This will be split up into multiple entries, as it’s overall lengthy. And the latter half of it covers spoilers, so, just a fair warning.
Anyway, I've had the game for a little more than a week from Gamefly (since Tuesday last week). I’ve played it every chance I had, while still taking a break in between, but they only lasted a few minutes at times, because I was so excited to go back and play more. I loved the first Galaxy a whole lot, and this game...it is just so superior in everything. It's got a greater challenge, level design is just as nuts and a whole bunch of other factors that make this game AMAZING.
Bridging The Gap Between 2D And 3D
First thing I wanna mention is the opening level. Because of the ending from the first game, Galaxy 2 repeats that plot, only cutting down on more story than there was before. In fact, the way they presented it was almost like they did it just as a joke or something. I found it humorous hearing a more stripped down version of Galaxy 1's opening, especially when the first bit of text has a hint of self awareness to it. Oh, and Peach has baked a Cake for Mario. Are you surprised?
Anyway, the opening level does something that I think is genius. Everyone loves 2D Mario. 3D Mario though, not as much, but still quite a bit. The opening level seems to act as a "bridge" to get people who play 2D Mario into the 3D games. The first part of the level is 2D, and it stays like that for about half of it. When you reach town, and head down the road to the castle, you can still hold right and move like it is 2D, but you can then move in and out of the background. Like LittleBigPlanet, minus the pre-set 3 layers. When you go through the gate, the camera changes to let you play in full 3D, as you head to the castle and remember the days when you first played Super Mario 64. And there is always that handy road for people to go on, so they still have something to follow.
3D games can often confuse new people because there is almost a lack of direction. After all, in 2D you can go left, right, up, or down, pretty simple to understand. In 3D, you have 360 degrees of freedom, and without a path to show you where to go, you can get lost. The 2D segments connecting to the road in the castle courtyard helps adjust new players to the change in control, and which path to stay on.
Ever since the 1st Galaxy, it was made pretty obvious that the 3D games moved toward linear levels, versus the open world levels of 64 and Sunshine. So that obviously defines the path that players need to take. Galaxy 2 still retains that, along with adding the genre bridge level (that's what I'm calling the opening) at the start to get people more accustomed to how it plays. You only saw the first 2D segment in the Galaxy 1 a little ways in after you started. This time, you see it right at the beginning.
Streamlining The Journey Through Space
We all know how the hub in the last game wasn’t so hot. Compared to in Super Mario Sunshine, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in it besides go to domes that would allow access to different levels. Pretty tiring when you look at it.
Galaxy 2 gets rid of that and goes for a traditional 2D Mario world map. No need to wander around a huge hub just to get to a new level, you can just move your icon (the Starship Mario in this case) to the next level on the map and go there. But even then, there’s still a remnant of a hub world that remains, though it’s hard to call it that. Between every level you return to the Starship Mario, and when you want to go to the world map, you just walk up to the big button, stand on it, and on your way. So what is there to do on the ship? Well, mess around. This “hub” does two things that I find make it work with the new World Map system, and fixing what made Rosalina’s ship/station in the first Galaxy a bit boring.
First, it makes it smaller than the last game’s hub, so talking to NPCs and getting back to the main platform are a bit faster than it would be on a much larger hub. Sure, at the start, the ship isn’t very populated, only consisting of you, Lubba, and a few lumas. But as you get more stars, you’ll see different characters from levels you’ve gone through come to your ship, like the star bunnies, the Toad Brigade, as well as new and old creatures, plus Yoshi and Luigi.
Second, the ship is a planetoid, so it has its own gravity. One of the fun things about Galaxy was launching yourself along small planetoids to see how far gravity would take you. Starship Mario is in the shape of Mario’s head, and heads are mostly round, so you get to have some fun flying around it, as well as other things to do in your spare time between levels. It’s not really a hub anymore. It’s a sandbox. It’s a small, round sandbox that lets you play with Mario’s moves as well as other things. There's no actual objective to it. Get a 1-up or star bits before you get that next star, but other than that, if you want to kill time for a couple minutes, paying a visit to Starship Mario isn’t too bad.
Yoshi, and How it Does Not Anger Ryan Davis
We all know about Ryan’s distaste for the green dinosaur with a frog’s tongue Yoshi. Most of it comes down to Yoshi as a character and his personality. Plus, when you look at character artwork of Yoshi over the years, his current design was based on the ones from Yoshi Story, which were all babies that had just hatched from their eggs, where as in his debut Super Mario World, Yoshi, was more tall and slender. Not to mention that “cutesy” voice of his, which again, originated from Yoshi’s Story.
Yoshi knows his place in this game as a Power Up. You only see him give one small bit of dialogue when you first free him from his egg. You know what’s interesting about that? It’s a lot like how Yoshi was done in Super Mario World. On the Sky Station galaxy, you start in front of what is Yoshi’s house (his face is on the front door, it would have to be), with a sign saying he’s out helping his friend. Not ENTIRELY accurate, but in Super Mario World, it was the same thing except it mentioned saving his friends. Kinda the same, but one has more urgency over the other. Now, in the next galaxy, Yoshi gives you thanks for freeing him, which again, was the same deal in Super Mario World. Afterwards, he doesn’t say anything else, and allows you to start riding around on him. They keep his “cute factor” held back, and allows for new game mechanics in Galaxy 2, from Yoshi’s basic controls, to the special fruit that he consumes. Heck, when you get hit, you automatically dismount and he starts running away. Just like Super Mario World.
Still, this isn’t the first time Yoshi has been in a 3D Mario game. He appeared in Super Mario Sunshine, had had quite a few differences than the Yoshi in Galaxy 2. You could only hatch him by bringing foot, he sprayed juice much like FLUDD did, and when you ran out, Yoshi died, so you had to keep eating fruit. Oh, and you couldn’t go into the water with Yoshi without killing him. But the biggest shame of all is that Yoshi was just…tucked away. He’s definitely a major player in the Mario universe, and when you don’t see him until quite a ways into the game, without much explanation, you don’t really see it as important. That’s probably a big reason why Nintendo stressed the fact that Yoshi would be in Galaxy 2 when they first announced it. He’s given the same treatment as his debut in Super Mario World, an important character whose role does not interfere with the main star.