Before I get into Super Mario Galaxy, first a word about Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. It’s worth mentioning that I played, and thoroughly enjoyed, SM64 as a kid and did not cross paths with the other two until the Switch release. So even though revisiting SM64 made me fully aware of how bad the camera was and how difficult it was to control ninja Mario, I still enjoyed the second play through and finished it. It’s easier to visit old games that don’t age well if you are already connected to them.
Super Mario 64
Check out my write up on SM64 where I revisit the classic 24 years later.
Super Mario Sunshine
As for Super Mario Sunshine, I’ll keep this short, as I didn’t have much patience for this game. Sunshine feels like the improved SM64 in that controlling Mario is easier and more predictable, it looks better, the camera is greatly improved, and there's an added twist with the water canon. Here’s where it lost me:
Super Mario Galaxy
Moving on to Super Mario Galaxy, my first reaction to this game was that it holds up extremely well both in terms of visuals and controls. My second reaction was that I was feeling quite sick to my stomach and I would make for an awful astronaut. Thankfully I was able to quickly adapt to the twisting, turning worlds and became rather comfortable walking upside-down.
SMG is extremely intuitive. It all just clicks. Mechanics, power-ups, and three-dimensional challenges slowly unfold to allow you to ease into the complexities of this game. Subtle aim-assist and movement assisting keeps the focus on fun over frustration.
There’s a harmony between pressing buttons and swiping the screens. It should be chaos yet it works with ease.
The spin move is artfully implemented. It’s a multifaceted tool that acts as an attack, an interaction maneuver (e.g. screws), a propulsion boost in water, and an extra oomph after jumping. That final usage, spinning in air after jumping, is actually quite genius as it’s what allows the player to safely navigate to landing pads as it softens the jump while also lifting.
There is so much rich, brilliant, innovative level design and use of three-dimensional space throughout the galaxy. The boss battles, of which there are plenty, are fairly simple yet always fun. And there’s a clever mixture of activities, spaces, puzzles, and upgrades, making it so that no level is like any other.
Tilt mechanic based levels such as surfing and golf don’t overstay their welcome. I would easily be frustrated by these types of levels if I was asked to collect 3-7 stars while tilting my way through bumpy waves or riding a ball on a precarious, narrow field. Instead the designers set up these levels to be one-and-done, a wise move on their part.
Much like SM64, and much unlike SMS, Galaxy is gracious with the 1-ups, and even strategically placed them in areas that are most dangerous. The creators recognize that punishing the players with limited lives is not fitting in this series.
Tutorials are cleverly camouflaged and well-integrated. For example, when first moving on ice a cute penguin challenges you to catch him. This allows you to get your feet wet (pun intended) before tackling the level. You never feel like you are being told what to do, and because the controls are so intuitive and finely tuned, picking up a new mechanic comes with ease.
The camera, which you would expect to be the biggest challenge in developing such a topsy-turvy 3D experience, works beautifully. It locks and adjusts to predetermined angles for most of the levels while allowing for freedom to manually rotate only in those areas where appropriate. It always feels right, focusing your attention on the path ahead with just the right amount of edge space to plan ahead.
SMG is a visual spectacle. It’s simply dazzling. I found myself frequently hitting the screenshot button on my Switch as Mario soared through the starry fields that were painted vividly with swaths of purple and blue tones.
There's also a ton of attention to detail and polish that went in to enhancing the visual experience. For example, if you spin near friendly characters they will gyrate in excitement.
There’s just enough story elements running throughout the adventure to keep it anchored in the narrative without interfering with the fun. And familiar staples to the Mario universe are sprinkled throughout the game who drop hints and add charming dialogue.
The deeper you get the richer the experience becomes. Levels become more complex, more characters appear, different star types are located, planets can be revisited with new challenges, the story unfolds, and more and more Mario power-ups are discovered. This is a game that only gets richer and more flavorful the more you play.
My only hope, now, is that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is quickly brought to the Switch.
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Brian Riggsbee lives in San Francisco CA. He enjoys gaming, writing, creating art, practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, chasing adorable dogs, and spending time with his wife and boy.