Super Mario Galaxy 2 is better than its predecessor.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is better than its predecessor. Feel free to keep reading, but if you have not been fully informed by that statement you are in one of two camps. You either did not play the original, in which case get that mess done now so you understand what “better than its predecessor” really means; or you haven’t traditionally liked Mario and have come here curious if this game will change your mind, in which case, “yes.” This review also assumes you already know what a “Mario” is, so feel free to be terribly confused if you don’t.
I’ll start with some pseudofacts. The game took me 10 hours 18 minutes to beat (timed somewhat rigorously by stopwatch). It starts out too soft but settles into a good challenge by the third world of six and maintains this difficulty to the end. You play a guy named Mario who flies around in a spaceship that looks like his face, visiting galaxies that contain planets with stars on them to collect. (It is really no wonder Japan hasn’t made any progress in space travel.) Mario jumps around, in and on planets, planetoids, monsters, and other nefarious/adorable things; good times are to be had by all.
There are many new power-ups for Mario to mess around with, and they almost universally well crafted. I wasn’t a fan of the Bee Suit in Galaxy 1: it was too slow and it didn’t let you do much you couldn’t already achieve through clever platforming. While the Bee Suit remains in a few levels of the game (mostly as part of the revisited Honeybee Galaxy), it has been replaced everywhere else with the Cloud Suit, allowing you to spin and make up to three clouds each time you pick it up. The greater flexibility of purpose makes it a far superior powerup, even if it is easy to forget that shaking the Wiimote while you have it makes a cloud poof into existence rather than making you spin.
I can leanly relate to the Davis-Yoshi Hate camp: I don’t know that adding Yoshi necessarily hurts Mario games, but he rarely helps. Though SMG2 certainly does not vindicate him absolutely, Yoshi made a surprisingly nice addition. He has his own powerups which are equal parts amusing (blue fruits make Yoshi blow up like a balloon, wafting up into the air) and redundant—red fruits make Yoshi barrel forward, an nearly identical mechanic to the Rock Suit. They don’t hit you over the head with him; in fact, he was almost underused. All in all, the usually dubious dinosaur fits comfortably into the experience.
The soundtrack for Galaxy 1 was insuperable; it is the best musical work Nintendo has put out in years, so claiming that Galaxy 2’s soundtrack is not as original or as good as its predecessor’s is about as informative as saying it has music. However, Kondo and crew did a good job remixing most the prequel’s soundtrack for the new release (some with a jazzy overtone that I was particularly fond of), and because it nearly all comes from the prequel it is still a phenomenal accompaniment overall.
The greater variation in level design has reduced the number of boss fights in Galaxy 2 significantly, settling for just a few big tussles here and there; this is a very good thing. I have never been a huge fan of boss fights in 3D platformers—their repetitive nature and usually unchallenging designs take away from the far more intriguing environs that populate the world otherwise. Bowser’s three fights in the game are just as unimaginative as those in his previous exploits: one gimmick with more rigorous dexterity requirements each time you fight him. Bo-ring. That said, the Bowser Jr. fight at the end of World 5 is a feast of machinating ridiculousness that Mario has never been witness to. It is chaotic and challenging to a degree that the game near reaches before or again, and I personally adored it.
The replay value in SMG2 is not in revisiting the main story galaxies. As you move across the World Maps, roadblocks keep you from progressing without the requisite number of stars—not unlike the doors in Super Mario 64 overworld. By the end of the game, these roadblocks require you to get nearly every star from all the worlds, leaving little to go back and explore by the time you *SPOILER ALERT* save Peach. Luckily, after the credits curtain falls, the game announces the arrival of a Special World of extra galaxies to explore. I haven’t romped around in the Special World as of this review, but the main game gets all five of my stars so any good that comes from that is just icing on the cake.
This game has exactly two caveats: the camera is occasionally obnoxious and the world map is a lame interface. No 3D platformer has a perfect camera in my experience, always plagued by the dual role of showing you how pretty all the worlds are and showing you where infinite space-holes are located relative to your flying body. Still, obnoxious. The world map is a disappointing cross between the Super Mario Bros 3 overworld map and the Mario 64 “choose a star” menu. Galaxy 1 did a poor job with this as well, and I was hoping for a more fluid experience. As it stands, the game sends the player through far too many menus and dialogue boxes between the faceship, the world map, and your post-level progress checkers that impede the flow of the star-getting action. What’s worse is that this change feels like it was implemented for fan service alone, as the previous observatory system does essentially the same thing in a different, less nostalgic wrapper.
Neither of these flaws are dealbreakers. This is a great Mario game and a great game generally. It is inventive and rarely repetitive, both uncommon traits in platformers.