By Missak Artinian
In light of Nintendo’s unexpected and surprising announcement at this year’s E3 that the sequel to 2007’s smash-hit Super Mario Galaxy is in the works, I decided to revisit the original. I had heralded Super Mario Galaxy my personal game of the year in 2007. After playing it over, do I still hold it in such high esteem? You bet.
Super Mario Galaxy has a special power. It’s a game that balances old and new with confidence and expertise the way Nintendo only knows how. In one moment, the nostalgic musical score bring back sacred memories of when you held the NES controller for the very first time. And in the next moment, as Mario zooms through the lush atmosphere of space, you are reminded that you’re not exactly playing Super Mario Bros. anymore; but you’re having just as much fun.
The story is your standard Mario fare. It begins in the Mushroom Kingdom after Mario receives a party invitation from Princess Peach. As the celebration gets warmed up by fireworks, it’s abruptly interrupted by a fleet of flying ships commanded by the treacherous Bowser and his son, Bowser Jr., who are both intent on stealing the Princess. Mario heroically sprints toward the castle as Peach waits atop the balcony and helplessly cries for help.
Aside from the main plot (man saves princess), there is an additional story time segment that serves as a gap-filler and provides an explanation how all the new characters Mario befriends, like Lumas and Rosalina, got to where they are in space. Thankfully, story time is optional. It’s somewhat of a chore to sit through. Had the player been forced to sit through them, it would have ruined Super Mario Galaxy’s nearly flawless presentation and flow. Luckily, complex stories have never been the main reason why gamers continue to play and enjoy Mario’s adventures.
As far as controls, for those who have played either Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine, you’ll feel right at home with executing many of Mario’s special somersaults and long jumps. However, in order to take advantage of Nintendo Wii’s unique motion sensing technology, Nintendo has given Mario some new moves that help him maneuver through space.
To jump from planet to planet, for example, the player only needs to gently shake the Wii Remote when Mario is near a shooting star. When Mario isn’t near a star, shaking the Wii Remote will initiate his new spin move, which is used for stunning enemies, breaking glass and flipping switches. Additionally, the Wii Remote’s pointer allows the player to control an on-screen star known as the star pointer, a useful tool that helps Mario collect star bits. These star bits can be used to shoot and stun enemies by pointing the star pointer at them and pressing the B button.
Because the game is set in space, Nintendo has created a physics system that features individual planets each with its own gravitational pull. Thus, Mario can walk on surfaces sideways, backwards, forwards, upside down, etc. The physics system rarely gets in the way of the gameplay thanks in part to the camera system.
Most of the time, the camera is fixed on the best possible position so that Mario is always visible, so the player can control him without having to worry about getting lost behind some platform. When necessary the player has the option of centering the camera by using the C button on the nunchuk.
Interestingly, going back to Mario’s original roots, he can now collect power-ups that allow him to proceed further into his mission. Some of the power ups are classics, like the fire flower that enables Mario to throw fireballs from his fists. The game is primarily three dimensional, but there are moments in which Mario is confined to a two-dimensional space as well, which make some of the classic power-ups more fun to use.
There are also some new and welcome additions to Mario’s arsenal like the ghost and spring power-ups. The ghost power-up transforms Mario into a Ghost, allowing him to float and pass through walls. The spring power-up allows Mario to jump higher so that he can reach the harder to reach platforms. In all, there are eight power-ups that each add to the game’s challenge and fun factor.
The game also supports cooperative play. If you have an extra Wii Remote lying around, a second player can join you as he or she helps you collect star bits by pointing the star pointer on the screen. The second player can also help you impede enemy movement so that it is easier to jump on top of their heads. Additionally, the second player can help Mario jump higher by initiating a double jump while he’s in the air. Overall, the cooperative play is a welcome addition, but doesn’t add too much to the gameplay, and sometimes can be annoying if your partner intentionally tries to mess you up (as some of my friends have done for their own amusement).
The game’s objective, similar to previous three-dimensional Mario adventures, is to collect power stars. These power stars are then used to energize the Comet Observatory and transform it into a ship to reach Princess Peach. The Comet Observatory serves as the game’s main hub from where Mario can access the different galaxies through domes. These domes grant access to the different worlds in which Mario can explore and collect more Power Stars. Other means of collecting Power Stars include feeding Hungry Lumas with the star bits that Mario collects in the galaxies. After their hunger is satiated, the Lumas will then transform into planets that house a fun and exciting mini-game/mission.
Super Mario Galaxy proves that the Nintendo Wii’s hardware shortcomings don’t necessarily mean that it can’t have beautifully crafted games. Super Mario Galaxy, although by no means a technical showcase to the same degree of Gears of War, Crysis, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, still boasts a unique and visually stimulating world thanks in large part to its art direction and style. The gorgeous and grandiose spatial backdrops, shimmering stars, and foreboding black holes render an atmosphere that is fresh and unlike any other world Mario has ever seen.
What’s more impressive is the sheer volume of things to see. One of my major complaints with Super Mario Sunshine was the lack of variation in the environments as each world seldom strayed away from the tropical beach setting. In Super Mario Galaxy, on the other hand, each galaxy exudes its own personality and its own style. Some galaxies are filled with devastatingly hot lava, while others are filled with chillingly cold ice. It doesn’t just stop there. There are deserts, beaches, sky planets, underwater levels, and much more. The variation in the environments is astounding and brings back the much-needed flavor of Super Mario 64 and all of its predecessors that Super Mario Sunshine lacked.
The variations in enemies, unlike the environments, are unfortunately uninspired and uninteresting. Most of the enemies in the game are either goombas or some variation thereof and pose no challenge. The bosses are typically some animal or plant that takes about three hits to the weak spot to kill. I was hoping that with the dramatic shift in the environment, Nintendo could have come up with some more interesting space enemies. Still, I am nitpicking here because the enemies are not the main obstacle that Mario is faced with, but rather, the platforms are, and considering that the platforms are part of what make the environment great, the experience is not negatively affected too much by the tried and true enemies.
With so much to see and do, and with 120 stars to collect, Super Mario Galaxy should bring you more hours of fun than most other games on the market. Overall, the game should take approximately twenty hours on your first run-through; however, that’s only after collecting the first sixty stars (which are quite easy to obtain and are all that are necessary to complete the story). The remaining stars prove to be more challenging to collect and will add at least fifteen to thirty hours more to the gameplay. Achieving all 120 stars is a goal to strive for, as the reward is much better than Super Mario 64‘s 100 additional lives.
Super Mario Galaxy is by far one of the more memorable games I’ve played this generation so far. The trailer for Super Mario Galaxy 2 seems to bring back all that was good about Super Mario Galaxy and then some. E3 this year made a strong comeback with new announcements and fantastic demonstrations. Although it’s too early to tell which game in particular will win Game of the Year 2010, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is surely on my list of contenders.