Review by 94067

Reviewed: 06/01/10

Fixes most of Galaxy's flaws, but is not without its own, but that doesn't mean it's not fun.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is, like almost every other Mario game, very similar to its predecessor. If you liked the first one, there's almost no way you're not going to like this one, and if you didn't like the first one so much (as I did), this one might have some magic for you, as it did for me. I was rather unimpressed with Galaxy's linear, to-the-point level design, its bad camera and Comet Stars, and while Galaxy 2 remains linear and keeps the Comet Stars, it improves the camera control (read: there is camera control now) I couldn't help but enjoy it. I won't pretend that I'm unbiased--I don't particularly enjoy the Mario series, but Galaxy 2 is my second favorite, after Yoshi's Island. Expecting the levels to be linear (lessons learned from Galaxy) was a big help in my appreciation of this game, but they're also designed much better than Galaxy's. The Power Ups, which seemed gimmicky and forced in Galaxy are given their own dedicated levels in Galaxy 2, and there are a number of new ideas that make for some very fun platforming. This is not to say that Galaxy 2 is perfect, however. It's by no means a bad game, don't get me wrong, but there are definitely some flaws that impaired my enjoyment: camera control, while it exists like it nearly didn't in Galaxy, is still flawed, and the notorious Comet Stars make their return. All things considered, Galaxy 2 is still an incredibly solid game and is definitely worth a playthrough. Some say that it lacks the wow factor of Galaxy, but I say that it actually has content beyond that wow factor, which I felt was solely conveyed through the orchestral music and general scope, rather than backed by level design and creative platforming.

Galaxy 2 does a number of things very well. It introduces new platforming elements, such as a galaxy whose entirety is made of red and blue colored flooring, which you can control the appearance of by spinning. This is a nice variation on the normally timed platforms that gives you complete control over the floor you stand on and relies more on skill than correctly timing a jump. There's another galaxy that has blocks that appear and disappear in beat with the music (which is sure to make you move in beat with the music as well). While I didn't like the transformations from the first game (Bee, Boo, Spring), they're done much better in Galaxy 2 and have levels designed exclusively around them. I may not like the concept of Bee Mario (he's much too slow-paced), but his 2D side-scrolling levels are done well. Unfortunately, the game is a little top-heavy on 2D style levels, which I don't mind, but I don't typically play games on consoles when I could get the same experience on a handheld. It balances out later on, 3D levels becoming much more common, but it is a little off-putting at first. Galaxy 2 also starts off much more difficult than Galaxy did (though this isn't to say it's a particularly challenging game). I felt that in Galaxy, I was simply being given most stars until I could fight Bowser and end the game, and that the more challenging stars were deliberately put in the later galaxies to make the game more accessible. Galaxy 2 fixes this--not only is getting the stars more involving, but they're not as simple to get, which makes getting into the game a lot easier and doesn't make it feel like a fetch quest. This may come as a dismay to some, but the motion-based galaxies from Galaxy return, the manta ray surfing (now gliding on Ho-Oh) and the rolling ball. I thought these controlled many times more precisely than Galaxy's did and actually didn't fear the special challenges for each one. While Yoshi is a new and much wanted addition in this game, I couldn't help but feel he was a bit tacked on. He's in a total of 9 levels (out of 49) and they're mostly designed around him, but he felt a little lacking in potential, as some levels simply use him to get up to a higher platform. In addition to platforming levels, there are some other varied levels that I felt Galaxy was lacking in. There's a few slide levels, or level segments, that are done quite well, including one where you get to slide all the way around a tube, which makes for an incredibly fun experience. There's a star that is somewhat puzzle-based that requires you to stand on platforms to lower them to let giant Chain Chomps open the way. Even Super Mario Sunshine gets a reference with the Sand Bird (now on the ground) making a return for better or for worse. A level from Super Mario 64 makes a return in present day graphics, but it feels almost out of place with the rest of the game's design; Galaxy 2 still has the 2D design mindset; stars are more goals at the end of a path rather than being exploration-based, and while I prefer the exploration that SM64 had, this is personal opinion and I don't hold it against the game at all. As mentioned, I expected the levels in this game to be more linear, unlike Galaxy, which I thought would be open ended, so that helped in terms of expectations and disappointment. If you didn't like Galaxy because of the lack of exploration, then SMG2 will disappoint you.

One of the more boring aspects of Galaxy was its hub world, which was simply bland. Galaxy 2 fixes this with a world map more attuned to the NES Marios, Super Mario World, and both New Super Mario Bros. There is still a hub (a space ship in the shape of Mario's head, yep), but it's super-compact and lets you get started right away, instead of faffing about to the very top of the observatory. That being said, Galaxy 2 still has a little quirk with menus. Personally, I don't know if the rest of you do this, but when a Comet appears around a galaxy, I immediately go to that galaxy to get the star (often coming back 20 minutes later with my blood pressure tripled). Because I do this immediately I would've liked the game to prompt me, upon the Comet's appearance, to go to that galaxy to get the star. It's not such a big deal, but it does add in maybe 30 seconds in between getting from one galaxy to the other, if you're in a different world. Alternatively, being able to select which galaxy to go to directly from the world map (they're displayed in little icons at the bottom of the screen) would've been nice, but honestly this is mostly a nitpick. Galaxy 2's hub and level selection system is infinitely better than one of the most bland hubs I've ever played in Galaxy.

One of the biggest flaws with Galaxy was the camera control, or more accurately stated, the almost complete non-existence thereof. The camera is much improved from Galaxy because you can actually adjust for 90% of the game instead of the other way around. However, there are still moments where you can't accurately judge distance and die because of it (Haunted Halls' third star comes to mind). These problems become more pronounced when you have to collect Green Stars, making it in some cases literally impossible to distinguish on which depth-plane a star is. When I have to rely on trial and error instead of skill to get a star that I should otherwise be able to get, the game becomes frustrating instead of challenging. Simply put, I shouldn't have to fight with controls, character or camera (and Yoshi and Mario both have some rare, if deadly, control quirks--U-turning with Yoshi is no easy feat) in order to reach my goal. There's one boss whose strategy simply seems to be as obtrusive as possible to your view and simply run into you, setting you on fire. I don't mind huge or challenging bosses, but when they become hard to beat because of the view rather than because they have a particularly difficult attack pattern (and in fairness, the boss in question does), it makes the game frustrating, not challenging.

On the note of frustration, there is no shortage of it in Galaxy 2. The Comet Stars make their return, and if you read my Galaxy review you would know my hatred of these abominations. Maybe too strong a word, but simply put, there is no reason why one of the wealthiest companies in gaming needs to resort to padding out a game with repetitive "challenges" when there are much better alternatives. Additionally, it cheapens the effect of beating a boss when you know you're going to have to do it again with only one hit. What if you already beat a level in a certain amount of time? What if you beat the boss without getting hit? It was almost forgivable in Galaxy because, hey, maybe Nintendo just wanted to put out an awesome Mario game and provide a quick, tacked-on challenge for older players to an otherwise easy game. In Galaxy 2, they had three years to program a bunch more levels starting with the framework and knowledge that they had by making Galaxy's, but they still put in these pointless and tedious challenges. Essentially, what I'm saying is that the Comet Stars (rather, the challenges that come of them) are lazy and tired ways of making a game more difficult. Like I said in my Galaxy review, it would be more acceptable from a company that was strapped for resources like time and money, but this is Nintendo and Mario, arguably the most recognizable names in the industry. The speedruns, daredevil, and purple coin challenges all make their return, but luckily some galaxies are spared from this fate. Some Comets actually have fun challenges (Cloud Court comes to mind), but these are few and far between. While there are fewer Comet Stars than Galaxy (expressed as a percent), they're made more or less worse by having to earn the privilege to get them. Making you retread old ground in order to 100% the game wasn't enough for Nintendo, they had to make you get a Comet Medal in each and every level in order to make the Comets appear in the first place. Actually, I'm eating my own words here, because getting the Medals is kind of fun. They're not placed off the path (the level design is still linear), but you do have to look around for them more, and it actually gives you a reason to take your time going through the levels instead of just blasting through them because the only thing you have to worry about is at the very end. That being said, you can't exit the level after you collect a coin, so it's advantageous to be on the look out for them while you're getting the first star in the galaxy--if you plan on completing the game, don't put these Medals off.

Other than the Comet Stars, Galaxy 2 has a number of stars you get by playing what could best be described as minigames. The minigames are given to you in certain levels by an electric blue monkey, named Bananacho in the Spanish version (this almost, almost lessens my hatred of him). There's several where you have to skate around a 3x3 grid scoring points by hitting what could best be described as green eggplants and not spikey ones, but the most nefarious are the points challenges. Several levels have you score a certain amount of points by jumping on enemies' heads or collecting coins within a time limit, but, for no reason at all, you will lose a life if you don't make get the star. Lives are pointless as it is already (they don't even send you back to the title screen like they did in Galaxy, thankfully) but what the hell. In all honesty, it's a stupid thing to complain about, but why the hell do I lose a life if I don't score a certain amount only in certain games? It's probably just some sort of gaming instinct that pisses me off when I lose a life because they are pointless, but seriously, why? You can get a game over and still do the minigame, so why bother taking a life away? His other minigame lets you retry as much as you want, and it's still the same concept. I'm really scraping the bottom of the nitpick barrel here, so let's get back to the more noticeable flaws.

Like Galaxy, Galaxy 2 has hidden stars, but they're just about anything but hidden. I haven't counted, but a lot of them seem to be hidden by putting a Luma directly (or nearly directly) in your path that demands a certain amount of star bits or coins to turn into a new planet. It's not a serious flaw, but why bother calling it hidden? It seems like they didn't want to go through the effort of making a more involved approach instead, they opted to make it into a mini-collectathon. I didn't mind it that much, but it feels a little condescending and disappointing. Galaxy 2 makes up for this by having an additional 120 Green Star at the end of the game, after you've collected all 120 normal ones. The Green Stars are actually hidden throughout each and every Galaxy, but there's some problems here too. It's minor, but since the Green Stars are brought about by Comets, it means that each and every one you go after (all 120) have that irritating as hell Comet alarm that sounds off each and every time you go to get one, and there are at least two Green Stars per galaxy. While the Green Stars may be hidden, they actually focus more on jumping skill than exploration to find them. Some of them are the same triple-jump and spin (Beat Block), and some of them are annoying suicide stars or seemed to be inspired from Donkey Kong Country's placement of bonuses--jump off a cliff, hope for the best, but some of them are actually really cool and fun to get, like Upside Dizzy's. They don't feel at all tacked on (unlike Galaxy's final 120), and getting them is actually really fun. As I noted in the camera section, since the Green Stars are often placed outside the normal bound of the level, the camera is usually your biggest obstacle in collecting these, especially the suicide ones, where you simply have to hope that you're lined up with it (Yoshi level's second star, Supermassive's second). They're still fun to get and not as frustrating as you might think.

Galaxy 2 has some problems with gravitational consistency, carried over from the first one, and part of this is unavoidable because of some scenarios Nintendo thought it would be cool to show off.There are parts when you can walk on all surfaces of something, and some when you can't and the game does a spectacularly poor job of letting you know when you can't. This becomes most noticeable in Clockwork Ruins which starts off with a number of giant spoked wheels that slowly rotate around. You might think that, in accordance with Galaxy 2's loose interpretation of gravity, you'd be able to walk on all sides, but you can't until it reaches some arbitrary level of walkability. I'm well aware that being able to walk everywhere would break the game, but at some point, the developers need to design around this. The level in question is late in the game, so you're already used to zany gravity and not thinking in simple terms of two dimensions and traditional gravity, so it seems a little unfair to all of a sudden change the rules without telling us. It's even worse that they play on this expectation in an admittedly awesome way of getting a Green Star in Upside Dizzy galaxy, which requires that you walk on the face of a box that faces you in what is an otherwise 2D level. Another thing that is a pet peeve of mine is this belief that platforms don't exist unless you see them. One of Yoshi's power-ups functions as a light that reveals platforms to you but quickly runs out of energy. Counter intuitively, however, these platforms don't exist at all if you can't see them--if you run out of light, you're dead. This gets worse when a level pops up that blacks out the screen except for enemies and Mario, but for no particular reason other than it fit the level design, the platforms still exist. I don't hold it against the game, but it's irksome to see the game change the rules to fit its own needs.

One of the more disappointing aspects of Galaxy 2 is its Bowser fights. While Bowser is huge now, he doesn't really seem all that menacing, and his son's fights are actually far more interesting. Bowser's battles are even more repetitive than in the first game and this doesn't really hype up his menace. Even the final battle with him, while really cool in concept, faltered terribly in execution and can be beaten within a minute. This isn't to say that Bowser in Galaxy was especially challenging (I might have died once), but one of the few moments when I was impressed with the game was one of the Bowser confrontations, when I actually did get a chill down my spine. Even the final Bowser level isn't as good as Galaxy's, I felt. Luckily, he is made up for by Koopa Kid, who has a variety of machines at his disposal and whose fights are subsequently much more varied than in Galaxy.

Ultimately, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a fun game. I feel that it could have developed some level and character concepts more, but it does mostly everything very well. Some stars may seem disappointing because they're Comet Stars or from minigames, but the Green Stars at the end more than make up for it. Camera control is improved from Galaxy, but still has its flaws, and the level design can follow its own rules for the hell of it, but Galaxy 2 is a much more enjoyable experience than Galaxy, I felt. I think Galaxy actually had better swimming controls, but you swim so infrequently in this game it's not worth mentioning (take note--water levels in 3D platformers need to be done simply or they go down the drain). Galaxy also had more memorable music to me (which isn't saying much--I still only remember a handful of songs), though Galaxy 2's is good and fits the mood, it's not very memorable and features more remixes than I would've liked. I feel that Galaxy 2 is a refinement of Galaxy and fixes many of its flaws, but is not without its own.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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

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