Review by KalirSavant
"Tastes great! Less filling!"
When I first picked up Super Mario Galaxy 2, I was initially apprehensive, although this might be because I am stingy and the $50 price tag frightened me. But hey, I've paid more for games I found average but still enjoyed, so why not. Among my friends, I misspoke and called it "Super Mario Gulag", and I figured that would be easier to differentiate it from the rest than just adding a 2 to the end of the game. Turns out, that moniker was frighteningly accurate.
The mantra for this review is going to be "pretty much more of the first game". Which, as far as appearances go, isn't a bad thing at all. The first game looked stellar and the music was great, although the sound was lacking since there was an over-reliance on the Wii speaker. Same deal with this game, too. Every area is vibrant and every object you need to recognize is easily told apart from its surroundings.
I can't fully state the story of this game, since I've only played up to near the end of the fifth world (out of seven, I think), but I can tell you the gist of it. On the Mushroom Kingdom's centennial, a comet flies near the kingdom and bits of stardust fall to the ground, where the commoners rejoice. And then Bowser shows up harnessing the power of the stars to utterly ruin the festival by capturing Peach, and Mario must enlist the help of a starfaring explorer to meet with her at the center of the... hang on, am I reading this right?
Yeah, they seem to have fully imported the plot from the first game directly over to the second, plot holes be damned. Okay, wait, not completely: Rosalina is nowhere in sight. Instead, you have a fat pirate Luma flying you around in a spaceship shaped like Mario's head. Well, it's not the weirdest Mario premise, but I sort of wish they'd at least tried to make the plot a bit more unique. But let's be honest: you don't play Mario games for the riveting story.
The gameplay in Super Mario Galaxy, at its core, is the same as the original. Which is all well and good, the original was about as smooth as gameplay ever got in a 3D Mario title. The devil is in the details, and the trick that determines whether you'll like this game or not is how you handle these details.
First and foremost, Yoshi. Perhaps the biggest selling point here is the addition of Yoshi as a helping character. And unlike in Sunshine, where playing as Yoshi was little more than having a key to unlock special doors, Yoshi actually does make a difference in Gulag (yes I do intend to call it that for the whole review), and doesn't actually handle too badly. However, Mario is almost always a better choice unless you need a specific Yoshi powerup to continue (and you will always find Yoshi and said powerup in close proximity) due to his better jumping. Backflips or long jumps are not possible with Yoshi, although you can do the classic midair dismount if you so choose. This is almost always a bad idea, though, because of the aforementioned powerups.
The powerups in the first Galaxy game were sort of a mixed bag. You had some genuinely neat powers, like Ice Mario, but most of the time you'd have to deal with oddball powers like Bee or Spring Mario. In Gulag, many of the earlier game's powerups have been cut, but they deigned to leave in Bee and Fire Mario. To replace the missing powerups, there are two new breeds. The first are of the usual sort, like Cloud or Rock Mario, but I've yet to see any kind of effective implementation of these. Cloud Mario is difficult to design levels for at best, and will screw over defensive maneuvers and leave you to take a hit at worst. Rock Mario is neat, but I haven't seen it implemented frequently or well.
The other kinds of powerups are special fruits that Yoshi can eat. These last a limited time, and require Yoshi to be in effect. So if you get hit, not only do you lose your powerup, but Yoshi will run off to do who knows what. This just makes it all seem very tedious, since it makes one wonder why you can't just cut out the middleman and let Mario have these powerups himself. Given the opportunity, I'd pass completely, since of these powerups, only Dash Yoshi seems to be any fun (and even then, could be obsoleted by Rock Mario), and one of them, Lightbulb Yoshi, just gives the developers an excuse to make platforming segments even more infuriating.
Which brings me to the clincher: the level design. There's no denying that Galaxy was a difficult game. Sure, early stars were simple enough, but later ones could pose a serious challenge to a seasoned gamer. Gulag feels to me like a Lost Worlds version of Galaxy, with several parts built more to infuriate than pose an interesting challenge. An example off the top of my head: remember the skating controls? How they let you move extremely fast but it was difficult to stop? Remember the octopus boss, who spat out fireballs and watermelons you could deflect back at him to do damage? Right, now the octopus is in a fast-moving tank that also shoots fireballs and the fight takes place in an ice rink. Good luck being in the right place to deflect the one watermelon at the right time. This isn't even the worst example, just the most recent I've had to deal with.
Maybe I'm just getting too old for games, but there's simply too many parts in the game built less to challenge and stimulate players and more designed to cause controller-gnawing frustration. I know a chief complaint with Galaxy was that many parts were too easy, but I'd rather have my games err on the easy side than be face-stompingly difficult. Granted, there's as little risk in getting game over in Gulag as there was in Galaxy, but that understates the problem, since 1ups are so frequent and checkpoints so sparing. If you die, you'll have to repeat the section you went through. Nothing new, of course, but that just means that extra lives no longer gauge when you should take a break from the game, instead leaving you only to growing impatience as a gauge for when to take a break.
Get the first Super Mario Galaxy. Seriously, it'll be dirt cheap with this coming out and it plays so very similar to this game, except without the arbitrary garbage that simply isn't fun. If you absolutely have to have Yoshi, go pick up Super Mario World 2 on the Virtual Console. Either way, you have alternatives. Of course, if both of these have been exhausted, you've already picked this game up. Caveat emptor, I guess.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 06/07/10
Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy 2 (US, 05/23/10)
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