All over the galaxy, I've heard numerous people, both hardcore and casual gamers, exclaim their love of "Mario 64" on the N64 but either express disappointment of "Super Mario Sunshine" on the GameCube or complete ignorance of the existence of Mario's previous 3D platformer. Unfortunately, I cannot provide a decent comparison against "Mario 64" because I have not had a lot of exposure to the N64, but I was heavily engrossed in "Sunshine" until the levels became too complex for me to solve.
First off, gone is the controversial "environmental" aspect of the game where Mario goes around to wash off graffiti for little bonuses. Instead, that little nuance was replaced by the collection of star bits, little shiny pieces of crystals that look very much like plastic gems found in young girls jewelry.
In addition to simply having Mario physically reach the star bits himself, you can also retrieve the star bits simply by pointing the Wii remote at them. This unique addition occasionally forces your mind to adopt a split personality as you move your nunchunk in one direction to avoid obstacles while you independently point your remote in another to collect star bits simultaneously (this is also the feature that allows a second co-op player to use a second remote to assist you in your star bit collecting).
Similar to "Sunshine's" islands, each galaxy has its own special theme, drawing from favorite Nintendo titles such as "Luigi's Mansion," and parts of previous Mario games. Unlike the longer, drawn-out levels of "Sunshine," each independent galaxy is more concise, making it easier to focus on the goal. The only time the path does not seem to be a straightforward hop to the next planet is when you have to collect star fragments, which either creates a warp star or a pull star to get you to your next stepping stone (or, in this case, planet).
Enough comparisons, let's describe what makes "Galaxy" unique to it predecessors. All your favorite Mario components seem to be present, repeated in many variations. The standard star at the end of each level of every beloved Mario game is now a "Power Star," occasionally a "Grand Star" when you battle one of Bowser's minions, and sometimes a "Green Star."
There are also the blue "Pull Stars," which you aim at with your remote and it pulls Mario into its gravitational field. And the most common element used to send Mario soaring through the vastness of space is are the spinning "Warp Stars," which are mostly orange, with the bonus ones being pink and a single green one that is associated with the "Green Star" mentioned above.
Then there are the Lumas, the star-folk that are unique to this game and storyline. The Lumas hover all over the place providing information and goals, sometimes transforming into bonus items and even galaxies after they gorge themselves on star bits. Let's not forget about mushrooms either, for what Mario game would be complete without mushrooms? Besides the Toads (the mushroom-folk that serve Princess Peach, for those who are uninitiated), there are your standard green and red mushroom power-ups that give you extra and longer life, as well as transformation 'shrooms that change Mario into "Bee Mario," "Ice Mario" and many other cool variations of our plumber that are essential to solving that particular galaxy.
Each observatory room in the central observatory, which is your main base throughout the game, contains several galaxies. They consist of the galaxies that you need to conquer in order to gain the almighty power stars.
There is only one star in each of the special challenge galaxies inside each room as well as the battle galaxy where you face off against Bowser's minions. Most of the other theme galaxies require you to get at least three individual power stars, where the terrain (or the route) varies each time you return. These theme galaxies also require you to return later to discover the hidden star and also to battle a previous mission again when a comet orbits that particular galaxy.
One of the Lumas in the game will explain the comets but, basically, the "Speedy Comet" requires that you finish in 4:00 minutes, the "Daredevil Comet" gives you only one life, and the "Cosmic Comet" has you outracing a cosmic mirror of yourself.
The gravitational pull of the planets, which Mario runs around (and upside down), may be disorienting to most novice players, but lends to the overall theme of the game (I tend to run up/down since that remains consistent when you flip to the underside as opposed to left/right which reverses whenever the viewpoint flips).
Familiar bosses return as well as various new ones that bear resemblances to previous Mario-related items ("Major Burrows" is a gopher who dons the classic blue Koopa shell as a helmet). For avid gamers, this game is quite fun, but for novices who have trouble mastering the double/triple jump or the back-flip jump, the new spatial movements may require some practice (as will the bosses, especially in "Daredevil" mode).
All in all, the game is exceptionally fun, swaying back and forth between easy and complex puzzles, most of them requiring some common Mario-like deduction. I doubt this will disappoint anybody except the extremely clumsy the and gung-ho FPS players. Enough said, I've got star bits to collect. Wa-hoo!