Sunday, February 17, 2008

Review: Super Mario Galaxy

You know a game is special when a non-gaming web site or blog, like Mac developer blog Theocacao by Scott Stevenson raves about Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii. He's dead on, go read his stuff. I haven't finished Super Mario Galaxy yet, but it's clear this is an amazing game, the best game I have played in a few years, I don't think coincidentally since I played New Super Mario Bros. when I got the DS Lite.

What makes Super Mario Galaxy so special? The best of use of 3D I have ever seen in a game. How? Perhaps I have been playing first person shooters too long (think Doom when it first came out), but the way most other games use 3D is create depth perception. That was of course a tremendous advance, but just take Halo 3 for example, your always pinned to one of the planes in 3D space. In Super Mario Galaxy, Mario is of course fixed to an object most of the time, 3D is used for depth, but all 3 dimensions (X,Y, and Z) are used. Shapes that you end up on both sides of play a huge factor in the game. Spheres, ovals, squares, doesn't matter, you have to think in 3 dimensions. I am reminded of Star Trek II: The Wraith of Khan. Kirk and Spock ultimately defeat Khan, a product of the 1990s (in Star Trek lore), by outsmarting him in the 3rd dimension of space, the Z plane. Spock says Khan exhibits "2 dimensional thinking", meaning he has limited himself to X and Y tactical manuevers, just like most (all?) shooters have, and I would argue most games. Not Super Mario Galaxy. If you don't start to think in Z, you can't get past a lot of this game. It's an eye-opening experience. I am not saying there are no games that have done this before, I see Mario 64 referenced, and I gave that a go on the DS Lite, but I guess I never got it because the controls on the DS for that type of game don't map well. The Wii Remote and Nunchuck don't have these problems.

Super Mario Galaxy is also a beautiful game. I don't know if this is the best a Wii game will ever look or can look, but it's a combination of excellent use of the hardware with amazing art direction. The music is also excellent. About the only thing I can point to as a negative is that the early boss battles are pretty easy, 3 hit affairs. I say this knowing that my first encounter with Bowser did not go well, and I actually stopped trying for a while and went to play a different galaxy. It wouldn't even matter if this was a Mario game or not, you could plug in any other character and this would still be possibly the best game of 2007, though Portal comes damn close, and maybe no surprise, it also takes the use of 3D in a game to new heights. If you don't have a Wii, this is reason enough to pick one up if you are a "core gamer".