Greatness of ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ undermined by poor Switch controls

Elise Favis

THE WASHINGTON POST – Porting a game such as Super Mario Galaxy to the Nintendo Switch is tricky. How much of the classic game do you leave untouched? And, for a title dependent on motion controls, how do you transfer the experience to a handheld console? The answers to these questions, it turns out, are not clear.

The popular space-faring platformer made its debut on Wii in 2007, primed with motion controls that let Mario spin, balance and hop from one planet to the next. On Wii, using a nunchuck and a Wiimote, this worked well enough, but mechanically, it was the least engaging part of the game. Brought to the Switch as part of the recent Super Mario 3D All-Stars bundle, motion controls for Super Mario Galaxy remain, but the implementation is clunky and outdated for the modern revival.

Super Mario Galaxy is still an excellent game in every other aspect. The ingenious level design holds up, where you jump between asteroids, planets and comets as well as discover beautifully crafted environments (which are even more gorgeous in full HD on Switch). The platforming holds up, which is complemented by fun and creative design decisions such as differing gravitation pulls and the sheer excitement of exploration. It just is not all that easy to play on Nintendo Switch.

You can experience Super Mario Galaxy on the go, or on your TV with a Switch, but each comes with a level of frustration.

The most accessible is docked mode, which connects your Switch to your television, emulating a similar experience you’d have on a Wii or Wii U. Just like the Wiimote, you can use your Joy-Cons’ or Pro Controller’s gyroscope controls for a variety of manoeuvers, such as balancing Mario on the Star Ball, a large sphere you carefully teeter upon and guide through narrow paths. Or, another example is controlling a manta ray through twisting waterways by tilting your Joy-Con left and right.

Performing these manoeuvers, would be better if Nintendo had ditched motion controls completely, especially when a docked Switch was not detecting a Joy-Cons’ movements with precision. Although Nintendo keeps most of these motion controls intact, there are some instances where an alternative is offered.

For the first time, you can press Y to make Mario spin (an important move that stuns enemies, shatters ice and more). On Wii and Wii U, you would shake the Wiimote to perform this action. On Switch, you can still do so by wagging the Joy-Con, but the option of simply pressing a button (especially if your hand tires!), is a wonderful addition. I wish that same care was extended to the rest of the controls.

Controlling the star pointer (a cursor guided by the movement of your Pro Controller or right-hand Joy-Con in docked mode or with the touch screen in handheld mode), is among one of the most frustrating changes in Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The star pointer is used to capture collectibles called star bits, shooting star bits at foes or activating pull stars, which have a gravitational pull that yanks Mario toward them.

Using the Joy-Cons works fine, but problems arise with the Pro Controller and handheld mode. With a Pro Controller, gyroscope controls are used to control the star pointer, which feels less natural since you are navigating it through feel, rather than pointing directly at the screen like you would with the Wiimote.

In handheld mode, the star pointer is operated entirely through the touch screen. This might sound like a good solution, but Super Mario Galaxy often requires multitasking. For example, while fighting a boss, you may be running away from them, avoiding their line of fire, trying to collect star bits, and so on. Whenever I wanted to acquire star bits, I would have to keep Mario in place, let go of the joystick, and touch the screen. Super Mario Galaxy can be a fast-paced game, and having to stop and touch the screen during a tense moment can ruin the experience.

It’s best to play Super Mario Galaxy by planting yourself in front of the television. This isn’t possible for everyone, creating an accessibility issue for the game and leaving Switch Lite owners with the restrictions of playing in handheld. As one of the finest Super Mario platformers, you won’t want to miss out on playing Super Mario Galaxy. Just expect some hurdles along the way.