Nov 8, 2007
There's no point trying to pigeonhole Mario - a simple hold on Z and a tap of A, and he'll backflip straight out - but most people tend to refer to his 3D outings as 'playgrounds'. True, levels are littered with holes to leap, slides to pelt down and obstacles to ooh, ahh, waa-hoo over - but funny no one mentions wasted space. Because whenever there's a space for running, for leaping, or just an empty space, in comes Miyamoto with his design chisel.
Chipping away everything around the platforms, slides and swings has left design team EAD Tokyo with no choice but to take the remaining joy-lumps into orbit - it's the only place such level design nuggets would make sense. The importance of star gates blasting Mario from rock to rock cannot be understated. In eliminating superfluous footwork, you're never strolling towards the next interesting 'bit' but always playing, playing, playing.
All this would be in vain if the planets didn't hold their end of the bargain. But do they ever. Just as every step that Mario takes has to justify its place in Galaxy, so each planet follows suit. Although your goal on each area is pretty much the same - you're either leaping towards a gate to fire you to the next rock/egg/apple/spoon, or building a new gate from star shards - each planet is more experimentally alien than the last.
And so you're not just collecting shards, but wading through treacle muck as tumbling boulders try to smush you into a 'you lose' screen. You're not just trying to grab star bits, but spinning into rubbery demolition balls to send them tearing through a wall of razor-sharp flora. Slamming a switch, you watch a planet crumble to reveal a new sphere within made of crystalline waters. And you see that Yoshi-shaped planet teeming with Goombas? Here, have an invincibility star to tear it up in a 30-second fun splurge lit up by a trail of Mario's rainbow clones. Now factor in gravity.
Legging it to the edge of a platform and launching Mario into orbit with a long jump? Sublime. Ricocheting off a spinning Topman and guiding a whirligig Mario-copter 360 degrees around the planet? Mesmerising. When surrounded by walls with their own unique pull, prepare to see a wall jump contort into a floor land, and a backflip send you sliding along the surface you just leapt from. Comparing Mario's playfulness to a toy just won't do: there's no toy good enough. These are old-fashioned thrills as only new digital worlds can render them.
Galaxy's old-fashioned, too, in its refusal to pander to the Wii wobble-stick. Outside of spin attack flicks, there's a spot of remote twisting to steer a manta ray (harder than Mario 64's ice chute races) and some ball-teetering with the remote held upright, but little else. Spinning has its creative uses - a propeller for a dandelion glider or a torpedo maneuver - but it's sad to see head-bopping enemy-dispatching play second fiddle to rotational shunting.
Combat aside, jumping still rules the roost. After FLUDD complications in Sunshine, it's back to you exploiting the core abilities that endeared Mario to us in the first place. Triple jumps, wall kicks, backflips, long jumps and butt stomps - controlled as ever, now with a fluid response speed that allows Nintendo to really push the platforming boat out, up and upside-down. Whether clambering up spires of molten lava or attempting to stay on a haywire plate as it ploughs through laser fields and cannon bombardments, you'll feel pushed - but the controls never let you down.
Don't misinterpret this ease of play as easy difficulty. Indeed, coming from the cruel Super Mario Sunshine, Galaxy is one of the more forgiving Mario games we've ever played. The difference is, where Sunshine was difficult for all the wrong reasons - dodgy camera and a jetpack that severely unbalanced Mario's move set - this is easy for all the right reasons. Unfair deaths at the hand of camera malfunction? Nil. Unfair deaths due to awkward geography? Nope. Unfair deaths because Mario didn't do as you said? Nah. No unfair deaths doesn't equal easy, it equals design perfection.
Complaints? A few little 'uns. Certain stars only appear when a galaxy-altering comet is in orbit, and come the end of the game we'd like to tackle those last tricky stars in our own order without paying a shyster Luma to shift comets for us. And while much has been made of them, the costumes aren't the bee all and end all. Costumed Mario is as cute as a button, but you can't help but see them as restrictions on the freedom we have with Mario au naturel. Plus, later elemental powerups commit the heinous crime of interrupting a sublime soundtrack with annoying euro dance-hall techno. Bad ice Mario, bad!
You'll understand the outrage. Galaxy's is such a complete aesthetic experience that even the most minor design hiccup can be devastating. Floating inside a sphere of water staring out into distorted space, coasting around a light-refracting ice donut - these are visual concepts words simply can't describe. Short of trying to describe the noise that goose pimples make, we'll just have to ask you to take our word for it until you play it.
Of course, if anyone could capture the sound of goose pimples, it'd be Galaxy's sound designers. Every step carries the correct pitter-patter as filtered through dirt, puddles, wood or watermelon, and Martinet's helium yelps have never been as crisply entertaining. Smother it in a generous helping of some of the finest orchestral bombast ever heard in a game and you've got a soundscape that turns your earwax rainbow coloured. Landing in the Gusty Garden Galaxy to a blare of horns instantly makes our list of top five gaming moments of all time.
Super Mario Galaxy is one of those rare games that makes children of us all, that'll have you straight on the phone to your gaming comrades, throwing out terms such as 'best game in years' or - gasp! - 'Mario 64 beater'. Better than the best game ever? Time will tell if this has the legs to carry such a mantle. For now you can rest assured that nothing on Wii… no, nothing since that original 3D Mario encounter on N64, has the imagination, playfulness or technical know-how to match. It's a few weeks short of the Wii anniversary, but this is the best birthday present we've ever had. Unwrap it on November 13 and begin a love affair with a world of unparalleled fun.