Review by kobalobasileus

"The Galaxy Has Expanded"

Super Mario Galaxy 2
“The Galaxy Has Expanded”


“Super Mario Galaxy 2” (“SMG2”) represents a stunning achievement that Nintendo has not accomplished since the days of the original NES. It is the third main-line Mario game to be released on a single console. Some gamers have expressed concern that Nintendo is beating a dead horse with Mario games on the Wii and that Nintendo must be out of ideas by now. I had no such trepidation, as the original “Super Mario Galaxy” (“SMG”) and “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” are two of the best Mario games in the long history of the series (losing the top slot only to the insurmountably awe-inspiring “Super Mario World”). However, unlike the NES Mario trilogy, each of which felt like entirely new games, “SMG2” feels more like an expansion disc for the original “SMG.” This similarity does nothing to prevent this game from being just as enjoyable.

Presentation
“SMG2” uses the same engine as “SMG,” so the two games are largely identical. The character models look quite good, but aren't quite up to the standard of high detail and hi-res textures used in “Super Smash Bros. Melee” on the Gamecube. These slightly-simplified character models get the job done admirably, as they allow the camera to change its distance and angle in a huge variety of ways without losing clarity or becoming lost.

The sound in “SMG2” is likewise nearly identical to “SMG.” The annoying Charles Martinet returns to give Mario and Luigi all of their vocalizations. Either he's getting less annoying as the Mario Bros. or I'm just getting used to him. The only new sounds of any import are all Yoshi-related, as the beloved, green dinosaur has finally returned as a fully-fledged power-up. Yoshi's sounds are a blend of his squeaky voice from the stand-alone Yoshi platformer games and his original sound effects in “Super Mario World.” I was absolutely thrilled the first time I made Mario jump into Yoshi's saddle and heard that nostalgic, wheezing grunt.

The music also takes a bit of a turn toward the nostalgic. I didn't recognize any new tracks in the games soundtrack; everything seems to be remixes. But thankfully the remixes cover a bit more ground than just the original “SMG,” as I recognized tunes from “Mario 64” and “Super Mario World” as well (which made me very happy!). I was even more impressed that Nintendo remembered to add more woodblock to the background music while Mario is riding Yoshi.

In a change from all previous 3D Mario games, instead of forcing the player to wander around an unnecessarily-large hub world to access the various levels, “SMG2” goes back to the tried-and-true map screen that has been used in 2D Mario games since “Super Mario Bros. 3.” While there is still a bit of a hub world, in the form of Starship Mario, the ship that the player moves on the map screen, this area is small and well-organized compared to previous games' sprawling hubs.

Story
“SMG2” doesn't break any new ground in the ongoing saga of the Mushroom Kingdom. In fact, it is unapologetically generic. Bowser kidnaps Peach (again), Mario follows him into outer space to rescue her (again), and Luigi shows up late (again). There's nothing new, and nothing engaging about this story. It's functional, as it keeps the game moving and gives the player a reason to keep collecting Power Stars, but that's all. I'd like to see another Mario platformer that has a well-developed story and expands on the Mushroom Kingdom's mythos to the extent that the Mario RPGs do. But I don't think Nintendo wants to mix these two facets of the franchise… or perhaps they are simply incapable of combining good writing with good action gameplay (case in point: “Super Paper Mario”).

Gameplay
“SMG2” builds on the gameplay of “SMG.” The developers have even admitted that “SMG2” is made entirely out of level ideas that wouldn't ‘fit' into the original game. Thus, “SMG2” is nothing more than an expansion disc, and a full-priced one at that. Yet the gameplay in “SMG” was so fun, such an incredible refinement of the broken and awkward gameplay we suffered through in “Mario 64” and “Mario Sunshine,” that it is almost pure joy to experience. The ‘almost' comes in due to a few levels that, either due to fixed camera angles or over-the-top action (being chased by cosmic clones across a disappearing floor whilst trying to collect 100 purple coins in a minute) are frustratingly difficult. The original “SMG” and “SMG2” both have their share of these levels, but I was actually hoping that “SMG2” wouldn't have any, due to player feedback. Aside from the few dud levels, the gameplay is incredibly solid and feels like the natural evolution of the 2D Mario games instead of the bastardization that was “Mario 64.” Each Star serves the same purpose as a goal-post: The player knows where it is (usually) and must help Mario platform-hop his way to it.

The controls are also copied from “SMG,” featuring minimal motion and moderate pointer controls. The game works only with a Wiimote+Nunchuck setup, with the analog stick moving Mario, Z making him crouch, A making him jump, B firing a Star Bit at the cursor location (which can stun many enemies for a moment), and a waggle of the controller making Mario do a spin that can KO enemies or activate launchers. The addition of Yoshi to the game's roster had me worried, as his controls were incredibly unimpressive in “Super Mario Sunshine.” However, Nintendo did an amazing job of working Yoshi's skills into 3D for “SMG2.” While riding Yoshi, the Star Bit cursor turns into a Tongue cursor. When pointing the Tongue cursor at an object that Yoshi can lick, the cursor turns into a loop around that object. Hitting B while the object has a loop around it causes Yoshi's tongue to shoot out and hit the object (regardless of which direction he's facing). It's possible to make Yoshi lick up to three objects at once by quickly sweeping the cursor over them. Yoshi also has his ‘flutter' jump that was introduced in the stand-alone Yoshi games. The only real negative about Yoshi is that it's impossible to ride him AND have a power-up at the same time. It's also a bit disappointing that Yoshi only appears in a handful of levels and, like all power-ups in 3D Mario games, can't be carried over to other levels.

Speaking of power-ups, there are several new ones in “SMG2,” all of which are very cool. There's a Drill that allows Mario to dig all the way through a platform or planetoid, a Cloud Flower that allows Mario to create up to three temporary platforms and walk on clouds, and a Rock Mushroom that allows Mario to encase himself in stone and bowl-over his enemies. Several old power-ups return, including the Bee Mushroom, the Ghost Mushroom, the god-awful Spring Mushroom, and the STILL timer-limited Fire Flower. Some of these power-ups only appear once (SERIOUSLY?!), which makes them even rarer than the much-loved Tanooki and Hammer Brother Suits in “Super Mario Bros. 3.” I will continue to say this over and over until Nintendo listens: 3D Mario games will not have parity to 2D Mario games until players are allowed to carry power-ups from level to level! Yes, it may break some of your level design ideas, but the trade-off is that players feel like they have more options, and weaker players can improve their chances at a challenging level by powering-up before attempting it. Power-ups always disappear as soon as Mario takes a hit (or touches water), so there is really no good excuse for keeping them so tightly-restricted.

“SMG2” is a reasonably long game, featuring 120 Power Stars to collect in the main game (though quite a few of these don't become available until the player wins the final battle for the first time). After collecting all of these stars, winning the final battle AGAIN unlocks both an additional ending scene and the ability to search out an additional 120 Green Power Stars scattered throughout the levels. I thought the bonus stars were handled in a much more interesting way than in “SMG,” in which the player was tasked to re-collect the original 120 stars with Luigi and his slippery shoes. Instead, there are a number of Green Stars hidden in each level equal to the number of regular Power Stars in that level (either two or three). This design element makes the second half of the game feel entirely fresh and gives it an Easter Egg Hunt vibe instead of feeling boring and repetitive. While it is possible to play as Luigi (and necessary to get most of the Green Power Stars, due to his superior jumping skills), he becomes available much earlier in the game than in “SMG,” plus he can be used as a modified ‘Super Guide,' in that any level completed using Luigi gets a Luigi Ghost that can be activated to show the player a ‘secret' in the level.

Overall
Despite feeling more like an expansion pack than an original game, the fact that it is the same length and same quality as the original game makes “Super Mario Galaxy 2” an easily-justified purchase. Long time Mario fans who didn't care for his first tottering steps into 3D can rest easy in the knowledge that “SMG2” has ironed out most of the wrinkles and is a rock-solid experience, even for those who might have missed out of the first “Super Mario Galaxy.” I can heartily recommend this game to all Wii owners (and to any stray Nintendo/Mario fans who still haven't purchased a Wii).

Presentation: 9/10
Story: 5/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Overall (not an average): 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/15/10

Game Release: Super Mario Galaxy 2 (US, 05/23/10)


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