Super Mario Galaxy 2
It finally happened. After over twenty years of failed schemes, Bowser had a revelation: he was thinking too small. Kidnapping a princess and taking over a kingdom? Childís play. Heís a supervillain; why should he be satisfied with conquering one pathetic, aging nation? He deserves something better. Bigger. Rather than retrying his typical shenanigans, Bowser decided to go for something a little more direct. Heís grown to the size of the planet, single-handedly ravaged the Mushroom Kingdom, nabbed Peach again, and launched himself into outer space to rule his own galaxy. Not exactly subtle, but it got the job done. With Bowser conquering the cosmos, Mario has to board a star-powered spaceship and save-
Wait, wait. Havenít we heard this all before?
You should, if youíve played Super Mario Galaxy. The premise of this game is practically identical, but it ignores almost everything established in the previous title. Itís not like anyone actually cares about the continuity of the Mario series, anyway. Rather than zipping through the universe in the most colorful observatory ever conceived, our hero has gained command of his own spacecraft. The Starship Mario (seriously) is considerably smaller than the between-level areas of the last few games; itís just a giant, mechanized rendition of Marioís head - moustache included - with a bunch of NPCs standing around to make the place more lively. Instead of acting as a central hub, the ship flies around on a world map grid akin to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. and the other 2D games. The only difference is that you need to earn enough stars to unlock the next section of the given path; if youíre coming up short, youíve got to go back to previously explored levels and complete any additional challenges that might have appeared. Depending on how many Star Bit pickups youíve collected, you can even unlock hidden stages and find alternate routes to the end of that given area.
This blend of classic layouts and newer progression methods is an interesting spin on an otherwise stale concept. Every 3D Mario game has forced you to wander around a massive hub world to get to appropriate area. Itís a tedious process. This system is far more streamlined; not only does it let you peruse the various levels on the fly, but it also displays any extra stars or bonus missions that are still available. That way youíre not wasting time looking for some obscure star you might have missed three worlds ago. The advancement mechanics are clever as well. By requiring a high amount of stars to make it to the next area, the game provides more of a focused challenge. Since some of the secret galaxies can only be unlocked via collectible currency, it gives you even more of an incentive to go back and revisit stages.
Itís not like youíll need a reason to keep replaying. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is crammed with incredibly fun levels. The basic mechanics are taken straight out of the previous game; depending on the gravity of a given stage, Mario can walk and jump on walls, ceilings, and the sides of anything that comes into view. It usually involves collecting a number of trinkets or defeating all the enemies on the screen, then moving onward. Itís not always so linear, though; imagine running the side of a stadium-sized satellite, narrowly dodging a never-ending barrage of Bullet Bills. Or sprinting across a wooden bridge as rotary saws slice it into Swiss cheese. Many of the stages switch camera perspectives to simulate the older sidescrolling games. You might have to leap past some giant falling object, then use it to wall kick to a higher platform. Or leap over lava pits, only for the beaten path to suddenly curve upward until youíre jumping upside-down over fireballs, spikes, and whatever else that gets in your way. Whatís interesting is how frequently these 2D-style levels appear; rather than forcing you to deal with several large 3D stages, the game manages to balance both perspectives evenly.
The Comet Challenges are another returning feature. These extra missions offer unique objectives and rules for a previously beaten level. That waterfall stage you thought was so easy? Try beating it again in under a couple of minutes, with a bunch of shadowy Mario clones trying to kill you. Think youíre good at collecting stuff? Good luck nabbing a hundred purple coins - some of which are strategically placed just to give you that extra bit of trouble - in mere seconds. Not to mention the special irony that comes with the boss fights. Most of the major baddies are easy; they have predictable attack patterns and can be taken down fairly quickly. Try fighting them with only a sliver of your health, and watch how quickly you get your ass handed to you. While such missions wonít be new for seasoned Galaxy veterans, the method of unlocking these comets is. There are hidden medals strewn throughout each stage; collect enough, and the comets start flying. This approach provides more incentive for gamers and completionists alike to take the time to explore everything. Since many of these collectibles require near-perfect platforming, it makes for a good test of your skills.
Though this gameís mechanics are essentially unchanged from Super Mario Galaxy, it doesnít settle with being a rehash. Nintendo has taken all of the great ideas from the previous title and expanded on them. Some galaxies have you stepping carefully over a series of vanishing panels. The difference is that you shake the WiiMote to toggle between the platforms. Not only does it make you time your jumps more carefully, but later versions have you manipulating entire levels to clear out obstacles and activate switches. Other stages constantly change the gravity based on anything from hitting a switch to staying in rhythm with the background music. You could be within inches of reaching some coveted pickup, only for everything to suddenly flip and send you falling upward into that ceiling of spikes you didnít see. Thereís even special fencing that allows you to flip through floors, attack enemies, and dodge spiky walls. It all sounds simple in concept, but many of the later stages require a considerable amount of precision. The sheer variety is stunning; one galaxy might have you swimming through a watery labyrinth, while the next has you wandering through a snowy village. Or sliding down the hollowed trunk of a giant tree. Or leaping around a space station, narrowly avoiding force fields and navigating spinning platforms the entire time. The clever designs never stop coming; every level - sometimes each individual star - brings something completely new.
Such variety is extended with the power-ups. Many of them return from Galaxy; Mario can don a bee suit, turn himself into a ghost, a Slinky, or temporarily sling fireballs with questionable accuracy. While those are interesting enough, the new items steal the show. Take the Rock Mushroom. It turns Mario into a living boulder and lets him careen across stages a la Goron Link from Majoraís Mask. Itís immensely fun to use, especially when youíre ramming through small armies like a giant bowling ball or crushing obstacles in a flurry of dust. The Cloud Flower offers more practical functionality; by shaking the WiiMote, you can summon up to three clouds as makeshift platforms. Windy levels and huge jumps make for some insane platforming. Youíll get the most use out of the Spin Drill, though. Traversing all those small, generic planetoids becomes much more entertaining when you can fire this thing up and launch yourself through entire levels, ambushing enemies and discovering hidden areas. Since many of the levels incorporate these power-ups into their designs, youíre going to get plenty of use out of them.
The same goes with Yoshi. Like the other items, he figures heavily into the levels in which heís included. Riding him an interesting, if not unusual experience. Rather than just sticking his tongue out and latching on to whateverís nearby, you have to point and click with the WiiMote. For enemies and grappling points, anyway. Itís kind of awkward at first, but the quick and accurate controls make it a breeze to get used to. Yoshi can eat enemies and digest them into currency, or swallow projectiles and fire them back out. Not only is this a nod to his Super Mario World playing style, but it provides functionality as well; many stages feature obstacles that require you to utilize Yoshiís moveset. His unique power-ups make things even more chaotic; eating a hot pepper sends him careening, mouth aflame, across water surfaces and through narrow, cleverly-designed tracks. Thereís also the Bulb Fruit, which gives him the ability to make otherwise non-existent platforms appear. Itís a brilliant extension of a concept from the first Galaxy; imagine having to run down a lengthy corridor, the floor beneath your feet vanishing into nothing as you make that final, all-or-nothing leap for the star at the end. Moments like that come frequent, and it makes the stages all the more intense.
But if having a dinosaur sidekick isnít enough to help you win (and really, it should be), the game offers a few more conventional options. If youíve got a spare controller, you can recruit someone for a little co-op action. By pointing the cursor at the screen, your partner can collect stray Star Bits and grab any floating coins and hard-to-reach pickups. They can even snipe or hold down smaller enemies, which lets you get in a free hit or avoid getting hurt. It doesnít sound like much, but it can be a godsend when youíre stuck in some enemy-infested deathtrap or trying to grab an item without getting yourself torn apart. More importantly, it allows other people to participate; while some gamers might be satisfied with sharing controllers, these features allow someone with less skill get in on the fun.
But if theyíre old school Nintendo fans, theyíll probably be too overwhelmed by the nostalgia to help. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is loaded with references from the previous titles. Thereís an entire galaxy taken straight out of Super Mario 64. Many of the Bowser levels have glowing lava pits, fire bars, scowling Thwomps, and everything else youíd expect. Not to mention the Supermassive Galaxy, which takes the giant enemies from Mario 3 and makes them even more ridiculously huge. Itís not all retro stuff, either. Many of these levels offer an amazing amount of creativity. One stage has you ascending a mountain-sized birthday cake, while another has you nimbly leaping through a rotating column of stone arches and monster-sized enemies. There are plenty of little touches, like Marioís ridiculously well-animated ice skating moves, that wraps it all up perfectly. The camera (which has been considerably improved from the last game) not only readjusts itself automatically, but allows you to toggle the different angles as well. Given all of the detail and liveliness, youíll want to take in as much of the scenery as you possibly can.
Or you can just stand around at listen to the music. No one would blame you for doing so. The soundtrack is superb. Itís got several new themes, all of which are orchestrated well. Many of the tracks from the previous games have made in it too; not only do you get slightly altered themes from the first Galaxy, but from older titles as well. Longtime fans will grin when they hear that jazzy, upbeat rendition of Whompís Fortress. Or the Butter Bridge theme (along with bridges themselves) from Super Mario World. Bowserís new theme is an excellent remix of the one from Super Mario 64, complete with a choir echoing the high notes of an already dark and haunting song. While the levels are fun and compelling enough, this excellent music ties it all together for an amazing experience.
You know what the funny thing is? People are going to complain about this. Theyíre going to say itís too similar to the first Galaxy. In a way, theyíll be right; its fundamental gameplay remains unchanged. But despite all its similarities, it offers so much more in terms of content and creativity. The sheer variety and unique twists on ideas make for some of the greatest platforming youíll ever see. You can go through whole stretches of this game and find something new and completely different in each passing level. The extra challenges, the new items, and Yoshi all bring even more to the already well-designed levels. Though the graphics are some of the best on the Wii, the soundtrack is whatís going to keep you hooked long after youíve gotten every star. This makes for one of, if not the best titles on the Wii. Super Mario Galaxy 2 isnít just another sequel. Itís an experience.
Ten out of ten