It really confuses me that Prima seems to need so many pages to cover a game these days. Point in case: 336 pages for a game (Super Mario) that has exactly 120 primary objectives. I mean, geez, I have had text books that were shorter. Let's see . . . thats almost 3 pages for each star you need to collect. To be sure, this game has the same number of stars as Super Mario Sunshine (Game Cube) had shines, and the book Nintendo Power made for that game only needed a little over 100 pages to get you there. Don't get me wrong, if this were an RPG or some other game with dozens of sidequest and 40+ hours of gametime, I would expect a thick guide for it. Games like this, though, don't need that much explaining.
I think part of the excessive length is that Prima keeps chosing to put almost everything into words instead of featuring more diagrams and screenshots that actually show players what to do. When is Prima going to get it that gamers like maps and illustrations, not having to read three pages to see how to get one thing. In some cases, they do provide a diagram, and yet still persist to ramble needlessly through half a page explaining the very same situation. This was also a problem with their guide for Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS). It too is 336 pages, yet the game has no more than 8 dungeons (haven't finished this one yet, and don't like to look at the guide unless I absolutely have to). The only conclusion I can come up with is that Prima is just bulking up their books to create a reason to raise the price.
On top of being long, this book is also laid out very sloppy. There are no clean breaks between sections on different worlds. If one world ends three-quarters of the way down a page, the next one starts there, even if there is only one line and a hyphen to the next page. I'm not sure if the $30 deluxe version of the book improves on this or not, but I would hope for the hefty price tag that it does. This is not to mention the fact that this particular guide features white text on a nearly black background. Talk about retina burning. Still, the outerspace background pattern does look pretty nifty, so I'm not going to hold it against them in my score.
On a more positive note, the writer has included some pretty interesting Mario-related trivia sidebars throughout. Most of this is, of course, targeted at younger gamers who may be new to the Mario universe. Still, though, there are a few bits that even the most experienced gamers probably don't know yet either. For all that is lacking in this book, I think this element is one of the things that Prima really did right.
All in all, I am giving this guide 2 stars plus one (for exclusiveness). This is not, though, because it is that good. It's simply just the only one there is. It's really a shame that Future Publishing has decided to neglect to the player's guide segment of Nintendo Power since acquiring their licenses from the big N. Their guides were not only more detailed, but didn't require 300+ pages to explain it all.
So in summary: this guide is not terrible, but it does leave a lot to be desired in terms of overall presentation.
Quality and ease of use: 2
"Only Guide Available" default points: 1
TOTAL SCORE: 3 STARS