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School of Game Development

Re-Imagining the Platformer

ike the meteorite that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, the arrival of a new Super Mario game usually brings about a dramatic change in the video game climate. As history has shown, entire generations of games have drawn heavy inspiration from the revolutionary steps that Mario has made. It’s strange to think that a fat Italian plumber could be the face of change for one of the world’s largest entertainment mediums, but the proof can still be seen in many of the games we play today. With his arrival on Wii, Mario is once again making a push to alter the landscape of gaming. This time, however, he is not pushing gaming toward the uncharted future. Rather, we see him looking to the past for innovation. In Super Mario Galaxy, Mario brings us back to the golden age of the platformers and shows us that our fond memories were just the primer for an adventure that is truly out of this world.

It turns out that the series’ most inventive level designs and most harrowing challenges can only be found in the far reaches of space. While Mario’s movements will be familiar to those of you who have played Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, the odd composition of the levels makes the experience feel entirely new. A simple jump, which you were hoping would bring you to an easily reachable platform, could end with you standing on the ceiling. Sharing the properties of M.C. Escher’s art, most of the level designs will either mess with your mind with their disorienting architecture or make your stomach turn with their gravity defying gameplay. It almost feels like you are going through astronaut training as you play.

By breaking the laws of physics, Nintendo has been able to create some truly amazing gameplay. You’ll find yourself hurtling through space toward a black hole, praying that you can point the Wii remote at the screen with the accuracy needed to latch onto a tiny object. The game even goes into sidescrolling platforming segments, but this time you are not only battling the obstacles; you have to account for four different points of gravity. And sure, you’ve seen lava and ice worlds before, but have you ever seen both of them united into one?

As in Mario 64, all of the worlds hold multiple Stars. But in this game, you won’t find yourself retracing the same steps to reach your goal. Each Star leads you down a unique path, featuring its own challenges and gameplay. This makes for a massive game. There are some repeated goals, but most of the content will make you say, “That was one of the coolest platforming sequences I’ve ever done.”
Galaxy also makes great use of the Wii’s motion-sensing controls. While Mario’s general movement is handled beautifully on the nunchuk’s analog stick, many feats require a shake of the remote or a steady pointing hand. If you have a second Wii remote, you can also experience one of the coolest and most inventive non-traditional co-op modes in any game. The second player doesn’t control a character, but rather a star. This player can pick up collectable items, and can also freeze enemies or projectiles in their tracks, which can be a great aid.

Super Mario Galaxy takes players on a journey unlike any other, but there are parts of it that should have been lost in time. A good portion of the story is pushed off to the side and is completely optional. While it’s nice that you rarely have to fuss with the camera, there are times where walls will obstruct your view, or you won’t be able to rotate the perspective to see where you are supposed to jump next. And worst of all, for a game that puts such an emphasis on going out of your way to get an extra life, all of your lives are reset when you turn the Wii off.

But I think you’ll agree, once that nostalgic music rings out and Mario leaps into the air, all your complaints instantly vanish. This is, in my opinion, the best Mario game since the NES classic, Super Mario Bros. It innovates in a genre that we had thought we had seen everything from, and in doing so delivers some of the most entertaining gameplay to date.


A tour de force platformer, Super Mario Galaxy is at once instantly familiar and completely new. In this mammoth adventure (you’ll be astonished at just how much there is to do here), all the elements that Nintendo has made a part of the action/platform lexicon are reassembled, re-imagined, and reconfigured into clever and striking levels that make this old genre feel young again. If you thought that all there was to Galaxy was running around on spheres, be prepared. These are quite simply some of the greatest level designs of all time, constantly reversing the laws of gravity and physics to keep you guessing. While some perennial flaws (spotty camera, a complete disinterest in telling a compelling story) remain, for the most part this is a Mario game to stand beside the best of the series – and that’s saying something. Remain patient through the slow and sometimes tedious beginning hours and you’ll be rewarded with some of the most ingenious and refined gameplay you’ve ever experienced. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, and they never did.
Nintendo has gone back to its past to reinvent the platformer for the next generation. It’s both nostalgic and new, and always a blast
Similar in detail to Super Mario Sunshine, but with some beautiful effects for water, reflective surfaces, and particles. The game also looks surprisingly good on huge HDTVs
An amazing score featuring new mixes of Mario’s familiar melodies and beautifully composed orchestrated tracks
Mario’s high-flying antics are tailored perfectly for the Wii. Motion-based gameplay is effectively used, but isn’t overused. Mario’s standard movement also feels right at home on the nunchuk
A huge adventure that just keeps getting better and better the more you play it
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