Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Super Mario Galaxy (the Bonus Levels)

[DQ is live on tape this week, as we are presently on The Big Family Vacation™.]

I mentioned in the Level Up column that we have 192 stars in Super Mario Galaxy. That's 203 now, and I wanted to describe how it all works, because it's another example of just how much depth is in this game.

The first time you play, the goal is to get to 60 stars with Mario (you get a star the first time you finish a level). When you get to 60, you can travel through space to battle Bowser, and when you win, you see the game's ending. Very nice cut scenes, nicely conceived, and very satisfying.

At that point, though, if you want, you've barely even started.

In addition to regular levels, there are all kinds of "special" levels. You might need to find a star hidden on a level, or find Luigi (who needs rescuing). "Purple coin" levels require you to find 100 purple coins, and some of these are timed. Health is usually very generous in this game, but some comet levels will start you out with one health, and a single hit will kill you. Then there are speed runs with time limits.

These aren't new levels, compared to the "regular" levels. They add elements to levels, though (like purple coins), which force you to approach the level in an entirely different way. Also, and I think this is particularly well done, these new approaches force you to learn absolutely every single jumping technique in the game. It's easy to get through the first 60 levels without using the advanced jumping techniques, but you'll never clear the comet levels without them.

Playing through the first time is like being a tourist--it's terrifically fun, there's lots to see and do, and it's all very enjoyable. We actually avoided the comet levels in our first playthrough because they were significantly harder. The comet levels, though, are like an advanced course in how to play the game, and they teach you to be a much, much better player.

Another difference is that in the regular levels, a huge amount of exploration is not necessary. In the comet levels, though, particularly the purple coin levels and the levels where you need to find hidden stars, you have to absolutely scour the level, and it forces you to see everything. Doing so has given me even more appreciation for the level design, because it's brilliant.

We wanted to get to 120 stars (which is every level in the game, including all comet levels) because I had heard that when you did, you were granted access to one bonus level.

That's almost right. What happens is that if you get 120 stars, you can play as Luigi (who jumps farther and higher, but has more momentum and is slightly more difficult to control), and when LUIGI gets 120 stars, too, THEN that 121st level is available.


I thought that was impossible, but we get stars so quickly now that it's not going to take us much longer.

Well, with the exception of the Luigi's Purple Coins level. There are 150 coins on that level, and you only need to gather 100, but it's made up of only two kind of tiles: green and yellow. The green tiles shrink and disappear after you touch them, and the yellow tiles start to rotate. Here's a video of a guy making it look very easy (and collecting all 150 coins in the process), but it's wickedly hard, because even one mistake and you'll fall through the board. I've done it once, but it was epic luck, and I think the second time will be much, much tougher.

I think another thing that the bonus levels do is capture the spirit of previous Mario games in a way that the regular levels don't, just because they're so much more challenging. It's remarkable how many layers of skill the designers put into the game.

When we get to 240 stars, and finally see what we get, I'll let you know. At least, I'll let you know what I can without spoiling it for you.

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