Super Mario Galaxy is joy and enchantment in gaming form; in the arms of gravity and aboard weirdly shaped planetoids, the Super Mario franchise reaches for interactive entertainment at its purest state
There has always been a certain level of surrealism to the Super Mario universe. After all, it takes some kind of non-rational and outrageous approach to game design in order to put together a world like the one where installments of the saga take place. That is, a realm where an army of sentient turtles tries to conquer a kingdom of anthropomorphic mushrooms led by a human princess only to always be inevitably stopped by a heroic slightly overweight plumber. It never quite made any sense, but – through generations – audiences have given Nintendo a thematic pass due to the countless hours of fun the incongruence has generated.
Nobody has ever really cared about finding sense in the series, because developers themselves, in the making of each new entry, have never had any commitment whatsoever to it; every addition to the Super Mario platforming canon is always exclusively bent on gameplay and fun, with all elements located on the outskirts of those goals being looked at as secondary assets. With those ideas in mind, it is easy to see why Super Mario Galaxy is not an unexpected turn, but a natural evolution of the franchise’s wild antics.
Super Mario Galaxy is, in a way, an amplification of those traits. By taking the character and his universe to space, Nintendo is effectively dynamiting the rules, regulations, and logic that bind our world; laws that have – to a degree – been respected in the construction of the levels Mario has tackled over the years. Therefore, Super Mario Galaxy, like pretty much all efforts of the Mario saga that preceded it, is not concerned with meaning or reason; differently from them, though, it does not care about earthly matters either.
Its scenarios do not need to resemble landscapes found in the floating rock humanity uses as a home, even if sometimes they are certainly inspired by those natural environments; and everything the game chooses to construct does not have to abide to objects, shapes, or forms one would deem as normal. With their focus on gameplay and fun, Mario games have always traveled light, a fact that has benefited them immensely. With its disregard for the mundane constraints of physics and geography, Super Mario Galaxy travels lighter than all its predecessors, and it is not shocking, consequently, that it surpasses them with some ease.
The game begins during the Star Festival, a celebration that takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom every 100 years. Its purpose is to celebrate the coming of a comet that sprinkles the land with magical stars. Peach sends Mario a letter inviting him over to the castle’s grounds, where numerous Toads are throwing one big party. Unsurprisingly, just as the mustachioed fellow arrives, Bowser appears, uses his airship armada to cause chaos and to lift the castle into space, and sets in motion a crazy plan for universe domination that somehow involves the creation of a whole new galaxy.
Mario tries to hang onto the airborne building, but Kamek appears and blasts him into oblivion through a wicked spell. The introduction is brief and steps on all charming clichés players have come to expect from the franchise; at the same time, though, the excellent music, gorgeous visuals, and breathtaking cinematics that accompany it do indicate very clearly that Super Mario Galaxy has a dash of grandeur that stands above those of other offerings of the series.
On what is an utterly shocking turn, such alluring value is not exclusive to the title’s technical aspects and gameplay component; it is also vividly present in its plot. Because although Super Mario Galaxy does boast a predictable opening, it goes on to present – in a way that is entirely optional – a flooring amount of emotional character development. And given how that element is intimately tied to the adventure’s central narrative, it plays a huge role when it comes to augmenting the script’s resonance, which is quite loud when compared to the franchise’s humble standards.
That beating heart comes in the shape of Rosalina, a young woman who greets Mario not too long after he awakes from the fall Kamek made him suffer. Along with celestial creatures called Lumas, who see her as a motherly figure, she lives in an outer space observatory; unfortunately, as it got caught up in the midst of Bowser’s attack, the place has run out of its main source of energy: Power Stars. Aware of Peach’s dire situation and also looking to restore her home, Rosalina vows to help Mario on his journey, as acquiring enough stars will allow the observatory to be fully operational again and for it to lead the hero to the villain’s hiding place.
It is a setup that gives birth to a progression style that is familiar to anyone who went through Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. In other words, the plumber will visit the game’s worlds – which here receive the name of galaxies – and he will clear platforming challenges within them, collecting stars that will open the way to new levels. Rosalina’s observatory holds six domes, and from within each of them a group of galaxies located in a specific portion of space is observed, including the local base of Bowser’s minions.
Gamers’ basic objective, then, is to unlock the galaxies of the area until they have enough stars to enter the villain’s headquarters, and when that level is beaten the next dome will be activated. As usual, that configuration is perfect for the wide audience that Mario games tend to embrace, because it allows one to customize the experience to better suit their needs. While veteran players can opt to comb all galaxies in a dome before moving on, newcomers can focus on getting the bare minimum of stars to reach the finish line.
Although it is suitable to compare the galaxies of the game to the worlds of its two 3-D predecessors, the analogy is not thoroughly accurate, because the approach taken in the construction of the levels is different enough to be notable. For starters, galaxies are, as a whole, far smaller. Furthermore, where in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine the worlds carried a fixed number of stars, in Super Mario Galaxy that amount varies.
Bigger galaxies, of which there are fifteen, tend to have three regular stars and a couple of secret ones; meanwhile, smaller galaxies, of which there are twenty-seven, usually only have one. This greater flexibility is yet another factor that helps Super Mario Galaxy be completely devoted to fun, because it allows developers to run free and create stages according to the will of their inspiration, whether it gives birth to worlds that are larger and encompass distinct challenges or more modest levels that are based around one idea that stands on its own.
Super Mario Galaxy, then, is an adventure that features forty-two stages built by some of the industry’s most imaginative minds whilst being given an astounding level of creative freedom. It is a premise appealing enough to catch the eye of the coldest of human hearts, but it gets even better. And that is due to yet another key distinction between the concepts of world and galaxy.
Out of the game’s fifteen bigger galaxies, some do resemble the worlds of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine in the sense that they are wide spaces where Mario is left to roam and explore. However, the vast majority of them, and of the twenty-seven single-star galaxies as well, take on a unique form: they are linear obstacle courses; a long series of platforming challenges that never cease to surprise, amaze, and enchant. As such, even though the trio of stars they generally contain does share the same overall visual theme and galactic location, they play so differently from one another that they might as well be considered separate levels altogether.
Depending on the star Mario is currently chasing, wild alterations will be executed all around the galaxy. In fact, these shifts run so deep that, in many stages, the only trait the three stars will have in common is the area from where the character starts his intergalactic journey. As a consequence, Super Mario Galaxy is embedded with total wildness; nothing, not even accumulated knowledge from other outings starring plumber, can prepare gamers for what they will encounter in the game.
Level designers explore the physical freedom and lack of rules found in outer space to come up with a pleasantly bizarre set of obstacles. There are planetoids that come in all shapes and sizes, and Mario travels between them as he is propelled through the sky by mighty launch stars. There are unexpected floating objects that house all sorts of enemies. There are dozens of awesome boss battles. And there are plenty of traditional elements of the Super Mario franchise, such as Goombas, Bullet Bills, pipes, familiar landscapes, and both old and new power-ups, all of which gain a refreshing aura thanks to the fact they are hanging out in space for some reason.
Often, the levels of Super Mario Galaxy look like gorgeous surrealistic works of art suspended high up in the air, and they come together to form wondrous gameplay segments. Mario traverses them with his standard array of moves; that is, an arsenal of jumps that are flawlessly responsive to the commands given by players. However, Super Mario Galaxy implements some additions of its own, and – in all of those cases – it chooses to employ the capabilities of the Wiimote to its advantage.
The most prominent of these inclusions is certainly a spin attack which is performed by shaking the controller and that is used to break objects, stun enemies, or gain some extra air time. Besides, players can use the Wiimote’s pointer to interact with special objects around the environment or shoot star bits into foes. This last item is very abundant around the stages, and it is valuable not only due to how the game awards Mario with an extra life whenever fifty are collected, but also because it can be exchanged for the unlocking of a handful of galaxies.
The effectiveness and simplicity of these moves is likely not to bother even those who are averse to motion controls. However, Super Mario Galaxy does hold a couple of mini-games – explored in four galaxies – where the Wiimote’s accelerometer comes into play; and although the commands do work, they may annoy those who prefer traditional control schemes.
Despite those added moves and the unbridled insanity of its level design, the defining trait of Super Mario Galaxy and the effect that supports the construction of most of its brilliant levels is gravity. It is that force that transforms all elements of the Super Mario franchise into refreshing new assets when they are taken into space. The developers at Nintendo clearly had a blast when thinking of how to use gravity in the creation of various platforming challenges, and the outcome – both in visual terms and in the aspect of sheer fun – is mesmerizing.
The most astounding ramification of that characteristic is that as Mario spends a good portion of the game traveling in absolutely uncommon perspectives, such as hanging upside down from a planetoid or having to vertically run up a wall while dealing with enemies and jumping over obstacles, the controls remain solid all the way through, revealing a level of polish that amazes, because in taking the action to such odd angles Nintendo could have easily encountered heaps of trouble in relation to the intuitiveness of the commands.
Super Mario Galaxy deserves enormous amounts of praise for a number of reasons. Its creativity is a mighty force that never stops yielding results. Its technical excellence is still jaw-dropping, as its colorful visuals remain wonderful and its amazing orchestrated soundtrack stands among the best of all time. And its reinvigoration of the Super Mario gameplay is absolutely noteworthy, for it breathes new life into the formula while giving it epic contours that had never come close to the franchise before it. The game is, nonetheless, not without a few punctual problems.
Firstly, some of its 120 stars feel too easy or undercooked, as they are gotten by clearing very straightforward goals; that issue, however, only affects at most half a dozen of the prizes. Secondly, the action is always followed by an automatic camera, and although it works very well in the adventure’s more linear galaxies and smaller planetoids (which comprise the vast majority of the game) in wide open spaces it can get stuck in weird angles.
At last, there are the prankster comets. These celestial bodies orbit galaxies every once in a while, and thirty of the game’s stars are obtained when they are around. What they do is execute some minor alteration in one of the galaxy’s stars: speedy comets have players tackle a speedrun, as they have to get to the prize before time runs out; daredevil comets challenge Mario to defeat bosses without taking damage; cosmic comets put the hero in a race against a doppelganger; fast-foe comets speed up the movement of enemies; and purple comets, which are the only kind to appear in every one of the fifteen biggest galaxies, have gamers collect 100 coins around the level.
Truth be told, designers generally knew when to use those comets, for they are applied to goals where their usage adds a layer of challenge or creativity. Nevertheless, the fact one-third of the game’s stars are related to them makes Super Mario Galaxy feel slightly thinner in content when compared to Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. Still, when full completion of the game can take over twenty hours, and when every one of those is immensely enjoyable, with some of the last stars posing massive challenges even to experienced players, it is hard to complain.
Super Mario Galaxy is joy and enchantment in gaming form. It has no commitment to sense; no concerns about logic; and no regard for the mundane. Its sole pledge is to fun, and by taking the elements of the plumber’s universe towards the vastness and insanity of space, Nintendo gave its developers total freedom regarding what kinds of levels to build and what sorts of mechanics to explore. Consequently, in the arms of gravity and aboard weirdly shaped planetoids, the Super Mario franchise reaches for interactive entertainment at its purest state.
It may not be perfect, but even the most avid players will have a hard time coming upon an adventure that produces surprises and moments of genuine awe with such uncanny consistency. Super Mario Galaxy succeeds in embracing all audiences and taking them into an outer space journey that feels epic, controls spectacularly, looks stunning, sounds like a grand symphony, and holds more gameplay ingenuity in its dozens of stages than many companies will ever get to put together in a lifetime.