While the general consumer media and public have been heaping praise upon praise on Nintendo's plucky Little Console That Could, quite a few "hardcore" gamers have been eyeing the Wii with trepidation. Though hyped as a game design revolution, thus far the Wii's motion sensing control has done little other than lend itself to a new breed of minigame compilations, and more than a few members of the gaming community have labeled it a gimmicky fad - at best. The Xbox 360 is boasting games like Mass Effect and the Halo 3 juggernaut, and Metal Gear Solid 4 is looming around the corner for Sony's beleaguered PS3. It seemed the Wii was in desperate need for its own, more conventional, AAA title if it were to hang on to its nebulous lead in this generation of the console wars.
Enter Shigeru Miyamoto, the godfather of modern gaming, and a mustachioed plumber that just happens to be the single most recognizable videogame icon in the world.
Super Mario Galaxy is - make no mistake - every inch the game it was promised to be from start to finish, and the game that Wii owners have been waiting for since the console launched a year ago. The premise should be quite familiar to anybody who's played, say, virtually any of the main Mario games ever: Invited to the castle for a celebration by pink-clad Princess Peach, our hero has scarcely arrived before his longtime nemesis, Bowser, shows up to crash the party. With a fleet of airships and a mysterious UFO, Bowser kidnaps the princess (along with her entire castle) and heads off to make mischief.
Mario wakes up in the company of cutesy, little star-creatures called Lumas and a mysterious girl named Rosalina, who lets him know that he needs to retrieve a certain number of Power Stars before they can activate their Observatory starship and follow Bowser to rescue Peach, yada, yada, yada. It's certainly formulaic and by no means an epic worthy of Homer, but it gets the job done and propels Mario into his latest adventure.
As Super Mario 64 had Peach's Castle and Super Mario Sunshine had Delfino Plaza, Galaxy uses Rosalina's Observatory as a hub area. There are six domes located across the Observatory, and each has four to six "galaxies" to explore. As the player gets more and more Power Stars, they have access to more and more galaxies. The final galaxy in each dome is an enemy base where Mario ends up confronting either Bowser or his archenemy's son, Bowser Jr., and upon defeating the big bad, he gains access to the next dome and series of galaxies. It's hardly a deviation from the Mario formula, but it's a design choice that works quite well, and the old "if it ain't broke" axiom is certainly true in this case.
It's worth mentioning right off the bat - Galaxy looks great. Some have criticized the Wii's lack of power evident in a disproportionate number of its other games, but Mario's latest adventure is not one of them. Though as bright and cartoony as ever, Super Mario Galaxy demonstrates what a Wii game can and should look like with enough time and energy put into it. Its brilliant artistic design more than compensates for any weaknesses in the technical specs. Super Mario Galaxy is one of the most visually impressive games in a very long time.