Review: Super Mario Galaxy

John Funk | 17 Dec 2007 21:00
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For all of its (many, many) strengths, Super Mario Galaxy is certainly not without its. Foremost in my mind would be issues with the game's camera. Though half the time it works as fluidly and naturally as the rest of the game, the other half the camera position seems awkwardly placed in a fixed, nonadjustable position. Given that Mario can literally run in 360 degrees around most of the planets in the game, this can be headache inducing. Occasionally, you'll end up pressing the controls to guide the hero one way while he runs off in what feels like a completely different direction. It can also sometimes be a bit disorienting and even induce a bit of motion sickness, and there were times I found myself having to pause for a bit to shake off a headache.

While the motion sensing is used perfectly and intuitively for the vast majority of the game, there are times when it feels like it was almost tacked on. Though some of its usage (like the spin maneuver, controlling sling pods and the blue Pull Stars) is wonderfully done, I couldn't help but feel it seemed a bit unnecessary for the surfing and ball-rolling stages, and I kept thinking that it would have honestly been better to simply use the analog stick for those parts.

Galaxy is the most powerup-happy game in the franchise since Super Mario Bros. 3, and while the various abilities are all fun to use in their own way, I can't help but feel that some of them were almost criminally underused or misused. The classic Fire Flower, for instance, is all but chiefly relegated to lighting unlit torches to open a door or something along those lines, and one of the single most entertaining powerups in the game - free-roaming flight - isn't usable anywhere outside of the main Observatory hub (other than the mini-course where you unlock it). It's certainly understandable from a design choice to not break the game, but it's rather disappointing that the developers didn't allow you to use it as a reward in levels once you'd collected every Power Star in the game.

In general, Super Mario Galaxy feels much less free than its predecessors, particularly the timeless Super Mario 64. Virtually every stage is completely linear depending on the Star course selected, and the game railroads you on the certain path you've selected from beginning to end. Some of the Star courses have secret pathways to acquire hidden Power Stars, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. There's very little free exploration in Galaxy, and part of me feels it's an honest shame, especially given how wonderfully designed each galaxy is.

Of course, this isn't necessarily a mark against the game. There's nothing inherently bad about linearity; it's a design choice more than anything. After all, the classic Mario 2-D sidescrollers were as linear as they came, and it does feel that in many ways, Galaxy draws just as much inspiration from those games as it does its more recent 3-D kin. Yes, the stages are linear, but they're some of the best linear stages gaming has seen in a very long time.

It's hard to sum up a game like Super Mario Galaxy. It's certainly not as revolutionary as Super Mario 64, but then again, few games are. It's an evolution of the genre more than a revolution, polished to a brilliant shine and full of some of the best gameplay and level design gaming has seen in ages. It's not perfect by any means, but it's damn well close, and is definitely the game Wii owners have been waiting for. I'm usually not one to recommend a game as a "must-own," but anybody with a Wii should honestly get his hands on Super Mario Galaxy. It's more than worth it.

Bottom Line: While suffering from occasional camera flaws and lacking the exploratory freedom of its legendary predecessor Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy is a stellar addition to the Mario franchise and features some of the best platforming action we've seen in years. It looks and sounds great, plays even better, is decently challenging without being frustratingly so, and is neatly packaged and polished to a brilliant shine. 

Recommendation: Buy it. If you don't have a Wii, rent one. This is a true gaming gem.

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