Friday, November 16, 2007

Super Mario Galaxy review

Big ol' review coming up... If I were you, I'd grab a soda and a bucket of popcorn. Also, it should go without saying there will be some spoilers. Just a warning.

When Super Mario 64 was released way back in 1996, fans went nuts for the plumber's first foray into the three-dimensional realm. With 15 levels, 120 missions and three major boss battles, it was certainly a great game. Even now it still ranks in the top five games of all time for me.

But after Super Mario 64 was the widely-hated Super Mario Sunshine. Running and jumping was no longer the main mechanic of the game. Instead, Mario's water jet pack F.L.U.D.D had all but hijacked the entire experience. Nintendo originally considered using an original character in place of Mario, and I think that would have been a better idea. Nonetheless, I still somewhat liked Sunshine, but it just didn't do it for me.

And now along comes Super Mario Galaxy. Critics just can't stop gushing about how amazing this title is. Everywhere you turn there's positive reception for this game. Nintendo, if this is your apology for Sunshine, we gladly accept.

Super Mario Galaxy starts off happily enough. A large comet is about to pass the planet very closely, an event which occurs but once every hundred years. Princess Peach invites Mario to the celebration, but it's then that things start to go wrong.

Several flying ships appear on the horizon, firing flaming cannon balls. Bowser is attacking the Mushroom Kingdom! Buildings are destroyed and villagers are frozen in crystalline blocks. A flying saucer appears above the castle, and with deadly lasers it quickly cuts out the chunk of land on which the fortress is standing. Mario immediately jumps into action, and manages to scramble onto the castle just before it is taken away. As the airships lift it up into the stratosphere, a Magikoopa takes Mario by surprise and blasts him into space.

A while later, Mario awakes on a small planetoid. A small rabbit wishes to play hide and seek with him, and runs off, beckoning for Mario to follow. After capturing the rabbit and his friends, Mario climbs up a small tower and meets with a woman named Rosalina. She tells Mario that she knows of Princess Peach's troubles, and that Rosalina herself had been attacked by Bowser recently. Due to all the craft's Power Stars being stolen by Bowser, Rosalina's mobile observatory is currently unable to function. If Mario can gather enough stars to restore power to the observatory, he can pursue Bowser and save Princess Peach.

In order to reach these Power Stars, Mario will have to travel to many different galaxies all over the universe. Using the small observatories (Called "Domes") located all over Rosalina's craft, Mario will locate distant galaxies and planetary systems. Using powers granted to him by Princess Rosalina, Mario flies from galaxy to galaxy, defeating enemies and traversing alien worlds.

Thanks to powers granted to him by Rosalina, Mario can travel
through space at amazing speeds.

Princess Rosalina shares her observatory with a species by the name of Luma. Shaped like chubby Power Stars, the Luma possess some amazing powers. They can transform themselves to help Mario, and it's a Luma that gives Mario his space-traveling powers.

In the end it's still just about saving the princess, but the addition of several new characters and extra-terrestrial travel helps keep things from getting stale.

Within each dome's sight is one of Bowser's bases. Hidden deep within these strongholds are Grand Stars. These super-charged Power Stars have enough energy to restore power to entire sections of the observatory at once. It is only by gathering Grand Stars that Mario may unlock additional domes, allowing him to go to further galaxies and collect even more Power Stars. In turn, these Power Stars increase the viewing range of the domes, leading to more and more adventures.

Each and every galaxy consists of many planetoids and satellites. The varying sizes of the planets is amazing. Some are so small you could take a running jump and end up exactly where you left off, while some are so large that their horizons are hardly even curved. Even though he largest planets restrict your freedom to a small part of the surface, it still gives an amazing sense of scale. In many planets, walking on even the underside is possible. Sometimes using every degree of the landmass is key to solving puzzles. Thinking is key to getting anywhere in this game.

Many planets can be walked on in ways that may look
upside-down to you, but are really completely normal due to

With all this gravity, you may think it's impossible to fall off the level, right? Wrong! Some planets are situated above black holes, meaning that the gravitational pull will always be towards the bottom of the planet. So if you slip off the edge of such a level, you're done for. Also, there are a few planets with holes in them which reveal a black hole core. Watch out for these ones especially.

But just how do you get from planet to planet anyways? There are a variety of methods, but the most common is the Launch Star. On many planets, all you have to do is locate the Launch Star, shake the Wii remote to activate it, and fly off to the next location. However, it's rarely that easy. Sometimes the Launch Star is broken, and you must search the entire planet for all five pieces of it. In other occasions, the Launch Star may be hidden, and only by defeating certain enemies can it be revealed.

If it isn't a Launch Star you need to find, chances are you should be searching for a Pull Star. Simply point at a Pull Star, press A, and allow it to pull you in with it's magical abilities. From there, you can grab another Pull Star to continue on, or, if you're close enough to the surface of a planet, you can shake the Wii remote to free yourself from it's grip and land. Pull Stars are also sometimes broken like Launch Stars. Again, merely collect up the pieces to get things going.

Pull Stars are sometimes the only way to get from planet to planet.

There's also the Sling Star, but it's rarely used for interplanetary travel. Similar to a weaker Launch Star, Sling Stars can toss Mario a short distance. They're mostly useful for traveling along the surface of a planet, for matters such as getting over walls or across gaps.

There are a few more methods of traveling from planet to planet, but I'll leave those a secret for you to discover. No matter how you get around, it's always a blast.

In addition to the normal missions you'll receive, you'll also occasionally stumble across a galaxy with a Prankster Comet passing close by. These comets can have a number of effects on a galaxy. For example, some of them make your health be constantly at one bar, making even one hit mean death. Sometimes you'll be suddenly thrust into a battle against a silhouetted copy of yourself. Perhaps you'll have a time trial, or even super-fast enemies! These Prankster Comets sure like to mix things up, and beating a level under their bizarre circumstances will reward you with a Power Star.

Mario gains a key new ability in Galaxy, and that is the Spin. By shaking the Wii remote, Mario will do a quick spin, which can serve many purposes. It can stun many enemies, which makes them susceptible to even the lightest touch. It can also drive screws and spin valve handles. And if Mario spins while trapped in a tornado, he'll rocket out of the twister and hover for a short while.

One more ability gained in Galaxy is being able to shoot Star Bits. Like the coins of previous games (Which are still available, although far rarer), Star Bits are your basic collectible. If you have even one Star Bit in your possession, you can launch it at a foe by pointing and pressing B. This will stun your foes similarly in fashion to spinnning.

Super Mario Galaxy also has the widest assortment of power-ups I've ever seen in a Mario game. First of all, we have the widely-known Bee Mario. When transformed in bee form, Mario gains the ability to fly for short periods of time, as well as the ability to climb honeycomb walls and a few other surfaces. This power-up will last forever, so long as you don't get hurt, die or touch water.

Bee Mario is one of the many power-ups available in Galaxy.

Also new to the franchise is Ice Mario. Using the power of extreme cold, Ice Mario gains the ability to skate over water by freezing it. Besides that, Ice Mario has no other powers. He can't fire any projectiles and he can't fly or anything. This isn't too much of a deal, as his ability to freeze water is quite versatile. Mario can only remain in Ice mode for a short time, and he can also lose the powers by dying.

Another new power-up is Boo Mario. As you'd guess, this power-up grants Mario all the powers and even the appearance of a Boo. Thusly, he can fly and even phase through some walls. Boo Mario will last forever, so long as you don't touch another Boo, get hurt or enter a brightly lit area.

Boo Mario is yet another new power-up introduced in Galaxy.

Making it's first ever appearance in a 3D Mario is the iconic Fire Mario. Just like in New Super Mario Bros., Fire Mario give the plumber a white and red wardrobe, and grants him the ability to shoot fireballs from his hands. For some strange reason, this power-up doesn't give Mario immunity to fire-based attacks, which is kind of unfair since Ice Mario saves him from frigid waters. Anyways, Fire Mario can lose his powers if he dies or if time runs out.

The Starman also makes a comeback with it's spiritual successor, the Rainbow Star. This grants Mario nearly full immunity to everything, except for black holes. Also, it allows Mario to run a little faster and charge right through enemies. The only thing that can defeat Invincible Mario is a black hole, and it only lasts for a short time.

There's at least one other power-up in Galaxy, but since I have not yet gotten to it, I shall refrain from judging it.

One thing about these power-ups that sets them apart from previous titles is how rare they are. Unlike most other Mario games, the number of power-ups on each level is anywhere between zero and three (And most often, it's the former). The power-ups seems to serve but one purpose, and that's to solve puzzles. So if you see a Fire Flower, you know something near by needs a little heat. Kind of takes a bit of the fun out of puzzles. Still, despite this, the power-ups are great, and the puzzles don't suffer much from it.

Mario also seems to be far more fragile than before. As far as I can tell, Mario's health bar will always have a maximum of three hits throughout the whole game. There is but one exception, and that's if Mario gets a Life Mushroom. Life Mushrooms double Mario's health to a total of six, but they have a few limitations. First, if you leave the level, it wears off. Second, if your health drops below four, the limit is reset and your maximum of health returns to three. Kind of an annoyance, considering Super Mario 64 featured a five-block health bar, and Sunshine upped the endurance to eight.

Don't worry about going swimming while hurt, as Mario's health bar is completely separate from his oxygen meter. Although if his oxygen wears out, his health will begin to dwindle.

There are a few minor issues with aiming in this game. When trying to launch a fireball or throw a Koopa shell, lining up your shot can be pretty difficult. If I had to guess, Mario can only face in about twelve directions, which can be a problem if your target is far away. This can also be related to the lack of adequate camera control. While the game does a fairly good job of managing the camera for you, I sometimes wish I could look over Mario's shoulder, as if standing behind him. That would help a lot with aiming projectiles.

The camera is somewhat positionable, thanks to the D-pad. However, each press of either left or right moves the camera by a fixed amount, instead of smoothly scrolling. This can cause some problems if you're trying to get the camera in just the right spot. Also, the game can be kind of picky about when you can and can't adjust the angle. At least there's the first-person view for checking out your surroundings, although even that is sometimes mysteriously forbidden.

Of course, as you've likely gathered from the above screenshots, Super Mario Galaxy is a freaking gorgeous game. First of all, take a look at those textures. No matter how closely you look at them, they never appear blurry. Today I stopped moving randomly, went into first-person view and looked at the ground beneath Mario. The textures may have been a little pixelated up-close, but they sure as hell weren't blurry.

Second, the lighting is absolutely amazing. Just look at that screenshot below. The lights shine on Mario and the Koopa shell perfectly, and the Bullet Bill torpedo in the background looks very metallic.

The lighting is absolutely amazing.

The reflections are also a work of art. I think the best example of this game's reflections has to be the hardened lava rock in the screen below.

The reflections on that lava rock are stunning

The trails of light on the lava rock move perfectly along with the camera. It's much more impressive in motion, but since most footage online is of such low quality, I suppose you'd be best off seeing it for yourself. But trust me, it's amazing.

Also, there seems to be no draw distance at all in this game, period. If something is really incredibly far away, it will still be rendered. So no matter how much space is between you and a Star Bit on another planet, waving your Wii remote over it will still bring it straight to your pocket. It just might take a while for the Star Bit to get to you!

And here's something really great: Fuzzy enemies actually LOOK fuzzy! Just take a look at that Monty Mole in the screenshot below.

You can actually see the individual hairs on the Monty Mole!

Each and every hair seems to have been rendered separately! No furry-looking texture or painted-on hair. It's actually fuzzy! The queen bee of the Honey Hive Galaxy is rendered the same way. Even the smaller Monty Moles have individual hairs! The attention to detail there just blows me away entirely.

The graphics in this game are absolutely mind-blowing. Definitely the best looking game yet on the Wii, and it even rivals some 360 games in terms of textures. A true beauty!

The music in this game is some of the best I've heard in any game for long time. Every level features what sounds like fully orchestrated themes, and some bonus Galaxies even have beautifully remixed classic tracks in the background. So far I've heard songs from Super Mario 64, Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, all redone amazingly well. Even the new music is pretty good, and it all goes together very well with the remixes.

The sound effects in Galaxy are also top-notch. Whether a box is being broken, a coin is being collected or an enemy is being defeated, each sound effect goes perfectly with the situation. The grunts and growls of the enemies all sound great, too. The Whomps are sadly silent, however, and that really let me down. I love their trademark "URRH!" from Super Mario 64...

Speaking of being a mute, the voice acting in Galaxy is sadly absent for the most part. Pretty much all you get is Mario's cheers and such, a few sentences from Princess Peach and about seven words from Rosalina. Come on, Sunshine had almost full voice-acting! Would it have been so much of a stretch to do the same for Galaxy?

Although voice acting quantity is low, what is there is of mostly high quality. Peach sounds just like she did in Super Mario 64, and Mario is, of course, simply brilliant. Martinet never lets us down!

Rosalina's voice actor seems to emote a little strangely, though. Whenever Rosalina does say something, the emphasis is sometimes misplaced.

And Bowser? Yeah, he just growls with subtitles. That's okay by me, however. He is of a different species after all.

What's that? Multiplayer in a Mario game? Yup, 'tis true. Although it's not what you might expect. First of all, it doesn't at all involve Luigi, as is usually required by NintenLaw. Instead, the second player plays a much smaller role, one that can easily be started and ended in the middle of a gameplay session.

Player 2 merely picks up another remote and helps collect Star Bits, stuns enemies and a few other minor things. It makes the job a little easier for player 1, and it can help the less gaming-inclined get in on the fun. It's pretty neat being either player in this situation. And I'd know, as I've played both first and second player. It's great that you can just hop in a screw around for a minute, then just leave without disturbing a thing. No load times, no mode change. Just pick up and join in. A great little addition.

And how long will this game last? Well, if I were to go downstairs and play right now, I could probably finish it off within about half an hour. After all, I have almost enough Power Stars for the final fight. But still, there's more than enough stars to go around, and I plan on collecting each and every one of them. If I were to speed-run through it on my first try, I suppose I could do it in about ten hours. But that's no fun if you're not enjoying the trip! If you want to take things at a decent pace and do a bit of exploring, expect this game to take you anywhere from 20 to 25 hours to beat the last boss. And, as with any Mario game, you'll want to go back and do it all over and over again. I know I will!


Story: 9.0/10
While it hasn't changed much from your basic "save the princess" storyline, Galaxy still has a pretty interesting narrative. Nothing epic or twist-filled, but a nice little story to move things along.

Gameplay: 9.8/10
It's all you could ever ask for in a Mario game, and then some. The gravity aspects are amazing, and the number of power-ups in simply mind-blowing. The Wii controls work perfectly to bring it all together. If only it was easier to aim and manipulate the camera...

Graphics: 10/10
Without a doubt the best looking Wii game yet. The textures are highly detailed, the lighting and reflections are beautiful, and each and every hair has been meticulously rendered on every Monty Mole and bee. Certainly the best looking game I've ever played.

Audio: 8.7/10
The music is great and the sound effects are beautiful. The voice acting is fairly skimpy, but what is there is mostly pretty nice. But really, shouldn't everything be spoken in games nowadays?

Multiplayer: 9.9/10
Being able to simply grab a Wii remote and join in on the fun is a great idea, and it's integrated so seamlessly into the main experience. It's great for non-gamers and little kids. Kind of annoying that the second player can directly influence Mario to jump, though.

Longevity: 9.4/10
Mario games have never been incredibly long, but they've always had such an amazingly extensive replay value. Galaxy is no exception to either of these rules. I'll be playing this for many weeks to come (At least until I get my Christmas games!).

OVERALL: 10/10
What? How can it get a ten if so many aspects scored below perfect? Simply because it's an amazing experience to be a part of. The controls all work perfectly with the game, and the power-ups are all real nice (Even the new ones!). Things are sometimes worth more than the sum of their parts, and Galaxy is just one of those things. Probably my favorite game I've played in a long, long time, if not my favorite game PERIOD. Galaxy is an absolute masterwork of game design, and no Wii gamer should be without it. This is the game that everybody's been waiting for, and it does not disappoint. Super Mario Galaxy is the reason you own a Wii.

The Duck Has Spoken.


WJUK said...

'Probably my favorite game I've played in a long, long time, if not my favorite game PERIOD.' - Agreed.

LipeCau said...

Bad, bad scoring.
Whether it deserves or not the final score the other attributes were badly pointed.
You can do better than that Duck.

PsychoDuck said...

@ lipecau:

I respect your opinion, however I felt I was pretty spot-on with the scoring. If anybody else would like to give this subject their two cents, it would be nice.

I appreciate all feedback, positive or not.

And glad you liked it, WJUK :)

The Duck Has Spoken.

Anonymous said...

i think they didn't include voice acting cuz it was terrible in sunshine. i don't think it would make sense either, maybe in metroid or zelda, but not in mario.

alexanderpas said...

Quick rating response after getting 98 stars (i've beaten bowser ;) )

Story: 9.0/10 (+1.0 bonus due to storybook.)
Gameplay: 9.5/10 (-0.5 camera penalty...)
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 9.5/10 (+0.5 retro classic placement bonus)
Longevity: 10/10


LipeCau said...

Oh, don't worry, you are not the only one doing it. The problem is the hype for this game, people see that it doesn't get a perfect 10 and even so review it as a perfect 10.

Edward "Gaga" Prado said...

I only saw one prob with your review....the multiplayer part..i honestly dont think it deserved a 9.9...come on who honestly is gonna be there with you just pointing at enemys for a while..

Unknown said...

You realize that Mario 64 had 8 blocks on its health bar, right?

Anonymous said...

Even though he had 8 blocks mostly all the hits mario took in 64 and sunshine took away like 2 0r 3 blocks

Anonymous said...

Pretty good review. SMG is my favorite game of all time. But I think your scoring failed in some areas... Multiplayer, Audio, and Longevity... but other than that good review.