Galaxy doesn't have a single gimmick (as Sunshine did with FLUDD), but it does consistently mix up gameplay through the introduction of special power-ups. During the game Mario will become a bee, move within a spring, walk on fire and water as an ice man, fly like Superman, become a ghost and throw fire. Other than the rather terrible levels that require the spring power-up, these are all great additions to the game, with the bee sections in particular offering a nice change of pace.
Little touches are seen throughout, which go to highlight the care and attention Nintendo has put into the game. The most significant is how the controls work. It might seem like a given, but when so many Wii games fail to walk the line between gimmick and gameplay, Galaxy's impeccable use of the Wii-mote and Nunchuck is worth shouting about. From the simplicity of the Wii-mote shake to make Mario spin and the mid-air shake that gives you an extra few moments of air-time when you need it, to the instinctive star bit collection using the Wii-mote, it just feels right.
When walking on ice a flick of the Remote causes Mario to start skating, with jumps from then on causing him to pirouette like a trained skater. As Ice Mario you can jump up waterfalls - something you're never told you can do. At times the game is a joy, with the visuals making a mockery of most Wii efforts and Nintendo's decision to use a full orchestral soundtrack an inspired one. For a handful of levels Mario Galaxy is pure gaming at its best.
Bosses also crop up frequently, although one of the most adorable is tackled early on. The most visually impressive is also fought during the first quarter of the game, in your first encounter with Bowser Jnr. The later bosses are tougher but they just don't have the charm of these two highlights. It doesn't help that your main enemy, Bowser, is fought in practically the same way in each of your encounters with him, and these bouts seem sadly lacking in creativity when held up against the more diverse enemies.
60 stars is all it takes to activate the final confrontation, although getting this far will take far longer than your average modern video game. Add in all the stars from uncompleted galaxies and the optional stars activated by the red and green lumas, and you have a game that could take in excess of 30 hours to complete. It's worth it too, with a nice reward given to all players who manage to obtain all 120 stars.
There's just something missing though. As charming as Galaxy is, its ageing roots are clear to see. Adults reminiscing of times gone by will no doubt be captivated throughout, but unless you get all the little references to Nintendo games of the past, the lack of a compelling story and the game's lack of cohesiveness could leave you wanting.
In the hands of anyone who's been longing for a true sequel to Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy could well be the game of the year, but for me the latter half struggles to match the creativity and moments of magic experienced during the opening. It's tough, perhaps too tough for novices, yet its bedtime story-like charm is unlikely to appeal to players who have been spending the last ten years playing Halo, Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy. While Mario 64 did things no gamer has seen before, Galaxy simply builds on this template. It's certainly a better than game Mario 64, but nowhere near as revolutionary.