It’s hard to understate the cultural importance of a new Mario game. The little plumber that could has been unclogging pipes and saving princesses for longer than most people at UCSB have been alive. Mario games have constantly been a way for Nintendo to show what a system is capable of, and with the release of Super Mario Galaxy, fans from all over have finally received a game worthy of their wait. Galaxy ushers in a new era for Nintendo and helps to answer many of the questions and problems that have been plaguing the Wii since its launch.

Playing through Mario Galaxy is a rather interesting experience for any long-time gamer. I can’t help but feel like I’m hallucinating while trying to comprehend this acid-drenched love child of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario 64. Both games innovated in ways most never thought possible and set the standards for platformers for years. Unsurprisingly, Mario Galaxy continues in this tradition by bringing Mario to the Wii with flying colors, taking almost everything I thought I knew about platformers and throwing it out the window and into the vacuous depths of space.

Super Mario Galaxy couldn’t have come at a better time for the Wii. With somewhere around 10 games worth owning, someone had to come along and show that the occasionally gimmicky controls were actually worth a damn. Galaxy succeeds in making the controls both innovating and familiar, keeping the basic manipulation of Mario confined to the nunchuk’s joystick, while allowing for a handful of welcome “flourishes” that work perfectly the Wii Remote’s motion controls.

Many have complained about the lack of “hardcore” or otherwise engaging and challenging games coming out for the Wii lately, and Nintendo seems to have tried to show how developers can work with both sides when designing a game. Few people will have trouble completing the basic challenges in the game and making it to the final battle with Bowser, but uncovering every hidden galaxy and finding every star will challenge even the most hardcore player.

With the next generation in full swing, it’s become apparent that Mario is the last of his kind, the final “true” mascot for a system. Sure, there may be all kinds of quality games and intellectual properties coming out for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, but what singular character really stands out as the sole representative for the systems? Halo’s Master Chief is almost entirely devoid of personality, while the closest thing I can even think of for a Sony-created game would be Kratos from God of War, who admittedly isn’t exactly the cuddliest character out there.

When growing up, siding with Sonic or Mario defined a gamer’s very identity. Whether a person wanted a fast and furious, twitch-heavy romp through the foliage or to uncover every secret stage and kill every Goomba, a player’s game choice said a lot about who they were. Sure, many of us dabbled in both, but most of us grew up with one system and one mascot that really defined our childhood. For me, when I think back to kindergarten and transitioning into various elementary schools, I think fondly of my time with Mario and all of his eight-bit incarnations.

What Nintendo has done here is set the bar for future games in terms of presentation, controls, innovation and overall quality. On a system that seems to wallow in its own crap with gaming atrocities, such as Ninjabread Man and Escape From Bug Island, Super Mario Galaxy serves as a swift kick in the ass for publishers to get back on track.

In the end, Super Mario Galaxy is the perfect way to usher in a new system and bring an end to an old era. It’s a sprawling, beautiful journey that truly feels like it’s paying homage to all the right aspects of Mario’s history, while still pushing the envelope in all the right ways. Now, as long as Nintendo is able to pull off Super Smash Bros. Brawl, gamers should be set for quite a few months to come.