By Geoffrey Golden . November 18, 2007 . 10:10am
If you're looking to play through complex stories, you probably stopped playing Mario games a long time ago. Mario RPGs notwithstanding, platformer Mario games tend to stick very closely to the tried-and-true "save the princess" formula, which probably turns off story-craving gamers. However, if you're looking to dig into a thematically intricate game this year, look no further than Mario Galaxy.
Yes, the latest Wii Mario game has the same "save the princess/universe" plot, but rather than adding a lot of story elements on top of that formula (like in the fun but talky Super Paper Mario), Super Mario Galaxy tries something different. The game changes the thematic message of Mario from simply "good triumphs over evil" to "home is where the heart is" — it's Wizard of Oz, but Dorothy has a mustache and a high-pitched Italian accent.
SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to know what happens at the end of Super Mario Galaxy, I'd suggest you stop reading, beat the game, then come back. I'll wait.
One thing that really impresses me for a Mario game is multiple story-lines that both support the same theme, like in a movie. In the main game story, the Princess is captured by Bowser and they go into space. Mario goes to a space observatory, fights bad guys, and finally confronts Bowser — but even though he defeats Bowser, the sun that Bowser is making explodes, creating a black hole that sucks in the universe (d'oh!). Luckily, Rosalina the star princess and her Luma pals create a whole new universe where Mario and his pals now exist. Mario is happy about this, because ultimately it doesn't matter what universe he's in, as long as he's got his Princess to love.
Rosalina's story is a lot more bittersweet, but thematically similar. She left her own mother on the "blue planet" to help a Luma find its mom, and after awhile becomes a mother herself to the friendly little stars. However, Rosalina later gets homesick and we find out that she makes regular pilgrimages to the planet where her mom is buried. *Tear* Her heart is on that blue planet, which is why she keeps yearning to go back.
What's amazing is that the great story is told efficiently and doesn't interrupt the flow of game play. You could completely skip Rosalina's story entirely if you want to. Game play still takes center stage (I've never had so much fun running around a planet), but the well-executed story provides added value to the experience. Sure, the game could just as easily been a simple "save the princess" story and still have been a great game, but I think the engaging story takes Super Mario Galaxy to an artistic level other Mario titles haven't approached.