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REVIEW: Super Mario Galaxy November 5, 2007

Posted by Chris in Console, Games, Reviews.
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Mario Galaxy 1 

Space. The final frontier. It’s always held an irresistible allure to man, and exerts a palpable sense of fear over many. It’s huge, exciting, unfathomable.  So when you start the first level proper of Super Mario Galaxy and you’re tasked with running around a spherical planetoid, the vast reaches of space surrounding you like a gigantic, gaping maw, it’s a woozily disorientating, vertigo-inducing, almost frightening experience. It also feels utterly freeing. Not just for the player, but for Mario, too. Long he’s been confined to sprinting and leaping across flat planes. Now he can leap from the topside of a platform and slingshot around to the base, gravity keeping his plumber’s boots firmly planted on the ground, even as he hangs upside down. And then you’re flying; shooting through space, fired by a star’s celestial power. Mario yelps in delight, and spreads his arms wide, taking in a handful of stardust as the universe spins below, the camera following Mario like a comet as he descends to the next planet on his adventure. It’s all you can do not to hold your nunchuk and remote out in a similar manner. A thrilling, magical moment, and it’s one of a great, great many in Super Mario Galaxy.

It’s taken ten years for Nintendo to realise what exactly made Super Mario 64 so special. Undoubtedly, the simple fact that gaming and one of its most famous avatars had finally made that leap into the third dimension was a major part of its success. Here was a virtual world unlike any videogaming had seen before, and Nintendo had nailed the move to 3D at its first attempt. But its classic status – the reason it has endured where so many retro titles have lost their appeal  – is down to the sheer delight felt at exploring its environments. Put simply, it took you places you’d never been before – it created a genuine sense of wonder through perfection in level design, through sheer gasp-inducing inventiveness, and a sprinkling of that magical Nintendo difference that can turn the mundane into the special. Super Mario Galaxy has that in spades. But not only that, it reintroduces that sense of wonder that’s been missing from gaming for so long. The wow factor at seeing things you’ve genuinely never seen before. The jaw-dropping awe at the majesty of its virtual worlds. At times, it makes you feel like a kid again, when all you wanted to do was be a spaceman and live in the sky.

 Mario Galaxy 2

The Mario games have never concerned themselves too much with story, and things are no different here, at least initially. Peach and her castle have been spirited away by Bowser once more, except this time he’s gone one step further and taken her to the centre of the universe. Naturally, it’s up to Mario to do his hero thing and rescue her, but this time he’s assisted by a friendly star named Luma. This little fella acts as the remote’s onscreen cursor, and is used to collect colourful star bits dotted around each level. These act both as weapons (you can stun certain enemies by aiming at them and pressing B to shoot them) and as extra lives – collect 100, and you’ll get that all-familiar 1UP mushroom. They’re also used to unlock other galaxies from the observatory hub which sends you to these weird and wonderful places.

Aside from the pointer, Mario doesn’t control too differently from previous excursions – the analogue stick manouevres Mario, with the A button to jump. The one real concession to the Wii’s motion controls for Mario’s basic moveset is the spin attack – a brisk shake of the remote near a foe and Mario will whirl around, usually sending them flying onto their backs. Running into their prone bodies sends them into the ether, usually in a shower of star bits. It’s a welcome addition given that the nature of the galaxies is such that jumping on their heads is more difficult than ever before. Though occasionally it’s a big help that you can still ground-pound them into submission, as they usually cough up life-giving coins if you defeat them the old-fashioned way. Mario has three bars of energy to get through before he loses a life, and the frequency of the coins and these star bits is a godsend – it might be a forgiving game, but it’s not necessarily easy.

So, for the most part, this could easily be done on GameCube – simply remove the remote-based star-vacuuming and it’d be a perfect fit for Nintendo’s last console. But then you’d be missing out on all the environmental manipulation the game throws in at regular intervals. Aim and grab a floating blue star, and Mario will be drawn towards it; waggle near a spiralling vine, and he’ll rapidly shimmy up it; grasp a hovering flower, and a shake will whip it upwards on the breeze, sprinkling petals as it goes. And that’s before you get to the Monkey Ball-aping Rolling Green Galaxy, or the manta-ray riding Loopdeloop Galaxy, where you’ll need dextrous tilts and twists to get you through. It’s telling that you spend a significant time not just controlling Mario but his environment too. And that simply wouldn’t have been possible before.

Mario Galaxy 3 

And on it goes: Nintendo throws surprise after surprise at you in the myriad galaxies available. Gargantuan bosses that seem like a cheeky nod and wink to Shadow of the Colossus; self-referential moments that see New Mario meeting Old Mario; mind-bending, gravity-altering 2D sections that will test the neophytes from the veterans. A whole universe full of inconsequential yet beautiful little touches, level design that will leave you stunned, music that will make your heart soar, and intense scraps that will make your heart pound. Then – just when you think it’s stopped dazzling you – Nintendo slings in a power-up which will leave even the most jaded gamer with a Cheshire cat-sized grin on their face. And when it’s all over and 120 stars are yours, there’s the mother of all bonuses – a pure fan-service moment that says ‘thanks for playing. Now go and play some more.’ Naturally, all this is best experienced cold. Stop watching the videos now – you’ll only ruin it for yourself.

Yet it’s not just the meticulous craft, and the sheer love for the character and his world shining through near-as-dammit every level that makes this so special. The worlds themselves are often so gorgeous it hurts – tropical oases that best Sunshine in a single stage, chilly ice and fiery magma worlds that transcend genre, and areas so odd and idiosyncratic that they defy simple description – a mish-mash of thoughts and ideas that somehow gels into a cohesive whole. And it’s all soundtracked by – at last – a fully orchestral score that marks some of the best music ever heard in a Mario game. There’s a bit of Theremin-enhanced weirdness and one or two minimalist soundscapes to add texture to the John Williams style anthemic bombast and Koji Kondo jauntiness, and it makes a welcome change to the usual formula.

A game with this many ideas and this many levels can’t possibly be perfect, and so it proves. The camera, perfect for almost the entire journey, struggles on the underwater sections. The hub world, while a treat for the eyes, isn’t the playground it deserves to be – the one area where Sunshine is definitely superior. And one or two stages manage to fall below the quality watermark of ‘excellent’ into merely ‘decent’ territory. Once you’ve collected the sixty one stars needed to complete the game, some players might take umbrage that around half the stages that remain are simple coin-hoovering challenges, or redux versions of existing stages (comets occasionally change the victory conditions, from racing Shadow Mario through a short section of one level to beating another in a strict time limit). But it’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting to revisit these perfectly-formed self-contained microcosms. Particularly when the comets change the dynamic of the stages so much that they feel like different levels entirely. Besides, it’s certainly an improvement on the laborious blue coin route.

Mario Galaxy 4

It seems churlish to criticise these failings, particularly as when Super Mario Galaxy is at its best, there’s no game in the world that can match it. Some stages are absolutely astonishing, showcasing a staggering creativity. One or two have more ideas crammed in than most games in their entirety, and that’s no exaggeration. For something which is essentially all about running and jumping, there’s a variety to the action that few games can touch. It will make you laugh with blissful joy, gasp in childlike shock, marvel at the inventiveness of the designers, and smile at the effort poured into making such a complete videogaming experience. It’s the kind of game that inspires feverish devotion, the kind of game that leads impressionable minds to nail their colours to the mast of a multi-billion-yen-earning corporation, and somehow make that seem like an entirely reasonable thing to do. It’s a game that’s been made with nothing but love and respect for its iconic protagonist, and nothing but love and respect for the people that play it. It’s an absolute, God’s-honest masterpiece.

It’s taken ten years for Nintendo to realise exactly what made Super Mario 64 so special; a decade to create something that finally lives up to one of videogaming’s defining moments. Amazingly, Super Mario Galaxy is tsufufum all over again.

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Comments»

1. Mike - November 5, 2007

So it’s a bit good then? Excellent.

2. Joer - November 5, 2007

Where is the score?

How do I know if it’s good or not?

3. Henke - November 5, 2007

No award = Edge 11, Joer.

4. Herbi - November 5, 2007

I think that’s just about the best review I’ve ever read, well done HOC. Can’t wait.

5. Jes Bickham - November 5, 2007

Tsufufum! Bravo, sir. (I wonder if anyone else got that?) Excellent review also, so double bravo!

6. Chris - November 5, 2007

@Jes – I hope people get that. Or at least Google it and realise what it references.

Cheers for your comments, by the way. And bravo to you for DeathRay – brilliant mag. 🙂

May I ask who/where/what linked you to this place? For future reference, like.

7. Mike Hobbs - November 5, 2007

I got the tsufufum reference, and felt mighty proud, and not a little old. Great reveiw Chris. It’s really heartening to hear that this really is something a little bit special.

8. Mike Hobbs - November 5, 2007

It was Zy right? Zy Nicholas?

9. Chris - November 5, 2007

Zy Nicholson, for N64 magazine, yep.

10. Nathan - November 5, 2007

Your best yet, Chris, even if I did skip over half of it for fear of having ANYTHING spoiled.

11. Dan - November 5, 2007

Still a freelancer, Chris? I’d be impressed if I saw a better review than this in a magazine. Top stuff.

12. Jevan - November 5, 2007

Yup, that’s quite possible the best thing you’ve ever written, which is quite a feat!

However, I, err, don’t get the “tsufufum” thing. Where’s an embarissed emoticon when you need one?

13. Joer - November 5, 2007

Bloody Raze..

Just read the review Chris, very nice! My hype levels have just shot up and i’ve preordered another game I can’t really afford. 😦

14. Jes Bickham - November 5, 2007

Hey Chris
Well, thank you, good sir, for *your* kind words! I caught the link for the review from either rllmuk or neogaf, I forget which (busy day) – two forums I still frequent even though I don’t work with games anymore.
Cracking review though, and one I’d have been proud to run in NGC when I was editor.

15. hoganfe handmade handbag originals - November 5, 2007

It is good to know that you can play it on gamecube!

16. Raze - November 5, 2007

What have *I* done, Joer? >:|

17. ElRhodeo - November 5, 2007

Very nice review! Can’t wait for this game – it will be released on my birthday 🙂

18. Greg - November 5, 2007

Nice review, even though it contains one two many paragraphs that are there for pure hype purposes. There’s been too many game of the year reviews this year! Although this one probabaly has a better chance of actually fulfilling its hype.

19. Kwame Edwards - November 6, 2007

Awesome review I like that you left out the score which too much times reviewers abuse to get there own messages across you simply wrote in detail how it feels and plays and let me come up with my own thing. Thank you

I will buy this * not like I was not going to before * lol

20. Ben - November 6, 2007

Fantastic review I’ve ordered this and Assassins Creed and had to leave CoD4 and Mass Effect on the sidelines for a while. Based on this though I doubt even Assassins Creed will get the attention it deserves. My Wii hasn’t been touched for nearly 5 months, almost time to go back.

21. Ario - November 6, 2007

Great job, that really was an excellent review, though I too did skip quite a bit to dodge spoilers.

22. Herman Strauss - November 7, 2007

Great review, I’m really impressed. Your review is so descriptive that I’m even more excited now about the game’s release than I’ve ever been!!!

23. Simon Roche - November 14, 2007

Great review and I totally got the tsufufum! I still have the video from that copy of the magazine! I miss N64 mag!

I am so excited about this game, I’ve only watched 2 videos and have avoided most reviews so nothing is spoiled for me. It’s not out in Australia for another 15 days though so I still have to wait a bit!

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26. Tigamilla - February 9, 2009

Tsufufum! I remember that from days gone!

27. GotD Top 10 – 4. Super Mario Galaxy « The Video Games Ate My Baby - January 4, 2010

[…] Sunshine barely got a look in at all but with Galaxy I found a game that just blew me away. One superb review and I knew what had to be done. I bunked college. November 16th 2007 was the day I finally accepted […]

28. jan - February 24, 2010

das ist ein echt cooooooooooooooooles game!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

29. rexy - September 5, 2011

hai


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