The 3D Mario games are some of the most refined and polished 3D platforming experiences that can be had in modern gaming. Super Mario Galaxy was released in 2007 to critical acclaim. It built on the great experience of Super Mario 64 and added platforming on spherical objects which opened up so many gameplay possibilities. In this article, we look back at Super Mario Galaxy. What was it that influenced its development, and what impact has it made?
Legacy of Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 was an early 3D game that really showed off the potential of what kind of experiences could be created through a videogame in a three-dimensional space. Before Super Mario 64, no 3D platformer had really nailed movement and camera controls in 3D, but Super Mario 64 really lived up to expectations and showed the creativity of Nintendo yet again. Super Mario 64 nailed 3D movement so well, that it could even be described as a ‘free running’ game, that’s how precise the controls are for the game. Triple jumping and wall jumping are gameplay elements that return in later 3D games, but even on their first try, Nintendo nailed it.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild, is another example of Nintendo nailing their first attempt at a change in genre/style. Nintendo knew that they had to mix up the Zelda formula after five 3D Zelda games following the same style, and they received universal acclaim when Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released as their first open-world action RPG. Super Mario 64 was a similar achievement.
The concept of collecting stars was a smart move, and each feels important to progress, and it feels great when you collect one after a difficult mission. The shrines and spirit orbs in Breath of the Wild give a similar feeling of satisfaction. When games water down these kinds of experiences, like the 5 pieces of heart you need to collect in Zelda: Twilight Princess, or the 900 moons you need to collect in Super Mario Odyssey, I feel it’s a step backward and a sign that ideas have run out. Super Mario 64 was fresh. Its successor divides fans, and uses a ‘gimmick’, but was Super Mario Sunshine really that bad?
Disappointment Around Super Mario Sunshine
The GameCube was released in 2002 with no Mario game. Instead, we got Luigi’s Mansion, which could be described as a Resident Evil parody, and wasn’t a bad game in itself. Later in 2002, we received Super Mario Sunshine a new 3D Mario game. Super Mario Sunshine used a jet pack gimmick, and much of the game revolved around cleaning what is probably best described as sludge in an idyllic tropical environment. There were only short sections where Mario was without the jet pack and using purely his 3D platforming skills. These sections were some of the best parts of the game and eventually influenced Super Mario Galaxy.
At Spaceworld 2000, Nintendo showed off a tech demo of many Marios running around a platform. The graphics were great, and this tech demo began the rumors of Mario 128, a potential sequel to Super Mario 64. Mario 128 never materialized, but elements from the tech demo appeared in Pikmin, as well as Super Mario Galaxy. I feel that the tech demo did inspire Super Mario Galaxy, and because people were disappointed with Super Mario Sunshine, there was still hype around Mario 128 even around 2003/2004. I feel Super Mario Sunshine was a great game even though it used a gimmick, but it’s understandable that people wanted a more ‘authentic’ Mario experience.
Hype for Galaxy
After the great ‘pure’ Mario experience of Super Mario 64 and the diversion away from pure platforming in Super Mario Sunshine, people really wanted a return to an authentic experience. Super Mario Galaxy was announced at E3 2006 and people could see it was a return to pure 3D platforming inspired by the Mario 128 tech demo. While it’s not truly Mario 128, it is pure Mario and doesn’t have a gimmick. What the game does revolve around (pardon the pun) is platforming on spherical objects. They are like little planetoids and the developers must have worked on the game’s physics engine for ages as it’s obvious that the gameplay has a lot of polish.
The game was released in 2007 to critical acclaim. It has a higher Metacritic rating than both Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario 64. For me, it is easily one of the best games on the Wii, and together with Zelda: Twilight Princess and Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, makes the Wii home to some of the best games ever made.
A New Twist on 3D Platforming
Super Mario Galaxy retains the core mechanics of Super Mario 64 while changing the levels and environments by making them spherical. The physics engine means that on most planetoids, no matter how far you jump you won’t fall off the object. The in-game gravity sucks you back down, keeping you on the planet. This completely changes what can be done with the puzzles in the game, and the clever developers have created so many cool, satisfying, and difficult puzzles and objectives that you have to complete to gain stars. There are many worlds to explore, and most have fewer missions than in Super Mario 64. However, because there are so many of them, this increases the level diversity.
The hub in the game is Rosalina’s Comet observatory, and from here Mario accesses all the worlds of the game. It works similarly to Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64, but because of the great sound design and art, it feels otherworldly and has a different charm. The difficulty curve in the game is really well done. There are no harsh spikes and anyone can play through the game, although collecting all the stars is difficult. The subtle and minor touches in the game, again often with the sound design, really create a great atmosphere.
The Wii pointer controls are used to collect star bits, and because of their minor use in the game, the pointer controls aren’t required most of the time. This is good if you’re lazy, as you don’t need to be overly active like in Wii Sports. Super Mario Galaxy really is one of the best Mario games and if you have a Wii and haven’t played it, you really should (it’s only around £12 in the UK at the moment).
At E3 2009, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was formally announced and released not long after in 2010. Apparently, Miyamoto and his development team had ideas left over after the first Galaxy and decided to make a new game using the same engine. I’m currently playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the first time (Wii) and can confirm it’s more of the same brilliant, fresh 3D platforming. The hub world has changed and it’s humorously a ship of Mario’s face. The ship travels through the ‘galaxies’ and in this way, the level selection is more similar to old games, however, it actually makes for a more refined experience.
Like the first Super Mario Galaxy, the sound design is great and really invokes a sense of isolation in space. That is one aspect both games really excel at, and the atmosphere really impacts the whole experience. The graphics (both of the sequel and the original) are great for Wii, and look better than some Xbox 360 games.
After releasing to critical acclaim, Super Mario Galaxy went on to sell over 12 million copies, making it one of the best-selling Wii games. Its platforming influenced many other games including Sonic Lost World, which involved similar gameplay on spherical objects. However, Sonic Lost World didn’t live up to Super Mario Galaxy in terms of critical acclaim. In terms of reception among critics, the Sonic series has really lived under the shadow of the Mario games since the move to 3D in the late 90s.
The latest 3D Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey, is more great 3D platforming. In the game, Mario uses his hat to ‘possess’ objects and enemies to take control of them. However, completing the main story is quick, and there’s a lot of content post-game. For some reason, I wasn’t satisfied with the core game and didn’t have the motivation to play most of the post-game. While Odyssey is still a great game, for me, it doesn’t live up to Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Galaxy 2.
With the Super Mario Bros. Movie releasing later this year, will Nintendo release a 3D Mario game to go with it? It’s been five years since Odyssey, and it’s got to be time for a new core Mario game. For me, similarly to what happened with Zelda (the change in gameplay style with Breath of the Wild), the Mario series needs some big changes. I have a feeling Nintendo is going to really surprise people with Mario this year. Galaxy did the impossible and lived up to Super Mario 64, will we see something that’ll live up to the great legacy of the 3D Mario games? Time will tell, but 2023 has me very excited for the future of Mario.