Whereas Super Mario 64 was a revolution, and Super Mario Sunshine was a logical extension of its predecessor (with a hovering, rocketing, blasting, water cannon), Super Mario Galaxy takes a full stride in a bolder direction. And that direction is up… or down, or sideways, or wherever the force of gravity happens to be pulling. The key innovation in Galaxy is that any surface or object can have its own gravitational pull. The first time you step foot on a small planetoid and “Little Prince” your way around its circumference in any direction, you realize that something new has been brought to the world of Mario.
The technical execution of this new feature is next to flawless. Dashing around a tiny world, you can long jump and sort of live out Isaac Newton’s mountaintop cannon thought experiment, though I have not been able to launch Mario into stable orbit. The game designers took this new freedom with gravity and gave it a thorough exploration. Mario can high jump from one floating island and be caught in the gravity of another above him; gravity can change directions as you cross from one colored surface to another; hitching a ride on a flying cube, Mario can dash onto any of its six sides to avoid obstacles and enemy attacks.
With a little help from my friends
The other major innovation is the co-op functionality. My brother and I are always eager for co-op games. The cooperative experience is not very deep with Galaxy, but it works well in our case; I love platforming and “driving” Mario, while he is generally content to take in the sights, point out things I’m missing, and utilize his set of actions. Using the wiimote, the the main things a co-op player can do are:
- Collect star bits (little spiky sweet tarts) used to feed hungry Lumas (star creatures that will “TRANS-FOOOOORM!” into gateways to other worlds)
- Shoot star bits at enemies
- Freeze enemies or certain platforms in place
- Cause Mario to jump or spin in mid air, and perform a special super jump timed with the primary controller
In terms of battling through the game, the co-op player makes the going much easier. You’ll never want for star bits if your partner is doing their job – collecting them could be quite tedious otherwise. The management of enemies is also a great plus; I can navigate difficult areas while my brother holds pesky foes in place with his wiimote, or knocks them around with star bits. The game uses giant Bullet Bills quite a bit, making you guide them to certain locations to blast openings for yourself. Such a process is ridiculously easy when the co-op player can freeze the flying bullet at any time. Disintegrating platforms, spiky platforms, and certain enemy projectiles are also freezable – further smoothing your path.
Every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man
Along with gravity and co-op play, Galaxy brings back the “suit” paradigm (from Super Mario III, I believe) wherein Mario can don different costumes to acquire new abilities (albeit limiting himself in other ways). Here is a quick rundown of the suits and related gear:
- Bee suit: Mario can hover/fly for a limited time and stick to special honeycombed surfaces.
- Ice suit: Mario can walk across water by turning it into hexagonal patches of ice; wall-jumping between adjacent waterfalls is also possible.
- Fire suit: Similar to obtaining the fire flower in the original Super Mario Bros, the plumber can toss fireballs.
- Spring suit: Mario acts as a coiled spring, constantly bouncing and able to leap to huge heights.
- Bubble: Mario becomes enclosed in a bubble and you navigate maze-like areas by propelling him with gusts of air. Having the co-op player blast mines with star bits is very useful for these scenarios.
- Ball: Mario balances on a large sphere and rolls his way through obstacle course levels.
- Manta Ray: Mario runs a timed raced through a twisting, wavy water course on the back of a manta ray.
- Turtle Shell: Grabbing a shell, Mario can motor underwater much faster than his painfully slow swimming speed.
- Red star: Mario can fly.
Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again
I found that as much as I enjoyed the game, I missed the sense of intimacy that the previous 3D Mario titles provided. No, I don’t mean cuddling in bed with Mario on a lazy Sunday morning. I mean that the areas/levels in the earlier games had a sense of consistency to them. You became familiar with the world you were exploring, and it would be abundantly clear if the environment had changed between stars (e.g. a shallow area flooded, the activation of a tower of platforms, etc). Added to that would be the surprise you felt if you stumbled upon some secret that had been hiding from you along a well-trodden path.
With Galaxy, most levels are quite literally fragmented. You’re hopping from planet to planet, sailing around on pull stars and launch stars, walking upside down and sideways, star bit meteors are falling, and your co-op player is buzzing enemies in place and firing star bits all over the screen. Sometimes gravity is centered on the object you’re standing on, and sometimes it’s just vanilla straight down – the difference isn’t always obvious. Added to this is your relative lack of camera control and several unfortunate camera angle choices by the game. If I hadn’t been playing video games all my life, I’d be curled in a shuddering ball with major information overload.
One thing I didn’t particularly like about the co-op play was that the secondary player has the ability to make Mario jump – even inadvertently. So while you’re running around a hectic area, and your partner is flinging his cursor all over the screen, you may suddenly find yourself airborne without having hit the A button. The co-op player can also make Mario spin in mid-air – this can provide a useful save, or it can disrupt the timing of your own spin jump. Fortunately we didn’t have too many problems with this feature during our climb to 120 stars.
As I’ve laid out here, the game is so much more frenetic and disjointed than Mario 64 or Mario Sunshine. But what you lose in consistency, you gain in variety. I’m not sure that the co-op experience would work (or have any sort of challenge) if you weren’t continually covering new ground on screens chock full of action. I realize I’m making Galaxy sound like a pinball machine on steroids (and sometimes it is), but there are plenty of “chill” moments. It’s just that the overall bandwidth, if you will, of the game is so much higher than the Marios of yore.
Oh, and one quick note: NINTENDO, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GIVE US THE ABILITY TO SKIP DIALOGUE BOXES!!!1!!! Instead of watching the text type out, I want to hit A, have it instantly print the whole thing, then hit A again to go to the next segment of text. You’ve been making cutting-edge games for, what, 20 years? You can make every object in your game have its own gravitational force, but you can’t fast forward text?</rant>
The kids are alright
We beat the game last night (well, around 1AM this morning) with a full 120 stars. To do this you need to:
- Beat the game, unlocking the (15?) purple coin challenge comets
- Beat the purple comet levels (along with any stars you missed from before)
- Beat Bowser again
- Sit through the end cut scenes and credits again
- See some brief new content where you eventually get to play as a new character.
I was very impressed with the purple coin challenges because each one felt like it had been hand-crafted. You have to collect 100 purple coins, but there are only a few instances where you need to play the sort of hide-and-seek game that Mario fans are familiar with. This post is way too long already so I won’t describe the specifics of the purple comet trials, other than to say they are fun, challenging, and creative.
All in all, Galaxy looks great of on a 50″ plasma over a component connection. The visuals are captivating, the sound effects very satisfying, the story is neat, the technical execution is near flawless, and the game is fun as hell. We may run through it again using the new character – though that’s a lot of work for what I’m sure will be a very brief cut scene. Playing the game with my brother added a social component that increased the overall enjoyment, more so when you include the advice and wry comments of his fiancée, looking up from her crocheting to take in the action. The Mario franchise has come through for me again and all I can say is: YAHOOOOOOOO! 9.5/10