Super Mario Galaxy

BY Ed Kirchgessner  //  November 29, 2007

The world's most recognizable plumber returns.


ave you ever caught yourself humming a video game's theme song as you made your way down the street? If you have, shame on you for your embarrassing habit; if you haven't, it's probably because most aren't that catchy. Sure, the Zelda theme has a certain ring to it. The music from Top Gun is also pretty notable, but since it was originally composed for a motion picture, I don't really think it counts. No, there really aren't that many catchy tunes to be found in the world of video games – except for that one. I have a sneaking suspicion that when Koji Kondo composed his soundtrack for the original Super Mario Bros. back in the early eighties, he had no idea how great an impact Miyamoto's masterpiece would have on the world of video games. Yet here we are twenty-two years after that title's release, and people are still whistling those catchy tunes. Of course, they're also still playing the games.

It's-a him! Mario!
Super Mario Galaxy is the latest installment in one of Nintendo's oldest franchises. After the series' departure from its traditional play elements on the GameCube (as great as Sunshine and Luigi's Mansion were, they were more spin-offs than sequels), Miyamoto brings us back to square one with Galaxy. Even during its very first level, one immediately recognizes this as a Mario game – all the pieces are there to make any fan of the 8-bit classic feel right at home. Of course, Miyamoto wasn't resting on his laurels for this one either. Bowser returns yet again, but he's accompanied by some of the most innovative levels and controls that the series has ever seen.

Galaxy sports what are in my opinion the most accessible controls to be found in a Mario game since the series' move to 3-D back in 1996. Even though Mario has a wealth of moves at his disposal, a mere two buttons control most. Whereas some Wii games overwhelm players with a bevy of Wiimote motions and waggles to memorize, Galaxy excels by keeping things simple. Shaking the Wiimote activates Mario's spin attack, while pointing it at the screen allows for the control of a star-shaped cursor that can pick up objects or manipulate pieces of the environment. Players may find themselves fighting Galaxy's camera every so often, but I'm doubtful they'll find anything to fault with the game's near-perfect controls.

A single word sums up Miyamoto's decision to set this latest Mario game in the stars: brilliant. No other locale offers so many possibilities for exploration in three dimensions. It's hard to express how amazed I was the first time the camera zoomed out to reveal the curvature of the ground Mario was standing on – I was even more impressed when Mario leapt from that planetoid onto one nearby. Miyamoto plays with gravity, perception and scale in ways that no game developer ever has before. Even though a handful of the game's levels are more traditional in design, most of these lead to wide open expanses that are a pure joy to explore. Players may notice one thing missing from Galaxy as they blast through bricks and bounce atop Goombas – most levels don't include a time limit. This really isn't too big a problem for series' veterans considering timed challenges are opened up for most levels as the game progresses, but it's still important to note.

Even though it may not support high-definition or 5.1 surround, Galaxy's graphics and sounds are some of the most captivating (and endearing) I've ever encountered. Like so many other Nintendo titles, the series fantastic nature means that processing power can be put towards unique physics and game play concepts rather than photorealistic graphics. I know some still criticize Nintendo for not cramming the Wii full of cutting edge technology, but games like Galaxy prove that you don't need the flashiest console on the block to have the most fun.

Super Mario Galaxy is a groundbreaking title that's sure to appeal to a wide audience. Young children are bound to love the game's colorful environments, while more mature players will be drawn in by its wealth of challenges. This is not the sort of title one conquers in an afternoon. Even after completing the game's main story (which is engaging enough in its own right), months could be spent setting record times and tackling a plethora of side quests. Galaxy takes me back to a time when video games weren't plagued by gore, swearing and sex scandals. As the gaming medium moves forward, it's nice to be reminded every once in a while what brought us here in the first place: a simple desire to have fun.

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