In the two days I've spent inside the Wii section of E3, nothing has been more stressful than having my badge ripped off me directly in the middle of it. Because, well, they won't issue you a replacement one. No matter what you do. As despite being a slightly well known games journalist (hey, I've been slagged off on people's blogs!) who is actually working at the show (not just having a nice time waiting in line) apparently I might have went outside and sold my pass for 'one and a half thousand dollars'. That is, naturally, insane. Literally anyone can buy a pass for three hundred as a general attendee. What, it's worth $1500 to get the most inedible sandwiches ever at 11:30a.m sharp and use a stupidly crowded media room, which seems to have bigger lines than the Wii booth?
Anyway, I won't bore you with the details of how I'm still able to cover the show (thanks, Kristan) but let's say it involves a great deal less Solid Snake style subterfuge than I was expecting. Thankfully. None the less, by the time I was in the Wii booth for my second day, I was so unbelievably teed off that I though nothing would make me feel better. Not even copious amounts of alcohol. I've already tried that the previous night, and all I learned was that you're a lot less likely to remember to try and blag interviews when you accidentally stumble into literally everyone important in the games industry, from Eugene Jarvis to Tetsuya Mizuguchi, just because you're drunk and annoyed about a lost badge. Damn!
Here's what will make you feel better. Super Mario Galaxy. It's the cure to what ails you, my friend. Do you know how, maybe, something reminds you all is right with the world? Like a big hug from the one you love and the words 'Everything is going to be okay.' This is that hug, and dear god, Mr Shigeru Miyamoto, I needed it. Even if I had to wait in line for it (loads of times, do you think I'd only play it once? Madness!)
Ahem. Let's get down to the nitty gritty.
When the demo starts, it's probably pretty easy to get disillusioned. I mean, you just land in a little area that seems more or less exactly like the first level of Super Mario 64 (the first level, not the castle, that is.) I mean, it's even more disappointing because the title screen features Mario floating in a bubble in space, in what appears to be a very Kojima-esque reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
But that's only really to fool you. Actually, wait. You probably don't even care about that. You probably want to know how it controls. Well, I originally thought it was going to play totally absurdly, with Mario being moved about by wobbling the controller in the air, or something, but no. It's actually a quite straight forward nunchuck game. While the nunchuck analogue controls Mario's movement, the other pad controls his jumps with the A button, and acts as a laser pointer, more or less. By wobbling it about, you make Mario spin jump, and by wobbling it over interesting scenery, you can cause things to happen. For example, ringing the three bells which are on the first area you can cause a group of musical notes to appear which when collected reveal a 1up. Or you can shake the grass to cause coins to appear. And more things!
Interestingly, this is the first Wii game where I noticed a real change in the way I had to play, because I'm left handed. It's as simple as switching the hands I hold the controllers in, but it's now a bit odd as I'm used to controlling movement with my left hand. The Wii controls, when we're being honest, are kind of a new form of keyboard and mouse. Just a million times better. But think of how you control a keyboard and mouse, and that will probably be your controller/nunchuck orientation. And while the first time you make this switch you might think 'oh, this feels a bit odd' within seconds you've got it. Super Mario Galaxy, to paraphrase a Jewish caricature that Mike Myers use to do on Saturday Night Live, controls like buttah.
Once you've lept up to the peak of the mountain, and learned that the spinning stars act as floating launch pads activated by a spin jump (remember, wobble the controller!) The game truly begins.
Now, you know when people say fancy terms like 'paradigm shift'? Like Gillen. He probably says that all the time, at boho dinner parties and things. It's a bit of a wanky term, so I'm not sure if I can say it here. But if Mario 64 turned 2d into 3d and that was a paradigm shift, Super Mario Galaxy turns 3d into full 3d, with all 360 degrees of space available to you to play in, in a way that probably only devotees of the Homeworld series would know. Largely, once you're in space, you run around on small asteroids and planets which are most often round. Your floors are no longer flat, and more than that, sometimes the floors are ceilings or walls or whatever, but you can run on all of them. It may sound incredibly confusing, indeed I don't think I'm even beginning to explain it correctly, but imagine it - one early area in the game is a kind of a 'coin' planet, two distinct flat sides. One side leads you along two path to two separate bosses, the other to another boss (There's supposed to be a fourth boss, but damned if I could find it with the queuing involved). Each of these paths could be entirely differently orientated, leading to your Mario spending most of his time upside down (or something) compared to the path another Mario took.
Ach, that's still not clear enough. Forget it. Let me just explain that no matter how confusing it seems, when you play it, you never are confused. The camera is great, you always know where you're going, and using the spinning stars, you can easily bounce from planet to planet joyfully collecting star shards with the pointer (the use of which remains mysterious to me), fighting enemies (which include classics like goombas and giant pokeys, but also newcomers, such as a 'brain slug' which attaches itself to Mario's cranium) and just generally having a good time floating about in space. As you go from planet to planet, the environment is allowed to change wildly, from dead moons to ice planets and even planets featuring strange, sticky trees (which you can pull back the pointer on to flick Mario around like an Italian booger) and not only that, but there are pirate ships, floating space castles and more odd architecture to be found. The demo offered several distinct paths to the end with four bosses on offer, but it remains to be seen if the finished product will include the same kind of design. But you've naturally gone back to collecting stars from vanquished bosses.
The Bosses I personally managed to see ranged from a giant robotic, um, spider thing which was destroyed by taunting it's own bullet bills into it's head, a flesh and bone spider destroyed by flicking Mario into him using sticky parts of his web as a catapult with the pointer, and an enraged volcanic squid which requires that you use Mario to spin jump his projectiles back at him, like a game of tennis (but nothing like Wii Sports: Tennis, though.)
Let me get this straight - I actually loved Super Mario Sunshine, in case you're wondering where my allegiances lie, even though I grew to hate it completing it 100% (why did I have to do that? Personal respect, I guess), but I dearly wished that the next Mario title was simply a collection of the 'shine levels' of that title - hard, old school Mario in 3d levels with no overarching design. This, quite clearly, isn't that at all. And I love it. It brought a true smile to my face, and if you look at the face of the average journo at E3 (the same as your average suicide case) that is a valuable thing indeed.
Super Mario Galaxy is due for release sometime in 2007.