Review by HeWhoLikthCheez

"Wait a minute, I've seen this before...and it's great!"

In a stunning turn of events, a main console Mario title gets a sequel! As Super Mario Galaxy, a game that's been compared favorably to its legendary brother Super Mario 64, nears its three-year anniversary, it's hardly an unexpected move. But how do you improve on what many hailed as perfection? It's quite simple--you don't! Let's jump in.

Gameplay: 8/10
Three words: good clean fun. At its core, it's just about identical to Super Mario Galaxy: 3-dimensional platforming with delightfully ambiguous gravity. Several new mechanics have been thrown in, including a digger drill, cloud and rock powerups, and Yoshi. That's right: Yoshi's back as a rideable (no, not playable) character. Instead of shooting out your tongue and hoping for the best, you'll gobble up morsels by aiming your reticle at them and hitting B. The tongue-targeting system is also used for swinging on and off those floating flower things Yoshi uses as monkey bars.

Alternatively, you may opt to run through some boards as Luigi, who is more difficult to control than Mario, but jumps higher. You'll also trade Mario's "yippees" and "yahoos" for "woah" and "yeah." Super Mario Galaxy 2 expands the second player's role ever so slightly, but playing 2P still boils down to riding shotgun--you're there for moral support, and the occasional helping hand.

Finally, the level design is fantastic; a fair number of levels have small mechanics all their own. When it hits you that you've been swimming in zero-gravity without even realizing it, the seamless flow of every level becomes clear. The designers did a great job integrating the new powerups, which might otherwise have felt tacked-on. Though I would have liked to see more of the expansive, cohesive worlds rather than the more common sequence of mini-planets, the design leaves plenty of options. In a way, the level design is the essence of the game: this is the fully tapped potential of the original's engine.

Control: 6/10
If you've played the first Galaxy, you'll know what to expect. Mario handles well, especially considering the odd physics of some locations: after backflipping precisely onto the back of a goomba sitting a few meters away, then bouncing right up into a wall kick, I almost envy the plumber's gymnastic talent. The control scheme itself hasn't changed a bit: it's entirely adequate for 3D platforming, and slightly streamlined by the Wiimote's capabilities. No complaints there.

I was hoping to see the camera improved from the last title, but it seems worse--it's sluggish following Mario, and manual rotation with the D-Pad is disabled more often than not. The camera sometimes becomes a barrier to gameplay; it's not bad enough to dock a point, but it is disappointing.

Graphics: 7/10
Beautiful...for a Wii game. The visuals are technologically unimpressive, but they suit the game well, and there's eye candy to spare. The developers' attention to detail is remarkable; water and cloud effects are especially well-done If Mario is behind something, you'll see a shadow indicating his position, which can aid gameplay in tricky situations, especially in light of the camera's weaknesses. I was, however, surprised by a number of framerate stutters that tended to happen when many new objects were being brought onto the screen. Your mileage may vary (I played this on 2006 launch hardware), but that's minus one point in the graphics department.

Sound: 8/10
Nintendo stuck with the orchestral instrumentation for this title, but exchanged the ambient, sweeping dynamics for somewhat more conservative tunes. Many themes are arrangements of older Mario tunes, and some just borrow motifs. I felt the first game's original score was more moving and fit the gameplay better, but Galaxy 2's is by no means lacking. There's no denying the nostalgic appeal of hearing some tunes (other than the ubiquitous underworld theme) in a modern setting.

Story & Aesthetics: 7/10
Story: (2) Save the princess. What did you expect?
Aesthetics: (5) It's--it's sooo cute! From the huggable purple Lubba to a petulant baby piranha plant, everything in this game exhibits a playful cuteness bordering on creepiness. That grassy ship-planet shaped like Mario's head? You can go inside it. Wow. Though the cute aesthetic may be overkill for some, most will find it endearing, even comforting. The worlds are incredibly varied and immersive; although there are a few recurring themes, e.g. "cloud" or "honey" galaxies, many more galaxies can't be easily categorized and they're all compellingly unique. Music, visuals and level design blend smoothly to create the kind of memorable environments that make you wake up one day and want to play again.

Galaxy 2, rather unlike its predecessor, is full of expertly crafted fanservice. The overworld has been simplified to a connected map reminiscent of the older 2D titles; it's navigated by the weird ship-planet mentioned above. Between the overworld, Yoshi's return, familiar musical themes, and decidedly 64-esque gameplay, fans young and old will find something to satisfy their nostalgia without feeling patronized.

Replay: 7/10
You can power through to the end fairly quickly if you wish, but it'll take a while to get every star and unlockable. Due to the scant multiplayer support and lack of online, there aren't any mechanics to keep you occupied indefinitely. Even so, the imaginative environments and compelling gameplay could prove enough to keep players coming back for second and third play-throughs.

The Bottom Line
If you're looking for something new and magical, something to hint at the possibilities of the future of gaming, you're in the wrong place. For those who just want top-quality entertainment (and lots of it), this is your game--especially if you enjoyed the first title. It's pure, unadulterated, shameless fun and makes no pretense about innovation: in fact, Nintendo originally called it "More Super Mario Galaxy"! The first game brought enough new ideas to the table; Galaxy 2 needed only to make good use of them, and that's just what it's done. So while the claim to revolutionary platformer rests firmly in the original's hands, you'll likely find the sequel assuming a more prominent place in your library. With perfected gameplay, incredible aesthetics, and masterful level design, this a crackerjack title that won't disappoint.

How I rated this game
Gameplay: Arguably the most important aspect, how much fun is the game? How much of an impact do the player's actions have on the game's progress, and are they properly rewarded? For all intents and purposes, this is also the stuff-that-doesn't-fit-anywhere-else category.
Graphics: How does the game look? Does it utilize the hardware available, and does it do so in a way that is appropriate and contributes to the playability?
Sound: Are the sound effects convincing? Does the music inspire you or put you to sleep? More importantly, does the sound reflect what's going on in-game?
Story & Aesthetics: Does the story enhance the gameplay? If not, is it distracting? Is it trite? Finishing touches and other aesthetics that don't impact gameplay can make or break a half-decent title.
Replay: [Main-4pts] How long is the main story or campaign? [Extras-4pts] After you "win", how much is left to get "100%" completion? [Eternity-2pts] Is there any aspect of the game that can consistently present new things to do regardless of how long you play?

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/04/10

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

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