Thursday, December 27, 2007

Have a blast in orbit with "Super Mario Galaxy"

In the name of love (or lust), Mario goes into the great beyond to save Princess Peach.

Developed by Nintendo EAD Tokyo, "Super Mario Galaxy" is easily one of the most anticipated titles on any system this year. The Japanese launch was ho-hum, according to retail numbers, but the U.S. launch was met with huge fanfare.

The game's premise is really easy - Mario is on his way to see Princess Peach when his longtime enemy, Bowser, takes Peach into deep space. And, of course, Mario goes into orbit to save his intended. He eventually travels to several galaxies to rescue Peach and defeat Bowser and his baddies, again.

I won't lie to you - after playing as Mario since the early '80s, I am getting tired of rescuing Princess Peach. She is a princess, right? Why doesn't she just hire some muscle who will put her enemies in check? And poor Mario - he can't even think about taking a small vacation to a playa in Costa Rica, or Fiji ... or even the Outback. No ... he has to stay close to his cell phone to be on alert so he can save the princess. Dude, now is the time to think about your future. You are taking risks for her and she refuses to commit. Three words, Mr. Mario: LET HER GO!!!!!!

The game uses the Nunchuk and Wii Remote to control Mario. The Nunchuk turns Mario, change the camera angles and crouch. The Remote is used for aiming and catching Star Bits, shooting Star Bits and spin or shake Mario. Of course this wouldn't be a Mario game if you can't jump, but you can spin and leave enemies dazed. On some *galaxies,* you can spin and hit triangle-shaped bells that will flip enemies on their backs for a few seconds, giving you time to rush over to them and turn them into Star Bits.

The first stage is a good way to get used to the controls and catching Star Bits. The more Bits you collect, the better. When you hit 100 Star Bits, you get an extra man. If you are having trouble with the Wii control scheme (and there's only one scheme), you will need those Bits - every bit (no pun intended).

After the initial stage, you will be transported to the Comet Observatory. From here, you will have the opportunity to travel to every galaxy that you have unlocked. There aren't that many galaxies, but there are up to 3-4 different areas to explore and conquer.

Rosalina, the keeper of the observatory, will give you the valuable info about galaxies.

You'll also meet Polari at the observatory - Rosalina's trusted adviser. You'll also find Lumas, small stars found throughout the galaxies. They love Star Bits - so have a few extra to share with them.

Now, Star Bits are definitely your friend in "Super Mario Galaxy." As stated earlier, you will collect them - some stages have several comets smashing into planets and leaving gobs of bits behind. However, if you are in a pinch with an enemy and your special moves are falling short, you can use Star Bits as weapons. Yes! Just aim your Wii Remote at the enemy and fire away. Oh, it helps - and what's really cool is - your character on-screen doesn't need line of sight to hit an enemy. All you need is to aim the Wii Remote and pull the trigger. You DO need to have line of sight from your Wii Remote, though.

The game really shines by combining innovative gameplay with incredible graphics. The gameplay is very, very solid. Controls are tight and precise, and won't frustrate gamers. The Nunchuk is very response, though the Wii Remote sometimes didn't do spin moves as I shook it. Maybe I need fresh batteries in the Remote - that's never a bad thing.

Shaking the Wii Remote send Mario spinning into enemies and breaking objects, like ice formations with tons of Star Bits inside. It also stuns enemies and allows you to hit them again and finish them off.

Graphics are spectacular. Yes, even on a Wii, these graphics look great in standard def. I haven't had the opportunity to play this game in hi-def yet, but I'll report back when I do. The colors are rich and eye-popping. There are some jaggies and pixels, but the cutscenes (cheesy at times) don't take any from the sweet graphics. You will come away pleased.

The enemy AI is good - not too clueless and not Rambo either. The enemy will be aware of you and won't let up. Sometimes, they do give up, but that's a rarity. There's one stage where this big baby dinosaur is chasing you and he won't fall for the quick mouths. You will be bit - the question is - how many TIMES will you get bit?

The other part of the gameplay that rocks is unlocking Stars. When you finish a stage, you will free a Star. Freeing the Star will open other missions in the galaxy you were battling it. On planets you were exterminating enemies from, some of them will have Yellow Star Chips. After you assemble the chips, the broken Launch Star will be fixed and catapults you to another planet. Doing this is one of the funniest parts of this game.

There are other items in the game that bring back classic Mario memories, including warp pipes, ? blocks, brick blocks, cannons (just hop in one, aim at your target and fire away) and sprouting vines (to use this item, you will have to shake your Remote to twist your way up the vine). Of course, gathering coins, 1-Up Mushrooms and Life Mushrooms are back, just like they have been in every Mario since the days Mario shared a Nintendo cartridge with "Duck Hunt."

Just like in the classic "Mario Brothers" series, Mario can take on several forms. I loved how in the original you could be Super SUPER Mario - at least 3-4 times bigger than the original Mario. "SMG" is no different. As you progress in the game, you will have the chance to snag special power-ups that give Mr. Mario some cool abilities.

Some of the special power-ups include:

1. Bee Mario (grab a Bee Mushroom)
2. Rainbow Mario (grab a Rainbow Star)
3. Boo Mario (grab a Boo Mushroom)
4. Ice Mario (grab an Ice Flower)
5. Fire Mario (grab a Fire Flower)
6. Spring Mario (grab a Spring Mushroom)

There's even a co-op mode that allows gamers to tackle the galaxy with a friend. You need a second Wii Remote to dominate the galaxy.

There's only one gripe I have with "SMG." I am in my mid 30s and Mario does some serious running all over the baby planets. However, he can go vertical or horizontal, and the planet spins with him. My head was hurting and I nearly got vertigo trying to keep up with him. Young players won't mind his antics. I did - and I would recommend older gamers - in their mid 30s to rent it first OR just be close to a bucket if you let your children play and you observe them.

Ninny's "SMG" is charting a new course into the stratosphere.

Why should I care: "SMG" is one of the biggest releases yet on the Wii. It's worthy of the praise it's receiving. Its' innovative design is worth the price of admission.

The good: Killer story and plot, awesome graphics, innovative controls, sweet power-ups, firing star bits and the chance to explorer a pretty huge galaxy, co-op play and engaging gameplay

The bad: The only problem is - my lil vertigo problem when he runs around the planets

The ugly: The green bubbles - maybe I am too old, but they remind me of something I wouldn't expect to see in a video game except "Leisure Suit Larry"

Overall: 9.75 (out of 10): There is no denying that "SMG" is one of the best games ever on the Wii and one of the best game to ever to grace a Nintendo console. It's in the running for Game of the Year and deserves all the praise it's receiving. If you own a Wii, you need this game. If you don't own a Wii, this game may change your mind on owning a Wii.

See you in orbit!

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