This week we are steering clear from the negative and accentuating the positive. All this week I'll be posting the best of the best games I've reviewed leading up to the 100th review this Friday. Let's start with my pick for best game of this current generation.
Out of This World
The Nintendo and Mario faithful have constantly been clamoring for a worthy successor to the platforming revolution that was Super Mario 64. Super Mario Sunshine, while good, was a drastic departure from what made Mario 64 so fantastic. Not only did you have a goofy story with questionable voice acting, but you also had the not-so-welcomed addition of F.L.U.D.D, making some platforming challenges largely easier. Many would have just had an entire game of bonus levels (those sections where Mario platformed in a linear fashion without F.L.U.D.D.'s assistance. Well, Mario faithful, consider Mario's newest effort not only that wish come true, but I would go as far to say that this is that Mario 64 successor you've been salivating for.
Let's get the weakest link out of the way first-- the story. Although if you're playing a Mario platformer for its story, you probably turn to Final Fantasy for fashion tips. Every century a mystical comet flies over the Mushroom Kingdom, releasing a myriad of colorful star bits which the Toads would gather up, bring them to the castle, and create Power Stars from them. You probably know the rest from here. Peach sends Mario a letter inviting him to the Star Festival, Bowser and friends interrupt the festivities, and Peach gets kidnapped yet again while Mario gets propelled into the emptiness of space. A cute and cuddly star being known as Luma wakes Mario up on a spherical planetoid, you learn the basics of the game, and meet up with a mysterious entity in Rosalina, the ruler of Super Mario Galaxy's hub world, the observatory. It's this observatory where all the galaxies-- the levels of the game-- are accessed from. However, only one dome is open to you at the beginning of the game. Each dome has four to six galaxies available, and by obtaining more Power Stars, you can reach further away galaxies. Almost every dome concludes with a boss stage. By beating down the boss which occupies the stage, you'll uncover a Grand Star-- six in all. These Grand Stars light up darkened areas of the Comet Observatory, allowing you to enter even more domes with even more galaxies.
Bowser's back, and he's causing trouble yet again.
There's fifteen main galaxies-- i.e. ones with at least five stars in them, and worry not, dear reader. There's plenty of variety, challenges to complete, stars to snatch, and bosses to battle. There's far more contrasting locales than Super Mario Sunshine offered. The first two galaxies, Good Egg and Honeyhive are pretty much your tutorial levels filled with simple platforming elements and few actual challenges. However, straight off the bat both levels feel contrastingly different to one another. Good Egg is full of spherical planets such as a giant capsule, small meteorites, and other planetoids. Every planet in Super Mario Galaxy has its own gravity. There's a lot to play around in with Super Mario Galaxy. Just don't think you can jump off every platform freely and all willy-nilly. Some sections have black holes that will suck Mario up if he missteps, costing him an extra life. On the other galaxy, Honeyhive, you'll come across a kingdom of friendly bees under attack by savage beetles. While Good Egg was segmented in its construction, Honeyhive isn't as split up. There's a main overworld area where Mario can experiment with a new power up, there's a swing to play on, and Mario can bring back a personal favorite maneuver of mine, the wall jump. Now that's just the first two galaxies. There's thirteen others as well including a blistering volcano, a floating battleship, a garden full of gusty winds, and a sweltering desert, to run off a quick amount.
Each star challenge you come across is vastly different from the last. You'll seldom start in the same location in a given galaxy's challenge. This may put off some gamers more complacent with Super Mario 64's style of exploration to uncover a star they didn't even know existed yet, but this most linear approach feels a lot more like a typical Mario game. There's not as much journeying, but this is made up by the sheer amount of content and platforming action Super Mario Galaxy provides players. One challenge you'll lure a Bullet Bill into a locked cage, releasing a star, while with another you'll be skating on lava (more on that later) to reach a star. There's not only the stars set in stone for you to find either. You'll uncover secret stars if you look hard enough. The level design present is some of the finest in this industry... seriously. You'll just open your mouth in awe in most levels.
One of my personal favorite galaxies, Gusty Garden Galaxy.
Then there's the challenge galaxies. These are usually one star only galaxies, and these will test your mettle for sure. One galaxy will have you riding the back of a manta ray where correct tilts of the Wii remote will be the decision in whether you complete the race or fall to your doom. Another will have you holding the Wii remote straight up vertical, using it like a lever to roll the ball Mario stands atop of to the goal. There's also a galaxy where you'll use the pointer on the Wii remote to guide a bubble Mario's inside of to safety among a hazardous obstacle course. Then there's your traditional levels with normal platforming escapades.
Once you reach a certain point in Super Mario Galaxy you'll be able to uncover comets that hover over certain galaxies-- each coming in a different color. Some have you challenge a shadowy doppelganger of yourself to a footrace, another will have you do a speed run of a star, a daredevil run of a boss or level (one-hit and you're gone), or a faster-moving version of a challenge.
Don't forget those boss battles either. While most are on the easy side, they're all well-crafted and fun to face off against. One of my favorites being the battle with Megaleg to acquire the second Grand Star. It's a very cool concept only hampered by how short it is. Why couldn't you have used the rule of threes with this boss, too?! Other encounters will have you chucking Koopa shells at an old hag in the form of a Magikoopa, ground pounding the back of an overgrown beetle, and swinging Boo Bombs into the face of a rocky menace named Bouldergeist. There's not just returning bosses either, you'll come across many familiar enemies that took a vacation on Super Mario Sunshine (though you will find Cataquacks are back). There's Magikoopas, Koopa Troopas, Goombas, Cheep Cheeps, Bullet Bills, Pokeys, Chain Chomps, and Piranha Plants to name some for you.
Megaleg goes boom.
In addition to the galaxies, enemies, and bosses are the staple of most Mario games-- the power-ups. And there's plenty of them, too. The first you'll probably uncover is Bee Mario which does the impossible to guess task of transforming Mario into a bee who can cling to walls covered in honey and climb them like... well... a bee. Additionally, Bee Mario can hover for a limited amount of time in the air to reach higher up platforms that normal Mario might have difficulty accessing. Then there's Boo Mario which turns Mario into one of those spooky specters. Boo Mario can float in the air as well as pass through bars with a shake of the Wii remote. Oh, and you'll also turn on a lot of the other Boos sexually, too. Seriously. Unfortunately this power-up isn't used as much as I would have liked. Regardless, there's also the Ice Flower which allows Mario to temporarily run on water, wall-jump between waterfalls, and skate on lava with ease. The Fire Flower comes alive into the 3-D era of Mario games giving Mario the ability to shoot out fireballs (shake the Wii remote) to incinerate enemies and light torches to solve simple puzzles. Finally, there's Spring Mario which can be a pain to control, but it helps to reach extra high places that a normal bounce wouldn't be able to reach.
The setting might have changed, but the goal of collecting stars stays the same.
But what else about the Wii remote? So many games on the Wii have already been butchered or made less entertaining due to poor motion control implementation. Thankfully, Super Mario Galaxy's motion controls not only work, but they're needed, too. Try grabbing onto a pull star effortlessly with just a standard controller. You'll shake the Wii remote to perform a number of functions such as initiating a spin attack to knock a foe into dizziness or flipping a switch to change the flow of gravity. You'll shake the remote to catch shells thrown at you and then shake the remote to toss them back at an enemy. Launch stars are the vessels that shoot you on a guided path to each of your destinations. Jump up into one and shake to be launched.
You'll definitely come across the multicolor concoctions known as Star Bits, too. By pointing at the screen with the Wii remote, you can gather them swiftly. Not only does fifty earn you a 1-Up, but you'll need them to feed to hungry Lumas so they'll transform into new planets for you to trek on and galaxies for you to enter. Coins are still around, so don't worry. However, these serve more as health for Mario now than the annoying collect 100 to earn a star-- there's seldom 100 coins in a galaxy to collect anyway. Seeing as Mario only gets three hits until he's KO'd, you're going to need them.
Regardless, even if you die there's a plethora of 1-Ups placed throughout Super Mario Galaxy-- pretty much too many 1-Ups. Playing through the game twice, I never even came close to reaching a Game Over screen. Maybe if there were less 1-Ups so methodically placed everywhere and so easily earned by gathering Star Bits, this wouldn't be a problem. That isn't to say though that you won't die a lot. There's some galaxies that can be quite the handful.
Familiar foes abound in the many galaxies of Mario.
After reaching 60 stars you'll be able to face off in a final confrontation with the boss of the game. Yep. Only 60. Half of the 120 stars available. This means that some gamers can just beat the game, and then forget about completing it to 100% as most casual gamers most likely will which is a disappointment. Fortunately, there is an awesome bonus for completing the game with all 120 stars which I shall not spoil, but long time Mario fans will know it's worth it.
Super Mario Galaxy is technically the most impressive Wii game. Graphically there's tons of "next-gen" effects incorporated. There's impressive lighting effects, terrific draw distance, and beautiful backgrounds, detailed models, and it all runs at a solid 60 FPS. Also, the soundtrack is almost fully orchestrated, and it simply sounds superb. You could seriously consider Galaxy to be a contender for a first-gen 360 which is either a great compliment to the developers or a mean insult to the Wii itself.
Bee Mario is one of many new forms Mario can take in Mario Galaxy.
After eleven years Super Mario Galaxy very much is the true successor to Super Mario 64. In fact, I'd say it's the 3-D incarnation of Super Mario Bros. 3-- armed with airships and all. Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64 were revolutionary for their time. Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Sunshine tried something different, were still great games, but still have their share of haters. Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario Galaxy took what made the originals (SMB and 64) and made them even better. Playing a Galaxy level is like playing a level of Super Mario Bros. 3. There's still some exploration, but not as much as 64. It's much more linear than 64, but simultaneously it feels much better than 64. I haven't had this much fun with a video game for the longest time. It just has so much charm and fun going for it. You know you got a Wii for Super Mario Galaxy. You know you want a good game. Pick up Super Mario Galaxy now. Do it. Thank me later.
Story: During the Star Festival, Bowser's armada assaults the party, captures Peach and her castle, and whisks her away into the far reaches of space.
Graphics: The Wii's best, and even on a weaker system it looks great.
Gameplay: Almost perfect. There's some camera issues, but otherwise it's sharp and everything you wanted out of Super Mario Sunshine.
Sound: Phenomenal orchestrated music full of familiar themes and brilliant new ones as well. Voice acting is limited.
Replay Value: 120 stars my first run was 15 hours. Then there's an unlockable that will make you want to replay the game all over again.
Overall: 9.75/10 - Game of the year? Maybe a contender for best game of all time.