Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Review: Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Mario games have always had inexplicably floating platforms, but in SMG those platforms usually come with their own gravitational pull, meaning you can run around a spherical "planet" without fear of falling off. The general feel and aesthetic of this brand of platforming draws less from Hubble telescope images, and more from the likes of a giant mobile come to life. Think Le Petit Prince multiplied by the moon-rolling credit sequence from Katamari Damacy and you're getting there. The outcome is not that you feel as if you're traversing across vast expanses, but rather that someone dumped out a toy chest in orbit of a small satellite and asked you to make sense of it. SMG is still a platformer at heart, and to that end it is more about Mario's relationship with various floating objects than it is the zero-gravity environment that exists outside of objects' miniature atmospheres.
Let's not rag on SMG for tweaking the formula, but instead for the way it misapplies a swath of classic Mario tropes. Take coins for example. Coins in previous titles were a valued collectible item, earning you extra lives or potentially stars (symbolizing completion of a task), while also refilling lost health points. In SMG coins only exist to revitalize health and for tallying a non-rewardable high score on a per-level basis. A coin can help out in a pinch, but there's nothing to gain by "collecting" them. Or how about the "lives" system in general? Extra lives are worthless here since there's barely any reason you'll need more than the handful you begin with, plus the 5 Toad provides you every time you boot up the game. As a final deflating action, when you quit out of the game, your lives count is returned to the default quantity. Thus the idea of taking a chance on a risky jump to acquire a green 1-up mushroom always comes off as a poor value proposition. With no rare grabs to incentivize more skillful platforming I found myself hanging close to the middle of the road, which remains a perfectly engaging ride on its own, but leaves a substantial amount of underused content around the fringes.
I doubt SMG is going to inspire the next generation of astronauts since it has far more in common with the world of Power Stars than real ones. The game takes an amateur-science approach to astrophysics and runs with it before all the data has been collected. This can lead to inconsistencies (which objects are "planets," and which are just platforms?) but ultimately it serves to set a tone where it's pertinent to pay attention to the action instead of stopping to contemplate why everything around you is happening and how it's possible. I mean, how is it that Mario gains the skill of breathing in the vacuum of space, but he can't breathe underwater? It's not important, and there is no answer anyway. There's an heir to a shelled dinosaur throne commanding a flying pirate ship shooting fireballs at you. It's a Mario game, so this is what you signed up for.