Visually, SMG confirms what we always expected of the Wii. Sure, it’s no Call of Duty 4 or Crysis. Apart from some lovely rim-lighting on the characters and some fantastic rusty metal and water effects, it’s not a huge progression on what we saw in Super Mario Sunshine. Yet the game constantly invokes a sense of wonder, not from photo-realism but from its sheer imagination. To arrive at a new galaxy and see the planetoids, trails and miscellaneous weird objects spiralling out in front of you is a real event. As ever, Nintendo’s sense of playfulness and attention to detail is unparalleled. And as for the music… do you really need to think about how good it is to hear new versions of the classic themes among some fantastic epic tracks befitting Mario’s new cosmic journey?
Few series’ get to invent or reinvent a genre more than once, but then this isn’t any ordinary series. The original Super Mario Bros turned the single-screen arcade platform game into the scrolling platform adventure. Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World turned that into something of real depth and complexity. Super Mario 64 then revealed how you could take that same gameplay and make it work in 3D. Now Super Mario Galaxy points a new way forward for the genre: a route that rejects our current obsessions with realism, atmosphere and narrative for something that could only come from the imagination. It’s not a way that all games in this genre should take – and I think it would be a shame if they did. Ratchet and Clank on the PS3, for instance, takes a different tack but still provides a great experience (as we’ll explain in a review coming soon).
Still, let’s not lose focus on the most important thing. Above all else, SMG is a game that makes you grin like a slack-jawed idiot for hours on end – like someone who has just undergone a lobotomy or watched a whole series of Strictly Come Dancing in one sitting (though with the knowledge that you’ll come back to your senses eventually). Other titles this year have provided more immersive universes or more revolutionary technology, but has anything else this year been this much fun as consistently and over such a long playing time? No. And that’s what the magic of Mario is – and always should be – all about.
Nintendo rewrites the platform rulebook to create a worthy successor to Super Mario 64. On every level, it’s worlds ahead of (nearly all) the competition.