Super Mario Galaxy” proves Nintendo still has some of the best videogame development talent in the industry, but it no longer has the best platform on which to work. The latest platforming adventure starring the portly plumber features the most astoundingly original levels of the year, enhanced by gravity tricks never before seen in videogames. But “Galaxy” makes poor use of the Wii’s motion-sensing controls and the graphics simply aren’t up to par with what players can now find on the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360. While brisk sales are certain given the Wii’s popularity, the “Mario” franchise may now be vulnerable to a challenger on another console better suited to 3-D running and jumping.
Story has never been the strong suit of any of the seven core “Super Mario” games, or their dozens of offshoots. The essence of the game, as always, is that the evil dragon Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and taken her to the other side of the universe, leaving Mario to stomp on a lot of enemies and collect a lot of stars in order to find and rescue her.
It’s silly stuff and all worth skipping, because the point is that Mario can now travel in space. But it’s not about spacesuits and barren landscapes. Instead, “Galaxy” has the little Italian stereotype running around and between small planetoids. The first time players see Mario running upside down on a planet, or jumping from the bottom of one to the top of the other, causing the camera to flip, they may feel motion sickness. But once they get used to it, they’ll find it enables some amazing tricks.
Some of the 50-plus levels in “Super Mario Galaxy” are similar to ones players have seen before: the little red guy rides a manta ray in a water race, for instance, or hunts for missing star pieces in a desert. But the best ones take full advantage of the game’s fantastic physics. Mario may find himself running around all sides of an intricately twisted planetoid, or pulling switches that shift gravitational fields in order to make it to his destination.
As good as the game is, though, it’s evidence of how bad the Wii is for third-person action games, a problem first made clear in last year’s “Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.” Holding the nunchuk, which moves Mario, and the Wii-mote, which makes him jump and spin, in separate hands is an awkward arrangement. Since there’s only one thumbstick, players rarely have control of the camera, and when they do, it’s not easy to manipulate. While the designers usually put the camera in the best position possible, it’s inevitable that gamers will sometimes wish they had a better view.
More importantly, “Galaxy” doesn’t make good use of the console’s motion-sensing abilities. In a transparent add-on to make use of the Wii-mote, players can collect “star bits” by pointing at them. But they aren’t integral to the game and pointing at them is a chore.
A second player can join in by using his or her Wii-mote to collect and shoot star bits, but again, it’s completely gratuitous. As brilliant as “Super Mario Galaxy” is, in fact, it’s one of the worst two-player experiences ever seen in a videogame.
Fans may claim the graphics are good as far as the Wii is concerned, but that argument quickly grows tired. There’s clever art design on many of the planets Mario visits, but given the vastly superior quality of the graphics in a game like “Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction,” currently available for the PS3, “Galaxy” looks old fashioned and lifeless.