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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Genre: Platformer
Rated: E (Everyone)
Players: 1-2
Release Date: November 12, 2007
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Daniel Sims

It seems the state of the Mario franchise has always been inexorably linked to the fate (and design) of Nintendo’s consoles, each new platform launching with a Mario game to symbolize its design paradigm. This got kind of hazy when the GameCube didn’t launch with a Mario game (the closest thing being Luigi’s Mansion). Perhaps the state of the later-released Super Mario Sunshine, being the okay-but-not-really-that-incredible game it was, was symbolic of the GameCube’ as a console. Ever since Nintendo launched the Wii a year ago, probably the closest thing to that perfect poster child game it’s had has been Wii Sports with the rest of game development on the system being largely mediocre.

In a perfect world, Super Mario Galaxy would have launched right along side the Wii. It is that “perfect” game that symbolizes exactly the kind of game design Nintendo built the Wii for.

First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: it’s probably close to impossible for anything to stand up to the initial sense of amazement many of us got the first time we laid eyes on Super Mario 64 in 1996. For a lot of us that game set serious landmarks that still influence the way games are made today over a decade later. The expectation that the next “big” Mario game should do the same or even anything close is part of what killed Sunshine for many gamers and is not what should be expected of Galaxy. What should be expected of Mario platformers directly following 64 is an evolution and further polishing of that game’s design, which is exactly what Galaxy delivers on. The game takes everything about Mario games (and 3D platforming in general), turns it on its ear, and polishes it to an incredible degree.

The basic premise is that the princess has been kidnapped (again), but this time Mario must travel through space in order to rescue her, traveling across many worlds to collect 120 power stars just as he did in his previous 3D adventures.

What flips the script on Mario in this game to begin with is that each level or “galaxy” in it is made up of many small planets or “planetoids,” each of which has its own gravity thus allowing Mario to travel on all sides of them. These planetoids come in just about any shape or size, thus allowing for some insane level design, which Nintendo’s Tokyo studio (responsible for Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, a GameCube platformer I seriously suggest you also check out) has taken to some amazing lengths.

Imagine for instance being on a planet so small that you could circumnavigate it in one jump, running around all sides of a planet shaped like a giant question mark, swimming in a sphere of water, running around in a classic 2D level with gravity shifting from the floor to the ceiling and walls, or walking into a hole and instantly ending up on the other side of a planet which contains a whole new area.

I’m not gonna even try to further describe the range of ideas or the variety of level design that’s employed in Galaxy. I’ll just say that while playing through it I never got bored because the game managed to stay continually fresh while sticking to a relatively simple and constant set of rules. I was also stunned at the number of levels that was available to me at almost anytime while playing.

Although Mario Galaxy contains the same number of stars that 64 and Sunshine did, virtually all of them are gained through actual objectives. At the time of writing this review I’ve gotten around 70 stars and have only encountered one that required me to collect more than five of anything. This allows for a lot more levels or “galaxies” to be in the game, many of which kept surprising me in terms of how many stars each one actually contained. Mario Galaxy’s variety in level design also extends into its difficulty which scales excellently, attaining a pleasant balance between accessibility and challenge.

In Mario Galaxy, only 60 stars are really needed to reach the final boss and see the credits roll, and even the most casual players will probably be able to reach that goal with some effort, but the minute players veer off and start exploring the game’s secrets, the difficulty immediately cranks up to a whole other level. Thought getting that last star was a little easy? Now try doing it in less than five minutes or with enemies twice as fast as before. Oh extra lives are plentiful in Galaxy, but you’ll have to work for them.

All of this: the radical new style of platforming, how polished it feels, how much there is to do, and how it manages to be very challenging but not frustrating makes Mario Galaxy one of those few games that’s very easy to play for hours on end.

Strangely though, Galaxy actually doesn’t use Wii Remote functionality all that much. Two very integral (but also very small) features in the game use the pointer and motion sensor, and there are also several mini-game like parts that are pretty smartly implemented, but Galaxy doesn’t try to shoehorn in a lot of unnecessary functions just for the sake of validating the Wii Remote. Something that does begin to validate the Wii hardware in Galaxy though is its visuals.

Mario Galaxy is unquestionably the best-looking game on the Nintendo Wii. Lighting, the way characters animate, and a general crispness of the environments all help place Galaxy visually speaking, firmly a step above anything seen on GameCube or Wii thus far. Even though I hate making this comparison, I’d even go as far as to say that at some points Galaxy exhibits that kind of visual polish that we’ve begun to associate with next gen gaming. The rest of Galaxy’s presentation comes together to round it out as generally just a really charming experience.

When I heard the music in Mario Galaxy was going to be mostly orchestrated, I was worried the digital-sounding charm that is often associated with Mario in gaming culture would be lost, but hearing orchestral odes to classic themes from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World set those worries aside. In addition to the game’s characters, what’ also helps give Mario Galaxy a sort of fairy-tale-like sensibility is its storyline. First of all, if you want nothing to do with the storyline of a Mario game, you can totally and completely ignore Galaxy’s entire back-story and boil it down to “Bowser kidnaps princess, takes her through space, Mario travels through space in pursuit.” Those who do choose to investigate Galaxy’s back-story however will actually find one that can be quite heartwarming and is pleasantly told.

Bottom Line

Super Mario Galaxy brings with it a pure, innocent kind of fun that’s become increasingly rare in games these days. As soon as you jump right in it gets fun and stays fun throughout, offering fresh level design and a healthy amount of gameplay content. The only actual problems that might exist in this game are minute issues that only the most hardcore Mario players would nitpick about concerning how Mario himself controls. Mario Galaxy is without a doubt the best game on the Wii yet and definitely a top contender for game of 2007, even with the amazing amount of competition for that status that exists this year.


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