Mario back in the sky with diamonds
Previously, I had suggested that the secret to Super Mario Galaxy’s success was attributed to Nintendo programmers undergoing some extra-curricular activities. After all, who but the users of the most hallucinogenic medicine could conjure up such wonderfully bizarre level concepts as the haunted house in space, or the race track in the sky comprised of floating water? It appears that Mario Galaxy’s commercial success was enough for EAD to score another stash of LCD and commit to a second drug orgy in Super Mario Galaxy 2.
Players of Super Mario Galaxy 2 will learn, very quickly, that this sequel was justified. That there are enough (if barely) new ideas to occupy a full DVD disc follow-up. Water blobs that float in space, free of containment, that players must swim through. Platforms that appear and disappear based on the beat of the world music. A factory producing Chomp Chomp spheres, presumably part of some consignment deal with King Koopa Incor. Navigating a sphere through a world of pencils and crafting supplies. Sure, mainstays like the Haunted House and Desert land are back, but even they have bizarre twists. Try riding a floating platform on a haunted river that sequentially folds itself into a square.
The same trippy-arsed power-ups from the last game also make a return. The goofy Bee suit, the goofy spring suit and the goofy ghost outfit all make a return to inspire and challenge cosplayers everywhere. Debuting here (and bound to appear in a Smash Bros game) are the rock suit (transforms Mario into a rolling stone, humming Dylan to himself) and the Cloud suit (creates up to 3 cloud platforms to trip balls on.) Yoshi also returns, in his most worthwhile appearance in a video game since Super Mario World. He/she/it can eat enemies and shit out star rocks…seriously. But this time, his bowel movements are controlled at the whim of the Wiimote pointer thingy. And fruit-triggered powers like the red pepper curry dash and the blue berry bloated gas blow give the game’s Yoshi segments some distinct hooks.
Right now, one can see that the developing a video game while baked enables for wonderfully abstract creativity in concept development. What it seems to stunt, however, is story writing. I can just imagine the writing meetings now.
“Dude, we should just, like, get the Princess and the fat guy should like, totally save her from the ugly green dude.”
“Dude, you just blew my mind!”
It’s the lazy standby that all Mario platformers follow. And yes, I know of the age-old excuse of story not mattering in this kind of game. But what offended me was how bold-faced the game is in not acknowledging the existence of Super Mario Galaxy 1. Mario runs into the white-star-fat-thing that lives in his hair in the introductory cutscene, which is treated like a first-ever encounter. Stars fall from the sky for what is proclaimed to be the first time in centuries. A cast of toad space explorers are assembled for seemingly the first time to once again be useless. Seeing so many reoccurring characters appear for allegedly the first time feels like too much of a stretch. Simply having one of those toads or star people say “hey, Mario! Welcome BACK! Bowser is causing trouble AGAIN and you should stop him AGAIN!” would have made me feel all the less insulted for investing so much time, enthusiasm and admiration for the first Mario Galaxy.
Perhaps pleading ignorance is the development team’s way of eliminating any needed backstory; allow players new to the series to hop in without needing to know what happened prior. The problem with this approach is that Super Mario Galaxy 2 really is not a game designed for those newcomers. Sure, frequent, optional tutorials explain the various moves and techniques in great, slow, methodical detail. But the difficulty of Mario Galaxy 2 has been considerably jazzed up. Sorry kids, but this is the grown-ups’ Mario Galaxy. Or at least the psycho-grown-ups’ Mario Galaxy.
And I can totally dig that. Many of the levels were designed with a varying degrees of malicious intent. Platform jumping calls for proper timing, accuracy and mastery of Mario’s various wacky Cirque du Soleil maneuvers. The Waggle-spin technique is back for more precise jumps, but there were rare moments where I felt the waggle was too imprecise for the specific challenges that were being presented. Just wait for the level where waggle-spinning manipulates the appearance of key platforms. Keep in mind, I would blame about 17.3536% of my jumping failures on the Wiimote’s inaccuracy and the other 82.6464% on the cruel hand of fate. But the game has a just brand of cruel, that kind of fair style of cruel, where you feel ever relieved for finishing a specific challenge.
That many of the early levels fit into this just brand of rewarding makes one feel obligated to go for a 100% completion rate. Super Mario Galaxy 1 had the same deal too, where so many stars appeared so inviting that one opts to complete every presented challenge before plowing the world’s boss and moving on. “Go for 120 stars again? Bring it on!” One may say.
The biggest reasons I feel that Super Mario Galaxy 2 does not measure up to Super Mario Galaxy 1 are related to the end-game and post-game. One of the last levels being a brick-by-brick revival to a stage from Super Mario 64? A little easy, but cute. I’ll survive. Then there’s the fact that you fight Bowser three times, all in relatively-easy battles. So the real final battle feel decidedly less climatic than the time he dared you to grab him by the tail. Besides, Bowser never puts up much a fight in any video game. His most difficult encounter may as well be landing on his death spot in Mario Party.
Once you do finish the game, the “Special” levels open themselves up. These are the apparent most difficult challenges in the entire game. Part of this hearty challenge entails…bringing back two specific sequences from Mario Galaxy 1 and a giant waste-of-time gauntlet against that’s games’ ever pathetic boss fights.
Okay, I can understand why these “S-world” levels weren’t deemed worthy of taking part in the main game. If you’re going to offer leftovers, best to leave them in the back of the fridge and give the kids the option to eat them or pass them off to the dog. So once you do get all 120 stars, the player is asked to refinish the final level and give Bowser another meteor up the ass.
Then you are kindly asked to go on a most lame fetch quest. Revisit each land, seek out 120 Green Stars, then pat yourself on the back. Only then will the game’s final final world open itself to players. Hell. Freaking. No.
But I digress. The game has so many great moments, levels and challenges leading up to this optional lame duck fetch quest to make this a worthwhile investment. I just feel like I am in a weird position, with most reviewers and fans proclaiming this game to be fantastic, incredible, mind-blowing, a revelation. Meanwhile, I would merely suggest that this game is merely a great follow-up that will satisfy loyal fans. And I know that merely being “great” could be viewed as an insult to some of the biggest Nintendo fans out there. And all I can say is that if you’re the kind of person that thinks 4 out 5 stars is too cruel for Super Mario Galaxy 2, then you either already bought this game or should hurry up and buy it.