It had been a looooong five years since Super Mario Sunshine. A much maligned entry in the Mario series, almost everyone thought it wasn’t a “true” successor to Mario 64 — including the creator of Mario himself. Granted, I loved the shit out of Sunshine after an awkward few hours, so I’ll never understand any complaints lobbied against its creative and joyful brilliance.
Still, I could tell Galaxy was meant to be something different, something special and important. It looked epic, and the one thing Mario needed after a cute little vacay on some random island was something as such. Hype was huge, reviews were amazing. I could not sleep all night before release (Nintendo =/= midnight releases at GameStop, no matter how big the game).
I remember getting home that morning, hands trembling, wondering what I was getting myself into as I tore off the cellophane. The title screen was instantly an emotional experience; Mario in space, flying around with some dramatic strings in the background. An insanely well made opening video introduces the game, something I swore Square Enix (well, the talented ones there) must have had a hand in.
Awe during the tutorial sections, jumping from planetoid to planetoid. Music absolutely beautiful, graphics the best on the Wii. The first time landing on Good Egg Galaxy, silence before and then absolutely perfect music (one of the best video game songs ever) upon touchdown = instant goosebumps.
After this initial moment of joy, something happens. Rather, Honeyhive Galaxy happens. The second “world” or “level” in the game, it appears to almost be a more open ended example of 3D Mario gameplay (ala Sunshine or 64) until one realizes how small and boring it actually is. There’s just not much to do in the level — point A to point B. (This is not an argument against linearity in Mario games; the 2D games outside of World are built upon it and I cherish every second I have with them.)
It’s just the epitome of unexciting level design. Something’s definitely off when crawling around on a giant, furry bee is a dull experience in a Mario game. It could have been because I as a player was doing another at-this-point-getting-really-dull collectathon that we all OD’d on in the late 90s via various Mario 64 knockoffs, but that’s another post for another time.
Levels of this general dullness continued on. An early highlight is a “side” galaxy, not even a main one (Super Sweet Galaxy). Part of the reason for this is because of the actual lack of variety within the game; while Galaxy was touted and reviewed as a game with an endless amount of ideas, all we were doing aside from standard Mario game mechanics was jumping from spherical planetoid to planetoid. As awesome and interesting as this at first, level after level of this quickly grows tiresome.
These boring levels and objectives (get the star!) are surrounded by a hub world that, while pretty, is a rather drab affair to traverse in.
Granted, not all of the game is as boring as Honeyhive Galaxy. There are moments as awe inspiring as the first, although some of that is due to the music and the graphics. And even the boring shit isn’t terrible, it’s just not up to snuff for Mario platformers. This is all made evident by the absolute brilliance and perfection of Super Mario Galaxy 2 — every star achieved feels original and new in that game, whereas in the first one it all feels sorta the same.
Every once in awhile a new idea was thrown at us, and I didn’t take them for granted: using the Wiimote to tilt a giant ball underneath Mario’s feet; pointing at the screen and using a motorized fan to blow Mario around in space. These ideas felt fresh and relieved us from the chore of simply getting another star. Later worlds started getting a bit more creative, like the Toy Time and Dreadnought galaxies.
Super Mario Galaxy also did a few other things right that I can not deny: the music is brilliant from almost start to finish, the graphics are incredible the whole way through, and the (for the most part) automatically controlled camera is genius.
Also, for as boring as a lot of the game felt to me personally, it’s obvious I’m in the minority. “Game of the year” from almost every gaming website out there, it’s clear that Super Mario Galaxy was a big deal for some gamers out there. But for yours truly, it’s definitely his least favorite 3D Mario game.