By Stewie Sutherland
Why am I reviewing a game that came out more than two years ago? Because Super Mario Galaxy is (to date) the greatest game on the Nintendo Wii. Case closed. Released in 2007 as a Christmas title, the game has sold over 8 million copies, won a BAFTA award for Game of the Year and is hailed by Guinness World Records as Number 29 of their ‘50 Must Own Console Games’.
Charles Martinet returned once more to voice Mario and his in-the-background younger twin Luigi, once again tackling the big beast Bowser and rescuing Princess Peach. This time, the King of the Koopas had his sights set on much more than just the Mushroom Kingdom – he was set to rule the galaxy, and it took the help of newcomer Princess Rosalina, voiced by Mercedes Rose, to guide Mario on an out-of-this-world adventure.
If you own a Nintendo Wii, Super Mario Galaxy is a must-have. To lay it down and dissect it, to carefully separate and detail the woven-aspects that make up this masterpiece would be almost impossible to do. Still, I’ll give it my best shot!
Once Upon a Time…
Super Mario Galaxy itself actually has a plot, which was usually only a very minor detail in previous (or completely absent in any tennis, golf, cart etc) games to feature the Italian plumber. Bowser returns once again, ruining a festival and kidnapping Princess Peach. The difference is that this time he’s brought a huge airship armada led by his boy Bowser Jr. and he’s taken the entire Toadstool Castle up into the stars themselves.
Quick in pursuit, Mario tries to keep up but is soon stranded on a small (small!) planet. He soon meets the lovely Princess Rosalina, who points Mario towards her comet observatory. Having also been attacked previously by Bowser, the observatory has lost the ability to move like a star ship by having its power (and her children themselves) taken and scattered by the Koopa King.
From here on, it’s like a typical Mario 3D game – you’ll be given access to a single area (called a Galaxy) and you’ll have to go and retrieve your first power star, after which you’ll regain enough power to explore more and more galaxies. The observatory is your hub – different locked domes are where you’ll go, each with their own star cluster. Per cluster, you’ll have a few full galaxies, a small, single-challenge planet or two and Bower’s base of operations in that sector, which holds a Grand Star. Collect enough stars to access the base, rescue the Grand Star, and you’ll return more power to the observatory and open a new dome. Wash, rinse and repeat.
It’s a simple story, but just enough. Our pudgy plumber pal isn’t known for stories outside of the Paper Mario franchise – some players adore a tale while others prefer the classic arcade feel. There’s just enough plot to make both kinds of players happy. As the story goes on, you’ll recruit the help of a gallant troupe of Toads and even Luigi will make a few appearances too. Just don’t be surprised if you have to help him out a few times!
Everything old is new…
Now that we’ve established the story, the method and such, forget everything else you can expect from past games to appear in this. Everything. I mean it. Don’t look at me like that – there’s a method to my (and Miyamoto’s) madness. There will be moments in Super Mario Galaxy where you’ll stop and just stare in awe at what you’ve just done. In Mario 64, you could wall-jump to a higher ledge. In Mario Sunshine, a water-pack (which always made me thirsty from watching it) could make you quickly hover over a summer-themed area.
In Mario Galaxy, the bare minimum of a level will include shooting yourself in an arc through a rich cosmos before landing with arms outstretched. You will be able to run around small asteroids with frighteningly realistic gravity. Mario can pick up an Ice Mushroom and turn completely frosty, skating across a quickly freezing lake before jumping straight up between two waterfalls. You’ll swim, fly, run, jump and stomp through places that could only be dreamed up from the richest imaginations, and you’ll never get tired of sling shotting. To jump into a designated power-up, shake your Wiimote and then go from 0 to 90 is awesome. Couple it with a very artistic camera view and scenery and you’ve got something that causes people behind you to stop what they were doing and just watch.
Oh, and as for boss fights? While you could get away with punching a big baddie in a weak spot or grabbing them by the tail and swinging them around, you’re playing on a galaxy scale now, baby. The old favourites are there – reflecting back projectiles against massive monsters and stomping on a weak spot are tried and true methods. But don’t be surprised if you have to duel a gigantic tri-legged machine on a small moon, or jump and propel yourself up a planet-sized toy Bowser to smack a self-destruct button on top. One boss is a big spider, which you have to hurt by clinging to sticky webbing and using the Wiimote’s cursor to grab, pull and sling you towards a glowing weak zone, hurting the villain in the process.
As far as movement goes, Mario has the same skill set he had in his last two 3D games. He walks by pushing the stick forward slightly, and runs by pushing it all the way. He jumps the same (following gravity changes), and can wall jump and back flip, as well as punch and stomp. His new move (and the one you’ll use the most) is a spin that you utilize by shaking the Wiimote. You can use this to spin in mid air and extend your jump, but really you use it for everything.
With the rounded planetoids you stand on, punching and jumping can be a pain, so you spin. You spin to knock enemies onto their backs (just walking into them afterwards causes an automatic kick to polish them off) or to break open boxes. Spin underwater and you’ll collect nearby items and surge forward that little bit faster. Spin while standing on top of a bolt and you’ll screw it straight down, activating a mechanism. Spin next to a flame and it will extinguish. Spin, spin, spin. Spinning also activates sling shot stars, throws green Koopa shells, digs items out of the ground and cause Ice, Fire, Bee, Boo and Flying Mario to hurl ice, fireballs, honey, turn invisible and take to the air, respectfully.
Another new feature makes use of the Wiimote’s aim – a star icon follows along with your pointer, and each area contains hundreds of ‘Star Bits’ – brightly coloured spinning items. Collect these by walking into them, sure, but you can grab them from half the stage away by simply passing your pointer over them. Aiming at an enemy and pulling the trigger shoots them out – striking an enemy can stun them, or if you’re under a hail of cannon balls and Bullet Bill’s, make them explode before they hit you. Whatever you keep by the end of the level you keep in your main total – these can be used to feed to some characters to open another quick challenge galaxy.
Mario Galaxy makes full use of the Wiimote’s range of controls without forcing them upon you too much. A few basic challenges appear that will make you change your playing style to adapt. An early challenge is a surfing game, where you aim the Wiimote and press A to start surfing down a tube of solid water with no barriers on the side. Tilting the controller left and right makes the board (a manta ray no less) bank towards that direction. Another causes you to jump on top of a giant glassy ball with a Star trapped inside: in a crazy Putt-Putt Golf styled course, aim the Wiimote straight up and tilt it towards the direction you want to go like a flight control stick. The more you tilt, the faster you go. The game is very responsive however, and if you spin too fast, you can expect a longer sliding brake if you suddenly change your direction. Beware – this green has no barriers to keep you from going out of bounds.
Move over, Hubble telescope!
Let’s admit it to ourselves, folks: when it comes to the look of a game, the Wii isn’t so fighting fit. We could forgive it at first – it may have been Gamecube graphics, but having a new Zelda game at launch where you swung your sword by swinging the controller was pure fun. These days, our Nintendo buddy can’t even handle the bigger games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, or if it receives a title like Ghostbusters or Wall-E, it will be a PS2/P conversion filled with short linear levels. Xbox 360’s Dead Rising saw a Wii port, replacing the camera (for lack of a second control stick) to an over-the-shoulder perspective… and no photography extras anymore… and much, much fewer zombies than normal. If you play on a smaller screen, you’ll have a nice sharp picture. If you play on a big TV, you’ll need a component cable just to watch your game without the blurred lines giving you a headache. (Note: does not apply to No More Heroes, which is nearly entirely blurred lines.)
On Super Mario Galaxy however, the opening segment of the game gives you a quick sneak peek at what to expect. A night time festival, with shooting comets and a sky full of bright, twinkling stars shows up spectacularly well. Characters are more rounded than we’ve seen them before – gone are the days of pixels and polygons. And just check out Peach’s Castle in the background! They’ve taken the same structure and grounds from Super Mario 64 and given it a good splash of technology and art; it’s just a gem to appreciate.
Fast forward to the adventure proper – Rosalina’s observatory and the game’s hub is idyllic in its look and composure. It’s powered down for now, but as you progress you’ll turn the lights back on, unlocking more and more galaxies to explore. Making the swirling ball of pulsing energy behind the Princess herself grow is pretty satisfying. Looking at its lava-lamp surface is just magnificent. And as for the galaxies themselves?
My God. The galaxies.
At the least, expect a full background of novas, comets, swirling cosmos’ and twinkling constellations. In the foreground are some of the richest, lushest details to appear in a platforming game. A river of water looks like a shimmering, flowing blanket. Walk through it and you’ll kick up droplets behind you, each one leaving a ripple as they land. Pad along sandy areas and you can expect an accurate trail of footprints to follow you before fading away in real time.
The usual themes are there too – desert level? Got that, with choking quicksand to boot. Snow galaxies? Powdery and icy, with crystalline blues and frozen areas you can quickly skate on by spinning. Lava? Oh, check that one off a few times. The air itself waves like the moisture is evaporating. Water galaxies? Three words – Beach Bowl Galaxy. Gorgeous. Spooky? Check. Beehive? Check. Space station/cannon battery galaxy? Check! Gigantic toy room? There! Level made of pure candy and sweets? Done and done! And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, which, by the way, is also there too.
The gift that keeps on giving…
Super Mario Galaxy has quite a bit of replay involved – when you first start exploring the universe outside of Rosalina’s observatory, you’ll find a short 3 stars for each galaxy. Typical for his 3D adventures, picking your course will give you a quick video hint of where you’ll find your target. Another nice feature is the galaxies are always very open – standing still and going into first-person perspective doesn’t just give you a panoramic look at the environment, but try and keep your eyes peeled for a bright, golden glow off in the distance. That’s where you’ll eventually find your star, providing of course it isn’t hidden by a character or boss.
After you get all 3 stars on a level, you’ll be done for awhile. Once you’ve gathered a nice collection of them however, you’ll start noticing a strange symbol randomly appearing on the main galaxies – these are introduced as ‘Prankster Comets’.
You’ll soon find out that Prankster Comets take a previous challenge in a galaxy and add a quirky twist to them – they can force you to race against a clock and secure the star within a time limit, speed up every enemy and obstacle in your path, and sometimes pit you against a shadowy doppelganger in a quick sprint. Most troublesome of all is the ‘Daredevil Comet’, which reduces Mario’s health to a single segment. Take an ounce of damage and you have to try from scratch, or quit out and attempt again later on when the comet returns to orbit that galaxy. Daredevil’s also like to copy boss battles, leading to a few frustrating fights.
Like the last two games, gather a mere 60 stars (as well as returning power to the engine room this time, following the game’s story of the observatory needing power) and you’ll be taken to the last challenge, Bowser’s artificial galaxy, cobbled together from some of the different gravity and environment-themed challenges you’ll have faced beforehand. This final battleground is also aptly named ‘The Fate of the Universe’. I can’t help but think that if Bruce Campbell played this game he’d remark “Groovy” at that one.
Remember me mentioning the game has a few replay aspects? We’re still not done with them. Trump Bowser and his farce of a cosmos and you’ll unlock the ‘Purple Prankster’ comet, which appears on every single full area and challenges you to collect 100 coins, bringing your total star count available to 119. Thankfully, the Mario team have taken out those pain-in-the-rear hidden stars for collecting 100 coins on each area, instead just meshing it into the 6 stars per course.
But wait, 119? That’s not a typo – you’ll be offered a chance to tackle Bowser again at the end of the line. Securing the final 120th will give you a bit of a secret ending that so far is speculated to help lead us into Super Mario Galaxy 2 coming out this year. STILL want more? Keep reading a little further down – you’re not finished just yet…
Did you hear that?
The soundtrack does more than complement the game: it raises it. During production, two styles were examined – first, an electric, pop-like jazzy beat. The second, a full orchestra performed, and was chosen. When you listen to Galaxy’s main theme, it has a quality that could belong in a performance hall, and just hearing it makes you want to try your own hand at triple jumps, spinning giant mushrooms and sling-shotting yourself skywards.
The first in-game track you’ll hear (after the soothing file select music) is “Starbit Festival”, complete with flutes and violins that would fit perfectly for any night time celebration. A little further into it you’ll come across Rosalina’s powered down observatory, whose own musical piece starts off as a sleepy melody and grows fuller and quicker as you progress and open up more of the hub’s locations. The theme from Stardust Road could substitute a lullaby, and the pieces used for the power up’s (which grow frantic when it’s close to disappearing) can charge up the player itself.
The faithful Super Mario theme itself is present in a single galaxy, and has been given the electronic treatment. Titled ‘Super Mario 2007’, you’ll only hear it in Toy Time Galaxy, which is literally a gigantic playroom, complete with a wooden toy train set, gravity wells, gigantic pencils and a giant classic pixel Mario made up of dangerous tiles that can be ran along. If this puzzle itself wasn’t home to one of the game’s hardest challenges, the level itself would be a guaranteed fan favourite… and it probably still is.
At the end of the journey…
I feel I can spoil one or two things for you appropriately, seeing as the game is a few years old now and anyone who has paid attention to it would probably know this anyhow. First, it’s impossible to finish the game in a single play through: the final battle with Bowser is available after you’ve found most of the game’s stars. Defeating him will open up the previously mentioned challenge for each of the main galaxies, in which you’ll have to gather 100 purple coins from them for a final star. These challenges are sometimes a basic treasure hunt, occasionally a timed race to get 100 in a row without screwing up too many times, and rarely you’ll be given 150 coins and a frantic time to gather 100 and get back to the beginning.
For anyone who sticks with it and gather’s 119 of the total 120 tally, they can challenge Bowser again for the very final star (purely for showing off you’ve beaten the game twice). After the credits however you’ll be treated to a very nifty bonus: a pop up and a younger voice shouting “Super Luigi Galaxy!” Yes, you’ve got a whole second game playthrough option on the same save file now. Skipping the initial Starbit Festival opener, Luigi can run faster and jump higher than his older twin, but has less traction. This makes some stars easier to grab, and other’s harder.
For any fellow completionist who will go through it all over again, you’ll wind up with a whopping 240 stars for the Mario Brothers combined, which opens up yet another bonus, ‘Finale Galaxy’. A quick, relaxing 100 coin hunt through the Starbit Festival, the brothers will be able to talk to characters they’ve met, be given a couple of photos for your Wii message board and finish their total to 121 stars each. The game is (for an optical disc) huge.
There are only a few (very minor) low points in this game, I feel. I’m not talking about the challenges – the game itself (with a few star challenges which can be frustratingly hard) is overall pretty easy – something that’s been amped up in the sequel, we’re told. The low points are really just three things: the first is Rosalina’s bedtime story. As you collect stars, you’ll unlock Rosalina’s library, where you’ll go and automatically be treated to the Princesses’ sad back story. A prompt will alert you when a new chapter is available right up to the final one. Entering the Library at any time will have Rosalina read right up to the latest available chapter until the story is complete, after which you can just read the book yourself. It’s a bit distracting from the main game and quite slow – after hearing the whole thing through on my first file, I avoided the Library on other playthroughs.
Secondly, a power-up I neglected to mention is the ‘Spring Mushroom’, which covers you in a coiled spring and makes you hop around. Pressing the jump button will make you rocket upwards, but it’s incredibly hard to control and timing is everything. Jumping while you’re already bouncing around doesn’t work: you need to be firmly on the ground to do it. Even when you do jump up, controlling your direction is damn hard, and if you’re not careful you can land completely off course or even off the planet itself. Grabbing that high-up purple coin won’t matter much if you fall and die – you’ll be gathering them from coin 1 all over again.
The last low point is in the secondary game, Super Luigi Galaxy. The story has been adjusted in different ways for this: people change their text, location, or responses, all of which are nice details. However, the AI Luigi hasn’t been replaced at all! When playing through as the younger, greener Mario brother, the in-game Luigi you rescue will go off and find (and become stuck) on the same three stars he did in Mario’s play through. His only change in dialogue (after a quick difference in greeting) is he will refer to you as “me”. “Thanks for rescuing me, me.” Or “Here you go me, one Star for Rosalina. But you tell her I got it!” I’d like to know how that conversation would have gone. “Hey, I got this Star for you… not Me me, the other me.” Rosalina herself refers to the AI as “Your twin” rather than “Your brother” as she said to Mario. I found it a little irritating, but most will just find it funny, and it can’t bring down this masterpiece of a game.
So go out, fellow Wii owners. Go and enjoy a piece of gaming excellence. Bathe in lush, rich environments that are literally out of this world, a score that rapids your pulse and save the galaxy time and time again. And when you’re done and wondering what to do until the sequel this year, go outside and have a look at the stars.
10 OUT OF 10