When Super Mario Galaxy hit shelves in 2007, it did so with a sense of obligation. Just as Super Mario 64 graced the Nintendo 64, and Super Mario Sunshine blessed the GameCube, the then-young Nintendo Wii was due its obligatory Super Mario 3D platformer. In this lineage, Galaxy keeps certain familiar trappings: Mario must save Princess Peach and stop Bowser, collecting stars by journeying to various unique themed worlds, connected by a hub world. Thankfully, Galaxy knew better than to coast on franchise power and name recognition. What could have been a paint-by-numbers adventure ended up being a high point for Mario and for the Wii.
Super Mario Galaxy landed with an appropriately sizable impact, rocketing fans into a new solar system of experiences. Evey new world (called “Galaxies” here) is bursting with inventive visuals, unique gravity-bending level design, and buckets of visual and musical splendor. The addition of new characters like Rosalina and the Lumas also made an impression on players, expanding the scope of what kind of world Mario existed in, and what a Mario game could be.
No longer was Mario confined to a linear path forward. Thanks to the gravity-bending new worlds, which have Mario jumping from planet to planet and running around on spherical surfaces, the level designs in Galaxy could go absolutely buckwild, creating twisting, sprawling new maps. New power-ups like the Boo Mushroom or Bee Mushroom also gave Mario novel ways to traverse the levels. Random Trickster Comets could also transform levels into unique maps, adding an element of unpredictability to things.
Being a Wii game, Galaxy does have some elements of the Wii’s requisite motion controls, but they’re thankfully limited and logical. Mario can spin with a shake of the Wiimote, collect and fire bright star bits that can stun enemies by pointing the Wiimote at the screen, and push and pull Mario in certain environmental puzzles. While these motion control elements are present, they never overwhelm the platforming experience. Being a major first-party release for Nintendo, Galaxy’s restraint with motion controls is a pleasant surprise, as many third party releases couldn’t resist the siren song of requiring as much Wiimote waggling as humanly possible (and perhaps even more). The 3D Mario platformers have always known exactly how to bring out the best in their respective consoles, and Galaxy upheld that tradition.
It’s also significant that Super Mario Galaxy came out one year after the Wii’s release, meaning it had a bit more lead time than launch Wii games. The designers then had more time to familiarize themselves with the Wii’s specifications and potential. As a result, Galaxy is dripping with visual splendor that remain awe-inspiring by modern standards. Still mechanically sharp, gorgeous to behold, and striking in its atmosphere and scope, Galaxy’s legacy is one of top-tier imagination and craftsmanship.
In fact, Super Mario Galaxy was so well-regarded that it’s the only 3D platformer Mario title to get a direct sequel in 2010’s Super Mario Galaxy 2. The sequel was much more sequential in its levels, progressing in a more direct fashion like in 2D Mario titles such as Super Mario World or New Super Mario Bros. The addition of Yoshi added new platforming and exploration elements, and the Galaxy magic remained as sharp as ever.
The lasting legacy of Super Mario Galaxy is one both timeless and of its time. It’s a title that, in 2007, showed a bright new future for the potential of platformers and the tech potential of the Nintendo Wii. Today, it stands as an example of Nintendo operating at the top of its game. Galaxy’s inclusion in the Switch collection Super Mario 3D All-Stars reminded players of its lasting power. Here’s hoping Odyssey 2 (or whatever the next 3D Mario title is) maintains Galaxy’s sense of wonder and the great unknown.
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