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Memory Leaks: Super Mario Galaxy

🌌 She's out back counting stars...

Super Mario Galaxy was released in November 2007 just in time for the holidays. It was the first proper Mario title for the Nintendo Wii and the third 3D Mario game, following the much-beloved Super Mario 64 and the much-reviled Super Mario Sunshine. It introduced a gravity mechanic, wherein Mario would travel between planets trying to find stars to power up a space ship that would take him to his dear kidnapped-again Princess Peach. The game was also built around the novel motion controls of the Wii and took full advantage of controller-waggling-as-gameplay. It was extremely well-received. It was the highest-rated video game on review-aggregator GameRankings right up until the site folded in 2019.

How I Remember It...

I was intrigued by this game from the get-go, but in 2007 our budget for video games was not so robust that we could just up and drop $50 on a triple-A new release. But the idea had its hooks in me. Interplanetary platforming. The possibilities for puzzles were mind-boggling. I was so hyped for it that I secretly knew there was no way the game could possibly live up to my expectations. So imagine my surprise when it not only met them, it exceeded them.

It's worth noting that in 2007 I had never played a 3D Mario game, and in 2022 I am not generally a fan of them. Sunshine is a chore and I didn't play 64 when it was new, so I don't have nostalgia getting me past its wonky controls and confusing, ugly level design (yes, I said ugly--fight me). Odyssey isn't bad, but it's not one I ever feel compelled to go back to. I'm much more favorably inclined towards 2.5D platformers like New Super Mario Bros or games like Super Mario 3D World, which are 3D but have a linear layout. But while those are more fun to me, they feel limited in scope and there's only so much you can do with variations on go-right-until-flag.

Galaxy strikes a nice balance. It has the 3D exploring-a-space gameplay that fans of 64 came to love, but it's a bit more guided. Level progression is linear, it just doesn't feel very linear. You arrive at a star rather than a flag, but if you go off the beaten path, there are lots of hidden treasures to reward you. The level design is inventive and while it doesn't have the visual dynamic range of modern games, it still looks pretty good, even today (compared to Sunshine which is of a similar graphic fidelity, but looks flat and dark, despite taking place on a beach and being called Sunshine). The conceit of the game--that Mario has temporarily gained the power to use launch stars to send him between planets and galaxies--means that levels that are a set of planetoids floating in space feel much more natural than they did in Super Mario 64. Couple this with secrets, challenges, and an epic score, and you've got yourself one intense little game.

This was also one of the first games that my wife and I played together. It was one of the early games with a "girlfriend mode" (or "Yoda mode") where one person plays and the other person helps. In this case, player 1 does all the platforming, but player 2 can collect star bits and stun minor enemies, but can't fall in a lava pit or anything like that.

Typical of its era, especially on the Nintendo, the difficulty in this one is dialed back a little, but there are lots of challenges in the post-game, including speed runs, no-hit boss battles, and coin hunts, some of which can be downright brutal (Luigi's Purple Coins, anyone?). In fact, 100%-ing the game requires doing all of the regular story and beating Bowser, then finishing all of the challenges and finding all of the secrets--many of which are not available until the post-game--and beating Bowser again, and then doing the entire thing a second time as Luigi, who jumps higher but has much looser controls. You end up sitting through the ending cut-scene four times. And this game was so much fun that I 100%-ed it twice!

The game spawned a sequel in 2010, which I would argue is actually a slightly better game, but it wasn't as mind-blowingly revelatory as the original one. The game was re-released for the Switch for a limited time as part of the Mario 35th Anniversary celebration, and it ports over reasonably well. Like so many first party Nintendo games, Galaxy was at least partially an advertisement for whatever the gimmick of its console generation was. The Switch can't do the waggle-and-pointer controls as well as the Wii could, but it manages well enough. That said, it is my favorite game in the entire Mario franchise and is well worth seeking out if you can find it.

In MEMORY LEAKS, Kurt is going through his favorite video games. See more posts.