I’ve already given a bit of thought on Galaxy after having taken a couple of days break from the purple coin quest. For my review, read on… (Thanks to Nina for letting me use her Coin and AURA rating systems)
The first thing that I noticed when I started up your save file is the ever-present opening cut scene. Excellently rendered, I think we’re finally seeing the first generation of games really taking advantage of the “Hollywood” chipset that the Wii provides. I haven’t played Metroid Prime 3, so I can’t say how it compares to the previous installments in the series and if it really leveraged the graphics chip, but Galaxy definitely shows a marked improvement over Twilight Princess, which really was just a late-stage Gamecube game with Wii functionality tacked on. Granted, the graphics are not exactly PS3 or even 360 quality, but I consider myself very much a casual gamer, so the graphics don’t matter as much.
Once the cutscene ends and I finally got a chance to really use the controls, I found them relatively easy to use. The nunchuck easily uses the Z button and analog stick like the previous Mario games, and A works to jump as normal. All the Mario 64 jumps are back, from the backflip and the U-Turn jump to the triple jump and the wall jump. FLUDD is no longer around to annoy the user by talking or being needed to make certain moves. The new functions, like the B trigger used to sling star bits, are useful, but certainly not necessary if you have a second player…
The first stage really begins to show the true fun to be had in Galaxy. The small worlds and interesting use of gravity permeates the game. It might be the most annoying aspect to some (and indeed, the controls are far from perfect on the edges of planets, when I ended up running in circles because of the way it handles movement) but to me and many others, the gravity is what makes the game truly different from the previous games.
Not all of the courses involve jumping from miniature world to miniature world. Some involve stages more like previous games, in which there is minimal world hopping, and one primary stage. These are reasonably fun, though the linear nature of the stars (you can only aim for one at a time, unlike the previous installments of 3D Mario, in which you could generally get one of several stars/shine sprites at any one time). Thus, Galaxy is a bit more like a mixture of the 3D ‘open’ idea and the 2D single-stage concept to a reasonably good end, though I personally wish that at least some of the stages had been a bit more ‘exploration’-based.
The overworld has its own charm. It’s not exactly as large as Peach’s Castle or Pianta Square(?), but I personally liked the background music much better for this game than elsewhere, and late in the game, you can get the best power-up in the game to be used almost exclusively to navigate the overworld.
The story has often been criticised as weaker than other Mario games, which is certainly true, but I believe that the story doesn’t really matter because of the raw strength of the gameplay. I mean, look at Mario 64. Many critique the lack of plot in Galaxy, but 64 has significantly less. Both have the minimal basis of “Princess writes letter, inviting Mario to the Castle. Bowser Arrives and kidnaps Peach, and Mario must rescue stars to defeat Bowser.” But at least Galaxy adds a sort of justification for Bowser’s nefarious activities and a backdrop behind Peach’s invitation to Mario, unlike in 64. Thus, I think the people arguing about plot have little support for their claims. Few, if any, Mario games have had significant plot (save the RPG, Paper Mario, and Superstar Saga series), and I don’t see any reason why they should start now. That being said, I am a bit surprised at the subtle less childish aspects of the game, including the first reference to death in a Nintendo-produced Mario game (if oblique). Bowser is almost (but not quite) made into a character deserving of pity or even praise in some regards if you pay close enough attention, which just continues to add depth to his character…
As to other elements of the game, I have to say that the game does deliver on difficulty, and those claiming that the game is too easy haven’t really delved to defeat the game fully. You can defeat Bowser with 60 stars, true, but those first 60 are easy, as described. They generally give you a taste of the levels but don’t make it difficult. Instead, it is the comet idea that really introduces challenge to the game. Most people have criticized the comet paradigm as a cheezy tacked-on feature to the game, and to some extent, this is true, as there is usually nothing that you haven’t previously done that is done in a comet run. Nevertheless, the comet stars are some of the most challenging aspects of the game (and don’t even get me started on the purple comets. I, and many others have a distinct hatred of the Toy Time Galaxy’s purple coin star, and it’s easy to see where the difficulty ramps up). Most of the time, people will likely lose their lives on the ‘extra’ stars, rather than on the basic stars. With 15 levels with 3 stars a piece, you can easily rack up 45 stars without playing through a single comet run, and only 15 would be needed to get to the 60 mark. These 15 can be filled almost entirely by the 5 Bowser bosses, and the approximately 10 other stars in the single-star levels, thus making it almost possible to beat the game without touching a single comet or the sometimes-more-challenging Hungry Luma stars (I am a bit surprised that the early Hungry Luma stars were more ‘difficult’ than the later ones, though the Trial Galaxies really illustrate some very nice galaxies to ‘play’ with rather than just play through).
In any case, the comets actually should add the challenges that the true gamers seek (the purple coins being the most annoying of them all, being alternately grinding or frustratingly difficult due to the miss-one-and-start-all-over aspect of many of these stars). There is no reason to believe, in my opinion, that Galaxy is any easier than 64 or Sunshine was. Oh, and it has the best 120 star bonus in any of the three games.
In any case, there’s only a few other circumstantial features I found notable: Powerups, Music, and Coop Play.
Powerups: By and large, the powerups were reasonably well thought out. The fire and ice flowers were awesome touches (Wall jumping off waterfalls is awesome), and Bee Mario is about as good as anticipated. Boo Mario was a bit of a let down, being in only three stars and poorly designed (Even Bee Mario was used for more than that). Likewise, Spring Mario is often thought of as the most irritating powerup (and I agree with this opinion). Unlike the more interesting powerups like the Flowers, Spring Mario is actually permanent, more like Bee and Boo Mario, and has the extremely annoying feature of being unable to actually stop moving (and for that matter, being a bit difficult to control, requiring timing to succeed at high-jumps). Every stage in which his use was mandated was rather annoying, and I felt the powerup was more of a punishment than a reward… I just wish there was less of that and more of the best powerup in the game. Pity it’s only used on one stage and the overworld.
As for music, I must say I definitely think it has a very solid mix. It’s not entirely orchestrated (far from it) which is a shame, but both the orchestrated and unorchestrated pieces are relatively solid and excellent (as long as you’re not suffering through 15 minutes of finding purple coins. Then they actually border on irritating). I loved the overworld waltz (especially in its complete form after you unlock Bowser, complete with counterpoint and other classical niceties) and the other new themes are also solid and well composed. I also enjoyed the lovely remixes of previous Mario themes, which were especially well-suited to the levels they were on, and almost like a small reward for old Mario players (I loved including the Super Mario 3 Battleship theme in the opening, and immediately knew which levels were going to be frustratingly fun when I heard the Super Mario 3 ‘Moving Level’ theme. It’s actually rather interesting how this game, which I compare to SMB3, is the first game to remix its music…)
Lastly, coop play. I do have to admit that it is a bit weak, and does make the game incredibly easier. I was lucky to have someone to play with who didn’t mind being the second player, but I could easily see that it’s not nearly as fun as being Mario. I kinda wish it had been a bit more solid and interesting than just collecting star bits and stunning enemies, but this is EXTREMELY helpful in many levels just the same.
In conclusion, I (and I suspect many others) would easily call Galaxy THE game of the year (though I suppose the love for Portal and to a lesser extent the fanboys who refuse to even give Galaxy a chance by supporting Halo 3 might give Galaxy a run for its money. It certainly helps, though, that Galaxy is the first game in quite a while that has actually driven me to beat it because of how fun it is, rather than just for old-time’s sake. I don’t think a game has entertained me this much since Zelda 64.), and overall, Galaxy easily plays the Super Mario Brothers 3 to Super Mario 64′s Super Mario Brothers 1. Where 64 pioneered 3D platformers in many ways and set up the Mario franchise as it is today, Galaxy really serves as the apex (thus far) of the 3D Platformer paradigm that 64 pioneered. Sunshine, in my opinion, was weaker than 64, but at least it wasn’t a Doki Doki Panic.
Finally, I suppose, my ratings:
AURA Rating: Green (Excellent example of a platformer with lots of mass appeal, but not necessarily for the new gamer thanks to some of its quirky controls and the prerequisite of understanding how 3D platformers work)
Coin Score: Copper to Silver (You’ll only get about 12 hours if you just go for 60 stars. I got to 105 stars after about 24 hours, and 120 is probably about 30 hours (those purple coin stars are a bitch…). If you get to that stage though, you’ll probably stick with it to the bitter end, which is almost certainly twice that much, at about 60 hours, if not a bit more just having fun with some of the levels. It’s all pretty fun, so the comparative ‘lack of hours’ in completion, a paltry 25 or so, is likely going to be forgotten, but the grinding of the purple coin levels may drag your value down if you’re a completist and not the grinding type.)