Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wii review: Super Mario Galaxy

As with practically every other Mario title in existence, Super Mario Galaxy sees Bowser kidnap Princess Peach, albeit in a more grandiose scale than usual. During a festival, Bowser sends his entire Armada against the Mushroom Kingdom and uproots Peach's castle, intent of taking the princess to the center of the universe to serve alongside him as ruler of a brand new galaxy. As Bowser's force easily overwhelms Mario, he drifts unconscious through space until he is picked up by a woman named Rosalina, who is the adoptive mother of a race of tiny stars known as the Luma. Rosalina explains that Mario will need to help her reactivate the different parts of her ship by collecting Grand Stars, most of which have fallen under the control of Bowser's forces. Once Mario retrieves a total of sixty stars, the ship will be capable of travelling to the center of the universe where Peach awaits.

In the same vein as Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy does not require Mario to complete every challenge in a particular stage in order to progress to the next. Instead, he simply needs to acquire a certain number of stars to unlock the next galaxy as well as the boss galaxy found in each section of Rosalina's ship. As he progresses further in the game and unlocks more galaxies, he is granted more freedom in how he tackles the challenge of collecting those sixty stars. Some galaxies are host to bonus stars, but aside from the boss encounters, galaxies are divided into two groups - standard galaxies, which are host to at least three stars a piece, and bonus galaxies, which only house a single star but are generally more challenging and require Mario to complete a race, run a gauntlet, or perform some other comparable task.

Though the bonus galaxies present amusing distractions from the main focus of the game, the majority of the standard galaxies feel somewhat less-than-inspired. As successor to Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy opts for a number of small planets in each galaxy, with one or two puzzles found on each. Mario progresses from one to another rather quickly, making the focus of the game incredibly linear and streamlined, sacrificing much of the sense of discovery and adventure found in other 3D Mario titles. While each galaxy is host to a certain theme - desert, lava, haunted mansion, underwater, etc. - most feel like missed opportunities, and Nintendo could have fleshed out many of the planets to become more memorable and fully-realized worlds. Also, there are a handful of planets that are recycled during later portions of the game, with little more than a mirrored layout, different environment textures to distinguish them. While these are host to different star challenges than the levels they were copied-and-pasted from, the process feels lazy on Nintendo's part. While some of the formulas for boss fights are revisited, these feel generally more creative than the planets, and present a good balance of fun and challenge factor.

The Wiimote's motion controls are incorporated into the gameplay rather well, on the whole. They aren't as outstandingly smooth as in other first-party releases like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption or The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but considering that Super Mario Galaxy was a relatively early release for the Wii, this aspect is forgivable. However, there are occasional attempts to have players hold the Wiimote in different ways in order to traverse certain areas and complete puzzles. Often, these are highly unorthodox in the way they are handled, and feel clunky when compared to the core gameplay of jumping and spin attacks.

While they can still help Mario recover health, coins serve no other apparent purpose, as Star Bits are now the currency of the realm. Mario's collection of Star Bits in each stage compounds in the hub world, and can be fed to certain pink Lumas to access bonus galaxies. Collecting fifty of them will grant Mario a new life, and there are even a few Lumas strategically placed just prior to boss fights that will give him the option of paying a small fee of Star Bits to gain either another extra life or a temporary boost to his defense. What proves rather annoying is the fact that, regardless of how many lives Mario gathers during his adventures, the number is reset to the default of four lives each time you quit the game. While it is true that this Mario game is lacking much of the challenge presented in other 3D Mario releases, it seems silly that the game would not reward you for having worked to collect those extra lives and, in fact, does the complete opposite.

Despite having been originally released in 2007, Super Mario Galaxy is one of the more impressive looking releases on the Wii. Not all of the textures are up to par with recent Wii releases, but the lighting plays off colorful environments beautifully, and Bowser looks the most mean and intimidating he has in years. The soundtrack is surprisingly epic for a Mario game, but is quite fitting considering the epic space adventure theme that the game is playing toward. The backstory of Rosalina and the Lumas is presented in brief chapters sprinkled throughout, and though the storybook format lacks substance, it certainly holds a unique charm and does well to avoid distracting the flow of the core gameplay. Super Mario Galaxy is notably easier than most other entries in the franchise, and the challenge factor will seem even lower to fans of 3D Mario games.

My rating: 7.75 (out of 10)

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