We get goldfish bowl planets where you swim around an encapsulated sea. We get galaxies where you ride flowers from planetoid to planetoid along the currents of a strange celestial wind. We get clusters of spider-haunted space wrecks, fearsome space armadas and beetle-infested insect worlds. We get planets that spiral and coil in such a totally bonkers way that you begin to doubt that there are only three dimensions to represent on screen. As before, there’s a certain amount of freedom to do what you want when you want. You’re never stuck bashing away at one galaxy or objective, you can always leave it and tackle something else.
The more the game progresses, the more you suspect that Nintendo has spent the time since SMS brainstorming new ideas and that the team is hell-bent on throwing every single one into the pot. SMG plays with gravity and elastic and sticky materials in a way that’s guaranteed to make you scratch your head and smile. Meanwhile, Mario transforms into an ice-skating cool dude or a hovering Bee Mario, unleashing new powers that add new fun aspects to the gameplay. At times the game riffs on a stage from SM64, while at other times it seems to be reaching back into his classic 2D roots much as New Super Mario Bros. on the DS did last year. Whatever it’s doing, two things are constant: SMG is always inspired, and always inventive.
What’s more, it feels like a game that has been designed to please as many people as humanly possible. More and more now I find that games demand an hour or two of you at a time to make them worth booting up at all, but you can put SMG on for twenty minutes, do a star or two, and feel like you’ve achieved something. At the same time, it’s hideously addictive and ridiculously long-lasting. Collecting the minimum number of stars to complete the core game will take you at least twice as long as it would to polish off two average games these days, but do you really want to miss out on all those extra little twinklers?
Sure, there are times when the remote doesn’t behave and you end up frustrated, but these times are fairly few and far between. Even the boss battles here are exceptional – both in terms of quantity and quality. Why do so few developers realise they should be a pleasure, not a pain, to play? I hope the guys at Rare who did the boss battles in Kameo look at the examples here and weep. And how is it that Nintendo can come up with a cast of characters – Mario, Luigi, Bowser and Bowser Jnr, and the rest – so lovable when so many other developers fail to create even one.