"Super Mario Galaxy 2" is perhaps the truest "sequel" in the history of the storied franchise. By that I mean that it is, by and large, just more levels of what we experienced in 2007's "Super Mario Galaxy." On the one hand, it is the first Mario title in years that doesn't feel like a dramatic reinvention. On the other, I'm glad I didn't have to wait for a new generation of consoles just to get another "Mario" game.
The original "Mario Galaxy" is as good as it gets. The way it eschews large, open environments in favor of a series of smartly designed orbs and platforms floating in space is genius. It plays the fundamental elements of platformer designs like a classical composer plays with notes, subtly tweaking gravity, movement and even lighting in ways that constantly challenge your expectations.
"Mario Galaxy 2" builds on the strengths of its predecessor, adding new power-ups and abilities to the familiar mix. The most anticipated of these is the inclusion of Yoshi. Mario's trusted steed is back, and is perhaps my favorite new feature of the game. Yoshi's trademark ability being able to swallow and spit out enemies (now aimed with the Wii remote) works extremely well here, lending a shooter-like aspect to the gameplay. You can also use Yoshi to swing between special flowers in the environment by pointing with the Wii remote. Both of these abilities are noteworthy for integrating the Wii remote into the mix of platforming in a real, user-friendly way -- something that many games have struggled to do.
Mario also has a variety of suits, including returning forms like Bee and Boo Mario, as well as new ones like Rock Mario and Cloud Mario. But the meat of the experience still lies in the more traditional levels. These require fast and accurate platforming while throwing mind-bending gravity reversals, moving platforms and even slow-motion sequences at you. The Yoshi abilities and suits shine in the boss battles. Though most are based on classic boss battle templates, each one manages to add at least one unique or compelling new aspect to the mix.
Longtime fans also will cheer the return of the classic-style level map, which you traverse in a spaceship shaped like a giant Mario head. The ship holds a few of its own secrets and the map does a better job of letting you know where the stars you've missed are located. This is one of the many call-outs to Mario's past; "Super Mario 64" fans will also be pleased with one surprise level that I won't spoil here.
Shigeru Miyamoto promised that this game would be more "challenging," and he wasn't lying. In the early stages, this is a plus; "Galaxy 2" gets you into serious platforming much earlier in the game. It's nice to not feel like you're waiting five or six hours to get to the good stuff. As the game wore on, however, I often felt more frustrated than challenged. If I've completed all the main missions available to me, I just want to advance. At one point, I literally spent four hours of play without collecting one star. While I like a good challenge, this game has a lot of amazing content, and I suspect many won't be able to get through it all.
Even so, whatever frustration felt was worth it. Most games today are willing to hang their hat on a small handful of new gameplay or level-design ideas. "Super Mario Galaxy 2" throws something new at you nearly every single level, and that's no small feat. It's not a total reinvention of the genre, but as a platformer fan I'm happy to get more "Mario" to tide me over. This game is a testament to the enduring appeal of the genre, as well as Nintendo's ability to create fresh new gameplay out of a decades-old formula.
'SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2'
- Platform: Wii.
- Developer: Nintendo.
- Price: $50.
- Rating: Everyone.