E3 07: Super Mario Galaxy Preview

During Nintendo's E3 press conference this year, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime stated Nintendo's belief that Super Mario Galaxy will "set a new gold standard for player interface--not just for platformers, but for any game," which might be slightly exaggerated--particularly when the company's own Metroid Prime 3 truly does seem to be achieving that goal for its genre on consoles--but he was probably on the money when he said, "This is the first worthy successor to Super Mario 64."

Super Mario Galaxy looks great and plays brilliantly. This we know, and have known since last year's E3. The pointer-enhanced control works well, and gets better the more you use it as you start to intuitively infer when it will build on something you're doing. With more time than I had last time I played the game, I was getting much more use out of the cursor, which among other things can be used to collect and shoot crystals to stun or damage enemies.

This year's demo saw the unveiling of Mario's bee suit, which allows Mario to take flight for short periods of time and adhere to hexagonal honeycombs in order to climb sheer surfaces. It's a fun mechanic, but, perhaps more importantly, it suggests that there are likely to be long ground-based platforming segments; after all, what else would be the point of that kind of short-ranged flight in a game with so much aerial movement to begin with?

A second player can also join in with his or her own cursor to help slow or harass enemies; while unfortunately nowhere near full-fledged cooperative play, it should make for an enjoyable enough activity to give a friend while shooting the breeze, or a great way to get a parent and child playing at the same time despite different skill levels (of course, that potential skill inequality could swing either way).

To me, though, what is much more exciting about Super Mario Galaxy, and the aspect of the game I expect to fulfill the promise of the next worthy game in the core Mario series, is its promise of a return to actual platforming. While 2D platformers have had something of a renaissance lately, largely due to the Nintendo DS and PSP, their 3D cousins have been in a sad decline over the last generation or so. They seem to be devolving mainly into third-person action games with jumping thrown in, rather than actual platformers in which engaging physical traversal of the world itself is the crux of the gameplay.

Even platforming icon Mario found himself sliding down that road last generation, with Super Mario Sunshine maintaining the series' high standard of tactile control but dropping the ball when it came to consistently interesting platforming. There was a silver lining, of course--the abstract floating-blocks-in-space bonus levels were an absolute joy, and one of sadly few genuine high points in the genre of the time.

I suspect it is not entirely a coincidence that Galaxy, too, is set in space. Its planetoid-based surfaces and floating structures provide a perfect excuse for that kind of true platforming. These are the kinds of levels we've seen so far, but what makes writing continued previews of Galaxy frustrating is that we know the full game will have much greater variety and scale than the brief planet clusters we've been able to play. Developer interviews with Miyamoto and others have stated as much, and trailers have shown glimpses of tantalizingly engaging platforming, but it seems Nintendo wants to keep the really out there stuff under wraps until release.

Hints at other types of levels were present in this year's demo, with one level comprised of a floating path that materializes itself block by block as Mario runs and jumps along it but, understandably, there still was not anything as challenging as some of the segments seen in various trailers seem to be.

So, as with last year's demo, this year's showing of Super Mario Galaxy served mainly to further hammer home the point that, yes, you can do a full-fledged platformer on the Wii; yes, you can even push the genre forward; and, yes, it can look great. We'll have to wait until November 12 to see how far its development team has taken it.

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Download the full Super Mario Galaxy footage @ FileShack