A Return to Form, While Reinvigorating the Classic Franchise
Some people cried foul after the Wii launched without a Mario game. However, after the mediocre reception Super Mario Sunshine received, Shigeru Miyamoto and the team at Nintendo promised to reinvigorate the franchise. Luckily, Nintendo has kept its promise and brought a new Mario game that is completely fresh---whether it be control scheme, musical score or artistic design. The game keeps with the traditional Mario game structure while the change of setting allows for an unprecedented imaginative world. While the Wii has preached to the casual gamer, this is one of the first titles that really crosses into both casual and hardcore gaming realms because it includes something that will appreciated by all.
Mario games are not known for their story--something still apparent from the moment you begin to play the game. Much like Super Mario 64, Princess Peach calls for Mario to come to her castle because she has a gift to give to him. Upon his approach to the castle, Bowser, Mario's longtime nemesis, attacks the Princess, Mario, and the ever present Toads with Peter Pan-like flying galleons. Before Mario can catch up, Bowser and his minions jet away into space.
Mario comes into a contact with a cute star named Luna who then introduces him to the leader of a flying observatory, Rosalina. Mario is filled in on the problems which have plagued the inhabitants of the observatory and is promptly asked to assist in recovering the power stars that power their spacecraft. Bowser has once again stolen the power stars and spread them through a variety of galaxies so as to slow down his pursuers. Mario's principle mission is to recover enough power stars to re-initiate the observatory's power. This task that seems to be daunting even for the famous Italian plumber, and thus Rosalina instructs Luna to assist him during his quest.
The collection of power stars is nothing new, and could seem very unexciting to a veteran Mario player. But then again, who plays Mario for the story? It is the brilliant efforts by the team at Nintendo to redesign every world that Mario journeys to that makes the game really special. One hardly has anytime to think about the repetitive nature of the storyline as the player is almost immediately thrown into an amazing galaxy.
Every galaxy is made up into several planets, all of which have their own individual parts and none of which you will see repeated. The level design in the game is one of the most, if not the most, impressive ever seen in a video game. Once you think that you have seen it all, Mario will land on a planet where he travels into the inside or travels into more traditional sidescroller with freshening elements like changing gravity pads. These new elements make the gameplay more challenging and thus really make the overall experience that much richer to any Mario veteran.
The way Mario travels between the planets is also unique and utilizes the motion sensing technology in the Wii remote. Sometimes planets will be connected by a series of blue stars with which the player can point the cursor at and then pull Mario along. This movement style is also worked into several challenges at the end of the game that prove to be exhilarating. In addition to the blue stars, Mario will often times find one of Luna friends who is desperately hungry and requires star bits to transform into a launch pad to another planet. Star bits are another collectible in the game in addition to the traditional coins. Whereas coins replenish Mario's depleted health, star bits can be used to feed Luna's friends but can also be used to attack enemies. Luna's primary function in the story is to serve as the pointer on the screen with which players can use to pick up star bits and to aim star bit attacks. Of course she is also there to provide the much needed moral guidance and explanation of puzzles.
One comes to appreciate the different level design through the exploration of the various galaxies. Whereas in other games, players find that the search for the same item every level can be tedious, in Super Mario Galaxy the design of the planets is so intriguing that players will find that they explore every nook and cranny to discover every hidden area.
To create even more diversity within the level design, Mario also is able to don different costumes that will give him different powers. At his repertoire is the ability to change into a bee, springman or a boo, the ability to throw fireballs, and the ability to turn into the ice man who freezes any water that he walks upon. All of the different costumes add even more ways to explore the already impressive worlds. However, some of the costumes evince some of the problems in the game.
One such problem is the camera. The player has very limited control of the camera as it is usually fixed through the entirety of the adventure. This proves to be a problem in some of the later stages when precise jumping is necessary, especially when trying to get several challenge stars or when Mario turns into springman. It is noticeable at first when Mario runs on the underside of a planet as the controls quickly switch and make circumnavigating a planet challenging. The camera also makes the bee parts of the game unnecessarily difficult because it is often times hard to judge whether Mario is above or close enough to a honeycomb to land. Luckily this is really the only time the camera becomes a major issue in the gameplay and thus does not really make a large impact on the overall experience.
Even if the camera sometimes proves to be difficult, the tight controls based off of the genre defining Mario 64 setup are near perfect. Controlling Mario will be of no real challenge to experienced players but is simple enough for the most casual of gamers to pick up and enjoy. The Wii remote functionality is limited, something that proves to be beneficial. It is used for the aforementioned traveling between planets and picking up star bits, but it is also utilized nicely into the combat. By shaking the Wii remote, the player has the ability to do a spin attack which proves to be essential in several boss battles and causes enemies to drop different items than through the traditional jump-on-the-head method.
More importantly, the motion control functionality is used intermittently with various mini games and thus do not become tiresome. When many Wii games go wrong with their inclusion of motion control for every basic action, Super Mario Galaxy gets it right--only using it for certain elements that enhance, not detract, from the gameplay.
Combined with the gameplay and tight controls, the audio and graphical presentation really make Super Mario Galaxy stand out from any other game available on the Wii. The game is simply the best looking game from a graphical and an artistic standpoint as all of the worlds are intriguing while made all the more interesting through the vibrant color pallet. Like the graphics, the audio is one of the best found on the platform. The mix of classic and new sounds is a symmetry that is phenomenal. Players will not only hear the classic Mario songs and their remixes, but also hear fully orchestrated tracks that are memorable.
Super Mario Galaxy can be summed up by stating that it is a return to form. Not a form in the sense of structure, but rather of feel. While playing this game one will surely notice that it is fun and more importantly, different that everything else. The game includes many of the elements that made previous Mario games so memorable while almost completely reinventing the experience due to the new control scheme and the sensational level design. Nintendo's mascot has never been better, and this adventure is not something anyone can afford to miss.