Since the days of Nintendo 64, we’ve been graced (or damned – thanks Mario Sunshine!) with only one new mainline Mario title per Nintendo console. This was due in part to series creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s insistence that every game feel just as fresh and new as the last, always bringing new ideas to the table.
Why, then, the seeming about-face with Super Mario Galaxy 2?
Well, yes, the game is basically an expansion pack to 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy. Mario is still in space, and he’s still bending gravity, and he’s still saving the princess from Bowser. To say that the game lacks new ideas, though, is misleading – the big idea from the original Galaxy (Mario in space with gravity) is still the foundation, but that game was successful because of its dozens of smaller ideas – almost every level in the game had a new gameplay element or aesthetic that made it unique and memorable, and Galaxy 2 came about because the Nintendo development team couldn’t stop having these small ideas.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a lot like Super Mario Galaxy, but you’ll be having way too much fun to care.
First, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way – the story is pretty well nonexistent, which is par for the course with most Mario titles. Bowser (pictured right, break dancing) kidnaps Peach. Mario gets all like “oh no he didn’t” and jets off to save her helpless ass once again, hoping for a platonic kiss on the nose but fully expecting another goddamn cake. The game sort of pretends that the first Galaxy didn’t happen, but that doesn’t matter because nothing of consequence transpired in that one, either. So, there’s no story, but this is a video game so even if there were a story it would be embarrassing and terrible. Shortcoming forgiven!
Galaxy 2 follows the basic Mario blueprint laid forth in Super Mario 64: the point is to get stars. Stars are obtained by achieving certain objectives. Most of the time these objectives are laid out for you at the outset: Defeat an enemy. Collect objects. Navigate obstacles. Get enough stars, and you can progress to new worlds, which contain new objectives, which lead to more stars. Repeat until the game is over.
The original Galaxy began a necessary move away from some of the tropes of Mario 64 – instead of a few larger worlds with a set number of stars, it featured a smattering of smaller levels, some with as few as one or two stars apiece. This let gameplay experiments play out more naturally – a crazy, one-star idea was allowed to be a one-star idea. This stands in contrast to a game like Super Mario Sunshine, where tasks were often repeated with slightly different parameters to flesh out a level with the required amount of stars.
Also axed from Galaxy 2 is the concept of the gigantic hub world – Marios 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy all connected their smaller, objective-based levels with one large level. When gigantic 3D worlds were new and different (see: 1996), this was fun and interesting, but as time went on hub worlds became less wondrous and more mundane. By the first Galaxy, it was just a big obstacle between you and your next star. Galaxy 2 cuts it out almost entirely, in favor of an overhead map similar to that used in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and older Mario games.
If it sounds like this game is best described using comparisons to past Mario games, it’s probably because that’s true. Nintendo has a long history of working elements and power-ups from old Mario games into new ones to appeal to gamers’ strong nostalgia, and Galaxy 2 has no shortage of that. What’s surprising is how well the new additions stand up to the old standards – Cloud and Rock Mario are great additions to Mario’s arsenal, and even though it’s not technically new the sight of Spring Mario bouncing around on his head is still pretty hilarious. Prepare to be entertained by new things just about as often as you get misty-eyed about old things – that’s about the standard ratio for all Nintendo games past the year 2000.
As for the actual gameplay: yes. Emphatically so. The levels are cleverly designed in the Mario tradition – some encourage careful exploration, some barely leave you time to think about your next jump (this statement especially applies to all of the Bowser levels). Galaxy is still one of the best cases made for the Wii control scheme in an action game, and big, fluid, colorful graphics showcase the Wii’s graphical abilities while downplaying the system’s weaknesses. It’s impeccably scored (again, see the Bowser levels). You only have to get a little over half of the game’s 120 stars to beat it, but every level has a hook that keeps you coming back until you’ve cleared it completely. There’s really no reason why a Wii owner shouldn’t own and love this game. I can’t possibly recommend it more.
Fans of the first Galaxy will also find that the game’s two-player component (known affectionately as “girlfriend mode” in certain circles) has been much improved. In the original, the second player was limited mostly to picking up stray Star Bits with the pointer, accidentally making Mario jump slightly higher, and firing ineffectual shots that prompted the first player to ask that the second player to stop wasting Star Bits and whether she had a book she could read or something. In the sequel, the second player can actually be of serious use, stunning and wiping out enemies and grabbing distant 1-up mushrooms easily. You don’t need a second player to win the game, but it’s actually pretty helpful to have someone riding shotgun. Girlfriend mode, indeed.
In the twenty-five years since the release of the original Super Mario Bros., a lot has changed. Game consoles have gotten exponentially more powerful, the Internet has connected games and gamers to each other in unprecedented ways, and new genres have taken the world by storm and faded away. Mario games are one of the few constants – the age of the platformer is long past, but some truly impressive, creative, and fun ideas keep Mario feeling as relevant as ever. Keep ‘em coming, guys.
Nintendo’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 is currently available for the Wii for $49.99.