven't played the game, but there are these planes with rounded edges that allow you to run on the top and bottom of them.  If you run from the top to the bottom, not only will the camera not flip around (so now you're looking at Mario upside-down), but it can be tough to tell if you press up, will you run up (and what is exactly "up" now that you're running upside-down)?  Mario games are almost 100% super intuitive, but for the first time ever, I was confused.

One particular point where this was really apparent was near the end of the game when I was trying to collect my third-to-last star (Dreadnought purple coin star if you must know).  The game was using a fixed camera to make it 2D-like, I have no problem with this particular point, but when you're forced to run upside-down while collecting objects in 2.5D, it's easy to get ticked off pretty quickly.

I also wanted to note that the hub world was kind of annoying.  This is not really a big deal, but the game would often toss you back to the center of the hub if you collected a particular star, making you trek all the way back to the galaxy.  Speaking of galaxy, the game's space nouns are totally messed up.  What the game calls galaxies are actually more like planetoids, and then the building you are in would be the solar system, and the hub world would be the galaxy.  But the game calls the tiniest set of planets galaxies. Weird.  Should be said that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is dropping the hub world, thanks!

Super Mario Galaxy Giant Goomba


Gameplay: 9
Pretty much perfect 3D gameplay on the most original levels in existence.  Controlling Mario in quick gravity changes can be annoying, along with the lack of decent camera controls, but everything else is awesome.  I want more.

Fun Factor: 10
Playing Super Mario Galaxy felt like playing Super Mario 64 all over again, the joy of exploring and performing long jumps was exhilarating. Every star was a fun challenge and the boss battles were surprisingly incredible.

Graphics and Sound: 10
I was honestly blown away by the graphics of Super Mario Galaxy.  The framerate is locked and solid, there's not a speck of fog, and the characters look gorgeous.  Is this a Wii game? Am I playing in high definition?

Story: whatever
I'm not sure why Nintendo even bothers with this.  Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser and Mario has to save the day.  Just print that in the instruction booklet and let me start collecting stars.

Overall: 10
Super Mario Galaxy is one of the best games I've played in recent memory not because it's a Wii game, but because it's my sequel to Super Mario 64.  This is the game I've been waiting over 13 years to play, and I didn't declare it finished until all 120 stars were in Mario's fat pocket.  If you own a Wii, this is a must-play game. Bring on Galaxy 2.