Super Mario Bros. brought video games back from the dead. Super Mario 64 brought video games into the 3rd dimension. Super Mario Galaxy redefined the platform genre. And now, the latest game in the Mario franchise is ready to pushed the boundaries even further, with a little help from a certain green dinosaur.
There’s no denying that Super Mario Galaxy served as the foundation for Galaxy 2. The sequel uses the same engine, same controls, and same basic concept. So if anything, the reason why Super Mario Galaxy 2 is so fantastic is mostly due to the fact that the team learned from the first game: what worked, what needed fixing, and how to improve on such an already masterful Wii creation. The result of that effort is one of the most refined and most fulfilling videogame experiences of this generation. While the graphics haven’t changed, this game is oozing with amazingly stylized art and creativity.
Story-wise, it seems Nintendo decided to disregard everything that happened in the first Mario Galaxy, and starts from scratch. Princess Peach gets kidnapped (GASP!!), but this time by a planet-sized Bowser. Searching for Stars is made more streamlined thanks to a new world map, making it easier to jump from world to world. If you still want to just explore and wander around, you can still have fun checking out the new, much more compact hub world, Starship Mario.
This game is made to be accessible to everybody, and that’s a plus for me. The game actually starts in a 2D perspective, a la New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and gradually expands to full 3D. This thoughtful approach can be seen all the way through, from the TVs players can activate to gain hints in certain levels, to the full on Cosmic Guide, which can take over the level if you get stuck and die too many times in a row. While the idea of a game playing for you might sound cheap, it’s actually a very smart inclusion with an obvious downside: the star that’s collected will be tarnished as a bronze and not a standard gold one, so everyone will see when you took the easy way out.
The game itself is just as intuitive and incredibly fun as it’s ever been. The challenge remains the same – platform jump through the huge assortment of levels in a massive variety of different locations to get to the Star at the end. Realism is thrown completely out the window – it always has in a Super Mario game – in favor of truly fulfilling gameplay. Nintendo’s refined Mario’s control to the point where everything he can do can be pulled off with second-nature ease. And it’s the little things and tweaks that you recognize and realize that Nintendo still “gets it.” You can easily punch an enemy out of the way, but you’re rewarded with a health-replenishing coin if you oust them the more traditional Mario way.
Several levels revolve around concepts from the original game, flinging yourself from planet to planet, switching gravity back and forth, and so on. However, those ideas have been expanded on with new twists and capabilities, and each “galaxy” to explore impresses in their own way. Whether it’s a twist on an old-school game mechanic or a throwback reference to a past Mario game, Super Mario Galaxy 2 constantly impresses with just tons of small but significant elements, one level after another. Yoshi levels are restricted to certain galaxies, but all of them are creative with a variety of techniques, from dashing up walls, to revealing hidden platforms with a glowing aura.
Speaking of Power Ups, Mario’s got plenty to go around this time. While the Bee Suit and Fire and Ice Flowers make a return from the first game, Mario’s got plenty of new toys to play with, including a Rock Suit, which lets Mario roll over enemies and knock down walls to make a bridge, and Cloud Suit that can create up to three temporary platforms.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is more of what made the original so amazingly good: brilliant gravity platfoming. Incredibly tight and responsive controls. Fantastic musical score. But it’s not a “me too” experience — a significant majority of this sequel is brand new. New level challenges, new gameplay mechanics, new (and incredible) orchestral pieces. All done up in a package that streamlines the classic Mario experience: a straightforward presentation, a much more intelligent camera system, and a rewarding progression that opens up some seriously devious and fulfilling level challenges. Consider me floored and wowed. Again.