A true new Super Mario game is something we don't get all that often - in recent years it's been one per console. When that game finally does arrive, as is the case with Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii, it's all too easy to get carried away. Anyone who's been playing games for 10 years or more will have fond memories of Super Mario 64, a game that defined 3D games for the generations to follow. But what is left for Mario to wow with?
Let me get this out of the way first: In my opinion Super Mario Galaxy is hands-down the best 'game' available for the Wii. It's a true gamer's game and doesn't give in to modern temptation to be edgy or crude. This is Mario as you remember him: the world is bright and colourful, the music is twee, the jumping is precise and the stars are plentiful. If you want a reason to buy a Wii after turning your nose up at the plethora of mini-game collections and novelty titles, this is it. What it isn't is the greatest game ever made or gaming perfection.
For Mario fans Nintendo has delivered the goods, with a game that is nostalgic in the extreme, capturing what made Mario 64 so good and tweaking it where it needed work. Platformers like this aren't made any more, with modern games almost all dependent on a strong storyline and character development. While Mario's reluctance to follow trends will no doubt be commended by hardcore Nintendo devotees, for me Galaxy feels ever so slightly dated - although that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
As ever in a Mario game, your goal is to rescue Princess Peach. She can't seem to get a break, once again falling into the hands of Mario's nemesis Bowser. This time he captures her castle, before jetting off into space with it. Mario of course goes along for the ride, but ends up on a malfunctioning space station. As luck would have it, all that's needed is power stars, which will power the flying structure, allowing Mario to find Peach and rescue her from Bowser's clutches.
'... the game is generally a delight, with many of the levels being some of the most interesting Nintendo has created in years.'
This travelling space station, home to star creatures known as Lumas, becomes your hub, as the castle was in Mario 64, with numerous rooms acting as gateways to solar systems. Each solar system has a set of galaxies (essentially a themed area) and each galaxy has a number of stars. Each star is in effect a new level, with the star chosen determining what path you take when you land on the planet. It sounds a tad complicated, but it's far from it, with the structure being all too familiar to long-time Mario fans. After a while the travel from one gateway to another gets a little tedious, but it will at least give you a chance to practice your triple jumps.
Core to Galaxy is the role of gravity. While many levels look and play similarly to those in previous 3D Mario platformers (albeit seemingly floating in space), numerous levels feature what can only be described as mini planets. Usually, rather than having anything meaningful on them, they serve as platforms, with Mario able to leap from one to the other, breaking the first's gravitational field and entering the other's. Because they're little planets you can also walk around them, which makes for some interesting upside-down gameplay and a fair few mini-puzzles. Elsewhere gravity is played with more creatively, but only on occasion did it feel like a truly breathtaking addition to the gameplay.
It's not all peachy though. Camera problems have blighted 3D platformers since their inception and while Mario Galaxy fairs better than many, it comes unstuck a few too many times. Small planets often cause the most problems, with your line of sight being little more than a few inches in front of your character. You also suffer moments where the camera will move on its own accord, causing your path to change and, if you're unlucky, a plummet to your death. You get a silhouette of Mario if he passes behind an object, but this simply doesn't cut it when you're walking along treacherous platforms.
The swimming levels are by far the worst though, with the camera out of your control entirely and the view of the action never ideal. It doesn't help that Mario swims like a weak child, but at least the freely available shells serve to propel him along at a faster rate of knots if you manage to pick one up. I'll reiterate that the camera is the best yet in a 3D Mario game, but the inability to manually control the camera (as you could have done with a second analogue stick) really hurts at times. You can flick it around from side to side fairly crudely using the Wii-mote d-pad (if you're in an area that allows it) but it's far from the perfect solution.
Camera problems aside, the game is generally a delight, with many of the levels being some of the most interesting Nintendo has created in years. You'll also be able to fire star bits at enemies, aiming using the Wii-mote, and a second player can opt to carry out these duties for you. Given that the A button on Player 2's Wii-mote isn't being used to make Mario jump, the second player can use it to interact with things, holding up enemies to help Mario out.