While the rest of the gaming landscape changes, Mario remains a constant, our tenacious mustachioed rescuer of princesses. But when one takes a step back and tries to look at Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) with fresh eyes, does it really hold up to such objective scrutiny? Sure, it’s another entry in one of gaming’s most iconic and important series, but is it actually that good?
Here’s the shorthand: If you enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy, you will more than likely also enjoy Super Mario Galaxy 2 because it’s practically the same game. A few trappings here and there have changed, but by and large, you’re covering the same kind of ground that you did the last time you soared through the stars. Bowser has, once again, spirited the princess away and Mario, being the enabler that he is, has decided to chase after them. A wayward Luma (those cute little star guys) persuades his pals to help Mario on his quest, and before you can wonder why Peach doesn’t just start carrying pepper spray or something, you’re on a spaceship and sailing through the cosmos.
The ship requires stars to fuel its engines, so you must hop from planet to planet collecting them in order to move deeper through space and closer to your quarry. You’ll have to visit each planet several times to collect all of the stars it has to offer, and finish it off in a number of ways, such as finding hidden pathways to stars or just getting to the end of the level. Each planet also has a Comet Medal on it somewhere, and if you nab enough of those, you’ll attract Prankster Comets that will offer you yet another star if you can complete a particularly tricky challenge. In other words, it’s the same basic thing you’ve been doing since Super Mario 64.
Given how many times we’ve done this dance with Mario, we should, by rights, be well sick of it by now, but it’s hard to be cranky when the level design is this good. Each planet in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a joy to discover, because while the core elements of Mario platforming – precision jumps, item collection, and powerups – remain consistent, virtually nothing else does. One moment, you’re fighting a gigantic dragon as he chews his way through a moon, the next, you’re floating through the branches of an enormous tree. You’ve seen bits and pieces of Galaxy 2 in other Mario titles, but the incredible creativity that goes into its planets will nonetheless fill you with the kind of awe and glee you felt when you first started playing games.
That’s not to say that every aspect of the game performs as well as every other, though. Mario has a few new suits to add to his closet: a cloud suit, which lets him create up to three clouds to use as jumping platforms, and the rock suit, which lets him spin like mad and roll over enemies. They’re not all that bad, but they come up a bit short when compared to the cleverness of something like the bee suit (which returns, thankfully) or even the classic fire flower. Yoshi joins Mario on his space adventure this time around, too, and while you’ll never hear me say a cross word about the adorable green dinosaur, the fact that you can only use him on certain planets makes his inclusion feel almost half-hearted. These are minor arguments, easily brushed aside when considered in the context of the game’s overwhelmingly excellent design.
Super Mario Galaxy cleverly allowed Player 2 to help out with the game by letting them scoop up star bits while Player 1 did the koompa stomp, but Galaxy 2 goes even further to make your couch partner feel important. Mario is followed around by an adorable orange Luma who can not only grab star bits, but also snag 1ups and coins. Even better, Player 2 can now stun and event defeat enemies; certain sections of the game are designed specifically with that in mind, and can be a bit hairy to navigate solo. Mario has always been the kind of single-player game that was easily shared, but giving Player 2 something valuable to do makes swapping off controllers between levels even easier.
Core gamers may be concerned about the Super Guide feature in Galaxy 2, fearing that it will let people finish the game without actually playing it, but that’s not quite the reality. If you’re a Mario veteran – by which I mean you’ve played any of them for any length of time- it’s more than likely that you’ll never see the Cosmic Guide who shows up to help out once you’ve died a lot. Believe me, I died plenty in preparation for this review – it is a Mario game, after all – and I never saw her. Even if you do finally give in and let the Cosmic Guide do the work for you, you’re still going to have to go back and do it on your own eventually; the bronze star you get for taking the easy way out won’t do jack for the ship’s engines. So while it can be a great tutorial, it’s not like you can just sit back and complete the game on autopilot.
Bottom Line: Super Mario Galaxy 2 doesn’t tinker with the established formula very much, but we didn’t really want it to. It’s huge, brilliant, and gorgeous. It’s why you started playing videogames in the first place.
Recommendation: If you didn’t buy a Wii to play the last Mario Galaxy get one so that you can play Galaxy 2.[rating=5]
Susan Arendt is still waiting for Kuribo’s Shoe to make a return to the Mario universe.
For more Mario fun, be sure to check out our Mario Party!