7 Best Games of the 7th Generation: Super Mario Galaxy

super-mario-galaxy-headerThere are few series in gaming that are as iconic and as loved as Nintendo’s Super Mario series. Despite the fact that Mario has been around for over 30 years, Nintendo has this way of reinventing Mario and the Super Mario series with each new console generation. The result is games that bring new gamers into Nintendo and Mario while still giving fans who have played Mario games for their whole lives something to love.

For the industry shaking Wii console, Nintendo took Mario to the one place he’d never been before: The final frontier. Not only did Mario’s first adventure in outer space prove to be a smash hit, at release, it was considered one of the best Wii and platformer games of all-time.

super-mario-bros-3-screenshot-01The great strength of the Super Mario series is that it is truly timeless. The series has appealed to young and old and, while it’s evolved over the course of the 25+ years since Super Mario Bros., the classic Mario games hold up just as well today as they did back when they were released. Despite how far technology has come since the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (or Famicom), the Mario games from 1988 (Super Mario Bros 3), 1990 (Super Mario World) and 1996 (Super Mario 64) are still considered to be the best the series produced.

However, as much as Mario and his games have evolved over the 22 years between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy, the story was never really changed significantly at all over the course of the franchise. As one has come to expect from a Super Mario game, in Galaxy, Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser using a flying saucer and it’s up to Mario to rescue the princess.

The difference between Galaxy and its predecessors is that Mario must travel through space and collect Power Stars in order to rescue Peach from the clutches of the diabolical Bowser. Naturally, the story isn’t exactly a big selling point of the game but story isn’t the reason why the series has had such a broad and long-lasting appeal.

super-mario-galaxy-screenshot-01The big selling point for the Super Mario games is the fun gameplay. There are the traditional jumping from platform to platform and running through the world to your goal elements. However, the game adds in jumps between the old-school 2D and more modern 3D levels. The different levels also have different level design that keeps things fresh. If I was to go back and level a complaint against SMB, I would say that the levels felt very derivative and formulaic without feeling exceptionally fresh until you get to World 8. You can’t make that complaint about Galaxy.

And because Galaxy is all about space, there are space levels on that take you between planets (well, more like celestial bodies) in a galaxy. You can run over the surface of the planet but if you jump, the planet’s gravity will bring you down in a realistic sort of way. While the camera took a bit of getting used to, the level design of these planets was something completely different from what we were used to seeing from platformers and gave us all sorts of unique level designs.

One of Galaxy’s strengths was that it didn’t turn the Wii’s motion controls into an annoying gimmick to justify the use of motion controls on the console. Pointing the WiiMote at the screen to collect Star Bits was a good use of the controller seeing as running into all those Star Bits was a bit tricky in the first level and might have been a pain with that camera. Shaking the controller for the spin move took a bit of getting used to at first but seemed natural, rather than gimmicky, before long.

No, Super Mario Galaxy won’t be confused for Dark Souls in terms of tone or difficulty but that’s not to say that it’s an easy game. It’s easy enough that kids can play the game but enough of a challenge that adults and experienced gamers won’t be able to sleepwalk their way through it. It’s that balance between accessibility and challenge that allows a game to be at all ages that has long been one of Nintendo’s strengths and it continued with Galaxy.

super-mario-galaxy-screenshot-02Despite the fact that the Wii was the least powerful of the last-gen consoles, that doesn’t mean that Galaxy didn’t look good. Even with the transition to 3D and more powerful hardware, the Super Mario series has retained its iconic look. Mario still looked like Mario. The pipes were still there. Basically, it looked like a Mario game.

And while the graphics weren’t going to match the likes of some of our earlier 7 Best Games like Uncharted 2 and Skyrim, they were still good. Graphics don’t have to be photo-realistic but great graphics design can carry the day for a game. A colourful palette and a large variety in level and character design kept the game fresh from start to end and injected a sense of fun to the game.

Despite the fact that platformers are often considered to be kids games, critics gave Super Mario Galaxy some of the highest scores in franchise history. While detailed review aggregation doesn’t go all the way back to the NES’ Super Mario Bros. games, Super Mario Galaxy had the highest score of all-time on GameRankings. That’s not just the highest score of Mario games but the highest score of any game ever.

Along with its high ratings, Galaxy also won scads of awards. IGN, GameSpot, GameTrailers, Edge Magazine and BAFTA all gave it their Game of the Year award. IGN also named it the best game made for the Nintendo Wii. And Eurogamer also named it their top game of the last generation. I won’t quite go that far but it definitely deserves its place on this list.

To be one of the best games, you don’t need to have a an epic, cinematic storyline or photo-realistic graphics or A-list voice acting. At the end of the day, the game just has to be fun to play. If there’s one thing that Nintendo has long been able to do with the flagship Mario franchise, it’s that they make a game that’s fun to play for young and old, noobs and veteran gamers alike. At the end of the day, all we really need from our games is fun.

Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr and RSS.

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