Video game review: ‘Super Mario Galaxy’
Vail, CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO ” Remember when video games used to be about taking you to fantastic places you’ve never been? Modern video games, especially in this high-definition era, have often been about replicating reality in greater detail: Emphasis gets placed on more realistic graphics and textures, real-life situations and real-world consequences while fighting in fantasy wars that seek to mirror the real one. Sometimes it’s still fun, but other times it’s a brown-and-gray drag.
“Super Mario Galaxy” couldn’t be more different. The fat Italian plumber who saved video games in the ’80s by enthralling a generation with jumping on turtles and collecting mushrooms has returned in perhaps his best game yet, which sees him taking to space to rescue his beloved Princess Peach. That’s the standard story, sure, but taking Mario to space enabled the game designers to come up with a whole universe of new challenges, all of them mind-blowingly clever and fun. It’s a vibrant tribute to every Mario game you’ve ever played, and also unlike anything you’ve ever played. If video games needed a little breath of fresh air, “Mario Galaxy” arrives like a cyclone.
The game begins on terra firma in the Mushroom Kingdom, where you’ll control Mario as he runs around and meets the citizens; he’s been invited to a once-every-hundred-years comet party (or something). Things go haywire shortly, and his longtime enemy King Bowser appears in a UFO, which rips Princess Peach’s castle from the ground with her inside. Mario gives chase, but is blown back into space, lost forever.
Of course, he’s not really lost: This is just the setup so Mario can explore all manner of topsy-turvy planetoids in a quest to get enough stars to rescue his princess. None of that matters much (though it is cute) ” what matters is that you’ll guide Mario through what seems like an endless parade of galaxies, all filled with different planets to explore. Most are small asteroids littered with traps and enemies, but some are sprawling landscapes similar to ones found in Mario 64, only grander.
Each planet has its own set of rules you’ll have to adjust to. Sometimes if you fall off an edge, you’ll be taken by a black hole, while on other planets you can leap off the edge of a planet, fall for hundreds of feet, and get pulled back on the other side of the world by its own gravity. It’s mind-boggling and a terrible amount of fun just to run around and experiment this way.
The gameplay may sound complex, but the tight and intuitive controls make the experience painless, and both video game veterans and novices will be jumping through tubes, collecting stars and spin-attacking enemies like naturals within a few minutes. The sheer variety of tasks you engage in never seems to get repetitive; in one scene you’ll have to ascend a staircase while bashing enemies to get the star, while in another you’ll don a bee suit and fly to meet the gigantic, fuzzy queen of the hive. The game designers never seem to run out of new, unheard of ideas, from riding manta rays to fighting backwards gravity while inside a planet’s core.
The Wii has been rightly slagged for displaying sub-par graphics, even when compared to last-generation consoles. High-def consoles like the PS3 and the XBox 360 positively crush the Wii in most cases, but “Super Mario Galaxy” approaches those consoles in both sheer graphical beauty and art design. It doesn’t have the crispness of high-def, but vibrant colors and richly detailed worlds pop out from the screen, striving to show you things you’ve never seen, instead of realistically rendering things you have. Everything animates in super-fluid fashion, and passersby will be drawn in by the incredible scenes and whimsical sound effects coming from your TV.
The sound is perhaps the best score ever for a Nintendo game. Several songs are fully orchestrated, adding a cinematic grandeur to the plumber proceedings, while many, many old tunes from all the previous Mario games are given fresh shine and polish. The new songs often follow a spacey theme, and we’ll be humming them years later, the same way we do with the old tunes.
I remember when “Super Mario 64” was released for the Nintendo 64 over 10 years ago, and I can still see the lines of people at electronics stores, all craning their necks to witness, or if they were lucky, play this watershed game where Mario leapt into 3-D. The game was groundbreaking, but most of all it was more fun than anything we’d played before it, and some would say since. “Super Mario Galaxy” is like that, but on steroids and crack. XBox 360 owners can keep their next-gen graphics ” I’ll settle for next-gen gaming, in which that fat little plumber climbs to previously unheard-of heights of video-game enjoyment in places beyond imagination.
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