Super Mario Galaxy

AMN’s Review Policy: Our reviews are written for you. Our goal is to write honest, to-the-point reviews that don’t waste your time. This is why we’ve split our reviews into four sections: What the Game’s About, What’s Hot, What’s Not and Final Word, so that you can easily find the information you want from our reviews.

What the Game’s About
Ten years ago, Nintendo did something remarkable. It translated its cherished Mario franchise from 2D to 3D, creating an instant classic. Indeed, Super Mario 64 is the benchmark that the Big N’s latest Mario title, Super Mario Galaxy, must measure up against. Making matters more unfair for Galaxy, it’s the first “true” Mario title in five years. Expectations are at an all-time high. However, Nintendo’s latest Mario title has no problem standing on its own two feet. Obviously, it’s not as groundbreaking as Mario 64 was a decade ago, but it shakes things up, nonetheless. Mario must traverse a new frontier: space. He’s platforming from planet to planet on a quest to save – can you guess it? – Princess Peach. But this time, the princess is in another galaxy. Along the way, he’ll explore unexpected worlds, use both new and old power-ups and encounter both familiar and not-so-familiar characters. And he’ll entertain you each step of the way.

What’s Hot
Super Mario Galaxy might not revolutionize the platforming genre, but it definitely takes it, flips it on its side and has as much fun with it as possible. The new premise – exploring galaxies and hopping from planet to planet – is admittedly a bit unorthodox for Mario. However, it turns out Miyamoto still knows what he’s doing. These three-dimensional objects (planets and otherwise) serve as Mario’s playground the majority of the time and come in an assortment of sizes, shapes and colors. Impressively, each is more brilliant than the last. Know this: the planet-to-planet gameplay is different from traditional Mario. But even so, it’s damned entertaining. Initially, Galaxy’s novelty is “pretty clever.” Soon enough, it becomes mind-bogglingly impressive. The level design here is often ingenious and always engaging. Galaxy subtly marries platforming with puzzles. And despite its kid-friendly appearance, Galaxy is anything but shallow. Oppositely, its depth can be appreciated by people of all ages. The gameplay here is smart, and thus it’s the kind of game anyone can enjoy.

At first glance, Mario Galaxy seems unconventional. That’s because it simply is. But Mario fans should rest easy. Galaxy eloquently mixes new with old in a way that few games have in the past. For every bizarre and alien mechanic introduced in Galaxy, there is something familiar you’ll want to hold close. Consider the power-ups the perfect illustration of this truth. EAD Tokyo has designed new, easy-to-love power-ups, but it has also revived fan favorites. It’s hard not to appreciate what the team has done. There hasn’t been a Mario game since the SNES with as many power-ups. But it’s not just the power-ups. The harmony between new and old is steady throughout Galaxy. The levels, characters, enemies, music – it’s the perfect equilibrium of old and new ideas that so many developers strive for.

Many Wii games struggle to balance the conventional with new-age when it comes to controls, but Mario Galaxy truly serves as a flagship example of how to make use of the Wii-mote without overdoing it. Many puzzles are designed around the controller. These are more often than not incredibly smart and thus rewarding. However, not all puzzles rely on the Wii-mote. There are just as many that employ less radical mechanics – the kind in line with the original building blocks of video game design. The dev has sparingly but effectively used the Wii-mote; the outcome is exceptional.

Mario Galaxy introduces a great sense of exploration to the franchise. There are over 40 different galaxies in the game, and what’s more, there are even more planets that wait discovery in each galaxy. Hands down, Mario Galaxy offers more variety in its environment design than many of today’s top games combined. In fact, it’s the forerunner in sheer level variety as far as Mario games go. We so badly want to tell you about the worlds you’ll see, but you’re better off seeing for yourself. You’ll thank us later.

It’s hard to nail down what it is exactly that Mario Galaxy does so well. In truth, it’s the combination of its many independent successes that amount to something great. The level design. The bosses. The music. The superb Wii-mote controls. The underlying formula, really. Whatever it is, the result is something that can be described as purely enjoyable.

What’s Not
For all the raving we’re doing, Super Mario Galaxy is not a perfect game. It has some imperfections that mar an otherwise delightfully entertaining voyage through space. There are two primary issues plaguing Galaxy, and consider them both equally important.

First, there is the camera, which is problematic because it doesn’t offer complete control. As a whole, Galaxy’s camera system is eerily similar to Mario 64’s – a system that’s now ten-years-old and showing its age. At times, you can control the camera with the D-pad, but there are just as many instances in which that control is robbed from you. When hopping around spherical objects, especially, the camera wonders and can end up in some unusual but rarely helpful positions. Sometimes, the camera angles are disorienting and make it difficult to control Mario. Additionally, although you can center the camera with a button press, a lot of the time, this results in camera angles that are somehow worse. These moments frustrate. Also concerning, we expect some will become nauseated by the whole spherical thing. Really, we can’t dock points because of this, but consider yourself warned if you’re the queasy type.

The second problem is the difficulty. The title starts off babying you – it’s easy. As it progresses, the difficulty begins to pick up, but by the time it becomes challenging, you will have close to 60 stars and the end of the adventure will be in sight. This sort of thing is rather fundamental, due in part to underlying gameplay design. However, the fact that we never saw a Game Over screen can be attributed to the profusion of 1-ups.

Lastly, while Galaxy is almost entirely superior to its predecessor, Super Mario Sunshine, we feel the new hub world is a step backwards. The overall personality is likable, but from a gameplay perspective, there are few secrets and surprises to discover.

Final Word
We don’t often get the chance to rave on and on about a game like this. Looking back, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve written some kind of hyperbole-filled press release for Super Mario Galaxy. However, this is a fantastic title that’s deserving of its enormous praise. There are some minor quibbles: the camera’s a nuisance, and the game’s over too fast because it’s a little too easy. However, despite these shortcomings, it’s nearly impossible not to celebrate the exceptional design that backbones Galaxy. This encompasses everything from the controls to the level design to the music – not to mention everything unconventional or traditional in between.

You can abridge Super Mario Galaxy with any adjective you like. Superb, ingenious, impressive, fantastic, terrific, awesome – they’re all good and more than appropriate. But the best one is the simplest of them all: fun. Indeed, Galaxy succeeds where it counts most. It’s all about fun. And that’s how it wins you over.

Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another five years for another Mario game of this caliber. But if we do, let Super Mario Galaxy serve as a reminder that the wait is worth it for Mario.

Ladies and gents, you have to play this game.