VIDEO: The trailer for Super Mario Galaxy
David Ortiz. Tom Brady. Super Mario. What do the great ones have in common? They all elevate their game when it matters most. For Big Papi and the golden boy, that means clutch performances in big games. For Mario, it means saving his best stuff for his headlining roles. Sure, he’ll slum it in something like Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, probably for the paycheck. But once the word “super” is in the title, the man doesn’t mess around. We saw it earlier this year in Super Paper Mario, and now in Super Mario Galaxy he boldly goes where no mustachio’d plumber has gone before: outer space.
Super Mario Galaxy
| for Nintendo Wii | Rated E for Everyone | Developed by Nintendo | Published by Nintendo
The setting isn’t just a gimmick. Although the basic gameplay hews closely to the tenets established in the first Super Mario Bros — squash enemies, leap from platform to platform (preferably moving platforms), and power up prodigiously — the level design exploits the possibilities of 3-D space and shifting gravitational fields in a way that’s never been done before in a platformer. At its best, Super Mario Galaxy feels as liberating as the first three-dimensional Mario game, Super Mario 64. Only a few control issues and the somewhat tired goal of collecting power stars keep it from being as groundbreaking.
At least this time, the power stars are a logical extension of the game’s (admittedly paper-thin) plot. Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser and his minions yet again, and whisked away to the deepest reaches of space. In order to follow her, Mario needs to gather enough of those sweet, sweet stars to power a spaceship. That means dashing from one ludicrous star system to another. Although each galaxy is nominally composed of stars and planets, series staples like the Ghost House make appearances. It’s a little strange to see a haunted house orbiting in deep space, but I guess it’s no sillier than the idea that eating a flower gives you the ability to conjure fire.
The best levels consist of numerous smaller planetoids — these are the galaxies that really explore the studio space. It’s a hoot to jump from one surface and get caught in the gravitational pull of a nearby celestial body. These sequences can also get a bit trippy, as Mario can run 360 degrees around most surfaces — you may find yourself turning your head trying to stay oriented. It’s to the game’s credit that the controls mostly work during these sequences. Occasionally your brain and the Wii may not agree on the meaning of your control-stick input, but this rarely rises above the level of a minor annoyance.
A few sequences that take advantage of the Wii remote’s motion sensitivity show mixed results. One superb level has Mario balanced on a ball; your task is to hold the remote upright and tilt it ever so gently to navigate a narrow and treacherous path. It’s an excellent use of the technology. The same cannot be said of the aquatic controls, which are a nightmare. Sometimes Mario swims, whereupon your attempted precise maneuvers, such as turning to pick up a nearby coin, handle with all the finesse of a shopping cart. And in “Ray surfing” mini games, dynamic wave physics make a monster out of inertia. It’s a misguided feint at realism in an otherwise fantastic game.
But Super Mario Galaxy is the Wii’s most successful marriage of the action-adventure mechanics that hardcore gamers crave with the effortless, pick-up-and-play style Nintendo hopes will appeal to casual players. Procuring any one star takes only minutes, but with 121 to collect, it’s easy to sink hours into a single session. Easy, and a whole lot of fun.