Review by Awasai

"Fun, But Nothing New"

Perhaps it's because I don't subscribe to Nintendo Power anymore, or maybe it's because I didn't frequent the SMG2 board before the game was released, but I somehow missed the hype for this game. And it's a good thing that I did, too, because any prejudicial hype would have left me even more disappointed in the end.

In any case, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the direct sequel to 2007's Super Mario Galaxy, but where the latter blew our minds with fresh visuals, trippy physics, and tight gameplay, SMG2 fails to impress in the same way. They say don't fix what ain't broken, but it seems to me that Nintendo took that saying just a bit too literally.

Story: 6/10 (as a Mario game), 2/10 (as anything else)
Bowser somehow becomes giant (how he does so is explained only peripherally as “the power of the Grand Stars”), kidnaps Peach, and takes her to the center of the universe so that she can bake him one of her famous cakes. Although even Galaxy 1 had more of a plot (concerning Rosalina- a character with more backstory than most from the Mario series), if you're expecting to be wowed by the story in a (non-rpg) Mario game then you're doing it wrong, so I can't give less than an average score for this. Obviously, story should not really be the selling point of a platformer one way or the other.

Graphics: 8/10
The graphics are crisp, colorful, and polished, as expected; probably the best the Wii has to offer. Enemies and environments pulse with a vibrancy that the Mario series is known for. Although rare, the use of certain lighting in a few special galaxies is incredibly well done, and even borders on beautiful. However, I've encountered a few odd situations with enemy pathing and environment clipping, which really shouldn't be problems at this point.

Control: 8/10
Everything functions as expected, mostly because the engine feels exactly the same as SMG1. The starbit-collecting pointer makes a return, as does the ability of a second player to take control of that aspect. Some may lament the motion-control levels, but, although perhaps challenging at first, they make excellent use of Wiimote's capabilities. My complaint concerns the fact that collecting starbits is nigh impossible when the direction of the Wiimote is directly affecting your movements. Yoshi also feels a lot stiffer than I would have hoped given his mobility in earlier games. But besides that, Mario moves where you want him to, which is really what matters.

Sound/Music: 7/10
Sounds are crisp and well-done, but why should they not be, when most are straight from SMG1? Sensing a theme yet? Similarly, there are a ton of reused music tracks from the first game, but that isn't such a bad thing as many of them are excellent. The original tracks in this game retain the same grand and orchestrated feel to them, but none really stood out to me. Where the soundtrack really shines is in the remixes of past themes, such as SMW's Ghost House and Athletic Theme and SM64's Bob-omb Battlefield theme. But the fact that my favorite moments where when I was hearing music from other games is an indication not of the oft-cried “nostalgia factor,” but that SMG2 really doesn't bring anything new and spectacular to the table.

Gameplay: 5/10
The most important score and the biggest letdown. If I had to characterize my thoughts towards the gameplay in a single sentence, it would be “This should have been an expansion pack.” Let me explain. Since Mario's debut, each the games in the main series (that is, SMB, SMB2, SMB3, SMWorld, SMW2: Yoshi's Island, SM64, SMSunshine, SMGalaxy) has been revolutionary in its own right (and don't bother me about SMB2 being very similar to SMB1- I'm talking about Doki Doki Panic of course). Super Mario Brothers introduced a generation of gamers to a platformer series that would be with them for the rest of their lives. Super Mario World brought Yoshi, secret exits, and genuinely challenging gameplay worthy of the SNES. Super Mario 64 expanded everyone's favorite plumber and his enemies into the third dimension, creating vast worlds (at the time), rife with opportunities for exploration and dynamic gameplay. And Super Mario Galaxy took all of that, added some incredibly creative gravity-based physics, and put it all into relatively linear levels that afforded quick, fun, and addictive gaming that even your 7 year old cousin could enjoy. And it was great.

Galaxy 2 introduces nothing new. If Galaxy 1 had never existed, I have no doubt that I would be giving this game an 8 or 9/10 right now, but that's not reality we live in. I'm not sure about other people, but I don't live in a bubble where I can judge every game I play on only its own merit and nothing else. We are inevitably affected by other games we've played, and as such, the potential fun factor of this game is severely crippled by its failure to innovate in even the slightest way. I struggled to beat this game in three days, not because it was hard (not at all…) but because I became genuinely bored and had to put the controller down.

You've got your gravity-flip levels, star-pull segments, motion control minigames, hungry Lumas, etc.; if you've played SMG1 then you've seen it all already. The much-hyped Yoshi, is, as others have said, nothing more than a temporary powerup seen in only around 25% of the levels. You use him not to change your gameplay style, but to pass otherwise impassable sections of a given level. The only new content that I found at all inspired is the Cloud Flower, which makes for some thrilling action given its ability to create platforms in mid-air.

Gone is the charming hub of Galaxy 1, which itself was quite the downgrade from Peach's Castle and Delfino Plaza. In its place we have a stripped down world map and a spaceship to traverse it that seems to invite exploration but essentially offers nothing of any value. Dare I say that Nintendo believes that today's young gamers don't care as much about the thrill of exploration as much as bright, shiny, linearity? At the very least, though, we can be grateful that the second set of 120 stars is no longer merely a second playthrough of the game with Luigi (it's something else entirely which I would say is slightly more creative).

As far as difficulty, SMG2 is easy enough for even the most casual gamer to fully enjoy, with only a few potentially rage-inducing trouble spots that are not even necessary in order to beat the game. The game wants you to succeed, and as such, lives and checkpoints are abundant. Gone are the days of slowly coming to the conclusion that you might have to walljump somewhere in SM64. Goals and the method of reaching them are usually very clear.

In short, although I cannot say that I did not enjoy myself while playing Galaxy 2 (it's quite difficult to entirely remove the fun factor from Mario), there was always a nagging resentment in the back of my mind stemming from the sheer amount of reused content and complete lack of innovation. Less critical gamers may care far less about something like that, but it was more than enough to severely dampen the quality of my experience.

Buy or Rent:
If you're slightly less cynical than I am then perhaps you won't be as disappointed, but the fact remains that this is a short, easy game designed for the Wii's family audience. Veteran gamers should have no problem beating the game in several days and completing (100%) it in a week or two. As far as replay value is concerned, I can't see myself wanting to touch this again for at least a good year or two, as every level must be visited at least 4-6 times in the process of one complete playthrough.
My advice? Despite its shortcomings, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is definitely worth a rent.
Final Score: 7/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/02/10

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

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