I simply couldn't muster up the interest or camera wrangling finger dexterity to complete Super Mario Sunshine. It left a terrible tropical taste in my mouth. That taste has endured—like the heaving of one too many pina coladas—giving me pause that Nintendo's latest plumber-saves-princess adventure, Super Mario Galaxy, will somehow compare to its unfortunate Gamecube predecessor. Fortunately, almost nothing of Sunshine is present in Galaxy, as unnecessarily complicated FLUDD control has given way to simple—but immensely enjoyable—Wii remote whipping and heavenly design decisions.
You know how these Mario platformers work now, right? Move Mario around with the analogue stick, make sure that he jumps on the malicious fungal inhabitants and pissy centipedes while collecting coins in a long and drawn out effort to save Peach, who's been kidnapped or something. This one's not that different, but you'll have to save some adorable starry space denizens along the way.
Super Mario Galaxy begins with an atypically dramatic prologue, fireballs raining down from Bowser's flying cartoon clipper ships at night. Toad's are frantically trying to avoid being burned alive. It's heavy stuff. You soon move on to the real meat, introduced to the Lumas, a race of cutesy star people, and their "mama", Rosalina. She's the attractive Peach replacement who will provide Mario with updates and motivation when he returns to the game's galactic hub.
The game's hub, through which various galaxies are reachable by "domes", is smartly designed. As you acquire more Stars, the area becomes more well lit. Basically, if you can't see it, you can't get to it.
Super Mario Galaxy's implementation of the Wii controller feels like the first title on the platform without a hint of tacked-on Wii-remote functionality. There are no camera pans to Mario's arms, key in gloved hand, asking you to turn the remote to unlock a door. No, the Wii remote's usage is inoffensive to motion control haters, and wisely too, as the series' primary mechanic, jumping, is done with the A button. Nothing should interfere with that and nothing does.
You will feel like you're using the Wii remote, though, as the pointer will constantly be on screen. Point it at Star Bits—the colorful crystalline things that partially replace coins in Galaxy—and you'll pick them up. Actual coins, however, require physical contact with Mario. Those Star Bits aren't just for 1UPs, end of level high scores and for feeding to hungry Lumas, they can also be fired at enemies with the B button on the back of the Wii remote. They won't do much damage, so Galaxy doesn't devolve into a shooter, but if you need to knock a Goomba on his ass, launch a Star Bit.
The other function of the Wii remote is Mario's spin. This is important and here's why. Super Mario Galaxy feels at times very simplistic, devoid of challenge. While the game's camera is 99% effective, the fact that you're floating in space, influenced by multiple gravitational pulls, might be a bit unsettling for the Wii newbs who've graduated from Wii Sports to actual, training free, swear-to-God game games. Manipulating Mario with an analogue stick on a sphere in three dimensions isn't going to as intuitive as picking up a virtual tennis racket. Therefore, we have the Mario spin. It's the Koopa killing move that's easy to pull off and doesn't require much in the way of precision. Spinning after a jump gives Mario a bit of a vertical boost and a momentary float, making this mechanic not only casual friendly, but adding a nice layer of depth for veteran players.
The spin has multiple uses: destroying enemies, shattering crystal shards that house coins or unlucky Toads, volleying projectiles back at bosses. It's a welcome addition, one that requires a quick shake of the Wii remote.
As we've seen from newly released videos, the Wii remote will also be used to throw fireballs, using a simple flick to launch. That's pretty much it for the remote and I'm quite thankful for its low-key implementation.
As mentioned earlier, Super Mario Galaxy—at least for the first two hours—isn't very hard. You'll burn through the first few galaxies without taking a hit, but you may find some of the later platform jumping sequences a providing a challenge. One level, a self contained star cluster named Sweet Sweet Galaxy, features a series of conveyor belts with large primitive shape cut outs leading to unavoidable death. Timing your jumps, while avoiding electric barriers and trying to pick up every Star Bit wasn't easy. It's not The Lost Levels-hard, but there were some dead Marios along the way.
While I didn't get a chance to try out Mario's fireball tossing abilities in Super Mario Galaxy, I did get some time with the Bee Suit. It's a straightforward power up, giving Mario a stylish outfit that helps him hover for a brief period of time, a "Fly" meter warning him of his suit's power. You won't fly as if wearing a winged hat and/or raccoon tail, but you'll enjoy the ride. Bee Suit Mario also has the ability to stick to honeycomb panels, letting him climb up hives and trees on certain levels. Crawling around the abdomen of the Honeyhive Galaxy's Queen Bee, however, who complains of a feminine itch, cast a creepy light on our first Bee Suit experience.
Within the first few galaxies, I'd already had a few boss and mini-boss encounters. Dino Piranha in the Good Egg Galaxy was a bit of a pickle, requiring the player to slingshot planetary growths at his head. Bowser Jr. made an appearance, attacking Mario with a three-legged mech that was bigger than the planet it trampled upon. The octopus immersed in lava from the E3 2006 demo wasn't much further in. Only a few hours into the experience and Super Mario Galaxy was already loaded with variety.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Super Mario Galaxy is tremendously fun to play and clearly a first-day must-buy for any Wii owner. It's the best looking Wii game to date and plays like a dream. Whether you're surfing a manta ray on a tube of water in the Loopdeeloop Galaxy or flipping switches like mad in the Flipswitch Galaxy, there isn't a moment of the game that doesn't exude polish. Moments of 2D platformer gameplay add to the joy. In short, Galaxy reinstates faith in Mario platforming where Sunshine disappointed. In Super Mario Galaxy, the plumber is at the top of his game.