Super Mario Galaxy

For someone who got their start as a humble Italian plumber – Mario has sure had his share of occupations. Think about it – Mario has tried his hand at everything from driving go-karts and prescribing medicine to becoming a multi-sport athlete and even a music producer. In his latest adventure; Super Mario Galaxy, Mario is once again trying out a new career field; one not only entertaining and addictive but which should prove to stand the test of time as one of Mario’s greatest adventures ever.

Galaxy’s beginnings can prove to be deceitful, as it starts in all too familiar territory. Mario receives a note from the lovely Princess Peach asking him to meet her at the annual festival because she has a “special gift” for him. Anyone who’s played any Mario game should know by now that nothing is that easy in the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario arrives at the festival to find Bowser and his troops using a fleet of airships to abduct the princess.

While this may all sound like a retread, Galaxy wastes no time in veering sharp left from the tried and true Mario formula. Unable to catch up with Bowser, Mario is transported to Outer Space where he learns from an unusual race called Lumas and their mysterious leader Rosalina that Bowser has stolen a number of power stars from throughout the Cosmos. It’s here that we learn our mission, travel to the different galaxies and collect the power stars en-route to an eventual showdown with Bowser.

If it must be compared to something – traveling from galaxy to galaxy is similar to the way Mario 64 used paintings to transport players to other worlds, but that comparison ends rather abruptly as there is so much more going on here. Each galaxy contains multiple planets – each acting like a giant floating puzzle and each vital to obtaining stars. Prior to the game’s release, message boards were full of gamers worried that Nintendo’s choice to put Mario’s next adventure in space would ruin the wide-open gameplay that was a major factor in Mario 64 being great. Those claims were unfounded. Sure, the world’s aren’t as prevalent in Galaxy as in previous games, but they are there – and each galaxy is designed so uniquely you won’t be pining for the old days for long at all.

In fact, the new spherical levels are almost a breath of fresh air – new territory to discover if you will. In most cases, Mario can run completely around the planets, and use launch stars to send himself to new, unexplored areas. It’s these factors, along with other little touches that make Mario Galaxy’s level design so extraordinary. With no time limit, gamers will find themselves exploring every inch of each galaxy looking for each item, secret or nod to a previous chapter in Mario’s universe — and there are a lot of them – just look carefully at some of the planet shapes, or listen to the remixed Mario 3 music.

Perhaps the best thing about the Mario franchise is how accessible it has always been. Everyone, from children, to the most hardcore gamers, even those who have never held a controller before, feels right at home in the Mushroom Kingdom. This is also the case in Galaxy, as the difficulty starts out very easy, but progresses as the game does, easing the player into the later and sometimes frustratingly tougher levels.

What would a Mario game be without abilities and power suits? Naturally, Mario can turn invincible, and shoot fireballs, but Galaxy introduces players to a number of new suits including that of a bumblebee (which allows Mario to fly for short periods and stick to certain surfaces), and a bouncy spring to help Mario jump even higher. Undoubtedly, the coolest of the new power-ups is the ability to turn into a boo and float right through most walls.

Galaxy does an incredible job at using the Wii-mote in new and unique ways. Mario’s movements are controlled via the thumbstick on the nunchuk, but most everything else is done with the Wii-mote. For instance, launch stars and vines are controlled by shaking the Wii-mote, and the camera is controlled by the d-pad. What’s interesting is that in some cases Galaxy uses the Wii-mote in familiar ways, but does it much better than the games who originated it. Take for instance the level where Mario finds himself on top of a ball rolling in a very monkey ball-like fashion. Unlike in the clunky controlling Monkey Ball title released earlier in the Wii’s lifespan, players hold the Wii-mote straight up and down, as if it’s an arcade joystick, which makes for an incredibly responsive and entertaining control scheme.

Perhaps the most noticeable change in control revolves around the game’s reliance on star bits. Almost taking the coin’s place as the most important collectible in the game, Star Bits are used for essentially everything in Mario Galaxy. They can be collected and fed to hungry Lumas in exchange for launch stars, used for 1-ups or even shot at unknowing enemies to stun them. What’s unique about this is that players must merely aim the Wii-mote cursor over the Star-bits to collect them, making collecting coins (which still must be touched to be collected) seem like a hassle. This new way of collecting also brings about the games “multiplayer” aspect. Using a second Wii-mote, players can collect Star bits for Mario, and shoot them at enemies, or help clear obstacles. While it’s a novel idea, the multiplayer mode comes across as tacked on, and minimal. Is it too much to ask to go back to the old school style of having players take turns as Mario and Luigi?

As amazing as Galaxy’s gameplay is, it’s no slouch in the visual department. Fantastic art design, along with the superb character designs and animation makes Galaxy easily the best-looking game on the Wii. The game’s cinematic camera system is phenomenal, and is usually able to pick the best angle to portray the action on screen with little or no player action required.

With its simple, yet addicting gameplay and amazing visuals, Super Mario Galaxy is by far the best game available for the Wii, along with the best Mario title released in years. Everyone with a Wii should experience Mario’s latest adventure, over and over again.