Super Mario Galaxy – A Gimmicky Masterpiece

Super Mario 3D All-Stars was recently announced and released for Nintendo Switch. It contains Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, but that’s pretty much common knowledge by now. Super Mario Galaxy was first released on the Wii in November 2007, and it made central use of the Wii Remote. You’d aim the Wii Remote to collect and shoot the newly-introduced Star Bits, and you’d have to shake the controller to perform a spin attack.

Just to clarify — I’m going to be specifically reviewing the version of Super Mario Galaxy included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars. I’m going to assume that not many of you are going to purchase a Wii and Super Mario Galaxy after reading this post, so we’ve got to keep it relevant. Even so, there are a number of differences between the two versions. Do these changes improve the overall experience or do they just make everything more difficult?

Introduction

At the time of its release, Super Mario Galaxy was the most ambitious 3D Mario we’d ever seen. It’s in space, for one, which in this case is a boundless expanse home to a wide variety of different planets and galaxies. By sending Mario to space, the game’s developers essentially gave themselves the freedom to go wild with atmosphere. And let me tell you, Super Mario Galaxy’s got a lot of that. Atmosphere. It’s something that future Mario games don’t grasp the same way Galaxy did.

If you’ve somehow never played (or heard) of Super Mario Galaxy, it’s a 3D platformer that – as you might expect – takes place in outer space. You’ll travel between hundreds of unique planets. They’re spherical, too, so you get to go all the way around! There’s a ton of shenanigans with gravity. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s frustrating, and sometimes it’s both!

But Super Mario Galaxy sets itself apart from the other 3D Mario games in many more ways. All of which we’re going to discuss in the coming paragraphs! And once again, we’ll be reviewing the Super Mario 3D All-Stars version of Super Mario Galaxy. That means we’re not going to be mentioning Wii Remotes or Nunchuks.

Story & Presentation

In terms of the game’s story and overall presentation, Super Mario Galaxy is absolutely – at least in my opinion – the best in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars compilation. Galaxy’s story starts off like every other Mario game… kind of. Bowser does kidnap Peach, yes, but he actually steals her entire castle via a UFO. And then he drags it into space to begin building a galactic empire. Mario eventually finds himself in space, too, where he meets a baby Luma that makes its figurative nest under his hat and enables him to use the Star Spin move. Mario then meets Rosalina, the caretaker of the Lumas and founder of the Comet Observatory, and she tasks him with exploring the galaxy and recovering the Observatory’s Power Stars. Which Bowser also happened to steal. It’s kind of amazing how quickly Bowser can steal 120 Power Stars, isn’t it?

But Super Mario Galaxy does something that literally no other main series Mario game has. It has actual lore! Rosalina has a rather sad backstory that’s revealed via a storybook over the course of the game. And then Mario Kart 8 introduces Baby Rosalina and ruins it all. Not just that, but Galaxy has a really sad and thoughtful ending that covers themes of the “cycle of life”.  It’s strange to see anything serious in a Mario game, but it’s something I welcome. Most of the game is typical Mario shenanigans, but those few serious moments are very memorable. And it’s a shame that Galaxy has the most depth of any 3D Mario story. I would like to see more of this in the future!

Super Mario Galaxy also does a wonderful job at setting up an atmosphere. Each “level” is set up as an individual galaxy that Mario must fly to. And each of these galaxies is very different from the last; some of them are bright and colorful and some of them are dark and dreary. But my favorite galaxies are the ones that feel like outer space; the ones that feel cold, empty, and lonely. The ones that feel quiet. The levels in other Mario games are almost always cheery and upbeat. Galaxy has these too, don’t get me wrong; I just really like the wide variety of atmospheres the game creates.

And don’t even get me started on the soundtrack. Too late! It’s by far and away my favorite soundtrack in a Mario game. There are a few forgettable tracks, sure, but the memorable ones are really, really memorable. Some of my favorites are Space Junk Galaxy, Buoy Base Galaxy, and the Gateway Galaxy. The OST is fully orchestral – a first for the Mario series at the time – and it makes everything sound grand and ambitious. Rightfully so, too, given the boundless nature of outer space and all. If you play through the entirety of Galaxy, you’re bound to get a few of its themes stuck in your head.

Overall, Galaxy has a really strong presentation. Everything’s wonderful especially given its release date of over ten years ago. It’s aged very well, and the game looks great with its upscaled resolution. I particularly enjoyed looking at Super Mario Galaxy on handheld. Looking at. Note that I didn’t say playing. I said looking at. Let’s talk about the gameplay for a bit.

Gameplay

Movement-wise, Super Mario Galaxy is a bit slower than Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, the other two games included in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars compilation. Mario’s slightly reduced movement speed is probably a result of the game’s insane gravity fields. Reading text is pretty slow, and in many cases, there isn’t a way to skip through or make it any faster.

Even though Mario’s movement speed isn’t as fast as it’s been, controlling him still feels fine. I felt completely in control of Mario during my time playing Galaxy… unlike in 64… which is much appreciated. As mentioned before, many planets in Galaxy allow the player to loop all the way around. Sometimes the controls get a bit finicky; when gravity changes, Mario sometimes runs around in a circle a few times before straightening himself out. And the camera is overall pretty good, but standing upside-down on a spherical planet occasionally presented some strange angles that made it hard to see. I would have liked to see just a bit more freedom controlling the camera, but it’s not too bad.

In addition to controlling Mario, there’s also a star pointer on-screen at all times. In the Wii version of Galaxy, you’d have to point the Wii Remote at the screen to collect Star Bits (a currency of sorts that gives 1UPs and unlocks a few levels), activate Pull Stars (which, hence their name, pull Mario to their location when activated), and blow around bubbles. This was tough on the Wii version, because you’d have to point at a sensor bar. Which usually meant you’d have to stand while playing the game at all times. Luckily, this is no longer the case on the Switch! The Joy-cons and pro controllers have a built-in motion sensor that doesn’t require the setup of a sensor bar. I will say that this new system takes a while to get used to, but once I got past that, I found the game much more accessible than it was on Wii. No more standing to play Galaxy every single time!

Mario used to be able to perform a Star Spin by shaking the Wii Remote. You can still shake the Joy-cons or pro controller to perform a Star Spin, but you can also press the Y button instead. This is a welcome change, because if you’re used to spinning via motion controls, you can still do that all the same. Now… handheld is where things get rough. The game controls just fine, but the star pointer is now controlled by the touch screen. This might be a hot take, but I actually don’t have three hands! I often had to take my hand off of the buttons to touch the screen, which kind of broke the immersion and made collecting Star Bits a pain. It’s definitely playable on handheld, but you’re going to have to move the position of your hand very often. My favorite way to play Galaxy is with a pro controller in either tabletop or docked mode. If possible, I’d recommend you use that control scheme too. I like using a pro controller more than the Wii Remote, but I’d prefer the remote over the weird handheld system. I really wish they would have added an option to map the star pointer to the right stick. As a final note controls-wise, the Joy-cons can be used by themselves kind of like the Wii Remote. Except you have to shake the right one, not the left. I never tried out this mode myself, so I’m still of the mindset that the pro controller works best.

Now let’s talk level design. Super Mario Galaxy has a lot of that. There’s no shortage of variety in the game’s levels, as you’ll visit beaches, volcanoes, deserts… y’know, the typical Mario variety. And as I stated before, I really love the atmosphere of these. The game isn’t very difficult, honestly; I collected all 120 Power Stars and didn’t have significant trouble with any of the missions. I found the game easier on Switch than on Wii because I had an easier time using the pro controller’s motion controls than the Wii Remote’s. There are a fair amount of levels that require the use of motion controls, such as the cursed Power Star ball courses, but they’re mostly far and few between. And they actually weren’t as difficult as I remember them being on Wii!

So, while Galaxy is a bit slower than 64 or Sunshine, it’s still a joy to play. For the most part. There are definite hiccups on handheld mode; not in terms of performance, but in terms of your immersion being broken because you now have to touch the screen. This game was absolutely tailored to the Wii’s specific strengths (or weaknesses, depending on who you ask), and it kind of shows on Switch. That being said, I think the developers of Super Mario 3D All-Stars did the best they could. As long as I can use a pro controller, I’d say this is the best way to play Super Mario Galaxy. For sure.

The Verdict

Super Mario Galaxy was actually – if I recall correctly – the first video game I ever played! And it was at a mall, too, so I’d just… hog the setup for hours. I credit Super Mario Galaxy with my fixation on the whole “space aesthetic” — just take a look at the early work in my art portfolio. Shameless plugs aside, Galaxy is a great game. It does a lot to set itself apart from the rest, and makes an atmosphere all its own with all its cool space levels.

But you can definitely tell that this isn’t a Switch game. Again, I still think it’s the best way to play, assuming you’ve got the right controller. I’m glad Galaxy was ported to Switch. Not sure if this is an unusual take, but I like Galaxy much better than Galaxy 2. This game has the only emotional moment in the entire 3D Mario series, whereas Galaxy 2… doesn’t really have much of that.

Regardless, though, if you haven’t picked up Super Mario 3D All-Stars, you totally should! Maybe wait until it goes on sale for $50 instead. If you have a Wii U and not a Switch, first, how? And second, you can download Super Mario Galaxy for $20. That’s not such a bad deal, either! I’d like to hear your opinions on Super Mario Galaxy, too: what did you think of the whole gravity gimmick? Am I defending this game too much, or underselling it? I’m going to think the latter either way, but feel free to comment anyway!

If you would like to read more opinion posts, please follow this link.


crest

Post a Comment