It’s been exactly 7 years since the release of what is arguably the single greatest videogame ever made. The game was originally released in Japan on November 1, 2007 and was followed up with a release on November 12 and November 16 in North America and Europe (respectively). It took a one of gaming’s oldest and most revered franchises and hurled it towards the stars, creating what is possibly the series’ finest entry to date. Critics and gamers both agree, it seems, as this game is currently the highest rated game of all time on GameRankings, and among the highest games ever on Metacritic. Now, what game is it that earns this type of praise and could legitimately be called the “greatest game ever”? I’m talking, of course, about Super Mario Galaxy.
Where do I even start? Even at it’s most basic levels, Mario Galaxy is a dream to play. Movement and jumping is fine-tuned to perfection, and just running around is a complete joy. Mario has the perfect amount of maneuverability and momentum and the game just feels right in a way that most other games just never do. Even the camera, traditionally a rough spot for 3D platformers, feels perfect. You can’t actually control it, but it doesn’t matter. The camera always knows exactly where it should be pointing and what you should be seeing. If you’ve ever played a 3D platformer you should let that sink in for a moment; the amount of raw talent needed to create a platformer featuring a camera this good would be nearly unimaginable even if it was fully controlled by the player. Of course, the controls are perfect, too. If you told me that the Wii remote and nunchuck combo was created specifically for Galaxy I would believe you. Motion controls are kept to a minimum, and even when they are present they just feel natural. Lightly flicking the nunchuck causes Mario to spin, and the pointer allows you to collect and shoot star bits around the level with such finesse that it’s possible to remain completely accurate while still running, jumping, and flipping around at high speeds. The controls always do exactly what you’d expect and become so familiar that they almost feel like an extension of your body.
What’s even more amazing is the overall design. Nearly every single galaxy contains as much creativity as entire games, and are often centered around a concept that you could build an entire franchise upon – only for Galaxy to drop everything and do it again. And again. Every single level is bursting with so much creativity, and is so tightly, expertly designed that it almost seems impossible. The core concept of the game is gravity, and playing around on spherical planetoids is a pretty amazing idea in and of itself. But the game is so much more than that, and doesn’t stop at merely having you jump from one planet’s orbit into another. Entire worlds are built around concepts, with anything from having the gravity reversed on different halves of the stage to floating in a giant bowl in space to having the level literally build itself around you as you play. Possibly even more striking is that Galaxy effortlessly goes from one gameplay concept to another, often combining many different ideas into a single level with such care that the very idea of having a single level feature only one brand new concept seems almost antiquated. Like I said, some of the ideas present in Mario Galaxy are so creative, fun, and flexible that you could build an entire game around it, only to have Nintendo squeeze all of it’s potential into one level and then do it again with a different idea for the next one.
Oh, yeah. The music. Listen to the soundtrack. My personal favourite track is Gusty Garden Galaxy for the grand sense of scale it provides, you can’t go wrong with any of the tracks. The first time you jump into a galaxy and have classic music from Super Mario Bros. 3 begin to play, you’ll suddenly feel “it”, and “it” feels good.
One thing that’s impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t played the game is the magic. It’s that feeling that washes over you as you play that this is what videogames are meant to be. There will be a point you hit where you realize that you’ve been smiling the entire time; that Super Mario Galaxy is like nothing you’ve ever played before and that you’re never going to look at other games in quite the same way again. For me, that moment occurred when I was partway into the game, using the Ice powerup and skating across ice, jumping between ice sheets and racing forward. It was then that I realized that while some games might be good, and some might be great, Galaxy was sublime and on a whole other level entirely.
If there’s one fault present in Super Mario Galaxy, it’s that the game eventually ends. In fact, it’s the only game I can remember playing in my entire life where, after watching the credits, I immediately went to a new file and started it again. Even after finishing the game completely with two characters I wasn’t ready for it to be over. In some ways I even feel that I’m underselling the game. I went into it with sky-high expectations, and it somehow still managed to blow past them and be an even greater game than I imagined. Super Mario Galaxy is quite simply the greatest game ever made and, as far as I’m concerned, the pinnacle of the art form.
What about you? Do you share the same reverence for Super Mario Galaxy, or do you think I’m way off the mark? I’d love to hear your opinions on what you think is the greatest game ever made and why it’s just so good. And while you’re at it, what was the moment that finally made you realize that the game in front of you was unlike anything else?