A lot of people have been waiting a long time for this game. Some, since the day they collected the final star in the revolutionary Super Mario 64. Some have waited since their watery adventure in Super Mario Sunshine five years ago. Others have been excited since the announcement of Mario’s Wii incarnation. How ever long it’s been, Super Mario Galaxy has been worth the wait – this is Nintendo doing what they do best.
Princess Peach’s castle has been lifted into space by Bowser and his minions, who’ve been using power provided by stolen stars to form an intergalactic army. It just so happens that these stars also power a floating space observatory maintained by the enchanting Rosalina, who promises to take Mario to Peach once enough stars have been collected. It’s this observatory that provides the game’s hub, and while it isn’t as fun to explore as Peach’s castle it does feel more alive with new characters appearing and Toad mail couriers occasionally presenting you with gifts from the Princess herself.
Nintendo has always been coy when talking about the technical power of the Wii, but this is the first game to show that the console is more than just a GameCube in a slimmer case. Shiny special effects are thrown all over the place, with transparent Mario and the furry bees of the Bee Kingdom being particular highlights. Character animation is silky smooth in typical Mario fashion. The most impressive thing though is that Nintendo has remembered that Mario is all about simple, pure, platforming. As fine and dandy as Ratchet & Clank and its ilk are, they stopped being platformers and became more adventure orientated affairs a long time ago.
Remember the floating retro-style platform sections from Sunshine? Pretty much all of the 40-plus themed galaxies Mario visits are formed in the same way, each requiring a blend of speedy reflexes and perfect timing, with most offering something new to play with. There are free-roaming sections too, but nothing as vast as, say, the legendary Bob-Omb Battlefield. Most galaxies have three stars to collect but what’s surprising is how the levels change on your second or third visit – we’re talking new start points, or entire new sections to explore. Later comets appear that provide more challenges on previously completed levels such as time challenge missions and races. The fact that each level is floating in space plays a big part – you can run completely around mini-planets in a full circle and if you miss a vital jump you’ll often end up being sucked into a black hole.
Let’s not forget that the game has been built around the Wii Remote too. Mario’s main attack is now a spin, performed by shaking the Wii Remote, but you can also collect star bits and fire them off to send enemies gyrating. There’s a Monkey Ball style section where the remote has to be held upright like an old fashion joystick, and also a top-down quest where Mario is trapped in a bubble that you can propel by moving a cursor and holding down the A button to blow him on his way. There are stretchy things to grab and pull to propel Mario into the air as well and one fiddly sting ray race aside it all feels completely natural. You could argue that the spring suit – which makes Mario bounce into the air to reach new areas – is a bugger to control but that’s exactly the point.
Although exploring new galaxies is always a pleasure, the difficultly level is rarely challenging. The likes of Tick Tock Clock and Rainbow Ride in Super Mario 64 were fiendishly difficult, but here even later bosses can be defeated on the first or second go and if you aim for the bare minimum star count required to finish the game (sixty of the blighters), experienced gamers should have no trouble finishing it in around ten hours. If that’s your goal though then you’re going to miss out on the good stuff, and there’s certainly a lot of that here – from old faces making surprise appearances to joyful remixes of old Mario music. But that bee suit? Seriously, Mario – it does you no favours.