Chances are, you’ve probably heard of Pavlov. He was not a psychologist; he was a physiologist and did research with dogs. He had a laboratory, and he measured how much a dog salivated before being fed and after the food was presented. While this was a pretty basic experiment, he forgot one variable: The door to his lab had a bell. Eventually, the dogs associated the bell with being fed. Imagine his surprise, coming into work one day and finding dogs salivating for no apparent reason. So what does this have to do with videogames? In many ways, games are set up to be rewarding and to engage the senses. Now throw in a recognizable developer and publisher. What happens? People get excited and anticipate the possibilities of what could happen in any number of scenarios. This is what I had in mind when writing my review of Super Mario Galaxy.
Super Mario Galaxy starts much like its predecessors: Mario gets a letter from his love interest/friend Princess Peach (Toadstool), inviting him to the castle. In this game, it’s for a major celebration of stars falling from the sky. However, just as he gets there, Bowser shows up and steals the princess. The castle, too. Anyway, Mario gets blown away and is sent to a hovering spaceship. There, a young woman by the name of Rosalina, (who suspiciously looks a bit too much like Toadstool), takes care of the place. She tells him that once he collects enough stars that he can go find his “special someone” and put an end to the madness.
And yes, that’s all there is to the plot. No character development, just pure platforming. While there is nothing wrong with that, it just seems weird not to take advantage of it. This always makes me think of the music. So many people say it is the highlight of the game, and in way, they are right. But in many ways, they are just as wrong. The majority of the music is ripped straight out of other Mario games. The title screen music sounds like the title screen music from Super Smash Bros. Melee. Other songs are directly ported from earlier installments. I could turn on my old NES right now and prove it to you. The only difference between them is the sound quality. Other than that, it is the exact melody at the exact pitch with no new flourishes. It’s just wasted space. The underground tune is played during the haunted house levels instead of something creepier. Plus, the same tunes play over and over again, along with the same exact sounds. For example, did you know that all the toads sound alike?
No, folks, repetition is not something this game escapes. In fact, it is trying to relive its glory days from the Nintendo 64 game in 1996. Levels, or “galaxies,” are entered through observatories. Furthermore, none of the galaxies are strung together by themes. So, when you enter the first observatory, you’ll eventually see that nothing is tying the three different levels together. There are “junk” levels with water areas along with shining deserts and a haunted house paired with a happy meadow level. There is nothing tying these universes together. Nothing. Not even the observatory from which you access them.
You’re pretty much doing the same thing in every other level, as exploration is linear. Star pieces are collected to shoot (fly) to the next part of the level. Silver stars allow you to pull Mario toward them. Gravity constantly shifts, along with the game’s penchant for 2-D segments. Whenever you challenge Bowser, it always begins on a stone dais and ends up on a small planet with glass coverings of lava. You defeat him in the same manner.
Coins are useless, save for restoring health, while bits of stars are necessary to fly to new planets in a level and unlock new galaxies in the game’s hub. Or you can use a power-up a few times. In the six or so hours of gameplay, the “Ghost Mario” power-up, (it turns him into a Boo), is only used once. Bee Mario is used a few times, along with Ice Mario, who turns everything liquid into ice. Plus, every time you collect 50 of them, you earn a 1UP. And Toadstool usually will send five 1UPs every so often, but you never keep them when you resume your game. So the 50-million-star-bit question is this: Why have the feature of lives if you never keep them?
None of this would matter if the controls were perfectly tight. Let me make this clear: They are far from perfect. Sure, Mario is pretty easy to move around using the control stick of the Nunchuck. Yes, you have a nice arsenal of moves available from triple jumps to backwards leaps, but the camera stinks. The game constantly tells you that you control the camera. However, whenever you try to rotate it, the game tells you it cannot be done, or it lets you rotate the camera, but you can only rotate it an inch or two. This makes determining jumps and lands difficult. Worse, the camera is rarely where you want it. This opens lots of cheap shots and makes certain areas of the game far harder than they should be. This feature also might make some people feel dizzy, like a friend of mine who owns this game. She cannot play it because of the camera.
However, there is one thing Galaxy does perfectly: the graphics. The game flows from one area to the next. Load times are perfectly hidden, so you never notice the action slowing down. Levels are bright and colorful. They also look unique. The “junk” areas have debris floating in space, along with things fused together in ice. The desert is filled with hot sand and those annoyingly happy cacti. Tropical islands have happy penguins swimming in the cool ocean. It’s lovely.
So what do you think of Super Mario Galaxy after reading everything? I asked a few kids at work about Galaxy, and their thoughts on the game drastically differ. One thinks the game is downright awesome. One thinks it’s an all right game. And two of them (kindergartners, no less!) think it is boring. I’m inclined to agree with the latter two. However, it is a solid platformer that will make lots of gamers happy but fails to live up to the hype. Thus, I’m going to find a platformer that provides the rewards for the action. Maybe something that’s a little out of this world.