Samstag, 15. November 2008

Super Mario Galaxy Revisited

When Super Mario Galaxy came out for the Nintendo Wii last year, I was super excited. Ever since his first adventure for the GameBoy I have been a huge fan of the little plumber from Brooklyn and just like Nintendo wants me to, I celebrate each Mario game for the new console as one of the absolute highlights in their line-up.

While I was a little too young to woo for Mario's adventures for the NES, I loved both Super Mario Land 1 and 2 for the GameBoy. Then came the SNES and with him Super Mario World. Like Tetris came with the GameBoy, Super Mario World came in a bundle with the Super Nintendo. Only Nintendo would include one of the best games for a console with the console itself and therefore ensure that nobody missed out on what I think of as maybe the single most perfect Jump and Run of all time. There were no flaws in Super Mario World, nothing to improve. The learning curve was perfect, the graphics were awesome, the music was brilliant, and the gameplay was just out-of-this-world amazing. I think Nintendo realized that with SMW they had created the perfect Jump and Run because after this game, Mario games were developed with a much lower frequency and always tried a different angle towards the Jump-and-Run genre than their predecessors did.

One more Mario Game would come out for the Super Nintendo: "Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island" put Mario's dinosaur Yoshi in the spotlight, but Baby Mario, precious fright and active player, still played a major role in it and the game should therefore be treated as a proper submission to the franchise. Mario World 2 was stunningly beautiful and featured some of the most original gimmicks in the Mario universe. The egg-shooting-system was a welcome novelty, and the baby-rescue-scheme kept the players on the toes. All in all SMW2 managed to be as different from its predecessor as it could be without taking a dive in quality.

Then Nintendo took the long overdue step into 3d. I'm not saying that because I wanted them to, since I am an absolute sucker for everything 2d, but because Sony kept feeding of Nintendo’s market and all of a sudden Nintendo got renown for only producing kiddy games while neglecting the grown up player. Super Mario 64, again sold in a bundle with Nintendo’s new baby the N64, was simply a masterpiece of a 3d Jump 'n Run and still puts a lot of games of this genre on the next gen consoles to shame. Nintendo put the focus on handling and gameplay, making it an absolute joy to maneuver the plumber through the multitude of colourful levels in Princess Daisy's castle. A lot of moves which were created for M64 would resurface in Mario Galaxy.

Sadly enough, Mario 64 was the only Mario-Game for the N64, which says something about how carefully Nintendo treated its mascot, since even Link got a second go on the N64 after pulling off perhaps the best game ever with "Ocarina of Time". Mario's next adventure, again the only Mario game for the Game Cube, left the players a bit disappointed. "Super Mario Sunshine", the Game Cube appearance of Mario, was seen as being too difficult at some points, the new feature of the water-boost-device was deemed tedious and many thought that the game lacked the ingenious gameplay that made all the other Mario games so special. As for me, I thought that Sunshine was the best Mario Game to date, even better than SMW or M64. I completely dug the new way of controlling Mario with the help of the water pack FLUDD and I loved, loved, loved the graphics. Sunshine had something that I thought and still think of as something very important for a Mario game: a widely accessible overworld. Delfino Plaza was huge and held loads of secrets, so that, even when you were not playing a level, you could still explore Mario Sunshine and discover new things.

Super Mario Galaxy, the first, and hopefully not the last Mario title for the Wii, got only top reviews when it first came out. EDGE magazine gave it a 10/10 and called Galaxy a platform game "More so than Mario 64 is; more so than any truly 3D videogame ever made". True, on some level Galaxy is innovation in its purests form. Since Mario in space defies gravity, one of the key elements in the earlier Mario games and any other Jump and Run, the developers replaced the obstacle of falling down with a bizarre multitude of possibilities how to explore the levels. Mario can be pulled into different stratospheres, jumping from one tiny planet to another. He can be pulled towards little stars via tractor beam, all coordinated by the wiimote, he jumps into a tube on one side of a planet and comes out on the other side, heads down and feet up and last but not least, he can get sucked into a black hole and like that, technically, fall down anyway. Perspective and controls really took a big leap in Mario Galaxy and still the game leaves a stale taste.

When I played it last year, I was soon annoyed with how easy about 90% of the game is. There are just a handful of real challenges. Allowedly, these challenges are tough, but they don't make up for the countless boring stars that are basically handed to you after climbing up a mountain or swimming through a lake. Some stars are obtained in about a minute, I'm not kidding. But the low difficulty rate is not the strongest point of criticism. Mario Galaxy, as dumb as that might sound, simply lacks the Mario flair that defined M64, Sunshine or SMW. Mario feels strangely displaced in the floating... well... surrounding, that is the Galaxy overworld. As opposed to M64 and Sunshine, the overworld of Galaxy is rather necessity than part of the game and like in SMW is just used to get Mario from one point to another. And that is a perfect example for the strange isolated feeling that the elements of Galaxy bare.

The levels are less worlds that Mario explores and finds new paths in and that open up to him in their entirety only after visiting them again and again but more like narrow paths that are sometimes to be taken in this direction, and for the next star to be taken in the other. Knowing that the worlds were far less developed than in the last two Mario console games, the team behind the game hid a lot less stars to be found in one level. Instead, different comets who altered the circumstances in one level or the other randomly approached the levels, so that another star could be obtained by fulfilling a task already done, with a time limit, faster enemy movement, or with a low energy bar. Some people might have gotten a kick out of it, i found it boring and uninteresting. While I couldn't wait to explore the little worlds that were the levels in Sunshine or M64, I never warmed to those of Galaxy, simply because often there wasn't anything to warm up to. You know how sometimes less is more? Well, in this case it definitely is not.

Whenever there was a bigger planet to explore and run around on, which made for the best moments in this game, Galaxy irritated me with the transformation mushrooms. As a bee-mario, or even worse elastic-spring-mario, or even much much worse ghost-mario, Nintendo evidently wanted to eradicate the last bit of nostalgia that the more down-to-earth (literally) levels provided, and forced you to transform Mario into one of those new forms to get to the star and complete the mission.

Not only were those new forms completely different to the more psychedelic and futuristic feeling of Galaxy, and felt more like an idea that didn't make it into Super Mario Bros. 3, they simply were not fun. I wanted to be able to acquire, advance and master the controls of the Mario character and thus be able to move on to harder levels that recquired for you to be good at double and triple jumps, saltos and air kicks. I really missed everything that made M64 and Sunshine so special. Instead they gave me elastic-spring-mario or ghost mario, which reduced and altered the movement and abilities of Mario and on top of that were so scarcely included in the game ( I think ghost mario could be played on two occasions max) that I thought of them as a tasteless joke.

The lack of secrets that have always been such a big part of Mario games, I'm just gonna mention in this tiny sentence, because I'm tired of listing the flaws of Galaxy. It makes me sad.

The reason I write this review, more than a year after Galaxy was released, is, that I started playing it again yesterday. When you finish Galaxy it allows you to play the whole game again, as Luigi, with awfully wobbly controls, which definitely increases the games difficulty. But, come on: more difficulty through awful controls? Tsk, tsk, tsk. An absoulte no-go for a Jump and Run. Anyway, I played the first couple of missions and was delighted by the feeling the game gave me, simply because I haven't played a Jump and Run in ages, and so I thought that what I felt about Galaxy when I played it last year, was just a phase that I grew out of and that I could appreciate Mario's new adventure much more so, than I could a year ago. But after an hour of playing, all those things that I disliked about it, came back to haunt me, and so I sat down and wrote this review. Mario Galaxy is a very good 3D Jump and Run for those who do not follow the adventures of the plumber since the dawn of the Super Nintendo, and for those who are new to the genre. But for everybody who loved Mario Games since they were little, and who can identify the quality of Mario games with the same things that I do, Mario Galaxy is a disappointment: A game that took millions of little innovative ideas, and failed to create a whole, but ended up with those millions of little ideas scattered throughout space like the stars in the milky way.