Mario's about to make history again
If you’ve been gaming for a while, you’ve probably felt it. Between all of the hype-saturated shooters, endless sequels, and massive RPGs, you’ve probably paused to ask yourself: have we already seen it all? Evolution is frequent, and marginal improvement is generally celebrated, however familiar its foundational tethering. To a degree, however, it all leads to an arguably stale forecast for the art: as we evolve, we improve, but rarely do we witness a true reinvention of a genre.
2007’s Super Mario Galaxy was just that, and it was critically acclaimed as such. It was a game that embraced fun and creativity over all else, but likewise delivered in all categories. Its controls were logical and effortless, its camera was intelligent, the pacing was deliberate, it was the most graphically impressive game on the Wii, and the soundtrack is still heralded as one of the best in gaming history. Every aspect of the experience came together seemingly perfectly to produce one of the true masterpieces of this generation of gaming. And in light of that, it was the very first and only game here at DigitalChumps that I had awarded a coveted 10/10.
Challenged to follow in such legendary footsteps, it seems impossible that its sequel could compare. Certainly the creative forces at Nintendo are among the best in the world, but it is a rare scenario when a game is so impressive in every way that it is truly difficult to criticize. And so I sit down to write this review of a game which I can hardly stop playing, flabbergasted by the experience and the idea that I am about to bestow that same honor upon a mere sequel.
Much more than a sequel
But this is no sequel. Sure, it shares some of the same qualities of a typical sequel—familiar characters, scenarios, and, most importantly, foundational gameplay concepts and the overall theme—but this is much more than a mere sequel. It is everything Galaxy was and more; a vast menagerie of the most outlandish ideas the creative minds at Nintendo could apply to a Mario game, twisting and contorting the template at every opportunity, all in the name of relentlessly entertaining gameplay.
The game begins in trademark Mario fashion, completely devoid of any recognition of the events in Super Mario Galaxy. With story being the least of the designers’ concerns, Princess Peach is once again inexplicably kidnapped by the usual suspect, and before you know it, Mario’s running through yet another castle courtyard, assaulted by a firestorm of artillery at every step. In short order, our hero is whisked back into the heavens by the helpful Luma, where he finds himself on a small planetary body that is actually a ship. There, he meets someone sharing common interests: a Luma named Lubba who needs the Power Stars to help fuel this planet-like ship. He offers to outfit it in Mario’s likeness and let him “borrow” it if he will agree to help.
And so, Spaceship Mario is born—a planet which looks just like the head of Mario, and which can travel through spacetime to reach distant galaxies in search of the elusive (albeit ubiquitous) Power Stars.
Spaceship Mario serves as Super Mario Galaxy 2’s hub world of sorts. Actually, it isn’t truly a hub world per se, as technically it does not connect directly to any particular level. Instead, it’s more like an intermission where Mario can spend a few short moments exploring and collecting helpful power-ups in-between his intergalactic ventures.
World 3 has the best map music, by the way. (Well, at least, at first.)
When it’s time to get to work, it’s as simple as walking to the helm of Spaceship Mario and stepping on the big yellow button in front of the helm. This summons the World Map, which is quite similar to the one you’ll recall from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, complete with branching paths, secret levels, et al. Each of the seven Worlds contains its own seven galaxies, much like those in the original Super Mario Galaxy.
In case you somehow are unfamiliar with Mario’s last astrophysical romp, the Super Mario Galaxy series is all about ideas. Apart from the outer space theme, the only major concept serving as a common thread throughout the experience is the dynamic gravity system. Fundamentally, we all think of a platforming game as running and jumping—leaping over pits and from platform to platform. That fundamental concept still applies in Galaxy, but with one major difference: rather than depending on a constant gravitational force to pull you back down to the surface when you jump, in Galaxy, the gravity is specific to the bodies around you. This never gets too confusing; it’s scripted in such a way where it’s only of concern when it is meant to be. One moment you are “right-side up”, and the next, you’re scaling the walls or jumping upside-down across pits of inverted lava. But one factor is always consistent: all of it is fun.
Beyond that, the game’s claim to fame, however, is its nonstop commitment to creativity. You’re still out to collect 120 stars in Galaxy 2 (some surprises apply here, but you’ll discover those on your own), but nearly every one of these missions—even if it takes place in the same galaxy as another star—is completely unlike anything you’ve done before in the game. So not only is every galaxy unique, but almost all of the missions to collect individual stars are unique, too! This is a remarkable feat considering how difficult it is to permute such a long-defined genre formula—but, as with its predecessor, in Galaxy 2, Nintendo again succeeds in this area.
In fact, in the sequel, their efforts are even more extraordinary. One of the biggest changes to the formula in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is that the stars are spread out much more over the galaxies this time. The smallest galaxies typically now have multiple stars associated with them, but the major galaxies do not require constant retraversal to collect all 120 stars. Instead, you’ll find that on your path through the game you will move quite speedily from one galaxy to the next. Even when you wind up revisiting a particular galaxy in search of a second or third star, you often replay very little of the same content in the process. That’s why there are now nearly fifty different galaxies in the game—a significant number greater than in the original game.
The levels keep getting zanier as you progress.
Of course, there are still comets in the game (“Prankster Comets”, they’re called), and these do require you to reattempt previously-completed tasks under some new conditions—such as speed runs, purple coin collecting, “daredevil” runs (one hit kills), and so forth—but even those often alter the levels to some degree. The added challenge that the comets provide will be appreciated by veteran gamers anyhow—it really does not feel like an attempt at artificial depth.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 offers a sense of variety that very few other games of its scope can boast; at no point does it exhibit signs of complacency; the game seeks to challenge the player both in the realm of gameplay and imagination.
Let’s get down to specifics
There are plenty of other significant changes in Galaxy 2 as well, so let’s briefly explore those. For starters, much fuss has predictably surrounded the new power-ups in the game. Although most of the attention has focused on Mario’s newest outfits (Cloud Mario and Rock Mario), if you count Yoshi and his various items, there are a significant number of new mechanics at play here. Really, all of them just factor into the greater whole as yet more ideas which the designers can exploit to twist the experience and keep it enthralling.
Gliding through the air is tough at first, but quite fun once you get the hang of it.
Cloud Mario – Upon collecting a Cloud Hat power-up, Mario will find three clouds hovering behind him. These clouds can be converted into temporary lifts while jumping through the use of the spin attack—but they can only be used once per power-up, so if you need more lifts, you’ll have to collect another Cloud Hat. Cloud Mario is also oddly averse to any form of liquid; so if you come into contact with water, you’ll immediately revert.
Rock Mario – Somewhat akin to the Goron Suit of Zelda lore, Rock Mario enables our hero to roll into a boulder and rocket forward, mowing over nearly everything in his path. This is particularly helpful when you need to make your way through huge obstacles, as Rock Mario can often roll into them and destroy them. The biggest risk of this suit is trying to steer—it’s not easy, especially when the lift you’re on has no railing.
Spin Drill – This item is a neat addition to the Galaxy universe. Carrying the drill above his head, Mario is able to tunnel directly through any soft-soiled celestial body, sending him straight through it either to the opposite side or even into its interior. There are some really cool (though simple) puzzles that require you to tunnel from one side of a planet to reach higher ground on the opposite side. Plus, some of the boss fights involving the use of the drill as an attack are fairly challenging and lots of fun.
Yoshi – Yoshi is used rather abundantly throughout the game, and the gameplay alterations he provides are welcomed. Much like in Super Mario World, he’s able to ingest practically anything, and in Galaxy 2, he’ll “produce” star bits in return. He also has his Flutter Jump, which enables him to hover for short periods of time and essentially replaces Mario’s Long Jump. The Wii pointer interface is used to select targets for Yoshi’s tongue and aim when spitting them back out; it works very well and makes for a great modifier for those hectic boss fights where you’re required to devour and spit accurately at a particular target. You do lose access to some of Mario’s techniques while riding Yoshi (for instance, most of his special jumps and the ability to swim underwater).
Dash Pepper (Dash Yoshi) – When Yoshi eats a Dash Pepper, he rockets uncontrollably forward on foot, running up walls which are normally impossible to scale and requiring the greatest of attention in terms of steering. (If you’ve been watching some of the officially-released video from the game, you might remember seeing that level with the Super Mario World music where Yoshi is running along the wooden platforms collecting the coins.) The Dash Pepper also allows Yoshi to run along the surface of the water. After a short time, the Yoshi reverts to normal, however—so you’ll need to keep collecting Dash Peppers to keep it going.
Blimp Fruit (Blimp Yoshi) – You’ve probably seen this as well; Yoshi inflates and begins rising upward after eating one of these. That’s really all there is to it, but it makes for some interesting gameplay in certain areas (such as the cylindrical “fall endlessly” sequences you’ll read about in a bit).
Bulb Berry (Bulb Yoshi) – First introduced in one of the Ghost Galaxies, this evil power-up provides a short-lived radius of bright light surrounding Yoshi which fades gradually over the next 20 seconds or so. In that particular galaxy, the light actually creates the surface beneath you, so if it runs out, you plummet into the void below. In other words, you have to make your way from one Bulb Berry to the next as quickly as possible, but it’s challenging doing so without being able to identify the platforms ahead of you.
Of course, in addition to these new power-ups, you’ll find plenty of Fire, Bee, Spring, and Boo Mario sequences throughout Galaxy 2 as well—which makes for the greatest number of power-ups in a Mario game since Super Mario Bros. 3.
Blarggs are back!
Ideas are the name of the game
Don’t limit your attention to just the power-ups, however. As previously stated, it’s how these power-ups factor into Galaxy 2’s creative mission that really matters. And that creative mission is stronger than ever before, resulting in what is perhaps the most extraordinarily diverse adventure that I have ever been able to enjoy as a gamer.
That may be a strong statement, but if you’ve enjoyed the original Galaxy in its entirety, perhaps you can begin to understand. Amazingly, Galaxy 2 eclipses its predecessor in terms of creative diversity; there are so many unique ideas at play here that it’d be literally impossible to even scratch the surface in writing. Nevertheless, let’s quickly explore a few personal favorites to give you an idea of what to expect:
2-D Cylindrical gravity gameplay (where you can jump and fall endlessly), as you have seen in some of the videos, makes for some thrilling platforming sequences—especially when it’s coupled with moving lifts and electrical barriers.
2-D platforming in different orientations seamlessly is explored in many levels. For instance, in one level (which you’ll witness in one of our exclusive direct-feed videos), Mario is exploring the interior of a circular body in two dimensions, resulting in a frequently rotating body as you make your way through it. It’s tough to explain, so you may want to check out the video. Even cooler is one of the Bowser levels, which sees you exploring an environment much like the classic Mario castles, except snaking across the walls, ceilings, and just generally any direction imaginable. It’s positively mind-bending and nothing short of awesome.
Fantastic random ideas decorate nearly every level, such as a giant drum set, where you can ground pound the cymbals to produce a wealth of star bits before climbing to your next destination.
Blocks appearing and disappearing to the beat of the Super Mario Bros. World 1-2 Underground theme music are found in a number of levels, meaning you’ll have to pay close attention to the rhythm to survive. Seriously, what didn’t they think of?
You’ll welcome the return of a certain well-known tower from Galaxy (along with its beloved music), only this time, things are in fast-forward (and different). In order to survive, you’ll have to make use of various switches strewn throughout the area which temporarily place the world around you in slow motion (allowing you to quickly pass the rapidly-moving Thwomps and lifts).
You will tackle Time Trials through tough sequences where you must collect Stopwatches to restore precious seconds to the clock.
Fluzzard is a bird; in certain levels (presumably replacing the manta ray surfing sequences from the original), you can grab onto his talons and glide down through dangerous environments (such as a jungle and a battle fortress) in an attempt to reach the goal in time. You control the bird’s direction by tilting the Wii remote; it’s challenging to get the hang of at first, but once you do, it’s a lot of fun.
Just one more specific example that I had to include here: In the Boo Moon Galaxy, the designers leverage the torturous combination of the moving Super Mario World block lifts and Super Mario Sunshine’s death water, plus some truly baffling inversions. The next thing you know, you’re back on solid ground, hitting a switch to raise the floor into the background like a pop-up book, then using the newly-created lifts to reach a star. Amazing is the only work that could possibly describe it.
And that’s just a tiny sampling of what’s in store here. This is one of those rare games which literally keeps getting better right up until the very end—and even beyond that point, where veteran gamers are finally seriously challenged to display their true plumber platforming expertise. (Though if you have trouble and lose enough lives, Rosalina’s ghost will appear and offer to guide you to the star—but it’ll be a bronze star, not a gold one.)
Super Mario Galaxy was universally praised for its unapologetic abandonment of all rationality and logic in the interest of creative freedom. Super Mario Galaxy 2 does it even better.
No Mario game is truly complete without an epic slide.
Personality and polish
Galaxy 2 seems to take pleasure in teasing Mario veterans. In a form of tactful fan service, it constantly references older Mario titles and integrates classic elements of those games as you play through its zany selection of environments. Even the small things, such as the moving yellow-block lifts with the eyes (per Super Mario World) will have long-time fans smiling from ear to ear. And the big things… well, let’s just say that if you haven’t already begun to spoil it for yourself, this game truly knows how to pay homage to its pedigree.
When the game first begins, astute listeners will hear the unmistakable splendor of the Gusty Garden Galaxy/Super Mario Galaxy sub-theme tightly woven into multiple early tunes. One of these is actually a modified (and re-recorded) rendition of the Star Festival song from the original Galaxy. Now, the second half of the song transitions into Gusty Garden’s second half, making for a delightfully chilling introduction to such a wonderfully nostalgic excursion through the Mario universe.
On that note, the soundtrack is utterly phenomenal. And when I use the word phenomenal, I mean one of the very best in gaming history. Not only will you encounter many of the favorite tunes from Galaxy sparsely revisited in the sequel, but a massive assortment of newly-composed pieces which easily match the brilliance of the original’s music. Plus, now, closer to probably 60-70 percent of the soundtrack is orchestral or contains live instrumentation of some variety. Some of the new songs slightly resemble a particular tune from the original game, but only in terms of style and quality; for instance, the Fluffy Bluff Galaxy theme is sure to evoke a similar degree of enthusiasm as did Gusty Garden’s in the original game. It’s just that good.
Even some of the jingles have been orchestrated, such as the star and Grand Star acquisition themes. All of the creative touches present in the original game are once again found in the sequel. Bowser’s theme still swells in and out with epic choral highlights as you prepare to attack; meanwhile, Spaceship Mario’s theme music once again builds as you progress through the experience, beginning as just a flute and violin lead and transitioning into full orchestra led by a lively brass section. Critics and fans who know their music are sure to shower endless praise a second time on Yokota’s work here; he’s truly done it again in the sequel, perhaps even better than he did before.
Who doesn't love a Whomp?
Graphically, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is simply the best-looking Wii game to date. With sharp textures, colorful, lively art, gorgeous bump mapping, and a nearly universally consistent 60 frames per second, the game will make you forget that you are playing in 480p. The fluidity of the motion mixed with the complexity of the art almost completely obscures the disadvantages of a lower number of supported pixels—for just a short while, even specmongers will ignore the specifics of the technology. Again, just see our direct-feed videos if you need proof of that!
Finally, while story has never been a focal point of the Mario series, that doesn’t mean you can’t have epic scenarios and boss battles. Galaxy 2 clearly recognizes this, as it showcases some of the most mind-blowing, memorable, and positively epic gaming situations time and time again (even the first Bowser level is more remarkable and challenging than the final level from Super Mario Galaxy). Whether or not you are a Mario fan, you owe it to yourself to experience what this game is; it’s a result of creative forces which are rarely evident in this density.