Mario does a lot – he races go-karts; he plays tennis, golf, baseball, and basketball; and every few years or so he goes on a traditional platforming adventure in which he collects power-ups, makes tricky jumps, and saves Princess Peach from a fire-breathing dragon and his army of turtles, bullets, and rotating fire sticks. Super Mario Galaxy is the most recent entry in Mario’s traditional platformer series, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Super Mario Galaxy has two stories; both of them are forgettable, and one of them can be ignored altogether. Here’s a bluffer’s guide: Every 100 years residents of the Mushroom Kingdom throw a big party and watch a spectacular astronomical light show. During this celebration Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach, and Mario sets out to save her with the help of Princess Rosalina and her mobile spaceship observatory. As Mario collects power stars and grand stars from the various galaxies, chapters in Princess Rosalina’s storybook become available. Rosalina’s story is completely optional, and a bit of a downer. To keep the fun level up it makes the most sense to bypass both stories and concentrate on star collection.
Mario’s latest adventure isn’t a terribly difficult one. Difficulty seems to have been toned down a bit due to player non-familiarity with upside-down platforming and dealing with distinct gravity fields on such small pieces of land. There are still tricky jumps to be made, but there seem to be fewer enemies about, and those that you do find are easy to take down. The Wii remote’s function as a star bit (small crystals collected in each level) gatherer and launcher see to that. As long as you can see a star bit you can collect it by simply passing the cursor over it. Similarly, if you can see an enemy, you can shoot and usually stun it with a star bit by pointing at it and pressing B. Bosses, at least in their first run, are easier than in classic Mario games as well. This changes wildly after an initial 60 stars are collected, however, as only 60 of the game’s 120 stars are required to open the final confrontation with Bowser. Optional galaxies are more challenging, and later levels really step up in terms of difficulty.
Controls, as we’ve come to expect from first-party Wii games, are spot on. Mario’s movements are exact, and if you fall in a pit there’s never any doubt as to why; it was player error. Motion controls are implemented well; using the pointer to collect and launch star bits feels appropriate, but I find myself wishing I could use a button to spin instead of shaking the remote. It’s not that shaking the remote is tiring, it’s that pressing a button is more exact and there’s no gameplay reason for Mario’s spin to be tied to my shaking the remote. Motion controls are supposed to make a game feel more natural, but all they do in this case is make Mario’s move set feel a little less exact. Looking at my Wii remote, however, I can’t think of a better mapping for spin. There are so few easily usable buttons available on the Wii remote and nunchaku that a quick shake to spin is probably the easiest solution.
Every Mario game has a gimmick. Mario 64’s was the third dimension, Sunshine’s was its tropical theme, and Super Mario Galaxy‘s is gravity. Each level is made up of small planets, and each planet has its own unique gravitational qualities. Some bodies are so small that it’s possible to jump and make two to three revolutions before landing while others are so big that you’ll forget you’re on a planet. Calculating gravity on a per-body basis allows for some clever problem solving, too. If there are laser barriers coming at you it’s just as viable a solution to run to the underside of your platform as it is to jump over the hazard. And be on the lookout; we’re not used to walking on the bottoms of platforms and there’s some good stuff hiding out down there.
Serving to shake up the Super Mario 64-esque level structure are the comets. There are several varieties, and each affects the galaxy differently. One turns the level into a race against Cosmic Mario, another reduces your maximum health to 1 and leaves you to deal with a boss encounter, another sets you loose on a previous mission with a new time limit, and another boosts your enemies’ speed to make a level more challenging. After the main story has been completed a fifth comet type appears – the purple comet. When it visits a galaxy a purple coin challenge is available. These purple coin challenges range from simple scavenger hunts to tightly timed collect-a-thons to tests of precision platforming. There was a lot to do before, but the addition of comets ensures that you’ll never be stuck doing the same thing over and over again; there’s always something new to try.
If you could only throw one game into your Wii to show it off to friends then Super Mario Galaxy should be it. It’s beautiful, it controls well, and it’s just plain fun. You won’t want to stop after the first 60 stars, and there’s plenty to keep you occupied after the storyline is completed.