Super Mario Galaxy - WII - Preview 2
E3 2007 Preview
Super Mario Galaxy: the game everyone wants but rarely gets to see. Unveiled with a trailer and a short demo at last year's show, 2007 brought new gameplay footage from the Game Developers Conference. It's been 14 months since Nintendo gave the press their first taste of the game, so the big question is: can the game live up to what we've already played? Does the new demo rock, and when will the world finally get to play the finished product?
The answers are: yes, yes, and November 12.
I was impressed last year -- now I'm blown away. Hands down, Super Mario Galaxy has the best auto-controlled camera I have ever experienced in a video game, from any generation. Its strength comes from its depth, mechanical simplicity, and never-ending consistency.
You already know that Galaxy's worlds are comprised of several dozen planet-like areas that Mario can explore from any angle. It looks cool, for sure. But it feels unbelievable -- like the first time you played Mario 64, but with a shorter learning curve.
That right there is what surprised me the most. I had heard going into the demo that it would take a little time for the game to feel natural. But after the first 60 seconds, I felt like a pro. You can walk across these objects, jumping and moving from angles that I've never even dreamed of, and the controls stay perfect the entire time. Likewise, the camera doesn't fail -- at all! I tried to explore each sphere as thoroughly as possible, and as I walked on the side that's pointed toward the camera, Mario is literally upside down from my view. I jump, stomp on a Goomba, and continue on my way as if I were playing on a flat stage.
The camera is also very good at shifting on-the-fly to dynamically wrap around a sphere with a steeper drop, where the view is intentionally (and only partially) blocked from the player. This is to give the illusion that you will fall off the sphere when circling around its outer rim, which you won't...yet. There will be at least one part of the game where you'll encounter a black hole. Jumping over it won't work if the hole is big, so your best bet is to find solid ground and walk around it. Not a very difficult thing to do, but you'll likely fail to notice the hole and fall in on your first time through the level.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Piranha
Remember the giant egg from the GDC trailer, the one that housed a giant piranha? That boss battle was one of the four playable stages presented in the demo. During this stage Mario must perform his new spinning punch attack (shake the Wii remote) to anger the trapped monster. His tail is his weak spot. Whack it once and his tail will lift up and bash the shell to show the world what was hidden inside. Now the piranha -- whose body is shaped like a dinosaur -- comes charging at Mario, looking very hungry as he opens his mouth for an attack. Escaping his wrath wasn't easy, but if you've played Mario 64, defeating him won't pose much of a challenge. Two or three tail whacks and he's done.
Once again the camera work is impeccable. You'd think that having a large monster on screen might interfere with the player's view of the world or the view of Mario, but it doesn't. The game just becomes more dynamic. As a journalist I spend a lot of time critiquing every aspect of a game. But I know that when I get this game home on November 12, I'll quickly forget about all the praise-worthy elements and just be 100% immersed in these groundbreaking worlds. Galaxy isn't innovative for its controls -- they're essentially the same as Mario 64 but with Wii remote shaking and item catching (you can use the remote to snatch certain pickups, or have a friend join in to do it for you with a separate remote). But these levels are nothing short of the greatest achievement in action/adventure level design since Mario 64 was released in 1996.
Ask anyone what their favorite 2D Mario game is and you're likely to receive one of two responses: Mario World or Mario 3. When Mario 3 is chosen, the gamer usually follows up with praise for the strange-but-addictive frog suit. It sounds a bit odd, doesn't it -- a plumber in a frog suit. But it added dynamic gameplay to the mix.
Galaxy does the same with at least two new suits: a bee suit and a Boo suit! The latter looks fantastic but was only shown in video form. It appears that Mario will get the chance to haunt his enemies as they once haunted him.
The bee suit, however, was fully playable and was slightly reminiscent of the bee transformation in Banjo-Kazooie. As Bee Mario, players can hover up to large platforms that are too high to reach through other means, and jump and hover to platforms that are far away. He can also climb honeycombs and any object that can be gripped, such as a giant mother bee who wants you to collect a series of triangular shapes to form a star. This star is not a finishing piece to end the game, but rather a Mario-launcher that will send him across galaxies.