E3 2007: Hands-on with Super Mario Galaxy

Picture if you will three grown men walking out of a swanky hotel with huge smiles on their faces, clicking their heels and hugging random people on the street just from the sheer feelings of joy raging through their slightly sunburned bodies.

This was the image about an hour ago when myself, Fronz, and Dyson walked out of a private appointment with Nintendo representatives for some hands-on time with several of the company’s high profile games coming out by the end of the year.

The game I was the most excited about playing was easily Super Mario Galaxy, the highly anticipated upcoming Wii platformer starring everyone’s favorite (apparently now space-faring) plumber, Mario.

So what did I think? Was the smile on my face upon leaving the result of this game in particular, or did the final product come across as a disappointment in the face of such high expectations?

Hit the jump for my full hands-on impressions.

There were four levels available to play in our short time with Super Mario Galaxy. Unfortunately, though, since our time was short, we only got to experience two of them.

I will get this out of the way right now. I may have had more fun with those two levels than I have had with any other video game in the last year. Yes, I know, that is a pretty hardcore statement, but it really is true. There is so much creativity in each section of Super Mario Galaxy that it almost puts all other games to shame.

The first level, I am assuming, was the opening stage of the game, serving as a tutorial of sorts for the remarkably intuitive controls. The stage takes place on a series of small “planets,” each one containing a clever puzzle or challenge to complete.

Controlling Mario has never felt so easy. And for almost the first time on the Wii, I really felt like the controls were truly built from the ground up, offering an experience that, honestly, wouldn’t be possible on any other system.

You run Mario around the screen using the nunchuk attachment and jump using the tried and true “A” button on the Wiimote. The basic controls were so intuitive that I immediately began double-jumping and wall-grabbing my way to higher platforms. Even some of the classic control functions from Super Mario 64 remain intact (such as holding down the “Z” button and jumping to perform a back flip).

But once the basic Mario functions are mastered the real fun begins. As you are running and jumping, the Wiimote is used to control an on-screen “cursor” in the shape of a star. This “cursor” is used in many different ways throughout the few levels we got a chance to play. The most common use, though, was picking up colored star crystals by running the “cursor” over them. Each crystal can then be used to throw a star projectile towards anything on the screen. Just point to a target and press the “B” trigger. Simple as that.

The point I cannot stress enough is how easy this game is to control. Having to navigate Mario and an on-screen “cursor” at the same time does sound almost too complicated for its own good, but it really isn’t. In fact, it is as far away from being overly complicated as possible. The controls really are that perfect and become second nature in a matter of seconds.

Throughout the first level (even though it was only a small piece of the whole stage), we got to control Mario as he flew through space by activating charged power stars, jump on goombas’ heads, spin around to break blocks, collect classic 1up mushrooms, and a highlight: use the star cursor to activate blue orbs that would warp Mario across the screen. And all this was only on the first level!

Although the control was, of course, the same during the second level, there was so much more to do that it felt like a brand new experience.

In this level, as mentioned in my post earlier today, you get to become Bee Mario (basically Mario in a bee suit) that is triggered by, get this, a mushroom covered in black and yellow stripes (God, I love you, Nintendo!).

Once you get this suit you can fly around anywhere (for a limited time, of course) by simply holding down the “A” button and watching the cutest Mario ever flutter his little cute wings across the screen. As an added touch, Bee Mario cannot touch water while in his suit, as that will turn you back into regular Mario instantly. You can imagine the challenge this adds when you are navigating a huge level full of ponds and waterfalls.

Also on this second level (and this will be it about the game features, I swear – some of this stuff you just have to experience for yourself – I don’t want to spoil anything else) you encounter huge flowers that stem out of the ground. By grabbing the stem and shaking the Wiimote up and down, Mario rides the stem at breakneck speed all the way to the top, shooting him into the air. To say this is satisfying is a complete understatement. The three of us actually squealed in glee when doing this for the first time. And if you know Dyson, you know he never squeals in glee.

Visually, the game is a huge (huge!) improvement over all other Wii games in existence. The textures are impressive, the lighting effects are pretty much perfect, and the color scheme is phenomenal. Seriously, there was a sequence when you are climbing on the back of a giant bee (yeah, that is as amazing as it sounds), and the fuzz on the insect is so well-rendered that it actually looks like you are playing an Xbox360 game. Trust me, I never thought I would ever say that about the graphical quality of a Wii game.

After all was said and done, and I really didn’t feel like Super Mario Galaxy could get any better, the Nintendo representative that was sitting with us nonchalantly  said, “Oh yeah, you can play two-player and help your friend out with the other Wiimote.” Wait, what? Simultaneous multiplayer? In a Mario platformer?

And sure enough, it was true. If you are playing with someone else, all the other person has to do is pick up the Wiimote (no nunchuk needed) and an additional star cursor will appear on-screen. This new cursor serves the same functions as the main player’s, mainly picking up star crystals and triggering certain puzzle events. As a bonus, though, the second player can cause the star cursor to pulse, thereby stunning any enemies targeted on the screen. While it isn’t true “two character” multiplayer that we have all come to expect, this addition is truly welcome and really adds to the fun of the overall game.

Having only played two of the four available levels (I am playing the rest later today or tomorrow – I will have to refrain from saying this all again), which, in turn, is only a tiny chunk of the entire game, I have to say that Super Mario Galaxy is as close to perfect as games get and a huge testament to what the Wii can do.

I know it is still very early in the week (and I have a lot more games to play), but Super Mario Galaxy is already at the top of my list for Game of the Show. And if the short time I had playing it is any indication, maybe even Game of the Year.

Miyamoto, there is a blonde guy that works for Destructoid down the street from you in Santa Monica that really wants to give you a huge hug. Very nice job, sir.

Chad Concelmo