Posted June 4th 2010 by Adam Grayson.
Ladies and gentlemen, I played Super Mario Galaxy 2 in one 16-hour sitting; start to finish; 100% complete. I woke up early Sunday morning, drove over to my local Gamestop, bought the game, and disappeared into my gaming lair for the rest of the day (and much of the next morning). Only taking bathroom and eating breaks, I destroyed the game in my hardcore playtime. Let this be testament to both the game itself and how much I enjoyed it. With that said I'd like to start out by saying – scratch that – YELLING that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an incredibly fantastic game, and that anyone owning a Wii or anyone even remotely interested in the Super Mario series should buy this game. I played the game from start to finish (100% complete) in one 16-hour sitting, so you know how much I enjoyed it. There is no question that this is, hands down, a must have game; however, it is not perfect, and there are things that could have (and should have) been done to it to improve the experience.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is of course the sequel to the highly acclaimed Super Mario Galaxy, which, aside from being a near-perfect game, is known for redefining the traditional platforming of the Super Mario series. With the introduction of planet-specific gravity, players could whip Mario across the cosmos, hop from planet to planet, and (most entertainingly) jump into planetary orbits that seemed to never end. Thanks to the innovative mechanic in Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo was able to create dozens of huge and fantastic levels. In fact, most of the game's fun resulted from this combination; this was a very different way to platform, and it was executed spectacularly. This continues in Galaxy 2.
As early as the game's title screen, the player is presented with a dramatic orchestrated score as Mario flies towards the screen. The camera then proceeds to move around a wonderfully vibrant and large environment full of just-as-colorful planets, moons, and planetoids; Mario can be seen flying around these planets.
Upon choosing a save file and beginning the game, we see an intro similar to that of the first game's. The introduction is presented as a storybook, yet while the first game's storybook intro was simply a cutscene, Galaxy 2's is fully playable side-scroller. This is just one of features of the game that remind us of Mario's roots. Shortly thereafter we see Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach...again... I'd like to talk about the story and plot a little later, so let's move on.
I loved the oh-so-classic side-scrolling opening.
Shortly after the game's introduction, players will come across a galaxy named the Yoshi Star Galaxy, a level with – you guessed it – Yoshi. That's right, readers, everyone's favorite talking, green, boot-bearing dinosaur is back. Let me tell you something: Yoshi feels great. Just like everyone else, I was extremely excited to hear about Yoshi, but I was never really sure what to expect from it. To my utmost delight, I found that, as soon as I jumped on the little guy's back, I was a pro dinosaur rider.
Yoshi controls unbelievably well, far more so than I ever anticipated – much better than in Super Mario Sunshine. In Sunshine Yoshi felt kind of loose and a bit too floaty; in Galaxy 2, Yoshi feels exactly like Mario. It does not feel in any way awkward or forced to navigate Mario and his pal around these grand 3D levels, and, being a game largely about navigating the environment, this is extremely important. Aside from Yoshi's actual movement, the game's use of Yoshi's tongue is also a great success. Rather than just spitting out his tongue ahead of him (as has been done in all past games featuring Yoshi), players can use the Wii remote to point at up to three objects at a time (even objects slightly behind Yoshi), and with the click of the B button, Yoshi quickly gobbles them all up. Along with Yoshi comes other things from past Mario games; things such as Yoshi's double/flutter jump ability, a shift in the levels' music to denote the riding of this magnificent creature, and the fruits that Yoshis love to eat which make a major comeback in this game. There are four different fruits, three of which are power-ups for Yoshi. The coolest of these power-ups is the Dash Pepper that, upon eating, turns Yoshi red and gives him a huge burst in speed that allows him to run on water as well as run up walls; this creates some interesting platforming as the gravity is still pulling you down, but Mario and Yoshi are running straight up a vertical wall. Each power-up allows for some great platforming and careful timing that can, at times, be both challenging and require quick reflexes and expert control; a welcome addition to Nintendo's usually overly easy games.
If only my screen-capped images did the game justice.
However, there are a few things that I was surprised to find are not present in the game. Anyone who's familiar with the mechanics of Yoshi knows that one of the benefits of riding him is that you can jump on spiky objects without being hurt. Not in Galaxy 2. For whatever reason, Yoshi's feet have become squishy and vulnerable; gone are the days of the magic shoes that allow Spiny invulnerability. Yoshi cannot ground pound either, which I found strange particularly because it has become one of his signature moves thanks to games like Yoshi's Story and the Super Smash Bros. series. Yoshi's eggs are also absent. Players of course find Yoshi in an egg, but swallowing enemies does not produce a trail of dancing eggs behind him.
Continuing on the vein of new features, Galaxy 2 introduces three new power-ups for Mario himself – the Cloud Flower, the Rock Mushroom, and the Spin Drill. Unlike the majority of other power-ups in the game (all of the power-ups from Galaxy are included in Galaxy 2), these three power-ups are not time-sensitive; they last until Mario gets hit, jumps on Yoshi, or shoots out of a Launch Star. The Cloud Flower allows Mario to not only stay in the air longer while jumping, but it is also capable of producing up to three clouds that Mario can stand on. The Rock Mushroom allows Mario to... rock and roll... (see what I did there?). Mario turns into a rock and begins quickly rolling in whatever direction the player is holding; while rolling around, Mario is able to crush enemies as well as knock over and break certain environmental elements. The Spin Drill allows Mario to drill through sandy areas/planets and wind up somewhere different. For example, there are planets that Mario can drill through one side and end up on the other.
Out with the new, in with the old: Super Mario Galaxy 2 pays tribute to its predecessors in many surprising ways, all of which are unsurprisingly well executed. There is of course Yoshi, the classic captured princess, and the returning features from the first Galaxy, but there are also other features that Nintendo snuck in. One such feature is the game's new way of getting from level to level. Unlike the other 3D Mario , Galaxy 2 does not feature an open-world hub map where players access all other levels. Instead, players navigate from one galaxy to the next via a map screen just as the 2D Mario games do. However, while players travel from stage to stage by moving around a map, Nintendo also left in a semi-large "hub world" for players to play around in; this is more similar to Galaxy's hub world than the other 3D Mario's in that both Galaxy games' hub worlds were much smaller and condensed when compared to 64 and Sunshine.
While the first Galaxy's hub world was indeed small, it was still the players' means of choosing which level to play. In Galaxy 2, the "hub world" is simply there (it seems) so as to not take this feature away completely, and rather combine the two forms of stage-to-stage navigation. While I realize that this is exactly what Nintendo was thinking when doing this and very much appreciate and respect the combination of the two (without excluding one), I do feel a slight remorse at the puniness of Galaxy 2's "hub world," or more specifically, lack thereof. I always liked the large hub worlds of the 3D Mario's, and it saddens me that it's so diminished in Galaxy 2. However, I will say that Starship Mario (the Mario-faced starship our hero travels on throughout the game) is surprisingly compact. By that I mean that Nintendo fit a lot on that little faceship, and in doing so, makes it seem bigger than it is. Additionally, it's fun to have a little planet that you can just play around on whenever. Spaceship Mario's no Comet Observatory, and it certainly is no Delfino Plaza or Royal Palace, but at least it's something... right?
Starship Mario looks more like "Starship Luigi" according to one of the Luma on board.
Going back further into Mario's past we have the return of checkpoints. Throughout each level, players will find little flags with Bowser's image on them. When players run into the flags, Bowser's icon is replaced with that of Mario's M. If a player dies after this flag is converted, Mario will come back to life right next to the flag rather than at the beginning of the level. CHECKPOINT! Along with the flag's icon changing, Mario does a neat little kick jump as he passes the flag. Aside from being checkpoints, the flags themselves are of course a throwback to the NES Marios where we pull down the flag at the end of each level.
Perhaps the best example of these generation-bridging features is Super Mario Galaxy 2's sidescrolling areas. Just like the game's introduction, there are many areas in the game that move the camera into a side view and the players' controls are limited to two dimensions. "Limited" is a not the best word to use in this case as it's hardly a limitation, more so a treat than anything else. As does Yoshi, these areas control surprisingly well. On top of that, they are extremely fun to play. A lot of the game's "hardness" comes from these areas as they focus more on straight up platforming than anything else. Along with these areas are yet another familiarity to veteran Mario gamers. In many levels, there are certain spots where players can cheat in the same sense as running on top of the underworld levels in Super Mario Bros. I was very excited when I found a spot that seemed unreachable, and, instead of running into an invisible wall in my endeavor to reach it, I managed to get to it and skip almost half of the level and wind up at the stage's star only moments later. What's really cool about some of these areas is that they aren't traditional left-to-right side-scrolling but are instead top-down scrolling with Mario adhering to a gravity that's pulling him to the "back" of the level. In such places it's great to see such a clever combination of the traditional side-scrolling infused with Galaxy 2's gravity mechanics.
All of this (both the checkpoints and the side-scrolling) kind of loses a lot of its pizazz due to New Super Mario Bros. Wii having practically the exact same features. It's still nice to see in a 3D Mario though.
With the inclusion of these "traditional" features, the game feels a lot like Super Mario World, just in 3D. Aside from making an already great game feel like another great game, there are moments where I became very nostalgic. Not only was I having fun while playing the game itself, but I was also having fun remembering how much fun I had playing the other Mario games and at the same time appreciating these things that Nintendo had included in the game.
In addition to Yoshi, the game also hosts another famous green hero. No, it's not Link. That leaves only one other option – Luigi! Unlike the first Galaxy, Luigi is introduced and completely playable fairly early into the game. After playing for a while, we find Luigi at the beginning of one of the galaxies. He explains that he got left behind in all the hubbub about Bowser and Peach, but now he's here, and he's ready for action. After proclaiming that he's ready to save the universe, Luigi offers to switch places with Mario, allowing players to play as Luigi. Just as always, Luigi controls a little differently than Mario. The three main differences being that Luigi can jump higher than his older brother, that he runs faster, and that he's just a tad slidey on his feet; while Mario stops moving when players let go of the thumbstick, Luigi keeps sliding across the ground slowly coming to a full stop. Luigi's decreased traction can make many areas much harder, particularly the platforming that involves precise movement; however, Luigi's jumping ability makes many situations much less stressful as he not only spends more time in the air but also can reach higher platforms. After meeting Luigi for the first time, he randomly appears in different galaxies and offers his help.
How is it that Luigi always finds himself in these haunted houses?
Speaking of offering help, I'd like to briefly mention two features in Galaxy 2 that afford Mario some help along his cosmic journey. The more robust of these is New Super Mario Bros. Wii's Super Guide, which, in Galaxy 2 is known as the Cosmic Guide. For those unfamiliar with either, the Cosmic Guide is a new type of "gameplay" Nintendo has started using. "Gameplay" is in quotes because what results from using the cosmic guide is not actually gameplay; instead AI takes over and leads him to the star. Obviously there's catch. Instead of actually receiving the Power Star, players will be awarded a Bronze Star; however, the only difference between a Bronze Star and a regular ole Power Star is that it's bronze and not gold. Basically it's a mark of shame, so for those of you with no shame you can just have the game beat itself for you! This allows players to complete and level as well as showing them how to progress past certain areas which they could not but at the same time encourages the players to go back and complete it themselves.
The other means of assistance to the mustached plumbers is the two-player mode known as Co-Star Mode. Whereas in the original Galaxy the second player could only either collect/shoot Star Bits with an onscreen pointer or stun enemies by pointing at them and hold A, the second player in Galaxy 2 can do both of these things as well as actually kill enemies and collect different items and bring them immediately to Mario (coins, extra lives, air bubbles, etc.). Also new is the fact that instead of being just a floating star on the screen, players are now a floating star with a face! That's right, the second player takes control of an orange Luma who floats around Mario/Luigi throughout the levels (the Luma is only present if there is a second controller connected). While this isn't a very impressive multiplayer experience, it will cater to the more casual audience as it's a more relaxing role than actually playing as Mario and it's nice to be able to help the first player. As I mentioned to some friends, just as a good Tails player will help you soar (pun very intended) through Sonic games, a good Co-Star player will do exactly the same in Galaxy 2 (luckily it's pretty hard for the Co-Star to ruin anything, so a sucky player won't ruin you like a sucky Tails player will).
See that little orange dot? That's the mighty Co-Star stopping the otherwise invincible Chomp.
After finishing the first Galaxy, many players said Nintendo could simply make another game just like it, and they would buy it; that's how well the game was received. Thankfully, Nintendo heard the pleas of its fans and did exactly that. However, when all's said and done, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is Super Mario Galaxy only with new levels. Again, this is what the people wanted, and Nintendo delivered. They delivered nothing less, but nothing more as well...
As good as Galaxy 2 is, I very strongly feel that it simply wasn't taken advantage of. As I said before, the first Galaxy was so great mainly due to its innovation; the things it was doing were new; people had never played a game like it before. Galaxy 2 keeps these incredible mechanics, but hardly does anything to improve on them. I said it once, and I'll say it again: Galaxy 2 really isn't any more than the original game with new levels and a handful of sparsely used new features. There is so much potential there for both improvements to the system as well as new things to do with it, however Galaxy 2 doesn't make any improvements to the structure that the first game laid out for it, nor does it really introduce anything new, and for that reason it suffers.
The main problem with Super Mario Galaxy 2 is that it really doesn't do anything different than the first game. While it has the incredible gravity mechanic of the original Galaxy, it does next to nothing new with it. What Galaxy 2 lacks in its use of gravity, it makes up for in its platforming. I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate and enjoy this aspect of the game, however it seems that this focus on platforming stole the developers' attention while the gravity mechanic was left alone in a corner. Super Mario Galaxy practically depended on this mechanic while Galaxy 2 really only uses it in passing. Again, the first Galaxy has incredible level design, with the majority of levels not just using but abusing the gravity; Mario was flung around planetary systems with huge, interestingly-shaped, and visually stunning planetoids all surrounded by just as astounding atmospheric space. Galaxy 2 has this as well, just not enough of it. Whereas Galaxy primarily featured levels focusing on planetary and shifting gravity, Galaxy 2 primarily focuses on gravitationally static levels, levels where the gravity does change but only in cardinal directions (up, down, left, right), or just straight-up sidescrolling levels. These directional shifts in gravity are opposed to the ever-changing orbital shifts in gravity that actual planets offer. So while Galaxy 2 still presents many levels as planets, they are really just floating stages with downward-pulling gravity. Again, great fun, but why is it in Mario Galaxy, where we're supposed to be in outer space flying around planets and not just another Mario game? What I would have liked to see (and expected to see actually) was more of a combination between the gravity and the platforming. In other words, more platforming combined with the game's three-dimensional dynamic gravity. Sadly, there isn't really any in there, but it's certainly something I expected to see in the game and it's definitely something Nintendo of all companies could accomplish. Simply put, Nintendo just gave us the bare minimum with this game: same game, new levels, three new items, and Yoshi.
Sidescrolling dungeons? Where have I seen that before...?
Speaking of which, Yoshi is hardly used in the game. With so much marketing and excitement surrounding the little guy, I fully expected the majority of Galaxy 2's levels to have Yoshi in them. Sadly, only about one fifth of the levels have him (and that's making it sound like a lot more than it really is). Marketing aside, I find it difficult to comprehend why Nintendo didn't include Yoshi in more levels, especially considering how well he controls and how fun he is to use as a result.
Yet another mystery is the game's scarce use of the power-ups (both new and old). Granted, you don't want power-ups just littered around the levels, but they really are hardly used in the game. However, one of the most exciting moments during my playthrough was the first time I used the drill on a sandy planet, fully expecting to drill straight through to the other side, when all of a sudden, I stopped moving and found myself inside the planet rather than on its opposite pole. While only lasting a moment, I was extremely disoriented and bewildered (in a good way). This was a complete reversal of the game's gravity mechanic; while Mario normally adheres to a planet due to its inward gravitational pull, I was suddenly inside a planet being held in place by the outward pull of space. This is what I wanted to see more of! I wanted more experimentation with the gravity mechanic. Sadly, this was only used a handful of times, and by handful I mean the hand of a factory worker whose long history of both short attention span and bad luck has left him with only three fingers. Admittedly this inside-a-planet thing was used a few times in the original Galaxy... kind of. While you did run around the inside of a spherical object, you only entered it through the use of a warp pipe, thus creating a disconnect between the inside and outside both due to the transition period between the two areas and visually. In Galaxy 2 however, the sudden and immediate relocation of Mario as well as the fact that you can see both the inside and the outside of the planet makes the experience much more fascinating and captivating.
Now let's talk about the story (or lack thereof). Before your monocles pop out let me explain that I am fully aware of Mario's incredibly basic story. Bowser captures Peach; Mario/Luigi save her; the end. That's all fine and dandy. Super Mario Galaxy made a slight change to that formula; it introduced Princess Rosalina, the Lumas, and backstory surrounding them as well as a little more information as to the why and how of Bowser's devious plans. In addition to the game's motivation in the foreground, the players also discover a more secretive and, dare I say, deep story as to the background of Rosalina and the Luma. While not the main focus of the game (in fact the story is completely optional), it was a great addition to the game and helped tie some otherwise iffy aspects of the game together.
The story of Galaxy 2 is very confusing, and I thus find it hard to understand and write about, but here's what I can surmise. It's almost like Nintendo just reused the exact story from the first game, but then changed a few things just to confuse those of us who played the prequel. This confusion mainly comes from the mixed dialogue that seems to imply that the events of the first game never occurred while at the same time implying that they did occur. By the same token, the story seems, at times, to be just a retelling of the original, which would be fine, but there are other, very specific times that indicate that this is not just a retelling of the story.
Now I know I'm complaining about a story from a Mario game (again, games that really don't have story), but I feel it calls way too much attention to itself. As I said, I would have no problem with no story; I had no complaints about New Super Mario Bros. Wii's "story." However with Galaxy 2 there really is a story, but it's just really, really crappy and confusing. The first Galaxy found a great way to combine the minimalistic plot of Mario and the new introduction of Rosalina and the Lumas. Galaxy 2 on the other hand drew away from the story (just as Miyamoto wanted) but then tried to reuse elements from the previous game that required a story to use. The result is a messy, overly-simplistic plot trying to also combine itself with the deep backstory of the first game.
Bowser's "HUUUUGE!" Obviously it's easier to steal cake when you're as tall as a building.
Technically, the first Super Mario Galaxy was a near-perfect game. Throughout my multiple complete playthroughs, I only found two things wrong with the game, and one was a very minor technical problem. This was a single instance of popping. Single instance meaning that it only occurred once, and I have yet to ever see it happen again. The more troublesome problem occurred on the edges of disc-shaped planets. In these areas, the camera would flip back and forth between the top of the planet and its bottom. Along with the camera shift came the shift in directional movement. For instance, I would be moving left, reach the edge of the planet, and the camera would flip over to the bottom of the planet; now instead of maintaining my trajectory which had me headed towards the center of the planet's lower half, the camera switch caused my holding left to go right back to the top side of the planet which would make the camera flip to the top of the planet and cause me to go left back to the underbelly of the planet and so on and so forth. This kind of camera-sensitive directional discrepancy is present in a lot of 3D games, but there were certain points in Galaxy where the combination of the camera moving and the joystick's input changing directions would just get Mario stuck due to no fault of the player's.
Galaxy 2 unfortunately retains these problems. While in the first game I only encountered popping once, there are multiple places in Galaxy 2 where I encountered some disappointingly noticeable popping. Unlike my experience from the first game, I was able to recreate these instances whether I was trying to or not. Being out in such large levels, you would hope to be able to see clear from one end of the level to the other without anything disappearing on you; this adds to the already impressive visual of the levels. Thankfully this is largely the case as big objects such as planets and space ships remain visible throughout the entirety of the level, however it is the smaller objects that disappear and pop back into place, things such as characters, enemies, coins, and Star Bits. This likely won't be a bother to the majority of players, but things like that always bother me.
One of the very few areas in the game that demonstrates Galaxy 2's full potential. Dynamic gravity? Yes, please!
Fortunately, Galaxy 2 does cut back on the weird areas where the camera and Mario get stuck in a frustratingly endless loop. In the first game, I fell into such occasions far too often, but in Galaxy 2, I only ran into the problem in a handful of places, and even when I did, it was far more controllable than the instances in the first game. Although I feel that the lack of such areas was highly due to the topics I spoke of earlier – the fact that Galaxy 2 is lacking in its large, open, planet-filled levels. While this camera confusion was something I expected to be fixed in Galaxy 2, it was at least less prominent and less frustrating than it was in the first game.
In the end, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is everything its prequel was plus more... just not enough more. Galaxy 2 has less large, open planetary system-style levels and more side-scrolling/top-down levels and levels similar to the secret stages from Mario Sunshine. Sadly, Galaxy 2 does not add much to the already incredible gravity mechanic of the original nor does it really use it as much. Even though Mario stories are notoriously simplistic, this one takes the cake (another pun) as it is overly-simplistic and at many times very confusing. Despite the seemingly lazy effort on Nintendo's part, the game is still amazingly fun to play and a great experience. I have no shame in saying that there were many times while playing that I just started smiling out of nowhere; the game is fun, and I was thoroughly enjoying it. So even though I wrote a bunch about how the game disappointed me, I would never pass a chance to tell someone to buy this game. It's plain and simple fun; I just wish Nintendo had done a little more with it is all.
I wouldn't complain about some some elements not being used enough. I think that actually benefits the game because new mechanics are introduced in almost every level. It keeps the game feeling fresh each time you play.
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