It's not often that I say something made me queasy and mean it in a good way. But in the case of "Super Mario Galaxy," Nintendo's superb new Mario platformer for the Wii, I can say that the game made my stomach turn on a number of occasions…and I enjoyed every minute of it.
In this, Mario's second outing on the Wii, our man with the mustache is off on an adventure to save Princess Peach (yes, again). This time around, in the midst of the Mushroom Kingdom's Star Festival, Peach and her entire castle have been plucked up by bad-guy Bowser (yes, again) and whisked away into outer space (no, this part has never happened before).
Thankfully, Mario encounters a race of chubby star creatures known as Luma and their big-eyed lady leader Rosalina. Joining them on their floating Comet Observatory, he's tasked with exploring a host of planets and galaxies where you, the player, help him collect Star Bits, coins and, most importantly, Power Stars…all this while fighting a multitude of enemies and making your way to Peach's aid.
But let's get back to my sensitive stomach for a moment. There are many things that make a game good, or better yet…great. One of the most important is whether the game truly sucks you into the virtual universe you're exploring. In the case of "Super Mario Galaxy," you spend your time exploring a universe full of whimsical planets and far out galaxies where the rules of gravity have gone all topsy-turvy.
For example, you may be strolling across a green patch of land floating in space. But walk Mario off the side and, suddenly, the whole thing flips over and you're strolling along the underside of that patch of land, getting a whole new view of things from the roots up. Likewise, you might stroll around a floating metallic sphere of sorts, going from right-side-up to up-side-down — the globe turning beneath your very feet, the backdrop shifting in the distance…the effect literally dizzying.
Yes, "Super Mario Galaxy" imparts a palpable sense of vertigo, especially as you first start to get the feel of the game and its controls. As the first patch of land turned over, so did my stomach. Mind you, none of these woozy feelings were enough to make the game unpleasant in the least bit. For me, it felt a lot like going on a carnival ride when I was a kid — thrilling, disorienting, good, giddy fun. Of course, back then I could take a spin or five in the Gravitron without so much as a hiccup. Nowadays, I even look at the Gravitron and my lunch wants to pay me a second visit.
But my point is, "Super Mario Galaxy" — with its gorgeous, vibrant graphics and pitch-perfect implementation of the Wii's motion controls — really pulls you into the outlandish universe that's been created here. And apologies in advance for the pun, but the gravitationally-enhanced galaxies that populate "Super Mario Galaxy" really are out of this world.
There are grassy galaxies populated by bees, a loopy water galaxy where you surf on manta rays, there are icy galaxies, rocky galaxies, sandy galaxies and galaxies so outlandish they defy description. And the galaxies themselves are frequently made up of a variety of spheres, floating chunks of land and other unusual objects that must be explored and traveled between to attain the stars you need.
Throughout it all, the pull of gravity works some funky magic on Mario. In one of the early levels, you find yourself inside a glass tube of sorts with gravity pulling different areas in different directions. To work your way through the tube's labyrinth, you must figure out how to use the wonky laws of physics to your advantage.
All in all, the level design is so constantly surprising and clever you simply can't wait to see what each new galaxy and each new hunk of floating space debris has in store for you.
Meanwhile, the Wii's Remote and Nunchuk controls are put to truly sublime use here. The Nunchuk's control stick moves Mario around while the Remote is used in a host of different ways. To collect Star Bits, for example, you point the Wii Remote at the Star Bits on screen and watch them zip to wherever Mario is standing. You can then use your Star Bits as weapons — aim with the Remote and pull the B trigger and the fired Star Bits will stun your enemies until Mario gives them the final knock out.
Shaking the Remote plays a huge role in the game — it causes Mario to spin, allowing him to knock out enemies and destroy obstacles. You'll also shake the Remote to do things like have Mario skate across ice and climb up vines. And most importantly, spinning near a Launch Star will send you flying to other planetoids in the galaxy you're exploring.
You'll also tip the Remote side to side, for example, to steer a manta ray that Mario rides atop. (And here, again, my stomach really felt the motion of the ocean as I surfed through the winding waves.) Holding the Remote upright, you'll tilt it backward and forward as Mario balances atop a rolling ball.
Looking at all of the above-mentioned game play mechanics, it's hard to believe there's even more. And yet there is. A big part of the platforming play here involves figuring out how to use Mario's abilities to transform. Power ups allow him to turn into the likes of Bee Mario who can fly like a bee, or Spring Mario who can bounce extra high or and Boo Mario who floats like a ghost. Use his abilities wisely and you'll get where you need to go.
All in all, there's just so much going on here and it's all so well executed and so entertaining it's hard not to sound like I'm gushing. But there really is only one negative to speak of and that is the auto-camera which, on occasion, doesn't quite give you the view you want. Yes, you are given the chance to manually control the camera from time to time with the D-Pad, but it's a bit limited and simply made me wish I had full control of my perspective — if for no other reason than to really soak in the visual splendor that is "Super Mario Galaxy."
And so I have to listen to my gut on this one. And my gut (vertigo and all) tells me that "Super Mario Galaxy" is one of the best — if not the best — game of the year.