Written by  :  Matt Neuteboom (989)
Written on  :  Apr 09, 2008
Platform  :  Wii
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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Breathes new life into platformers, but still doesn't go beyond it's true potential

The Good

All in all, fans tend to let Nintendo get away with a lot of shit. For any proof all you need to do is look at the empty Super Mario Sunshine box sitting at the bottom of any gamer’s collection. The prodigal think tank over in Japan thought they could pass of cleaning up rainbow colored slime the consistency of diarrhea as having some sort of entertainment value. Granted, while the game did have its highs and lows, our exploration into the wonders of irritable bowel syndrome wasn’t exactly my cup o’ tea. However, fanboy logic is a much more alien form of logic than other humans’, and while any other company would have been punished vehemently for such an atrocity, Nintendo knows that they’re holding the whip in this situation. As such, Nintendo has once again tried to resurrect their main franchise, with our lovably stereotypical Italian friend Mario digging deep into our pockets once more while he orders us to bend over.

Super Mario Galaxy has it good only because it has to compete with Sunshine, and that’s roughly equivalent to having the jocks pick on the special kid in your gym class. Still, Galaxy gets little more concession because, as Nintendo claims, this game is supposed to be the “true sequel” to Super Mario 64. Well, Nintendo, if you’re claiming to beat a game that was terrific 10 years ago, then you better live up to your promise.

Galaxy does do many things well, however, starting off with the revival of the classic platform game play. Some say the platform genre is dead, but as we all know Nintendo is a pretty stubborn company, and in the end it’s probably for the better because mass marketing only seems to result in Mario trying to break-dance for us. Nintendo has a lot of experience in the platforming area so it’s no wonder that they create one of the best platformer games out there.

The introduction of the whole galaxy theme has been criticized by some as a gimmick but I honestly think it’s one of the better parts of the game. It allows Nintendo to come up with more original puzzles and game mechanics than if they were limited to a more Earthly setting. One of the best aspects is that a galaxy is obviously large and open, meaning that you can actually fall off platforms and die in one hit now instead of falling onto some jagged rocks. As well, each level essentially takes place in a gigantic open void, meaning Nintendo could fill it with whatever crap they wanted to put there for any level design they had in mind. Thankfully, Nintendo doesn’t hold back on the puzzles, and they deliver a ton of new and challenging obstacles to overcome.

This, I think, is combined quite cleverly with the new gravity system. Mario sticks to any large object he lands on, making jumping around quite a bit of fun. Essentially, this liberates Mario from the traditional up down, side to side, left and right style and allows him to go upside down, sideways, back-ways, no-ways, Wonka-ways, and any other way you might think of. This, once again, is cleverly shown off by the developers, as they utilize the function well in creating unique puzzles and scenarios.

However, for all those used to the “falling off the bottom of the screen” method of dying, don’t fret. Falling off of platforms still has its negative consequences. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a platformer, right? In areas where the developers wanted you to be punished for your bad timing, they add these black holes below where you’re standing to act a interfering source of gravity in case you fall off the platform. The effect is that if you fall off the platform you were supposed to be occupying, this new source of gravity hopelessly sucks you into its grasp while simultaneously crushing Mario into a tiny singularity. Judging between free falling sections and these traditional “platforming” sections is not hard, as it will usually make these black holes obvious or will simply make sections occur on flat surfaces. Obviously this new Mario game requires a bit of different thinking than what we’re used to, and I thankfully welcome a change of scenario and a change of puzzles.

The new galaxy setting also serves the game pretty well because it pretty much gives Nintendo an excuse to come up with weird wacky world without any one giving them mouth. After all, it’s a big galaxy so anything could happen, right? The space station you’re flying on serves as your “Peach’s Castle” in this game, acting as a hub to reach outlying levels. Get more stars, get more levels of course. You’ll find your basic staples of world themes here. There’s a fire world, an ice world, and not so ironically, a fire and ice world, and so on and so forth.

While seemingly generic, Nintendo gives you lots to work with, so a lot of the puzzles in each world are pretty much all different. As well, the amount of secret content is pretty gob-smacking incredible. It’s quite amazing to find that the secret levels (which there are tons of, by the way) actually having more secret hidden stars within them. There are so many levels that a 100% completion rating is a challenge reserved only for the mentally insane.

For what it’s worth, Sunshine did have one good strength which was its terrific, sparkly graphics. It might have been shit, but at least it was colorful, sparkly shit. This strength pulls through to Galaxy, because good God does it look marvelous. Nintendo brings back their palette of bizarre and exotic colors, which is good because it makes Mario more entertaining. Each level is a smorgasbord for the eyes, entertaining you with a seizure-inducing handful of LSD-inspired level designs.

The Bad

However, there is a good reason Mario games leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths, and that is probably due to the fact that while we’re usually handed a game on a golden platter, we usually get shafted in some area such as difficulty, linearity, or length. In this case, it’s all three.

I don’t know what the hell has happened to Nintendo’s definition of a game, but as far as I know, games usually offer some form of a challenge which needs to be overcome. Unfortunately, Nintendo is one of those companies which try to remove every single frustration in the game, thereby removing the challenge in the first place. I mean seriously, I know these games were designed for children, but the point is to challenge us to think and work to overcome obstacles. For the first half of the game I felt like all I had to do was follow the friendly signs guiding me to the star. I explicitly remember one level required me to dive into a pool of water and swim a bit to retrieve a shell so I could throw it at a chest to unlock the star. What a rush.

As well, all of the bosses are terribly predictable. Half the time all you have to do is bat their projectiles back at them like in Ocarina of Time way back when. Nintendo has still stubbornly chosen to stick with the "three hit" system that's so frustratingly irritating due to the fact that the battles are over before they've even begun. Don't expect to see anything terribly new when it comes to enemy AI either. Goombas still act like goombas and giant freaky honey bees will continue to ask you to crawl all over their bodies...yeah.

As well, for being a galaxy it sure is terribly linear. In my mind I envisioned an open space to explore and hop around between planets. Instead, what I got what was a game which for most of the time held my hand through the entire experience. I mean, we’re not even talking multiple pathways or even shortcuts. There was only one entrance and exit to each planet. Making each planet you jumped on more of an independent “challenge” which you had to overcome in order to move on to the next “challenge” until you eventually reach the star.

The star you choose to try to “find” on the opening screen of each level makes a big difference, as each star has a different “level configuration”, bringing you to different challenges though you may revisit older planets in a different order. This is a pretty disappointing portion of the game, because you no longer really even have to search for a star, nor can you even choose to go after a different star than you chose which is what made Super Mario 64 so fun. As the game progresses, these obstacles do become a lot harder and the levels do become a lot longer, but please don’t deprive me of free roam exploration and then claim to be better than Super Mario 64.

And then, of course, we come to Nintendo’s most infamous f*** up, the game length. I can’t help but feel that due to both the easy difficulty and startling linearity that each level was a bit too short. The final boss can easily be taken on eons before you even need to start “trying” to get stars. However, getting 100% is so difficult and takes so long, it’s hard to understand even trying to go any further than the boss, making the game a trifle bit short. If you do choose to continue to 100% for more game time, then be my guest, but I would have preferred if the game would have forced me to go farther rather than going easy on me and simply getting me to the end of the game quickly.

And while we’re still bitching, I have to complain about Mario’s voice. Him screaming the title of the game every time you turn to it on the Wii screen is so loud and high-pitched its makes you embarrassed to even be playing the game. It seems like Mario’s voice gets higher pitched every new game that comes out. I’m sorry Mario, but you were a lot cooler when you were mute.

And if you're looking for story, well, don't be too surprised but it involved the princess getting captured and you going after her dumb as too rescue her. You can fill in the details from there on, I think.

The Bottom Line

Super Mario Galaxy is good, but not terribly great. It’s fun to play, pretty to look at, and all around is a great refresher for the Mario series. If it does anything terribly well, it breathes new life into the extinct platforming genre, and its fun to play these games because they pretty much don’t exist except in the form of crappy kids TV show or movie games.

However, the game’s flaws are what keeps from being truly great. If only Nintendo could learn to let go of the leash a little and let us gamers do the thinking for ourselves. I promise we won’t cry if we can’t figure out the puzzles Nintendo. Just make the games longer and harder, please.

However, the game accomplishes what it sets out to do, and if you need a game to give to kids, I can’t recommend a game more highly. If it’s kept me entertained, Super Mario Galaxy will undoubtedly keep young ones perplexed and staring bug eyed at the screen for hours on end.

Buyworthy: By now it should have gone down in price, so why not.
Rentworthy: Definitely.