"Bloody hell, not another person heaping praise upon praise at Super Mario Galaxy!
" That's what you might be thinking, and in case you still haven't had enough hype to build up otherworldly expectations for when you finally get to play the game, I suggest you just close this webpage and just see for yourself whether the game is any good. I mean, heck, I'm just a silly Norwegian that thinks clubbing baby seals is a passable hobby for the whole family, what do I know? In any case, seeing for yourself instead of trusting some total stranger is always a good strategy whenever viable.
Anyway, perhaps we better get the few very minor complaints out of the way, so that they don't get lost. First of all, the camera still isn't quite what it should be. The game does its best to present the optimum angle, but when that doesn't quite work, it can be difficult to get the camera set properly. Heck, many places where you should be allowed to work the camera, you won't be.
Secondly, swimming is still boring and unwieldy. It helps with the new way you can hold a shell that will then move around much more swiftly, but that too is also rather unwieldy, especially when also trying to handle the camera.
And not exactly a complaint, but this game is not as toddler-friendly or newbie-friendly as Super Mario Sunshine. The latter can even be enjoyed to some extent (although limited to mostly the main town of Isle Delphino) by kids as young as 4 years old. Not so here. Even the first few star requires quite some hand-eye coordination that you're unlikely to have if you're younger than 8 or 9 years old.
But for anyone who knows how to play games, this game is... it's like pure, concentrated Fun with a lot of challenges for both casual and hardcore (or at least semi-hardcore) gamer alike. And it also seems a bit more grown up... Make no mistake, this is still a Mario game. It's just that from the opening movie where Bowser kidnaps Peach (again), you get the feeling that this is more serious than Super Mario Sunshine. And frankly, it is. I mean, Sunshine was also a great game, but the setting - Mario on vacation - made it just a bit too light-hearted. This time, Shigeru Miyamoto and company means business. And so does Bowser. Bowser is really evil again, the way he should be.
Apart from the opening movie, one of the first hints that we're treated to something different is the music. Because much of the time, this is seriously good stuff, and also stuff that sometimes could have felt euqally at home to an epic RPG story. The final boss battle tracks in particular are so grand, it became an effort to manage to play the game and listen to the music at the same time. Really, this stuff beats scores like "One Winged Angel" and the battle music against Ganon in any Zelda game you care to mention. If that's not a good surprise, I don't know what is. And of course, the occassional remix from SMB 1, 3, and Super Mario 64 will be thrown in. But the original scores - performed by an ensemble of musicians called Mario Galaxy Orchestra, just to drive home the point that they mean business here - are the aural stars in this game.
The gameplay itself is platform gaming reinvented. Again. I mean, there's no other way to describe it without showing it. You've probably seen the pictures, seeing Mario on some small round planet, but let me tell you, that's just the start of it. Gravity is in fact so important to this game, you'll be treated to a lot of variations on how you can fall off the edge. It's not easy to explain properly, and I'm not sure I should if I could, because that feels like ruining the surprise. A rather strange situation for a game reviewer...
Well, in general terms, from your base - an observatory built on a comet - you visit plenty of different galaxies. Each ordinary galaxy has 3 main stages, one "comet stage" (another hidden comet stage will become available after beating the game the first time), and one hidden star; and you'll be meeting lots of different challenges on each stage. There's also a lot of "bonus galaxies" containing one star, and of course boss galaxies where you meet up with either Bowser of Bowser junior. And here is something that all the victims of Sunshine's blue coins will appreciate: You will be able to find all 120 stars without having to to consult a FAQ even once
. As soon as you can actually get to it, the game tells you in which of the three missions you will the path to the hidden star, and that path is always meant to be found with just a little extra exploring. Of course, you'll still have to actually go through that path to eventually secure the Star, but that is in any case considerably more fun than spending frustrating hours going through every single stage over and over because you don't know whether or not there's a hidden star there.
And this time, there's more incentive to find all those stars than simply a different picture as the ending screen. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then better keep it that way. Let's just say that the slightly or more than slightly obsessive-compulsive will get some extra time out of this game.
Some of the "bonus stars" is in form of having to redo a stage with a different variable set in, determined by prankster comets that pass the galaxies every now and then. Sometimes
it's a time limit. Sometimes you have to fight a boss and you have only one point of energy. Then you'll meet Cosmic Mario who challenges you to a race. And finally, the Fast-Foe comet makes the enemies much faster. I can tell you that many of these challenges are really tough, and you're going to need some extra lives in handy if they're not easy to pick up on the stage itself.
Mario's modus operandi is to jump and to use his new multi-functional spin attack, and he's so damn good at it, I imagine lots of platform game developers playing this game to figure out how a seemingly simple control scheme can be so great (hint: It helps being accurate). Added to this he has several different outfits to help him. Bee Mario can climb honey walls and fly short distances, Boo Mario can pass through certain wall, etc. Not all of these are equally exciting to use, though. But on the other hand, the more boring ones also happens to come into play more seldom, so that's OK.
The controls for game with such stages will of course need to be very accurate, and there is naturally no disappointment there. In addition to moving, jumping, and spinning, you will also use the pointer to collect Starbits, which can be used to feed hungry Lumas (some sort of star-child) or be shot at enemies to stun them. This works much better than one would think, since you will want as many starbits as possible, and with some effort you can collect them while at the same time jumping ocstables and fighting enemies. It takes a bit getting used to, but the end result is one of the fastest and most enjoyable ways of collecting just about anything in any game.
A second player can also help you collect star bits by pointing his own Wiimote at them. And he can also help you with enemies. by pointing at them and grabbing them. This may not seem like much fun, but that depends on who the second player is. The aforementioned kids who wouldn't be able to get many of the stars in this game will have plenty of fun helping their gaming uncle succeed. And my nephew proved very helpful when I had to find the hidden star in the Freeze-Flame galaxy, holding off those nasty rolling boulders. It's not full multi-player, but it's quite functional in its way.
Graphically, the game is top-notch. Maybe not technically, but man, those enemies and stages - and Mario and Bowser, of course - are a triumph to visual design (in addition to good game design). And everything flows along so smoothly, with neither loading times or framerate drops happening. Of course, that's sort of expected by a Mario game, but since this is seemingly still not industry standard, it's worth mentioning.
So yeah, a game that makes the weird seem normal. A game that is simply good fun to play. A game with great design in every sense of the word, including the often overlooked design of hiding secrets. A game with some really great music. And a game that, when all's said and done, could only have been developed by the team led by Shigeru Miyamoto. What more is there to say, really?