It's been decades since Mario has unclogged a hairy drain, but he finds his most extreme diversion from plumbing to date in Super Mario Galaxy: wandering through outer space to rescue the princess. The half-baked story has Bowser commandeering a UFO, abducting Princess Peach (and her castle), and casting the Brooklyn plumber into the starry abyss, but while the formula is familiar, the execution isn't.
Galaxy revisits many of the elements that helped make Mario's name—platforming, grabbing power-ups, tight controls—while combining them cohesively in nostalgic ways that make room for new dynamics. Mario hops from planetoid to planetoid, and must contend with gravity as he runs over nearly any surface or wall. (Oddly, he doesn't need air to breathe.) Then there's the Wii-mote functionality: While chasing around the universe and dodging enemies, he needs to collect star bits, which serve as the game's currency and an additional weapon. You can also shake the remote for a spin attack, which stuns enemies. It isn't all asteroids and spaceships, though. Mario still chucks fireballs and visits old stomping grounds like deserts, ice-filled terrains, and haunted houses. The game encourages exploration—the levels' scope and look is impressive, and while it's easy to rack up extra lives, it's just as easy to lose them. As with any Mario game, there are a slew of new suits to collect, though they range from inspired (Boo Mario) to underwhelming (Bee Mario).
Even granted the concept of a plumber in space, Super Mario Galaxy is truly weird. Mario assists bearded penguins who fish in largemouth bass-shaped planets, and aids galactic worms in eating giant space apples. Weirdness aside, this is an addictive, well-crafted voyage.
Beyond the game: The graphics are spectacular. Surfaces shine with sheen and texture, stars sparkle, and the galaxy is filled with distracting depth.
Worth playing for: The only word to describe fighting Bowser with an orchestral score in the background is "badass."
Frustration sets in when: The nature of full 3D capabilities rears its ugly head. Be prepared to suddenly and frequently get sucked into black holes from an unseen pit in a tiny planet, or get smacked by goombas after not landing a jump perfectly atop their bushy eyebrows. Also, the two-player mode is a missed opportunity.
Final judgment: This is a new Mario game. For many, that alone will be enough. Fortunately, there's no laurel-resting.