The format/developer/publisher bit: Nintendo Wii, developed & published by Nintendo
The 10-word synopsis: Mario propels himself around brightly coloured planets hunting magical stars.
On the whole, video games are made by adults. Adults are, let’s admit it, largely boring people. Whereas kids are quite happy to let their imagination run free as they bound around playfully, adults tend to sit around and eat biscuits or something, neglecting the concept of fun. So quite how 59-year-old Shigeru Miyamoto managed to create such an audacious fun-riot shall long be pondered as one of the great mysteries of the universe. Because if there’s one thing evident in Super Mario Galaxy, it’s that nobody in Nintendos’ famed EAD studio ever grew up.
The only other explanation possible is that the games’ disc contains some sort of ultra-contagious airborne condition that causes the sufferer to smile for as long as they are within range. The infuriating Spring Mario aside, (The less said about that power-up the better) there isn’t a single second in Mario Galaxy that’ll cause you to question the developers. The old ‘Critics know the way but can’t drive the car’ analogy holds no water here. Yes, people like me may have a printout from Google Maps, but Nintendo knows these roads inside out and all the little hidden secret shortcuts within them. They are, and long have been, the masters of the platforming genre, the genre they not only helped define but essentially created when Miyamoto himself struck gold when he suggested a jump button whilst pitching Donkey Kong. This is a perfect showcase of their mastery. Worlds that only exist for one main-game level are stuffed full of secrets, little coins and chatty Toads hidden away. While levels may be more linear than previous 3D Mario games, there is almost always another way to do what you’re asked to, be it by pulling off one death-defying leap of faith or by accidently finding yourself in a hole you shouldn’t’ve fallen down.
The thing that makes exploring these worlds so satisfying is the same thing that’s made Mario a success for the past 28 years: The way he moves. Mario feels solid, athletic, like a platforming character should. None of the ragdoll physics of Lara Croft or the uncontrollable speed of Sonic the Hedgehog here. Mario works. Mario is a character you’ll want to control, and it’s not too tough to do so. In terms of controls, it’s an ideal way of showcasing that you can use the Wii to full effective without the need for unnecessary waggle. The spin attack is mapped to a brief shake of the remote, but aside from that it’s on a need-to-use basis. There are a number of enjoyable mini-game type experiences that use the motion controls, and they tend to be the levels you’ll keep coming back to. It helps that most of these save your best times and scores individually as well, creating a neat high-score challenge for those to whom it would appeal. The game also records the highest number of coins you’ve collected in each stage, which is a nice touch and gives you an excuse (If one was even needed) to play some of those genius sequences again.
While it’s hardly a plot-heavy adventure, there are little narrative touches that flesh it out as an experience, beyond the average simplistic platformer. While there’s no prizes for guessing out what they contain, the cutscenes detailing the story are pretty spectacular and makes trudging through all 120 stars all the more worthwhile. Visually, they’re some of the best we’ve seen this generation, Wii or not. It’s a cliché that Nintendo knows how to get the best out of their own systems, but it doesn’t take much studying to realise that the Galaxy games are the best-looking on Wii. They seem to have found what the system does best -Cel shading- and produced some of the best cartoony graphics you’re likely to ever see. This’ll no doubt hold up long after the likes of Modern Warfare find themselves being ridiculed for slightly off textures and uncanny valley. It’s just so pretty to look at. Nintendo knows how to make the most of this making the most and crafts a game around it. Volcanoes erupt, water ripples and creatures live and breath with the stylistic trappings Nintendo created for them.
Going back to the narrative, the game has a bizarrely beautiful ‘Storybook’ segment, which pulls some real emotional strings. Princess Rosalina (A surprisingly positive addition to the Mario character canon) reads a series of interlinking stories to the wonderful Lumas (Star-like creatures that you can’t help but love) and that’s it. There’s no great secret to it, no tragedy, no death, but a melancholic sensibility amongst the stories. They’re terrifically worded and add the kind of emotional punch no other platform game ever has. It’s worth mentioning simply because it’s so often (Understandably) overlooked in favour of simply focusing on the mesmeric platforming or incredible soundtrack. (I won’t dwell on it, but it does have some of the best incidental music ever heard in a video game.)
The only issue with Super Mario Galaxy is that it isn’t as good as Super Mario Galaxy 2. Whereas Galaxy is quite happy to reuse and explore every idea in its fullest, the sequel ramps up the pace. Every level in Galaxy 2 is a new idea, a new way to play, an evolution of what you’ve come to know. While the different approach may be preferable to some, finishing the game with 120 stars opens up the chance to do it again as Luigi. A couple of the stars can get a tad laborious third or fourth time around, once you’ve explored everything already. While that can’t be held against this game, (There are 242 levels, you’re allowed some leeway) it works very strongly in the favour of its superior sequel.
Any bickering is redundant- Super Mario Galaxy is about the playing. And doesn’t it play well. It’s about the smiling, the stupid cheesy grin that’ll be etched permanently on your face, Joker-style. It’s near-perfect. The imagination of a child crossed with the experience and detailed eye of a full-grown man. Super Mario Galaxy is a rare achievement in that it’s makers have a hold on the art form so tight that everything just seems to fall into place. It’s comparable to any great film, book or play you care to think of. It’s, and I know I shouldn’t be allowed to say this but I’m going to anyway, out of this world.
9 tears of joy out of 10