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Super Mario Galaxy


Ladies and gentlemen... your Wii Game of the Year has arrived.
Super Mario Galaxy is one of the games that Wii owners have been waiting for since the console debuted a year ago. There have been teases, previews, movies, and plenty of hype surrounding the game’s release. All of the hype was enough to make some gamers wonder whether there was any chance that Super Mario Galaxy could be as good as advertised. Finally, the wait is over and the game is available for purchase—- if you can find it. It’s certainly popular, thanks in no small part to Mario’s active role in the game and the continued strength of the franchise; however, hype and popularity alone do not make for a good game. Elite games have great gameplay, visuals, sound, and those moments that make you just stop and say, “Wow.” There’s no question that Super Mario Galaxy has all of those qualities, and then some.

In terms of the story, Princess Peach has gone missing once again and Bowser is the reason why. Unlike previous Mario games, though, Bowser now has the power of space travel. What’s worse is that he’s stolen special stars which are enabling him with special powers and powerful weaponry. In order to find Peach, Mario must jump from galaxy to galaxy in search of the Power Stars and defeat Bowser and his minions along the way. The story is really secondary to the gameplay and aesthetics in Super Mario Galaxy, but that’s been the way that most of Mario’s platforming adventures have been.

Gameplay

Super Mario Galaxy is played with the Wiimote and Nunchuk combination. The Nunchuk’s control stick moves Mario around, while the Wiimote’s A button allows Mario to jump. The Wiimote is also used to direct an onscreen pointer that can pick up star bits, which are the main collectible in this game. There’s also a fair amount of waggle that is used for different functions, such as propelling Mario through a launch star, climbing a vine, or using a spin attack. The play controls change in certain conditions, such as for swimming and surfing, to name a couple. The play control is consistently very tight, although the swimming stages are a bit more trying in terms of handling. Granted, swimming and diving should be a bit more challenging than simply walking around; however, maneuvering Mario to collect certain items can sometimes be overly frustrating.

The hub area, called the Comet Observatory, has different rooms in which galaxies, or levels, can be unlocked. To do this, players must collect a cumulative number of Power Stars. Stars are awarded for completing objectives that are posted for each galaxy, and these objectives vary considerably. There are miniboss and boss fights, races, collection missions, speed runs, and more. Well over 100 missions await you, and that means hours of gameplay. Even after collecting enough stars to defeat Bowser for good (until the next game, assuredly), you’re going to want to keep going and collect all of the stars available in order to unlock not only the best ending—but also a sweet surprise.

While the first few stars are relatively easy to earn, Super Mario Galaxy definitely offers considerable challenge as you progress through the game. One of the first things that you’ll notice is that many galaxies have Mario jumping from planet to planet within the galaxy, and that the perspective can change constantly. Mario can walk upside down or even along the left and right of the screen, depending on the gravity situation. This definitely will take some getting used to, and the first few times that you experience it, it’ll blow your mind. Some stages that have varying degrees of gravity will undoubtedly tax your mind—- and your patience-- at times. One boss stage has many of these gravity variances and, if you make a mistake, it’s instant death. There are switch-pressing puzzles in here, too, which will exercise your mind as well as your hand-eye coordination. This game does offer plenty of 1-Ups to be earned or found, so it’s rare to lose all of your lives and start from scratch. Unfortunately, if you save and quit the game, you lose any lives that you had accumulated and will start with the basic five in reserve next time you play.

There are quite a few encounters with bosses and minibosses throughout Super Mario Galaxy. You’ll meet up with Bowser and his son a few times, generally after you’ve collected enough Power Stars to unlock all of the galaxies in a room of the Observatory; the boss encounter is usually the final unlockable area. You’ll face off against giant piranha plants and moles, too. These battles are some of the highest points of the game; in fact, the first encounter with Bowser feels like a final boss fight… and that happens rather early on in the game. Defeating these bosses will take some familiar tactics, but, as mentioned earlier, half of the challenge is making your way through the galaxies to face them.

Mario will don several different suits while in pursuit of the Power Stars, which are necessary to progress through the galaxy’s environmental challenges. He’ll become a bee, a Boo, a spring, and an ice skater at different times during his adventure. The bee suit allows Mario to fly over small distances, but any contact with water ruins the suit. The Boo suit lets Mario move through solid objects. The spring suit boosts Mario’s jump ability, as well. The ice skater option protects Mario from cold water and freezes fountains on contact, which can create platforms that weren’t originally there. The idea of different suits isn’t new (we first saw the idea in Super Mario Bros. 3), but the actual suits are… in many cases.

Graphics

Super Mario Galaxy is, without question, the most beautiful game that the Wii has to offer so far. Each galaxy is awash in varying degrees of color, and particle effects are everywhere. Some galaxies have throwback, 8-bit graphics from Mario’s older days, while others have some gorgeous water effects. Some galaxies offer green, grassy planets, while others depict sandy, windswept deserts. Many of the galaxies are immense, with lots of area to cover not only at ground level, but also well up in elevation.

In terms of enemies, some creatures have exquisite detail; for example, one particular miniboss is a huge furry mole, and you can easily see the individual strands of fur on the mole as it chases you around. Bowser has flowing fur, too. Many of the bosses are huge and all of them animate smoothly. In fact, the entire game flows at a silky-smooth frame rate of 60 frames per second with no degradation due to large enemies or too much action on-screen at once. If you consider the relative lack of power under the hood of the Wii in relation to the other consoles out there in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, visuals like these are jaw-dropping and have raised the bar for future Wii titles.

Sound

Super Mario Galaxy’s music is as awe-inspiring as the game’s visuals. Many of the tracks are new interpretations on Koji Kondo’s past work for the Mario franchise; you’ll hear fresh takes on many familiar themes, but with full instrumentation instead of MIDI composition. More than a few times, you’ll exclaim, “I’ve heard that before!” and let your mind wander back to the first time you heard the original theme. Tracks from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario 64 are all represented here along with some new original music that cries out for a release on CD.

In terms of incidental sound, there are mostly basic sound effects and a few voices here and there. Charles Martinet returns as Mario, and you’ll hear the same cries and shouts that you’ve heard for over a decade. Aside from that, you’ll hear the familiar sounds of coins being collected mixed in with jumps, enemy roars and grunts, and ambient sound effects, which are balanced perfectly with the music and the whole production has great stereo separation if you have a Dolby Pro Logic decoder.

The Final Verdict

Make no mistake about it: Super Mario Galaxy is the Wii Game of the Year. It’s the next evolutionary step for the franchise that many fans have been waiting for since Super Mario 64 debuted over 10 years ago. While the basic premise in Super Mario Galaxy is the same as it was in Super Mario 64 with the collection of stars, the execution is perfected in this game. There really aren’t any missions that aren’t fun, even if there are moments of frustration where you lose ten lives and can’t beat that one boss. Sure, there are some tough objectives here, but there are also plenty of easier ones with which you can build up a reserve of 1-Ups and then return once you’ve rebuilt your confidence.

There really isn’t much in a negative sense that can be said about Super Mario Galaxy, either. It doesn’t feel like a rehash of Super Mario 64, like some claim that Super Mario Sunshine was for the Gamecube… even though all three games revolve around the same idea. We haven’t yet seen visuals like this on the Wii, either, so there’s nothing to gripe about there. Perhaps you could nitpick about the camera controls or about the swimming sequences not feeling as tight in terms of control as they could be, but that’s about it.

Indeed, Super Mario Galaxy is an elite game. It offers addictively fun gameplay, beautiful visuals and music, and delivers some truly memorable moments that will shock and surprise you. If you own a Wii, this is your Holy Grail and without a doubt should be for centerpiece of your software library.

Buy it now.