The Plumber Goes Cosmic | Super Mario Galaxy at 10

While the past decade may have you think otherwise, the Super Mario series was once Nintendo’s driving force for innovation. The original Super Mario Bros becoming one of the classic video games, Super Mario World showcasing the best of what the SNES could do in one cartridge and then the big one, Super Mario 64. Setting the bar what for what a 3D platformer should feel and play like, it became one of the plumber’s greatest adventures and one of the most influential games of all time. After the initial mixed reaction to Super Mario Sunshine and its more gimmick-centric gameplay with the addition of the water pack F.L.U.D.D., Nintendo had to go all out and make the next trip to the Mushroom Kingdom out of this world, no pun intended.

On November 16th, 2007, Super Mario Galaxy slammed onto the Nintendo Wii with a big bang. Toted by Nintendo of America’s President and COO, Reggie Fils-Aimé, as “the first true sequel to Super Mario 64” at it’s announcement, it shattered expectations on release and swept away critics and players alike. Taking Mario into the stars was an ingenious concept. The platforming king mixed with the unlimited possibilities of zero gravity lead to some of the most unique platforming challenges ever seen on a console. Galaxy has players traverse outer space, launching between planetoids that make up the games 42 galaxies with no limitations to their movements, there’s a serene flow and weight to every movement made that make Mario a joy to control and discover the cosmos with.

Instead of furthering the style of Super Mario 64/Sunshine, Galaxy refined a more traditional formula. While 64/Sunshine saw the player dropped into an explorable world to find power stars, Galaxy had a more straight-forward approach in its level design, always making it clear where the player was intended to go but still rewarding their curious minds. It took players on a tour of the vast regions of space and the planets found there and it lead to, arguably, the plumber’s greatest adventure. While Mario’s previous outings in the third dimension were set out to develop enjoyable and fun adventures, whilst showcasing the power of Nintendo’s fancy new systems, Galaxy feels like an experience; shown no better than in the presentation.

Super Mario Galaxy - HeadStuff.org
Mario takes to the stars! Source.

Graphically, Super Mario Galaxy is to Nintendo what ‘Starry Night’ is to Van Gogh. Plastered with gorgeous starry skies populated with piercing suns and majestic quasars, colourful and vibrant individual worlds that pop and contrast beautifully. Super Mario Galaxy takes full advantage of its setting and isn’t afraid to show what it can do. Each level feels visually unique from the previous one. While some stages take the same setting or motif, each new world is strategically different that you’re never stuck in a series of space settings only to be greeted on the other end with consistent blue skies and beaches. Galaxy treats level progression in a way to keep a game with similar locations feeling distinct. To think these crisp creations aren’t in HD is hard to wrap your head around. There’s no aspect of Galaxy’s visuals that look cheap, rushed or dated. It stands as one of the Nintendo Wii’s graphical powerhouses. To coincide with the stellar graphics (no pun intended) is a sweeping orchestral soundtrack that is sublime from start to finish.

Super Mario Galaxy is one of the most enriching gaming experiences out there

Nintendo wanted Super Mario Galaxy to feel big and decided the only way to achieve such a grandiose feat was a live orchestra, and it paid off tremendously, delivering one of Nintendo’s most complete sounding compositions in the company’s already illustrious musical history. Galaxy would not be the achievement it is without this soundtrack, be it the boisterous beauty of ‘Gusty Garden Galaxy’, the intense stake builders of ‘Battlerock Galaxy’ and the ‘Purple Coin’ theme, or the blissful calmness of ‘Space Junk Galaxy’ and ‘To the Gateway’ that allow you to sit back and take it all in as you flow through the stars like a leaf in the wind. The moment Mario’s feet first touchdown in the first real level ‘Good Egg Galaxy’, the music hits you like a swift knockout punch. It is unforgettable and sets the stage and standard for the rest of the quest.

Super Mario Galaxy is the kind of game that makes other video game developers cry into their hands, wondering why they’re even wasting their time working on yet another instalment of an annual franchise while Nintendo are pumping out gaming’s equivalent to Oscar bait. With Mario’s previous and forthcoming adventures it feels like each time Nintendo said to themselves “Let’s make a really solid and fun game the whole family will enjoy”, but this one time said “Let’s pull out all the stops, we’ve the components here to make one of the greatest 3D platformers ever. So, let’s do it.” And by God they did. To go back to the original point of Mario not innovating post-Galaxy, the series was followed by 2D adventures with the New Super Mario Bros series that were all solid instalments in the Mario franchise but nothing to write home about.

Super Mario Galaxy Power-ups
Super Mario Galaxy Power-ups – Source

And of course, Super Mario Galaxy 2 landed a few years later and is phenomenal. But it does take less advantage of the space setting, plays it safe from time to time and leaves less of an overall impact. That’s not to totally discredit it as Galaxy 2 introduced new takes on Galaxy’s gravity mechanics that worked well and brought in Yoshi to create new challenges in the more cookie cutter platform sections, helping to pump some fresh blood into them. It does just enough to justify the 2 in its title and not a 1.5 but for the ultimate Mario in space experience the first game is still the more well-rounded option.

Then there’s the big one that’s now throwing its hat into the ring, Super Mario Odyssey. This isn’t a debate on which one is better but think that it did take a full decade for Super Mario Galaxy to have a worthy rival for the title of best Mario game. Odyssey is a throwback to the Super Mario 64 style of gameplay, while introducing a plethora of new mechanics and innovations, certainly making it the most influential title in that regard. But it is different in set up and structure to Galaxy that a favourite can come down to your personal preference on which style of gameplay you prefer.

When it comes down to it, Super Mario Galaxy is one of the most enriching gaming experiences out there that you’re truly doing yourself a disservice to skip over if you haven’t played it. It may be a decade old but it hasn’t aged a day and if released today in its current state would still receive every ounce of acclaim it initially did. Being one of the Wii’s biggest standouts it was a top seller worldwide and showed to the more hardcore gaming crowd that favoured the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 that Nintendo still knew what they were doing and had no problem shining in any gaming climate. There’s far too much praise to hand out not covered here, including the character arc and backstory of Rosalina, the ingenious individual levels with next to none of the 120 missions being duds and too many standout and memorable moments to count. To sum up the quality and effects of Super Mario Galaxy on the industry, prior to its release every game wanted to be like Super Mario 64; now they want to be like Super Mario Galaxy.


Featured Image Credit.

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