Once in a great while a game comes along and actually makes people fall in love with video games all over again. For some reason, these types of games always seems to have the word "Mario" in it. The Italian plumber from Brooklyn, New York, has a long and distinguished history, and once again Mario adds another gem to his already stellar collection. For fans who felt Super Mario Sunshine was a let down, for fans who have been begging for an experience that would rival Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy delivers.
Galaxy is simply pure joy and fun. Taking the core gameplay from Super Mario 64, the creators at Nintendo's Tokyo Studio managed to expand upon the most well developed game engine ever and somehow make it even better. Galaxy is at heart a platformer, and Mario has to navigate various "galaxies" which serve as the many levels in the game. Within each galaxy are several stars which Mario will have to earn, and after earning enough stars, he can finally confront his evil nemesis to save the princess.
This may sound exactly like any other Mario title, but the space theme goes beyond the superficial. The entire feel of the game, the core gameplay, revolves around a physics engine that simulates some of the most amazing gravity effects seen in a video game. Mario runs around "planets" within each level, sometimes going upside down, sometimes going sideways, and sometimes just going through space itself. Every single type of movement must be done with the effects of what each planet's gravitation will do taken into careful consideration. Simply jumping across a gap is ill-advised, even for the smallest of distances.
That's not to say the game has a "floaty" feel about it at all times. Many of the levels, though floating in the middle of a huge galaxy, are rather traditional with long stretches of solid ground. In addition, not every stage is space themed: stages come in such flavors as a haunted mansion, a giant water filled bowl, a fiery volcano, a miniature golf course, a poisonous swamp, a battleship, a candy land, a toy world, and a desert. Some of the smaller galaxies - the ones with only one star and are more like bonus worlds - have insane concepts and are more difficult than the rest of the pack.
Besides the simple platforming, other unique forms of movement make appearances in Galaxy. Mario can once again obtain items to change form, ranging from a bee that can fly and stick to honey surfaces, a Boo that can disappear and go through walls, an ice man who can walk on water and figure skate, being able to use the fire flower to toss fireballs, using a red star to fly, and lastly turning into a spring that bounces around and can jump extremely high. Mario can also use the environment around him, such as using pull stars to travel across gaps of space, and even rolling along atop a giant ball, in gameplay segments ripped straight from Super Monkey Ball.
While the story itself is still the same old "Bowser kidnapped the Princess", the way in which the story is told is somewhat more engrossing. The very beginning of the game has Mario waltzing through a Toad Town leading up to Peach's Castle, and the entire sequence looks like it belongs in a Disney film. The entire atmosphere and feel of the game and its story is, to say rather bluntly, "cute". The tale of the Lumas and Rosalina could qualify as a bonafide children's storybook, with the entire premise just so original and unique. Some may choke on the child-like nature of many aspects of the game's premise, but it serves to remind us all of why we play games - to have fun and be like a kid.
Galaxy finally showcases what the Wii is capable of in the visual department. Many of the "next-gen" effects are seen frequently throughout the game, and the level of detail in both characters and environments will be a treat to many who have suffered through countless Wii titles looking like they belonged on GCN, or even N64. The soundtrack is one of the best productions in Nintendo's history, simply because for the first time in a major title, they opted for fully-orchestrated, high-quality samples, and yet Nintendo still managed to capture that "dynamic landscape" Mr. Kondo values so much.
I just can't say enough about the production values in Galaxy. Everything about the title is just done so well, and rather than feeling convoluted or complex, the game still feels simple and easy to enjoy. The only issue that did come up a few times, was the camera controls. At points in the game players can use the D-pad to rotate the camera, or use the C button on the Nunchuk to refocus the camera, but for the most part, it's not very intuitive. The camera mostly is set to specific angles based on Mario's position, but there are some portions of the game where being able to manipulate the camera angle would be much more effective.
Despite that, the package is nearly flawless. There's even a two-player mode in which the second player will control the star bits Mario collects, and they can use them to stun enemies or interact with the environment. The game is a bit on the easy side for those looking to get through the game with the bare minimum, but for those who will seek out every last star, the quest will be grueling. 100 purple coin stars will drive many insane, and just when you think you've crossed the finish line, there's an option to go through everything you just did all over again in a new way in order to receive the true, final ending.
Simply put, this is the best Wii game, and the best game of the next generation so far. If you own a Wii, and don't intend to buy this game, you may want to ask yourself why you bothered with the Wii in the first place.
Final Verdict - 10/10
Near flawless package. Gameplay, visuals, sound, presentation and overall value and fun are off the charts. The first must-have title for Wii.