Dopefish Reviews Super Mario Galaxy

I don’t really do blogs with ‘dedications’ very much, but this is my first detailed record of a Wii game I completed, so I might as well thank the person responsible for letting me play Wii games. I moved out recently – family moved away and I wanted to stay near my job – and one positive change this brought about was that my new accommodations were within 15 minutes walk of my best friend, henceforth referred to by the recognizable but not entirely identifying nickname ‘Al’.

‘Al’ is also an avid gamer who owns so many consoles that it would take less time for me to just name the ones he doesn’t own (No Xbox One or PS4 yet, and he doesn’t have a PS Vita or an Atari 5200. I’m pretty sure that’s all. No, seriously. He has a CDI, Jaguar, 3DO, N-Gage, and even some games for the ‘WonderSwan’,) but his skill doesn’t end at playing the games – he’s an expert at fixing consoles, repairing computers, and although I joke sometimes that he could turn my toaster into a PS3, if he had a spare toaster and a spare PS3, I’d bet large amounts of money that he could successfully combine the two without much difficulty with nothing more than a soldering gun and copious amounts of PVA Glue.

Anyway, I was able to start visiting him more regularly, and he graciously let me play on his Nintendo Wii, since I don’t own one but have been intrigued by some of the games on it. A few months later, and here I am, writing this blog, having completed Super Mario Galaxy, Punch-Out Wii, Rayman Origins and Skyward Sword. Also, Samba De Amigo is so fun it makes me want to go back in time and meet the Elmo 3000 from 5 years ago who didn’t care for the Wii at all and punch him in the face verbally, with words that would make him rethink his foolish attitude towards the console.

So before I get into any of the details of Super Mario Galaxy, massive thanks to Al, as all of the games I’ve played so far have been very fun and it’s because of him that I was able to enjoy them. Also he fixed up a broken PS2 and gave it to me while back. And ‘Sword of Vermilion’ was my birthday present from him a few years ago, and it’s been my favourite Megadrive game ever since. And he gave me a DreamCast. And he got me ‘Silent Scope’ for my birthday this year. And he got me a copy of ‘The Room’ for my birthday as well. And he took apart and cleaned my recently-acquired PSP when the buttons got sticky. And he – if I list any more of his accomplishments I will literally die of inferiority. Anyway, you rock, Al!

Now let’s talk for a second about Mario. Like a lot of gamers out there, I have played more games with Mario in than any other character. You could take every game with Link, Samus and Donkey Kong, push them all into a big pile, and it probably wouldn’t match up to the Mario pile. Since it’s actually going to be relevant shortly, let me tell you all the Mario games I’ve played.

Starting on the NES, I’ve played ‘Super Mario Bros’ and both sequels, although the first is the only one I’ve beaten, and even then I was using the warp zone. Got to the final boss of the Gameboy Advance remake of ‘Super Mario Bros 2’, but never actually beaten it. I’ve also played ‘Dr Mario’, and ‘Super Mario Land’ and ‘Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins’ on the Gameboy, the latter of which I still maintain is probably the most underrated Mario game I’ve ever played.

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Moving onto the SNES, I haven’t technically played any of them on the console itself, but I’ve played the GBA remakes of ‘Super Mario World’ and ‘Yoshi’s Island’, both of which included remakes of the arcade ‘Mario Bros’ game. There’s also Super Mario RPG, a well-balanced game that showed me and the world that an RPG could still maintain a wacky sense of humour while providing an interesting story and fun gameplay.

‘Donkey Kong’ on the Gameboy is kind of a Mario game since it was the precursor to ‘Mario VS Donkey Kong’, and in both games, you still play as Mario. I also tried ‘Hotel Mario’ while I was round Al’s house once. It was actually worse than I expected due to a really poorly-designed level early on in the game that made progressing nigh-impossible. In short, you have to shut every door in the level to proceed, but enemies can emerge from closed doors, and about 7 levels in there’s a stage with three rows, each with doors to close, with respawning enemies, the result of which is that you can’t possibly get to all 3 in time. Outrageously bad. I just thought people hated it because it had a weird concept, I had no idea it was an unbelievably poorly-tested mess.

Moving on a little further, I’ve gathered all of the stars in ‘Super Mario 64’, beaten ‘Paper Mario’ (which involved clearing a spot on my mental list of favourite RPGs,) and I played the aforementioned ‘Mario VS Donkey Kong’ on the GBA which also let me experience ‘Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga’, a very fun game that managed to be original despite being the third Mario RPG created.

Moving on even further, I’ve beaten ‘Super Mario Sunshine’ and ‘Luigi’s Mansion’ (does that count?) ‘Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time’, ‘New Super Mario Bros DS’, and I’ve just started and given up on the second ‘Mario VS Donkey Kong’ game, ‘March of the Mini’s’. There’s also ‘Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door’, and ‘Super Princess Peach’, both of which I have started but not quite finished yet.

So that’s about all – no wait, I forgot about the sport spin-offs. So throw in ‘Mario Kart 64’, ‘Mario Kart: Double Dash’, ‘Mario Kart: Super Circuit’ and my favourite of all four, ‘Mario Kart DS’. Then there’s ‘Mario Power Tennis’ and ‘Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour’. Then there’s ‘Mario Superstar Baseball’ and ‘Super Mario Strikers’. And I’ve played Mario Party round a friend’s house, both the original N64 game and the one on the DS. Hey, did I mention that time I tried ‘The Lost Levels’?

Anyway, now that that’s finally over, I can – nope, wait, Mario VS Wario, I tried that once. Kind of goofy but not entirely without fun. Okay, that’s really all of them now. I think.

So counting up all of those games (I won’t count Luigi’s Mansion and Yoshi’s Island, I suppose,) that comes to a total of… thirty-three games. I think. I could do this the ScrewAttack way and include every game in which you can play as Mario, but then I’d have to include Super Smash Bros, and the GameCube port of SSX 3, and depending on your point of view, MUGEN. Or I could just quote Jaime Lannister and say “’Countless’ has a nice ring to it.”

Even I don’t know how many Mario games I’ve played. But there’s one more, the subject of this blog, Super Mario Galaxy. So, why did I go through the bother of naming every other Mario game I’ve played if I’m just talking about one? Well, I wanted to summarize what I thought of the game quickly, and with the background information I’ve just provided, I think I’ve come up with an accurate statement regarding my opinion of its quality.

Super Mario Galaxy is the best Mario game I’ve ever played.

Now if you’ve read some previous reviews of mine, you’ll know that I very rarely get the chance to basically gush about how much I unabashedly love a game – there’s normally a few big flaws that hold the game back, or the game is just mediocre in general, but now that I’m talking about Super Mario Galaxy, one of the best games I’ve played in recent memory, one of the objectively best games I’ve had the pleasure of playing so far in my life, then… I feel a little bit like a dog that likes to chase cars up and down the road. I’ve caught a car, but now I have no idea what to do with it.

My default writing choices are ‘Somehow chisel the topic into an uninspired Top 5’ or ‘Describe how you played the game from start to finish’, but I feel like doing something a little bit different for a game that actually accomplishes excellence, so instead I’m just going to talk about every little thing I enjoyed about the game that changed it from ‘good’ to ‘amazing’.

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Let’s start with the most important part of most games – the controls. The one thing about the Wii that always had me feeling a little cautious was the idea that the Wii Remote and Nunchuk would be no more effective than a regular controller, and while I can’t honestly say they do a great deal to improve the experience, they are by no means worse – another fact I could’ve used beaten into my head 5 years ago – and everything works fluently.

I think that the sign of a good platform game is how few actions the character can perform – that might sound odd but bear with me – because if you’ve designed a platform game well, you shouldn’t need 7 different ways of attacking and 6 possible speeds at which to move because the game should be fun regardless. Super Mario Galaxy passes this personal test because all you need to do through the levels is jump, spin and ground-pound, although long-jumping, triple-jumping and wall-jumping make a welcome return too, and goomba-stomping off of any enemy that doesn’t have a protective electrified shell is still as fun as it ever was.

But the WiiMote and Nunchuk do add more to the experience than a controller ever could. Whether it’s a small thing like holding B to feed a hungry Luma star bits, or a bigger thing like pointing the WiiMote at the screen to send any star bits it touches flying directly to Mario, or an even bigger thing like shaking the WiiMote or Nunchuk to make Mario spin, either to give his jump extra height, attack a nearby enemy, or blast off from a launch star, the controls always feel very responsive and very easy to pick up.

But controls don’t mean diddly-squat if the game doesn’t have a variety of colourful levels to back it up, so does Galaxy deliver on this front? Well, it probably has the best selection of levels out of any game I played last year, so I’m going to go with ‘Yes, yes it does,’ as my final answer.

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I don’t want to spend too much time talking about other Mario games, but let’s mention the levels of the last big Mario game before Galaxy, Super Mario Sunshine. I’d give Super Mario Sunshine’s levels an 8/10, they were big and colourful and I wish there had been more of them, which is a pretty positive sign that I enjoyed the ones there were. The objectives in each level varied a bit, but each world usually had a boss, and a few ‘go to this high place to get the shine sprite’ missions. Each world was guaranteed to have a Shadow Mario chase, a gathering of 8 Red Coins, and an obstacle course with an entry you had to unlock. There were also tons of really nice ideas – secret shine sprites, blue coins, and hey, Delfino Plaza as a hub level is a million times better than Super Mario Galaxy’s Observatory. But the levels themselves, while flirting with absolute greatness, weren’t always as good as they could’ve been.

Super Mario Galaxy’s levels get an increasingly rare 10/10 from me for a variety of reasons, the main one being, rather fittingly, variety. For starters, Super Mario Sunshine had 9 different ‘worlds’, which each held 8 shine sprites, not counting secret ones. Super Mario Galaxy has more than 40. That’s more than 40 expansive, individually designed levels of platforming fun. Admittedly, close to half of them are only designed for one play-through to collect one star, but for every small level with one star, there’s a big level with three or four.

As for the levels themselves, I’ve heard a few people say that it’s just a normal Mario game recycled in space, which is technically true, but adding the suffix ‘ in space’ to most things makes a subject vastly different enough that it’s not really recycling any more. I nipped out to the shops yesterday to buy some pizza. If I nipped out to the shops yesterday to buy some pizza IN SPAAAAACE then that story would be drastically different, no?

The space theme is used well and never wears out its welcome in-game; each level may consist of one giant planet that you would explore like any other level in any other Mario game, but a fair few consist of many little planets, and it’s really fun how the gravity for each body in space works, letting you check the underbelly of a few sections of levels, and jump to your next destination from above or below the platform you’ll land on. I also had more fun than I’m willing to admit using the WiiMote to grab star bits while I was flying from planet to planet thanks to the launch stars.

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But while the space-theme works well, it’s the different objectives that make the game great. The big levels usually have a few different routes, or launch-stars to smaller, orbiting planets, and accomplishing your task could range from running over every panel of a planet’s floor surface, to surfing on a manta ray through a floating trail of water, to finding and saving Luigi from his fate, trapped in a haunted house. With a maximum health of 3 HP, each objective is challenging, but easy enough to complete without frustration.

The mini-games for stars are fun as well, with the aforementioned manta ray race, a surprisingly difficult task where you need to throw bombs to blow up piles of garbage under a strict time limit, and a few memorable tasks in which Mario floats around in a bubble and you need to point the WiiMote at the screen and press A to blow Mario around from the direction you’re pointing at. It’s challenging, but the controls are smooth and the challenge is fair, so there’s nothing to complain about.

I can’t honestly say that every objective is incredibly original and unique, but it’s a more solid platformer than Super Mario Sunshine simply for having more solid platforming; with shorter, individual levels, more stars are focussed on simply making your way through a colourful level, collecting star bits and coins while avoiding enemies, to get to the star at the end. The game strikes a nice balance between fresh new ideas and the traditional platforming that Mario games are known and loved for.

The power-ups are decent too, if not quite as exciting as the other parts of the game. The Fire Flower is back letting you pelt your enemies with fireballs by shaking the WiiMote, and it has a counterpart in the Ice Flower, which has the added effect of letting Mario skate across bodies of water by constantly freezing the liquid everywhere he steps. Of course there’s an invincibility power-up too in the form of a Rainbow Star, and it’s as satisfying as ever to grab one and effortlessly plough through enemies.

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The more inventive new power-ups include a Bee Mushroom to turn Mario into (you guessed it) Bee Mario, who can cling and climb to honeycomb walls and even fly for short periods of time. You can also be Boo Mario and travel through certain walls, as well as floating around like everyone’s favourite little ghosts. Finally, there’s… Spring Mario, which was the most annoying to use as it forces Mario to constantly move everywhere in small hops rather than walking, but given that it lets you jump to incredible heights, it’s only fair that it comes with a handicap.

Speaking of handicaps, the difficulty is one of my favourite things in Super Mario Galaxy. Now there’s a running joke between me and my friend ‘Al’ because I have a habit of unintentionally sounding like I’m bragging by doing difficult things in games and then saying that they’re no big deal or not that difficult, although I stand by my logic behind that – anything I can accomplish can’t be too difficult because… well, it was accomplished by ME – but I like how in Super Mario Galaxy there are optional, harder things to do that offer a genuine challenge.

Just because I said those mini-games earlier have smooth controls doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a long time for you to get used to them – that manta ray race I mentioned had to be attempted at least half a dozen times before I got past the milestone of ‘not falling off after the first 20 seconds’ – but it was fair and I was trying to speed through it instead of taking it slowly and after I learned how to properly steer and avoid hazards then I won pretty easily.

Ditto for the two occasions in the game where you have to throw time-bombs at piles of garbage – it is genuinely difficult and requires a high level of skill, but you have unlimited retries and you soon learn tricks, like placing bombs closer together so that one exploding makes another explode, thus helping you defeat the abrupt time limit. Plus there are levels where the star is embedded in a ball, and you have to jump on top of it and tilt the Wii Remote to guide it around the level until you can open it. Easy to screw up, but rewarding to succeed at.

If that’s not enough, even though the developers must’ve known full well that the game was nothing short of amazing already, they added in one more kind of challenge; comets. At random times, comets will appear around various galaxies, and visiting the galaxies in question will give you another alternative task depending on the kind of comet that’s in orbit.

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There are Speedy Comets that make you complete a previous level but with a slightly different layout and a time limit you can’t afford to take lightly. There are Daredevil Comets that make you go through part of a level, or sometimes a boss fight, with only one HP left, so you can’t afford to take any hits. There are Cosmic Comets which pit you in a race against ‘Cosmic Mario’ to get a bonus star – you’ll need to practise your long-jumping if you want to win. There are Fast Foe Comets that significantly speed up the enemies on the Galaxy, forcing you to come up with entirely new ways to avoid them or deal damage to them.

Finally, after completing the main story, all major galaxies are visited by the Purple Comet, which places 100 purple coins around the level that you have to collect. Sometimes there’s a time limit, and sometimes there are more than 100 coins so you can miss some, but they’re all quite similar. I never cared too much for the tasks in Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine in which you had to collect 100 coins, or even 8 red coins for that matter, but the coins aren’t hidden away to waste your time, but normally positioned in the form of a path around the level, so it’s less of a hunt and more of a scenic tour of each galaxy, guided by the purple coins, with occasional detours because a cluster of them is stuck up a tree like a troublesome cat.

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to mention the music – I know that I linked in Gusty Garden Galaxy nearer the beginning of the blog, even though it’s by far the most frequently referenced music in the game (but it’s also the best music in the game so… well, that explains that,) but the rest of the soundtrack is great as well. Most of the planets are calm and colourful and just relaxing to play, and the music fits that well. But my favourite piece of music is the music used for the final boss battle with Bowser.

Since this music is dramatic and ominous, I’ll use it as the background for the dramatic and ominous portion of the blog – the negatives, the down sides, the bad things, the stuff I didn’t like. Even the sweetest-smelling rose has thorns, and even the best-playing game has a secret flaw hidden away at its very centre. Dare you continue the blog, and discover what horrible evil lurks in the darkest depths of the game?

Well (and it’s kind of ironic to include the final boss music at this point,) I think the final boss battle is over too quickly. You have to hit Bowser a few times to bounce him from planet to planet and once you get to the final arena/planet, the wonderful music starts but it’s over very quickly because you only have to hit Bowser twice more to win, I think. Maybe if you had to hit him four or five times I would’ve liked it more.

That was seriously it. I can’t remember the last game I played which had a list of negatives that short. I mean, Spring Mario was annoying but it was kind of necessary for there to be an impracticality to contrast the power it provided, and I did think I unlocked some of the levels a bit early (by the time I finished the second group of levels, I had access to the final boss of the third group,) but the game didn’t force me to move on at all so that just makes it more accessible to gamers in a hurry or gamers who want a less challenging experience.

It’s not even as if that flaw brings the game down from 10/10 to 9/10, it brings the game down to 9.9999/10 which for argument’s sake can be rounded up to 10. I think the reason I was so pleasantly surprised with Super Mario Galaxy is that I always tend to have two opinions of games. One being my personal opinion, how much I enjoyed the game myself, and another being how much I think the game is good objectively, to gaming as a whole.

These opinions can sometimes differ drastically – for instance, a game from my childhood is likely to score highly on a personal level but not so much on a professional level, and games that fall into risky genres that don’t go down well with everyone are hard to recommend sometimes – and there are games in genres I’m not a big fan of, but for which I have a healthy respect. I’m not too big on FPS games, but I wouldn’t criticize a well-made FPS game just for being an FPS game.

I guess why Super Mario Galaxy jumped out at me is because if you take nothing else from this blog, not the ‘it’s my favourite Mario game’, statement or the ‘9.9999/10’ rating, take this. Super Mario Galaxy is one of the most objectively perfect games I’ve played in a very long time. It’s a game I could recommend to just about anyone who plays video games, and it’s a great example of how a game can be well-designed in any way imaginable – controls, soundtrack, level design – anything.

This conclusion is probably going to sound weird to anyone who isn’t me, but as someone who by bizarre coincidence only seems to get into the current generation of games once it’s no longer the current generation of games by a margin, then even though I was completely aware of Super Mario Galaxy’s reputation of a really good game, I was taken aback at how the game managed to be simultaneously innovative and traditional at the same time, moving the series forwards with time.

True, nowadays it’s Super Mario 3D World people are talking about and even the Galaxy formula became a little unoriginal with the sequel, but I still see Super Mario Galaxy as a recent-ish game, (despite it now being more than six years since its release) and to know that a classic series like Mario can reinvent itself successfully as one of the most exceptional video games of all-time, well… it just makes me feel hopeful for the future. Hopeful that other series I love can see continued success if they somehow manage to obtain the high standards of quality that Nintendo had with Super Mario Galaxy.

So on that optimistic note, thanks to Nintendo for making a great game, thanks to my best friend Al for letting me play it, and thanks to you for reading the first blog I’ve written in a long time that was so… positive. So once again…

Thanks for reading!

-The Dopefish

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