Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but Super Mario Galaxy managed to stay beneath my radar until the first round of reviews started coming in, a week or so before its retail release. Maybe it was caution after Super Mario Sunshine or the stacked end of year release schedule that distracted me. Maybe it was the abstraction of the visuals which looked great but didn’t really set any expectation of how the game would play.
Regardless, Super Mario Galaxy has arrived and can comfortably be considered one of the best games Nintendo has ever made. If its Metacritic score holds steady, it will be critically recognised as the greatest game of all time.
In the Super Mario Brothers platforming canon, Galaxy really shares a similar lineage to Super Mario Bros 3 on the NES. Super Mario Bros and Super Mario 64 both set the gameplay foundations for 2-D and 3-D platforming games respectively and then their sequels Super Mario 2 USA and Super Mario Sunshine strayed from the formula while not quite capturing the magic or adulation of their predecessors. Super Mario Bros 3 then went back to basics for 2-D gaming, focusing on simpler game mechanics but then going for broke with its creative level design and variety of power-ups. Now Super Mario Galaxy does the same for 3-D Mario platformers. Nintendo Tokyo have hit a creative high point with this game, with levels that consistently enthrall and gameplay that strips away the jetpack introduced in Sunshine and maximizes the possibilities introduced with the Wiimote.
The presentation of the game is almost enough to end the jibes at the Wii’s performance capabilities single handedly. The levels in Super Mario Galaxy are vibrant and there is plenty of visual flair in the characters from the tiniest bugs buzzing around Gusty Garden to Bowser himself. Ratchet & Clank for the Playstation 3 often gets praise for looking like a Pixar film, but Super Mario Galaxy will make you feel like a kid in a classic Disney film. The decision to use an orchestratal score is a pleasant surprise and adds immensely to the feel of the game. There are both excellent re-imagined versions of classic Mario themes as well as new tracks which are also very evocative.
More than anything though, Super Mario Galaxy is about play. Galaxy’s puts you through exhilerating gaming moments, one after the other, with a carefree ease that few other games can hope to match. Super Mario Sunshine was dogged for its repetition in both gameplay and design and Nintendo have addressed this in spades. In Super Mario Galaxy, each world is visually unique and there are a variety of different play mechanics. Occasionally, the underwater controls can be frustrating but the rest of the game handles like a dream.
The biggest hook with Galaxy was revealed very early in the game’s previews but its not until you get your hands on the controller that you can appreciate the affect that the gravity has on the game. It allows for level designs not seen before, Mario games or otherwise. Nintendo’s talent really shines through when you’re navigating Mario in this game. At times, you’ll be tearing through a level, simultaneously taking out enemies, avoiding projectiles and negotiating changing gravity but it never gets frustrating because the controls handle perfectly, the goal is always clearly signposted and the camera viewpoint (which isn’t really controlled by the player) is virtually never intrusive.
Super Mario Galaxy punctuates a very lean year for Nintendo when it comes to the quality of software on the Wii but who can complain when this game stands shoulder to shoulder with Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World in terms of quality. If this is a sign of things to come, expect Nintendo’s amazing resurgence and subsequent domination of the console hardware market to continue for years to come.
Summary : An unexpectedly brilliant and inventive 3D platformer that looks gorgeous and is amazing fun to play. The greatest game on the Wii and one of the best games you'll play all year.