Super Mario Galaxy
6th Nov 2007 | 08:00
We can't think of a game from the last 12 months that has made us smile as much as Super Mario Galaxy. Whether it's the utterly charming barks of bouncing Chain Chomps, the whimsical banter of the cutesy space bees or the downright awesome flights from one exploding planet to another, Super Mario Galaxy oozes charm and guarantees to please almost anyone.
Galaxy's use of the Wii Remote is flawless as it doesn't make the mistake of throwing motion control in your face. The game simply wouldn't be as fun without it. Things like firing a cannon is a lot more intuitive using the Wii Remote, but the most obvious utilisation of the controller is the cursor, which you can dart around the screen at all times to collect Starbits (used to unlock several 'mini-game' galaxies) and them fire them back at the screen using the B trigger.
The main means of interaction in Galaxy is through shaking the Remote, which executes Mario's new spin attack. Punch and kick moves have been axed for this new means of interaction, which makes sense, as it's incorporated in the gameplay for tasks like activating cannon-like launch stars and swinging up vines. Thankfully it's not just another example of dodgy Wii 'waggle'.
Grapple stars are perhaps the most brilliant example of Galaxy's Wii Remote use. Using the remote cursor you simply aim and press A to home Mario in on the stars, allowing you to 'grab' and hop between lines of them like grapple points, all the while dodging space mines and projectiles. It's incredibly satisfying and is the set-up for some fantastic racing sequences later on.
Galaxy also plays around with gravity and physics like no Mario game before it. You'll flip gravity to navigate giant block mazes, use a planet's gravity to propel yourself to a new platform and shoot into the stars. It's not as revolutionary as Mario 64, but it certainly re-defines what we expect from a 3D platformer.
The concept of running around giant spheres can be daunting at first; if there's no pulsating black hole underneath your planet, falling off the edge just doesn't come into the equation. Without the pulling power of the black holes, no matter where you run or jump gravity will twist and pull you towards the planet, allowing you to run all the way around it and even jump to other planets by hopping into their gravitational pull. It's awesome.
If you're on a flat, orbiting platform you can run right underneath it, which opens up all kinds of gameplay that would be impossible under Mario 64's laws of gravity - and allows the scale of Mario's playgrounds to grow to genuinely draw-dropping proportions.
Shooting off into the stratosphere in one of Galaxy's many willy-waving cinematic moments, there were actual gasps at the beauty and scale of the starry world around us. The void-ish nature of Galaxy's world means Nintendo has been able to spend polygons liberally on the environment and it's easily the most draw-dropping game on Wii. And yes, we do mean draw-dropping.
Just like Mario 64 the game takes place in a hub world, this time around a starship headed up by space-age princess Rosalina and her race of Lumas (they're the little star blokes). Predictably, the Lumas need you to get collect stars to get their ship up and running again so you can chase down the star-bound Bowser. There are 120 to collect - many hidden - and it'll take you about as long as '64 to collect them all (and that's a good few hours).
After the disappointingly similar environments of Sunshine there's thankfully a much larger variety of worlds this time around too. Amazingly, despite the fact there are now only three "story" stars to collect per world, Galaxy's playgrounds aren't all pint-sized either (although there are one-off "platforming" worlds - which are rock hard and bloody brilliant).
We were delighted to find that the majority are as big - if not larger - than the locales of Mario 64, and unlike Sunshine many will make you smile like the time you first dived into the pirate cove in Mario 64.
It's a consistently surprising experience and we wouldn't dare spoil it for you, but Galaxy will take you places that will remind you why you play videogames.
One world we will speak about (because you've probably already seen it several times) is the bee Galaxy, where Mario finds one of the game's many transformations and becomes Bee Mario.
After Sunshine we thought Nintendo wouldn't ever be able to add new characters and environments to Mario without them feeling out of place, but Galaxy has thankfully proven us wrong. The buzzers and honeycomb world of the bee Galaxy are some of most charming we've seen in a long time, and we absolutely demand that the bees crop up in more Mario adventures.
It's a perfect example of how Nintendo doesn't need to re-write (all) the rules to make a fresh-feeling 3D platformer. As Bee Mario you can fly upwards for several seconds, step on flower platforms and climb honeycomb walls. Touch water however and you'll instantly transform into regular fat Mario - so you can imagine the fun when Nintendo's level designers come in and slap waterfalls and lakes all over the place.
But Galaxy's real success is in its ability to surprise, which it does consistently from start to finish. Just when you think Nintendo's out of ideas you're blasted off to another world that's even crazier and more creative than the last.
When Mario launches off at eruption-point from the surface of an orbiting Volcano, jetting into the stars with starbits dancing at his feet, we dare any fan of videogames not to crack a smile. And at a time when gamers are shelling out 400 quid for the "next-gen" experience, it's incredibly refreshing that the Wii can still offer some truly amazing gaming moments.
Nintendo said all along that it went for gameplay over graphics with Wii. But with Mario Galaxy it got both perfect. Not only is Galaxy a worthy successor to one of the best games ever made, but it's one of the most entertaining platform games we've ever played.