For the first time in years, Nintendo has released a direct sequel to a Mario platforming title. The highly anticipated Super Mario Galaxy 2 revisits the style and setting of the first game but with all new galaxies, stages, and challenges. Imaginative level design puts a fresh spin on 3D platforming and creates some of the most exciting and addicting gameplay in recent memory. Amazing platforming and presentation make SMG2 a more than worthy sequel to one of the best games on the Wii.
Mario platforming games aren’t known for their deep plotlines, and SMG2 is no exception. The story is even more brief than the first game, and functions more as an alternate plot to the events of the original. Once again Princess Peach is captured by Bowser, who has taken the power of Grand Stars and Power Stars to grow to an enormous size. In true blue hero fashion, Mario sets off, with the aid of a helpful Luma, to save the princess and stop Bowser. Nothing fancy and nothing special, though Mario veterans might see a few references and throwbacks to previous games. And like previous games, Mario is all about the gameplay, not the story.
Like the best of sequels, SMG2 brings a variety of new ideas while maintaining the spirit of the original. The core concepts are the same–planetoids, space setting, gravity manipulation–but the manner in which they are used is brilliantly original, challenging, and fun. The best part is that there is so much variety in the game; each galaxy only holds on average three stars (including Prankster Comet stars), meaning there are dozens of galaxies to visit, each with their own theme that opens up various gameplay possibilities–the scenery stays fresh, and you won’t be repeating areas over and over. In exchange, each galaxy is a little smaller, but you’ll hardly notice as you soar over planets and leap through lush environments of rotating platforms and deadly obstacles. Each galaxy brings new ideas designed to vex you, constantly pushing you to work harder for the power star prize. And there’s no shortage on difficulty–later galaxies have positively controller-wrenching challenges, enough to satisfy any veteran Mario player. If it proves too much to handle, though, there are hint videos scattered about levels to offer some direction, or should you fail repeatedly, you can use the Cosmic Guide to help you. Even when the going gets tough, the game is rarely discouraging; instead, you’ll be trying ever harder to master every last galaxy.
Overall there is a greater emphasis on the effects of gravity as well as perspective–arguably the most fascinating and entertaining aspects from the original game. One minute you might be running across an average horizontal platform when suddenly Mario runs straight up a wall and you have to navigate along a vertical surface with all the standard hazards in your path. These insane moments create some of the most memorable levels in the game, and truly show off the unique and stylish game mechanics that the developers have pain-stakingly poured into this title. Additionally, new power-ups add even more flair to the adventure, providing new ways to approach conventional situations. The drill provides a clever way of navigating planets as well as uncovering buried secrets, the Rock Mushroom allows you to plow through enemies and obstacles with nerve-wrecking speed, and the Cloud Flower is a great and convenient way to reach new heights, and may even save you if you make a bad jump. Though the Rock Mushroom generally provides the most difficult and unique situations, all three are welcome additions to Mario’s robust line-up of items.
The other big addition to SMG2 is everyone’s favorite green dinosaur, Yoshi. Like the power-ups, he’s restricted to specific levels, but riding around on him is a blast, simultaneously making a situation easier and more intense. With his tongue Yoshi can grab items and scarf down enemies while his flutter jump lets you reach new heights, though the sacrifice is some of Mario’s maneuverability. Additionally, Yoshi gets his own power-ups in the form of various fruits, allowing him to run faster–even up walls–float like a blimp, or light a path in darkness. Yoshi is as cleverly integrated into the game as the other power-ups, offering completely new ways to approach levels that will leave you scratching your head at how the developers could have ever imagined these stages. In addition, Mario’s oft forgotten brother Luigi plays a much more prominent role in SMG2 compared to the first game. Luigi will appear at the beginning of certain stages, allowing you to play as him instead. He manages to make already tricky stages noticeably harder with his slippery movements, though his higher jump does come in handy on occasion. Though he’s not recommended for novices, using Luigi provides a bit more of a challenge and spices up the gameplay to keep it from getting too repetitive.
The two player co-op mode–called co-star mode–is significantly more involved in this game, giving the 2nd player control over a bright orange Luma who can retrieve items for Mario, freeze monsters and obstacles, and even defeat enemies. Having another cursor on-screen makes the game a little chaotic, but it pays off–many levels are far easier with a helping hand, and it allows spectators to get in on the game. One thing, unfortunately, has not changed from the last game, and that is Bowser’s difficulty. Despite all of the clever and eye-catching designs in the normal levels, fighting Bowser proves to be a repetitive, predictable affair. In contrast, the fights involving Bowser Jr. are much more interesting, and provide more unique approaches. Though Bowser’s fights fail to impress, his stages remain some of the most challenging and intense.
The controls are virtually completely unchanged from the first game, so veteran players should be able to get back into the groove of things quickly. Mario’s movements have always had an elegant simplicity to them, and despite the hurdle of gravity and shifting camera perspectives, moving Mario is a simple task. Certain stages require greater use of the motion controls, such as gliding on a bird by tilting the Wii remote. Despite the change the controls are still pretty solid, plus these stages are so infrequent you won’t be forced to fiddle with them too much.
Once again the developers have outdone themselves in crafting gorgeous environments for you to run around in. Not only is each stage full of twists, turns, and thorny situations, they’re also beautifully presented with bight colors, shimmering textures, and cheery designs. Every galaxy comes to life with its own theme and style, meticulously detailed with wonderfully cartoonish art design that perfectly complements the whimsical spirit of the game. Veterans of Mario platformers will even be treated to a variety of references to past games, some subtle and some a little more blatant–an entire galaxy is sure to bring a smile to the face of nostalgic gamers. While a lot of the character designs are repeated from the first game, there’s no denying the fantastic work that has been put into crafting the game’s bosses. From enormous space dragons to robotic menaces, each boss not only provides a tricky battle, they’re a delight to look upon. The soundtrack is, quite frankly, out of this world (I’m sorry, I had to use that pun). The fully orchestral music is simply beautiful, each piece melding perfectly into the scenery of its specific galaxy, creating an incredible environment for Mario’s latest platforming adventure. The composers have done a fantastic job of capturing the wonder and mirth of Mario games in sound, adding the final touch to the SMG2 experience. With such a variety of songs, one is sure to catch your ear, though each and every one rivals the best soundtracks for any media.
As in other 3D Mario platformers, it is possible to ignore a significant amount of the game and go straight after Bowswer with a minimal amount of stars. Such an approach would barely last ten hours, but where’s the fun in that? With over two hundred power stars to collect and some of the most mind-boggling challenges and level designs in recent memory, it would be a waste not to play and replay SMG2 to its completion, lasting well over thirty hours.
Simply put, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a video game masterpiece. Mario’s platforming perils have never been more creative, nor the action more addictive. With fantastic and challenging game design, gorgeous presentation, and hours upon hours of gameplay, SMG2 is an unmatched experience on the Wii. This is the reason we play video games–for the kind of thrilling experience this game provides.
Rating: 10 out of 10 stars
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