An even grander Galaxy.
Super Mario Galaxy was an astounding achievement in video game design back in 2007, and to this day it remains an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable 3-D platformer. In fact, Galaxy was so good that when I heard that a direct sequel would be coming a mere 2 ½ years later, I had my doubts as to how the game would be a worthy successor without simply rehashing everything that made the first game so great. But while Galaxy 2 is great for almost all the same reasons as the first game was, it still stands out from its predecessor in many ways and stakes its claim as one of the greatest video games ever made.
Galaxy 2’s plot is no more or less recycled and predictable as the story from the first game. It’s not as though anyone can watch the opening cutscene and think, “Why is that giant turtle thing trying to kidnap the princess?!?” There are no surprises here, except perhaps the fact that this time around, Bowser is absolutely huge. But the beauty of it all is that it shows that Nintendo knows that they don’t need an amazing story to make an amazing game. While it might have been nice to see something different, it’s hard to ignore the fact that even if Galaxy 2 had a marvelous plot, the rest of the game’s strengths would still overwhelmingly overshadow it.
Even in the midst of watching the same exact story kick off again, though, Galaxy 2 immediately states its intentions by starting off with a sidescrolling stage. Yes, Galaxy 2 is indeed a 3-D Mario game, but perhaps its greatest strength is in how it blends together the linearity and very format of many 2-D Mario titles with the open worlds of 3-D Mario games. Most of the galaxies are in full 3-D, but there is a surprising number of sidescrolling stages as well. These 2-D sections aren’t just great because they resemble 2-D Mario, but what makes them stand out is how well all of Galaxy’s elements translate to a 2-D format. It all works so well that it makes the 2-D areas simply fantastic.
Both the 2-D and 3-D levels alike feature phenomenal level design. The Galaxy team has produced over 50 galaxies for this game, almost all of which manage to bring something new to the table as far as design goes. There are a few new power-ups, including Rock Mario, which allows Mario to roll around at high speeds, and Cloud Mario, which gives Mario the ability to generate cloud platforms underneath himself in the air. These, coupled with most of the power-ups from the first game, offer plenty of creative design features that manage to twist the proven Galaxy formula of planet hopping and gravity-based puzzles in fresh, exciting ways.
But perhaps the most significant addition to Galaxy 2 is Yoshi. In past Mario games, Yoshi’s playable appearances have always been in 2-D games, and his playtime is usually disappointingly brief. Galaxy 2, though, puts the creative opportunities that Yoshi presents to use in more ways than ever before. Yoshi can swing on floating flowers and eat enemies, and that’s all good fun, but the best thing about Yoshi is that he can also get power-ups from special fruits. A red pepper will make him run at exhilarating speed, a shiny yellow fruit will make him glow and reveal invisible floors and platforms, and a yellow berry will make him float like a balloon. None of this may sound all that original but these power-ups aren’t great merely because of the concept they present, but how they are put to use and how the level design forces players to get creative with how to utilize these abilities, and that is what makes Galaxy 2’s level design shine.
As I mentioned earlier, Galaxy 2 hosts over 50 galaxies, which is loads more than its predecessor. There is a bit of a trade-off though, in that the galaxies have a maximum of three stars each. Most galaxies offer one main mission and two prankster comet challenges, which are unlocked by finding the comet medal in the galaxy. Those who favor the sprawling open worlds of previous 3-D Mario titles might not view this trade-off as a good thing as it makes the levels more linear, but in my opinion it is a positive change as it opened up a lot more opportunities for the game developers to make more levels and let their ingenuity shine. And this change also reflects the idea that Galaxy 2 is more in the format of a 2-D Mario game than the traditional style of the 3-D titles, and the linearity of the levels reflects the style of the 2-D games. It all works together to make a 3-D Mario title as much like a 2-D Mario game without making it entirely in 2-D; I think it’s an clever and profitable touch to an excellent game.
Galaxy 2 has made significant improvements in longevity as well. In the first game, collecting all 120 stars allowed completionists to play through the game a second time as Luigi. Galaxy 2 throws this out the window, though, by making Luigi playable at random points in the game and permanently unlocked after Bowser is defeated for the last time. And once the 120th power star is collected, 120 green stars appear dispersed throughout the game’s galaxies, doubling the number of stars in each galaxy and thereby doubling the number of stars in the game. These are not mission-based, though; finding the green stars is basically a massive scavenger hunt, as they are hidden within each level. The green star quest substantially extends the game’s length and forces players to utilize every last inch of Mario or Luigi’s jumping heights, and the best part is that players are often required to get creative with the level design and figure out how to outsmart it. It’s quite challenging at times, but still very entertaining.
From a technical standpoint Galaxy 2 is still the Wii’s finest. The animation is sharp and vibrant, transforming the TV screen into a constant visual treat. The frame rate is smooth as can be, and everything is simply a pleasure to look at. The graphics are essentially the same as in the first game, but there really wasn’t much, if anything, that needed improvement to begin with. The game also shines with its sound, with great sound effects that are true to the theme and franchise, and even better yet, the soundtrack is simply phenomenal. It does an even better job than the first Galaxy score in bringing classic Mario tunes to life in new ways while also adding in plenty of new themes. It all sounds simply fantastic, mixing the old with the new just as the rest of the game so masterfully does.
So what’s wrong with Galaxy 2? Is there a single flaw? I could definitely say that it’s slightly disappointing that all three Bowser battles are essentially the same thing. I could also say that the final galaxy, the Grandmaster Galaxy, was too hard to be much fun and didn’t feature any new creative twists. And yes, the story is the same old Bowser kidnaps Peach narrative we’ve watched over and over again. But to count those things against the game as major flaws would be extremely nitpicky. Yes, these ever so slight shortcomings are there, but they are so insignificant compared to the rest of the game’s quality that it’s hard to even consider them as detracting from the overall experience.
So no, Galaxy 2 isn’t perfect. But since when has any game achieved perfection? God alone is perfect; nothing humans make can ever be truly perfect. But it’s for games like Super Mario Galaxy 2 that “perfect” scores exist: games that are so excellent and so well crafted that they deserve top honors among their peers. And so that is why this game receives a 10 out of 10 from me. Not because it’s perfect, but because it’s as good as games get. So is Galaxy 2 perfect? No. Is it one of the greatest games ever to hit consoles? Why yes, I’m glad you asked. Now I highly recommend that you go pick up a copy and enjoy it for the excellent piece of entertainment it is.
+ Fantastic blend of the best of 2-D and 3-D Mario
+ Phenomenal level design still twists the Galaxy formula
+ Yoshi adds a surprising amount of fun to the game
+ 242 stars makes a massive and expansive game
+ Graphics are every bit as good as before
+ Even better soundtrack
- Those few slight shortcomings I mentioned