Guest Author - James Shea
A game intended to continue the line set by Super Mario 64 and later Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy is the latest in Nintendo's star franchise. Exploring the depths of space, Super Mario Galaxy braves a new frontier and also returns to many familiar settings.
As per usual, the game centers around rescuing Princess Peach from the grip of Bowser, who uses a spaceship to steal Peach's entire castle. Mario, attempting to defend her, is flung into space, where he encounters the Luma, friendly star-shaped creatures. The Luma take him to their "mama", Rosalina, who operates a space station / observatory. Bowser has stolen the Grand Stars that power the station, and they must be retrieved to chase after him.
The space station is the central hub of the game. The player arrives after receiving a Grand Star, which is used to power the first doorway. This doorway leads to several different "galaxies" - collections of floating planetoids - with more being accessible the more stars are collected. Each collection of galaxies ends in one of Bowser's bases, where a full-strength Grand Star is hidden. Much like Mario 64 and Sunshine, each galaxy represents a stage, and there are different objectives to go after (with a selection screen to determine which one you want to go after). The galaxies themselves consist of small planetoids with their own gravity; this can be disorienting at first, as you are essentially running across a sphere that is holding you down, instead of across a flat plain. You can jump up and you'll just fall back inwards to the planet, though the camera is usually above the planetoid and not right behind you (which is also a bit confusing). You must jump from planet to planet using the Luma's star launchers, which are usually unlocked through some deed on the various planetoids. There are a wide variety of galaxies, ranging from the "main" galaxies - with story events and multiple stars - to the "bonus" galaxies that tend to only have one star but are given in a minigame or similar test (for example, the Manta Ray surfing games that use the Wii remote to steer and boost).
The gameplay itself, apart from the planetoids, is similar to earlier 3d Mario games. Mario jumps and hops the same as other games, though his melee attacks are replaced by a spinning attack. Mario can still fall into "pits", though due to the gravity this usually means the planetoid's exposed core or a black hole. Another big difference is that the player also uses the Wii remote's cursor to collect Star Bits - little colored pieces of stars that can be used to shoot enemies or feed the Lumas. Many parts require a certain amount of star bits to feed a hungry Luma so that he transforms into a new planetoid or even a galaxy. Furthermore, collecting 50 star bits gets you a level up (this is also true for coins, which normally restore health). Mario has some new powerups, too; in addition to old standards like fireballs and flight, Mario now also has a Bee Mushroom (which allows him to fly and climb on certain walls), a Spring Mushroom (which gives him more jumping power in exchange for some reductions to other abilities), and a Boo Mushroom (which turns him into a Boo, the series' famous ghosts, and pass through walls). Finally, a co-op mode is available where one player takes the role of the cursor, collecting star bits and shooting them at enemies, as well as several other boosts that can be given to the first player that make the game easier (for example, stunning enemies and giving Mario a jump boost).
The graphics are the bright, colorful, rounded graphics familiar to Mario fans, though they are smoother and brighter with the Wii's technology. The levels are varied, but tend to be fairly bright and cheery. The music is similarly cheerful, with a HUGE amount of callbacks to old games, with recognizable songs from the original Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario Brothers 3, and Super Mario World. Sound effects are often of a musical nature, providing a sort of active symphony as you fight bosses or enemies.
As a whole, this game seems much more like a return to the classic days of Mario gaming. With an abundance of references to old games and a lot of new elements as well, Super Mario Galaxy is well suited to continuing the tradition that the Mario games have upheld.