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Over a decade ago Super Mario 64 defined the template for 3D platform games, and set a standard that surprisingly few of the games that followed would even get near to. Sadly for Nintendo, that included its own Gamecube sequel. It seems harsh to label a game as generally enjoyable as Super Mario Sunshine a disappointment, but it's hard to deny that it failed to match its predecessor for invention, and where it did innovate - the F.L.U.D.D. water-cannon - it added complications that changed the feel of the game for the worse.
Now, however, Nintendo has knuckled down to create a truly worthy follow-up to Super Mario 64. Curiously it seems to have found its impetus not in Super Mario Sunshine's wider worlds or coherent settings, but in its weird, shorter puzzle levels. These broke out from the main game in a riot of brightly coloured blocks, traps and mechanisms, where the player's expectations and the rules of gravity could be tweaked and pulled like Mario's features in the legendary SM64 start screen. These sections had a straighter, more arcade feel, as if Nintendo had decided to bring the more open 3D worlds of SM64 into collision with the more linear levels of the old 2D Mario games. They were hard - occasionally draconian- but they also had an energy that other parts of SMS were clearly missing.
With SMG, Nintendo has taken this energy and run with it. Mario no longer races and leaps around flat worlds of flat floating platforms. It's goodbye to the sunshine towns, haunted hotels, industrial facilities and golden beaches of SMS, and hello to the strange realms of outer space - or at least what passes for space in the universe of the Mushroom Kingdom. We're no longer interested in worlds but in galaxies: clusters of planetoids, linked by trails or odd stellar pathways, some of them small enough to run around within a couple of seconds, and many navigable on both the ‘top' and ‘bottom' of the surface. The basic objective remains collecting stars, usually through the completion of particular oddball tasks or boss-battling missions, but that's all that's really familiar here. Up is no longer always up as you see it on your screen, and your brain will be battling to make sense of new angles and directions. At first, playing Super Mario Galaxy can be a confusing, somewhat disorienting experience.
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