Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: 2007
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
The idea behind Nintendo's Wii console has always been to provide fresh, new, innovative gameplay. On that front, Super Mario Galaxy is a solid winner. The controls are familiar to anyone who's played Super Mario 64, but with a brand new twist: the various levels of the game play with gravity in amazingly fun and creative ways, bringing a whole new dimension to 3-D gaming (that dimension being, obviously, the third, which was sorely overlooked in most other 3-D games).
All the classic elements of the Super Mario franchise are here. Mario, Bowser, Princess Peach (kidnapped), a host of toads providing a supporting cast, goombas, turtles that provide their shells for weapons when stomped, coins, 1-UP mushrooms, and objects like fire flowers that give Mario new abilities. It draws heavily on its background from Super Mario 64, the controls are mostly the same, using the analog joystick to walk/run, and various methods of jumping and summersaulting, including the wall-jump. 64's punching has been replaced with a spin attack, however, that kills some enemies but just knocks over most of them, and also has a few additional effects like extending jumps a little and providing a speed boost when swimming underwater. 1-UPs are plentiful, and only the most careless of players will ever find himself out of lives.
The levels are very large, many with hidden or at least non-obvious areas, although they are not mazes because of the generally open architecture. This is definitely a game that encourages exploration. The replay value of each level is high, which is good, since you'll be returning to most levels 3–5 times to collect additional power stars.
The wiimote controller is used in several interesting ways as well. Throughout the game you are called on to collect "star bits" (small jewel-like rocks) as well as coins, and the wiimote can be used to shoot these star bits at enemies by aiming it at the screen. Some strong enemies are immune to them but they stun most of the rank-and-file baddies. Star bits are also used as a sort of currency, giving them to friendly characters in exchange for useful items or access to new map areas.
Additionally, there are several special levels that work as a sort of minigame, such as a surfing race and a level where you run over goombas while balancing on a giant ball, that use the wiimote's motion sensing features.
But the real killer feature of the game is the gravity. You can run completely around on small planetoids in any direction, get yanked from point to point by pull stars that draw you toward them, climb underneath certain platforms, and even jump from planetoid to planetoid in some places. Some of the enemy bosses actually require you to climb around on them, and once in a while you can find yourself inside of a hollow sphere, which is really trippy. Not all of the levels have funky gravity, there are a few more standard levels that are no less fun for having a normal playing surface.
The difficulty of the game ramps up slowly but steadily, allowing you to get the hang of one feature before introducing a new one to you. Bowser appears three times in the game, and his levels are fiendishly difficult without being frustrating, drawing on many of the game's features and introducing new ones each time. Bowser's levels also find new and clever uses for gravity, requiring you to walk up walls and crawl around in ways that will tempt you to turn your TV on its side just to make sense of it all.
The camera tends to be the Achilles heel of most 3-D games, but the implementation is pretty good in Super Mario Galaxy. Most areas will let you move the camera around, but it won't move through a solid object, and the levels are typically wide-open spaces or even outer space itself, so there are very few places in which the camera can get stuck or provide a bad view of what's happening. There were only a couple of places I found the camera to be frustrating, it's really very polished and useful, and of course there is a first person view so you can look through Mario's eyes to get the lay of the land if necessary.
Super Mario Galaxy only gets challenging near the end, but it's incredibly fun throughout. The graphics are cartoony and colorful, the levels quirky and interesting, and the puzzles aren't too frustrating to figure out. Overall I give Super Mario Galaxy 5/5, and highly recommend it to anyone who's enjoyed the Mario franchise so far.