This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee takes on the plumber.
A new Nintendo console has been dancing a merry jig in the international marketplace for quite a while now, so we’re well overdue for another cynical attempt to make the Mario 64 lightning strike again and restore life to the lurching atrocity that is Nintendo’s main franchise. I mentioned in the Phantom Hourglass review that the company has a terrible habit of treading old ground, but even by their standards, the Mario ground has been trodden, bulldozed and purged with fire and salt.
This time around they’ve taken the same ill-fated route Jason Vorhees took and have traveled into space in lieu of innovation. But don’t be fooled - this is your standard fill-in-the-blanks framework; Mario’s hateful, emotionally-retarded ball and chain has been kidnapped again, but before you can do the rescue you have to collect a whole bunch of stars - and it is always stars, for some utterly arbitrary reason. And in the end, Mario succeeds in rescuing the needy bitch, who once again fails to put out, although frankly I've given up expecting any kind of actual human, intelligent reaction from that clueless bint.
For me, the interesting relationship is the one between Mario and Bowser. I mean, on some days they fight to the death in fiery, climactic showdowns, while on other days they go go-carting together, play tennis, even team up in some of the RPGs. Sure, he kidnaps the princess a whole bunch, but no one seems to begrudge him for that anymore, it’s just what he does. It’s like begrudging a dog for licking its own balls.
Initially, Mario Galaxy gets an easy ride because it has to be inevitably compared to Mario Sunshine, the last proper Mario game, disregarding all that spin-off bullshit. And you could transplant the head of Joseph Goebbels onto the body of a praying mantis and it would still compare favorably to Mario Sunshine. I understand that Mario is a plumber, but while having him clean up huge piles of semi-liquid shit makes for good characterization, it’s not much fun to anyone except obsessive-compulsive squirt-gun fetishists.
What I did like about Mario Sunshine, though, were those sections where they took that asinine water pistol away and left you to navigate a set of colourful platforms floating in the middle of a bleak, empty void. They were frustrating, but in a good way. Frustrating like opening a carton of ready-made custard for your rhubarb crumble, knowing that the rewards will be all the sweeter for the effort. I remember saying at the time if they made a Mario game that was just this kind of shit, then I’d be all over it like Robbie Coltrane on a plate of chips. Well, it seems some kind of Nintendo independent thought detection van was passing by my house that day, because Mario Galaxy is pretty much that.
Okay, I admit it, Mario Galaxy is fun. It feels like a return to form; lots of interesting levels with a huge variety of settings, terrains and challenges. Plus watching Mario rocket through space at meteorotic speeds holding his little stubby arms out has a rather perplexing charm to it. It’s cutsey and colourful enough to be kid-friendly while still challenging the adult audience. And some moments are appealingly fucked-up when taken out of context, like force-feeding a guy sweeties so that he explodes and turns into a planet, or crawling around on the exterior of a giant woman, picking debris out of her rampant pubic hair.
On the other hand, the boss fights are pathetic, pretty much all of them won by swatting their projectiles back at them like a game of interstellar Pong. The final boss fight in particular is about as hard as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s dick in the presence of his grandma. But then, I guess Bowser is pretty much resigned to inevitable failure these days. Oh yeah, and the implementation of a lives system is still as unnecessary as it was in Mario Sunshine and as it has been ever since we stopped designing games for amusement arcades run by people destined to be the villain in an episode of Scooby-Doo.
My main complaint is with the gimmicks. Criticizing a Wii game for being gimmicky at this point feels like criticizing a midget for being short, but when Galaxy tries to be unique, it gets in the way of the fun. The constant changing of gravity and camera angle makes it hard to predict whether a push in a given direction will send Mario the right way or send his big, fat arse sizzling into the nearest lava pond. And this isn't helped by awkward and unintuitive camera controls. Plus, it certainly wasn’t a smart design choice to make the player have to shake the controller so much, because like many gamers, my skeleton is made out of Jacob’s cream crackers. And within hours, I felt the pangs of early-onset arthritis in my wanking wrist.
But these issues certainly weren't enough to stop me beating the game, or at least getting as far as the end credits. That's by no means the actual end, but striving on for 100% completion is for unemployed psychotics and Koreans. My conclusion is that you could do a lot worse than buying Mario Galaxy, but it would’ve been better with a Gamecube controller. That's right, it denigrates the very console it’s supposed to sell, and that’s so deliciously tragic.
All in all, though, I’m left wondering where this series could possibly go from here. I mean, once you’ve gone into space, everything after that feels like a step backward unless your next film teams you up with Freddy Krueger. Maybe they could do Super Mario Universe, but that's really only postponing the issue. Of course, Nintendo always has the option to axe the franchise and start a new one with new, interesting characters. Then maybe they could start a snow-shoveling business in hell.
- Some of his best friends are Italian: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Also the imp isn't appearing in this credit sequence for once because he's busy humping the space hopper I got for Christmas
- Fuck you, Princess Peach is really hard to draw