I’m going to give you a little backstory about my relationship with Mario. The very first game I ever played was Super Mario Bros. back in 1986. Since then, I’ve loved each and every 2D Mario game, right on through to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.
That love came to an abrupt halt in 1996 when Super Mario 64 came out. I thought it was okay, but not that great. It was like they’d forgotten everything that made Mario great: Mid-mission saves, leaps of derring-do, and focus. I mean, Mario even threw punches now. What was up with that? My relationship became even more strained with Super Mario Sunshine. Now we were dealing with a backpack that shot water? It was like they were getting farther and farther away from what made Mario great in the beginning.
I say all this because it’s important to know that I was not predisposed to like the original Super Mario Galaxy. I thought that Mario was awful in 3D and needed to stay in 2D. Super Mario Galaxy proved me wrong in a grand way, becoming my favorite game of the decade. It brought back all those memories of being a 10-year-old kid and letting a game completely wash over you and take you to places you had never expected to go.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 had a lot to live up to. As the sequel to one of the Wii’s finest games, it had huge shoes to fill. In many ways, it was under a tougher microscope than the original Galaxy ever was. Most gamers had written off Mario after the lackluster Sunshine, but with Galaxy being as good as it was people were once again expecting great things about of the sequel.
So would Super Mario Galaxy 2 collapse under the weight of heightened expectations, or would it soar like a plumber through space?
The Final Frontier
Super Mario Galaxy 2 looks amazing. Aside from a few minor textures that only a nitpicker would find (like me), with an HD boost it would be at home on the 360 or PS3 easily. Colors pop and contrast well, every single creature animates superbly, reflections look fantastic, and there’s very little draw-in even from long distances. It’s now the best-looking game on the Wii, hands down.
The music is also suitably majestic. There’s some complaint from various corners of the internet that the music is too bombastic for a Mario game. To that end I ask you to relisten to the airship music from Mario 3, the castle theme from Mario 1 and even this track from Yoshi’s Island. Mario is no stranger to epic themes, and the music in Super Mario Galaxy 2 stands alongside the best of Mario’s music.
There’s not a wasted note, sound effect or yelp in this game. Everything has a purpose. It is, for lack of a better phrase, tight as a drum. That’s kind of the theme for this review: Everything in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is tightened up with all the extraneous stuff pushed off to the side. Let’s get to the gameplay.
“What Does Mario Need With A Starship?”
As in the first Galaxy, Mario spends his time traversing various smaller planets on the way to the star at the end of the level. The goal may be to just get to the end of the level or a certain point of the level. Other times, you may need to beat a boss at the end of the level, and there are also secret stars scattered throughout the world. However, it’s not the destination but the ride that’s the most important part.
Along for this ride is Yoshi, who plays excellently. You only use him in a handful of stages, but they’re all winners. He gets certain powerups that can inflate him like a balloon, illuminate your pathway, or make him run extra fast. Mario also gets a new powerups as well, like the ability to turn into a boulder and roll around the stage or the Cloud Flower, which makes Mario able to walk on clouds and create his own platforms.
What makes these levels so good? First, Mario controls like a dream, just as you would expect. Second, the camera is near-perfect. It’s rare to find a camera in a 3rd person game that behaves as well as Super Mario Galaxy 2’s does. I can count on one hand the times I had to readjust the camera angle, and it wasn’t through any fault of the game but only my own curious nature that led me to readjust it. Third, this is Nintendo’s most confident and assured game since ever.
Here’s an example: You start out one level and notice that everything is running really fast. Thwomps are running at doubletime, bullets are flying, and it looks like it’s going to be virtually impossible. You come upon a poundable switch and hit it. Time slows down.
That’s right: Nintendo has a time-bending mechanic built into Galaxy 2 and didn’t even promote it. With any other developer, they would be climbing all over themselves to trumpet how you can slow down time to solve your objectives, but Nintendo just threw it in there and said, “Here. Use this for a bit.” They didn’t need to crow about what they were putting in there, they just did it.
That rings through most every level: A cool idea that gives you pause and makes you think, “I haven’t seen that in a game before,” or “That’s an interesting way to use that move that I’ve used a gajillion times.” They’ve made this game for you, the person who loves games and who has a history with them.
That’s not to mention all the callbacks and nods to the past that Super Mario Galaxy 2 throws in. Want imaginative 2D levels? We have that. Want to see Blargs from the original Super Mario World? We have that too, except they’re now 50 feet tall. Want to hear some more classic Mario tracks? We’ve got it.