So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, March has been “Mario Month” as I have celebrated everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber on each Wednesday of the month.
Released: 18 September 2020
Originally Released: 1 November 2007
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii and Nvidia Shield
The concept of Super Mario Galaxy’s gameplay finds its genesis in Super Mario 128, a tech demo designed to showcase the power of Nintendo’s GameCube compared to the Nintendo 64 and other consoles at the time. Specifically, it was the concept of running, jumping, and exploring shifting, spherical bodies that caught Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s imagination and many of the game’s concepts and ideas were thought up before Nintendo Wii was even developed, including new gameplay mechanics such as adding a spin attack to Mario’s arsenal to make it easier to attack enemies on spherical, 3D plane.
After tweaking the gameplay to make things a bit more challenging for players, the team worked on implementing unique ways to take advantage of Mario’s space-based adventure, including gravity-based mechanics, new transformations and ways to play, and focusing on making the game fun to play rather than simply rushing to finish it. Super Mario Galaxy was a critical and commercial success, selling over 350,000 units in Japan during its first week alone and over 12.80 million copies worldwide by March 2020. The game also won, or was nominated for, numerous gaming awards and received an equally-well-received sequel in 2020. While that game wasn’t included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Nintendo, 2020) for the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Galaxy was, meaning that I recently finally got the chance to play this game through, my to my delight.
All of the Mushroom Kingdom has gathered together for the centennial Star Festival. Unfortunately, the diabolical Bowser, King of the Koopas, gatecrashes the celebrations and kidnaps not just Princess Peach but her entire castle, hurtling them into outer space! Guided by Rosalina and the Lumas, Mario resolves to explore the entire galaxy, collecting both Power Stars and Grand Stars to power Rosalina’s Comet Observatory and rescue Princess Peach.
Super Mario Galaxy is a 3D action/platformer that brings back many of Mario’s controls and abilities from Super Mario 64 (Nintendo EAD, 1996); not longer hampered by a water-spewing jetpack, Mario is, thankfully, once again able to backflip and long jump in addition to using his patented triple jump, side jump, and wall kicks to navigate the game’s many and varied Galaxies.
Mario can still hop on the heads of his enemies to dispatch them or use his ample rump to squash them flat but, in the absence of his punching attacks, players can now use the touch screen to gather and launch “Star Bits” at the screen to attack enemies, destroy certain objects, and reveal Yellow Coins. This allows a second player to work alongside Mario in a pretty lacklustre implementation of a two-player co-op mode but, thankfully, Mario is gifted with a new spin attack that allows him to take out enemies and helicopter his way across tricky gaps.
As in the previous 3D Mario games, Super Mario Galaxy is structured around a central hub world (in this case Rosalina’s “Comet Observatory”) from which you can enter the game’s forty-two different stages (referred to as “Galaxies”) from different areas in the hub world. Each Galaxy has anywhere from one to six different missions, the completion of which awards you with a Power Star; once you collect sixty Power Stars, you’ll be able to access the game’s final Galaxy and battle Bowser, but you’ll need all 120 to see the game’s true ending.
It may seem, on the surface, that Super Mario Galaxy has far too many stages on offer but not all of the Galaxies are accessible right from the start or even while you’re visiting that Galaxy. Other areas of the Comet Observatory will open up as you collect Power Stars, with numerous small, more challenging Galaxies cropping up along the way and Mario’s skills being tested by a series of “Prankster Comets”. These see you return to previous Galaxies to earn a new Power Star with only one sliver of health, racing against Mario’s doppelgänger, “Cosmic Mario”, completing the Galaxy within a time limit, and contending with much faster enemies and obstacles.
Furthermore, Galaxies are actually quite small in a lot of ways and tackled in sections; you’ll be dropped into a Galaxy and be tasked with navigating spheres, jumping to platforms, and blasting across the area using Launch Stars, with each mission allowing you, and tasking you, to access different areas of the Galaxy to mix up the stage each time you visit. Super Mario Galaxy’s main selling point is its use of gravity- and space-based stages; almost every planet, block, or platform you stand on has its own gravitational force, allowing you to run all around it without fear of falling to your death and you can easily jump to another traversable body and get sucked into its gravity to make platforming a simple but, eventually, challenging affair as you’ll have to use all of Mario’s skills to jump and navigate across Galaxies without being sucked into a black hole and to his death.
Gravity also comes into play in other ways, such as hitting clock-like arrows to change its direction or navigating across walls, blocks, and platforms while the gravity shifts in different directions. You’ll also be required to perform specific tasks or do some extremely light puzzle solving to cross the Galaxy or access the Power Star. This includes pounding on switches, collecting five yellow Star Chips to assemble a Launch Star, directing Banzai Bills or tossing Bob-ombs to blow up cages, hopping up or across temporary platforms, collecting five Silver Stars, finding Star Bunnies, racing against certain enemies or a time limit, or using a Koopa shell or manta ray to dart through rings underwater or through a water slide.
Other times, the environment will assemble itself around you or become intangible thanks to a ghostly light, which will test your reaction times as much as your patience, or Mario will have to run over flip switches to progress, collect a Key, or grab a ? Coin to spawn musical notes to collect. You’ll also have to grab on to a Floaty Fluff to float across air currents, rotate Bolt Lifts by running on them to reach platforms, hitch a ride in a bubble, awkwardly run across (or skate by pressing Y) icy platforms, smash coconuts to damage certain enemies, hit levers, or fling Mario across the arena using sticky Sling Pods.
Some of the game’s more troublesome sections come from the inclusion of blue Pull Stars; you need to tap the screen to draw Mario towards these little bastards, holding down to keep him hovering there and releasing it at the right moment to slingshot across the area, usually while in a race, against a time limit, or avoiding a load of obstacles. By far the most frustrating gameplay element, though, are the missions that require you to hop onto a Star Ball and navigate mini golf-like obstacle courses full of hazards and platforms to roll off. Though Mario can jump when on the Star Ball, you are forced to use the Nintendo Switch’s lousy gyroscopic controls to roll him about, which is needlessly annoying since I found it extremely difficult to hold the machine in a way that actually made Mario move where I wanted him to and, often, Mario simply rolled wherever he wanted, often to his death.
Similar to its predecessors, Mario’s health is again measured with a pie chart but, this time around, Mario can only take three hits before he’ll lose a life. Mario can still replenish his health by collecting Yellow Coins, though, and a number of checkpoints appear in the game’s Galaxies (though I found there was no onscreen indication of when you had passed one of these checkpoints) which means you won’t always have to restart the Galaxy from the very beginning. Extra lives are extremely plentiful, however, with 1-Up Mushrooms placed helpfully in or near the game’s trickier sections and Mario can earn an extra life for every fifty Coins and/or Star Bits he collects and, later in the game, Princess Peach will gift you with five extra lives via a Toad courier.
It’s highly advisable to collect every Star Bit you see as hungry Lumas will appear within the Galaxies and in the Comet Observatory and feeding them is the only way to unlock all of the game’s Galaxies. You can keep track of your progress by speaking to various non-playable characters (NPCs), such as Rosalina, the Toads, and the Lumas and a map of the Comet Observatory shows you which Galaxies you need to revisit by use of a little crown to indicate when a Galaxy has been completed. Finally, unlike its predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy not only returns to the kind of stage variety we saw in Super Mario 64 but also brings back classic 2D Mario staples such as warp pipes and ? Blocks.
Graphics and Sound:
If there’s one area that Super Mario Galaxy excels in it’s presentation; the game is absolutely gorgeous, popping with colour and variety and oozing a cartoonish charm at every turn. It retains the cute, cuddly, almost action figure aesthetic of Super Mario Sunshine but improves upon it immensely, with all of the game’s environments brought to life through a fantastic use of colour, lighting, music, and intractable elements. Each Galaxy is populated by a variety of NPCs, including Toads, Lumas, Honeybees, Gearmos, and Penguins, all of whom each talk to you through speech bubbles or can be spoken to for hints or more useful rewards like Power Stars. Toads and Lumas also begin to populate the Comet Observatory as you progress, which really helps to bring some life to the hub world, which disappointingly otherwise takes more inspiration from Princess Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64 than the lively Delfino Plaza.
Thankfully, Super Mario Galaxy is almost the exact opposite of Super Mario Sunshine when it comes to level and gameplay variety. Each of the game’s Galaxies is unique in its presentation, with Mario visiting Galaxies of ice, lava, water, sand battleships, beachfronts, and toy-strewn bedrooms. In the Ghostly Galaxy, you’ll explore a haunted mansion that is reminiscent of both Big Boo’s Mansion from Super Mario 64 and the titular mansion of Luigi’s Mansion (ibid, 2001), explore sunken pirate ships, clamber up honey-drenched walls, race across stony platforms to avoid being sucked into deadly quicksand, and blast out from an active volcano, with every Galaxy and Star mission being an energetic and fun, yet challenging, burst of action and, at times, intensity.
Perhaps best of all, Super Mario Galaxy brings back a lot of classic Mario tunes and sound effects to really bring the title back to its roots. Rather than using full blown voice acting, the game opts for speech bubbles, brief voice clips, and a heavy use of gibberish and pantomime for the few instances of dialogue. Cutscenes are also heavily reduced compared to its predecessor, with the opening cinematic split across a brief tutorial and the game opting to tell the story of Rosalina and the Luma’s through an adorable children’s book.
Enemies and Bosses:
Many of Mario’s recognisable enemies make their return in Super Mario Galaxy, with each one being slightly tweaked to accommodate Mario’s new mechanics. You can jump on Goombas to dispatch them, which will produce a Coin, but if you spin into them and kick them away you can get Star Bits, for example, adding a little strategy to how you play. Bullet Bills are often fired at you from the cannons of Bowser’s many battleships, you’ll need to toss Bob-ombs to destroy garbage or break open cages, Bloopers patrol beneath the waves, and Chomps freely roll around various Galaxies looking to take a bite out of you. Boos also make a return, now being completely immune to all of Mario’s attacks and only vulnerable to beams of light, and you’ll also encounter old favourites such as Koopas, Pokeys, Wrigglers, Twomps, Piranha Plants, and Magikoopas (who conjure fireballs your way and teleport to avoid your attacks).
New enemies include the bomb-throwing Cluckbooms, explosive Bomb Boos, electrified jellyfish, and easily-dispatched bugs. Just as Gombeetle’s protect themselves from your Star Bits and standard jump attacks with an armoured shell, Crabber’s can only be attacked from their exposed rear and you’ll need to use your spin attack to put out Lil’ Cinder’s flames before you can dispatch them. Mandibugs will charge at you with their pincer-like jaws, Micro Mecha-Bower’s try to roast your behind, and Monty Moles like to burrow under the dirt to catch you off guard but, while your butt stomp will serve you well in taking care of these enemies, you’ll need to use your spin attack to push the members of the Topman tribe into electrified walls to end their threat.
You’ll battle sixteen bosses throughout the course of Super Mario Galaxy, with eight of them needing to be fought more than once. The first boss you’ll have to contend with is the Dino Piranha, a large, aggressive, and hungry variant of Petey Piranha. This boss stomps around a small sphere trying to trample you to death and can only be defeated by hitting its rock-encrusted tail with a spin attack. Later in the game you battle a far more formidable version of this boss, the Fiery Dino Piranha, in the Melting Molten Galaxy. Though the strategy remains the same, this battle is much more difficult by the fact that the Fiery Dino Piranha’s tail becomes engulfed in flames and the boss’s ability to spit fireballs out at you.
Another boss you’ll go up against twice is King Kaliente, a gigantic octopus that emerges from lava to shoot flaming projectiles at you; unfortunately for him, though, he also spits out a coconut, which you can hit with your spin attack to damage him. He crops up again in Bower Jr’s Lava Reactor with the battle being made more difficult by the fact that you’re now stood on a series of small platforms that sink into lava and King Kaliente’s more frequent and aggressive attacks (though, again, the strategy remains the same; you should also be prepared to parry coconuts with the boss since it likes to knock them away as the fight progresses).
Major Burrows and Bouldergeist are also fought twice across the course of the game, with the battle being much tougher the second time around. Major Burrows is, basically, a giant Monty Mole and is only vulnerable when he pops up from the ground; once he does, you can perform a ground pound to scare him completely out of his hole and then attack him as he runs around the spherical stage. Bouldergeist is, by comparison, much tougher since the only way you can break off his rock-like hide is to trick Bomb Boos into colliding with him. Once his exterior is smashed, Mario must then swing a Bomb Boo into Bouldergeist’s exposed core using his spin attack but before it explodes in his face, all of which is made much more troublesome by Bouldergeist’s desire to pummel you with his hands, smash you with boulders, and erect destructible rocky walls to box you in.
Interestingly, the boss you’ll encounter the most isn’t Bowser; it’s Topmaniac, the gigantic leader of the Topman tribe who is easily disposed of by jumping on its head to get rid of its spikes and then using your spin attack to bash it into the electrified walls of the arena. The game’s bosses are all quite large, memorable affairs though: you’ll need to lure Bullet Bills over Megaleg’s legs to destroy the cages on its head; navigate icy platforms and use wall jumps to reach Baron Burr and thaw him out with Mario’s spin attack; dispatch waves of Mandibugs to ground pound the large Stink Bug Parent; you’ll need to use similar tactics (in conjunction with Banandelions and Mario’s Bee power-up) to defeat the bomb-dropping Bugaboom; fire yourself at Tarantox’s glowing red boils with Sling Pods; and fire Koopa shells at the skeletal remains of Kingfin as it swims through the dark waters.
Despite his prominence in the last game and frequent appearances throughout Super Mario Galaxy, you’ll only battle Bowser Jr the one time; Bowser Jr shoots cannonballs at you from his flying pirate ship and can only be damaged by throwing Koopa shells at him. This gets very intense during the final stages as Bowser Jr also starts firing Banzai Bills at you, meaning there are a lot of projectiles and hazards to watch out for at the same time. In comparison, you’ll fight Kamella three times, with each battle having a very similar strategy to fighting Bowser Jr; Kamella conjures both fireballs and green shells that you can throw at her, though she also summons Magikoopas, wandering fireballs, and teleports about the arena to make it harder for you to hit her.
As in Super Mario 64,you’ll also battle Bowser three times throughout the game, with your strategy to defeating him remaining relatively unchanged in each bout. Bowser likes to generate shockwaves across the small spherical planet you fight him on and must be lured into pounding through a sheet of glass to set his tail on fire; as he flees in pain, you can hit him with your spin attack, which can be hard to do as Bowser slides all over the sphere in an erratic pattern on the back of his shell. When you encounter Bowser again, he’ll perform his own spinning attack and launch numerous fireballs your way but it’s the finale battle of the game where Bowser is at his most formidable. This is a three phase boss battle that first sees Mario having to time his spin attack just right to hit Bowser out of the rocky exterior he has protected himself with, desperately outrun Bowser’s powerful spinning attack, and puts your jumping and reaction skills to the test avoiding the many shockwaves and fireballs that Bowser fills the small arena with. As long as you keep your wits about you and watch Bowser’s frenzied spinning, charging, and jumping attacks, these battles mainly come down to a question of properly timing your spin attack to put en end to Bowser’s latest threat.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As in all Mario games, you can collect Yellow Coins in each Galaxy; you no longer need to worry about collecting a hundred of these for a hidden Power Star, or any Red Coins (which is a blessing after Super Mario Sunshine’s massive overuse of the concept), but you will get an extra life for every fifty Coins you collect. The game’s big, new feature is the Star Bit mechanic, which allows you to fire at enemies and objects on the screen; it’s advisable to frantically swipe at any and all Star Bits you see to add to your grand total and collect extra lives but don’t get so distracted to you lose focus on what you’re doing!
At various points throughout the game, you’ll find or be given the opportunity to purchase a Life Mushroom, which will double Mario’s health meter; if you spot one of these, grab it as you’ll probably need it for an upcoming boss battle or tricky section. Mario also has a number of transformations this time around, some which are familiar, some which are new, but none of which are as prominent as you might expect. You can grab a Rainbow Star to briefly become invincible, allowing you to run through enemies and hazards without fear, for example, but this only lasts for a short period of time.
Other temporary power-ups include the returning Fire Flower (which allows you to shoot fireballs and defrost snowmen), the Ice Flower (which allows you to walk across water and wall jump up waterfalls using ice platforms), and the Red Star (which allows Mario to fly unimpeded like an upgraded version of the Wing Cap). It’s a shame that these power-ups are so limited in their appearances and use, to be honest, as it would be fun to revisit the game’s Galaxies and explore them using Flying Mario or open new areas as Fire Mario, for example.
Mario has other, less temporary power-ups at his disposal as well: the Bee Mushroom allows him to fly for a short time by tapping or holding A and to climb up honey-covered walls; the Boo Mushroom transforms Mario into a Boo, which allows him to float indefinitely and pass through certain walls by becoming temporarily incorporeal; and the Spring Mushroom allows Mario to bounce extremely high into the air with a well-timed press of the A button. Each of these transformations will be lost if Mario touches water or an enemy and, of the three, Bee Mario is the most often used and Spring Mario is easily the most unwieldy thanks to Mario bouncing all over the place, but none of them are as prominent as power-ups in previous Mario titles such as the Wing Cap and Raccoon Mario (which both feature on the front covers of their respective games).
As in its predecessors, Super Mario Galaxy requires you to collect a number of special objects to progress further. There are 120 Power Stars to be found in the game, including Grand Stars to be won from boss battles, and rarer Green and Red Power Stars found in hidden Galaxies or from finding Mario’s brother, Luigi, in specific areas of each Galaxy. You only need sixty Power Stars to battle the final boss but, once you finish the game, a new Galaxy will appear and you’ll be tasked with collecting the remaining Power Stars to see the game’s true ending.
This new Galaxy introduces you to the Purple Comet mechanic; when the Purple Comet is in orbit around a Galaxy, you’ll have to collect one hundred Purple Coins to earn a Power Star. This can be quite frustrating and troublesome as you’re often racing against a time limit, which continues to count down even after the Power Star spawns, with Luigi’s Purple Coin mission being easily the most maddening trial of them all since it forces you to run across disappearing and rotating platforms over an endless void and against a time limit. If you’ve missed any of the other Prankster Comet Stars, you’ll have to chat to a Luma in the Comet Observatory to put them in orbit and collect any you’re missing.
Once you have all 120, you then have to go through the game’s gruelling final Galaxy and battle Bowser again in order to see an additional cutscene and unlock Luigi as a playable character! Yes, finally, after the lacklustre rewards of the last two games you actually get something substantial for all your hard work. You can switch to Luigi when accessing your saved file, which will begin a new game from the start as Luigi, who jumps higher and further than his stoutly brother. Sadly, though, you must then play through the entire game all over again, collecting the same 120 Power Stars as Luigi, in order to access the game’s final final Galaxy and claim the elusive 121st Power Star by collecting another one hundred Purple Coins during the Star Festival celebrations. I don’t mean to complain about this since I have been waiting to play as Luigi, and get a decent completion reward, since Super Mario 64 but, as much as I enjoyed the game, it’s a bit much to ask players to do everything all over again as Luigi since you’re pretty exhausted after getting the first 120 Stars.
Super Mario Galaxy was an incredibly enjoyable experience; right from the start, as soon as I experimented with Mario’s controls, I knew that I would prefer this game over Super Mario Sunshine. It plays much more like Super Mario 64, returning a lot of Mario’s abilities and controls from that game, which makes platforming and gameplay all the better. Add to that the game’s fantastic presentation, use of classic Mario elements, and unique setting and you have an extremely grandiose and accessible Mario adventure.
While it was disappointing to see Mario still confined to a hub world and acquiring Power Stars on a mission-by-mission basis, and the game was maddeningly frustrating at times, Super Mario Galaxy does some pretty impressive things with its unique concept. Through clever use of its gravity mechanics, a rising level of challenge, and being packed full of bright, colourful environments, characters, and content, there’s certainly a lot more on offer in Super Mario Galaxy than in its predecessors and the game is presented in a way that encourages short bursts of gameplay, making it a perfect title to play on the go or in your down time.
What did you think of Super Mario Galaxy? Did you play the original Wii version and, if so, how do you find the Switch remaster holds up? Were you a fan of the game’s space- and gravity-orientated gameplay or do you feel like the concept was a bit outlandish even for Mario? What did you think to the game’s level of challenge? Which Power Star did you struggle the most with, which Galaxy was your favourite, and what did you think of the new characters the game introduced? Did you ever finish the game as Luigi and get all 121 Power Stars? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts and memories of Super Mario Galaxy, and your feedback regarding Mario Month, in the comments below.