Everyone has a Super Mario Galaxy grin. There’s your portrait smile, your gratuitous face, your relieved look, your cheeky smirk, your ‘In Love’ expression, and then your Galaxy grin. We’ve all experienced it: From the moment Mario entered the Good Egg Galaxy to collecting the 242nd star from the Star Village, we had the look plastered all over our faces for two straight weeks as we found our way through the original. And with the sequel now available, we think it’s high time you warned your nearest and dearest: You’ll be performing ‘That Smile’ more than ever over the next few months...
However, everyone also has a Luigi’s Purple Coins rage. That face of sheer frustration as you pitted your wits against a perfectly-measured obstacle course that was brilliantly tricky but also amazingly simple? Prepare to wear that particular expression a fair bit more from the moment you pick up Galaxy 2, as Mario’s back, and this time he’s come with extra difficulty.
And we’re not just talking Spring Mario- (Let’s get the bad note out of the way: There is one level out of 242 that involves the dreaded slinky, and it’s absolutely horrible, you’ll probably have a brief stage of hating the game as you try to jump over Chomp after Chomp.) The whole game is much, much harder than in the original. It shoots by without a tutorial in sight, only the odd Toad or Luma offering an optional refresher about the controls when each skill is needed. But then who needs tutorials? The first game is Galaxy 2’s tutorial, and it understands you don’t want to play through that again.
It also understands what you do want to play again- Pretty much every idea from the original game games a one-star run out within the first 120, letting you give all your old favourites another shot, whilst also giving time to plenty of new ideas. And what fine ideas they are! Never before have we seen a game so packed with imagination. Creativity breaths from every pours- Chances are you’ll get overblown by originality as you remove the clear cellophane wrapper from the box or flick through the manual, such is the freshness of Super Mario Galaxy 2.
One minute you’ll be parachuting over a waterfall with a dandelion, next you’ll be turning into a Bee and trying to land on a platform that bounces you back of the moment you hit it. There’s Fluzzard, the giant bird Mario rides around on in two levels- He’s easy to control, although come onto the second course and you’ll suddenly find yourself short in the overgrown parrot control department. We’ve heard developers say you should pack most of your ideas into the first two hours of the game, otherwise many gamers won’t get to see them- Galaxy 2 laughs in those developers’ faces. It had enough ideas to pack a new one every ten minutes or so throughout the 15 hours it takes to collect the main 120 stars, before a post-game challenge adds an extra 20 hours or so on. While we won’t spoil what it is, it leads you to see old levels in a new light, and you’ll feel utterly compelled to collect the extra 120 it adds on.
Not that it’ll feel like 35 hours- The game moves at breakneck pace, with frightening literality. You’ll die a lot, although you’re peppered with more 1-Ups and slightly more forgiving checkpoints than in the original game. While this may sound like a cop-out, letting easier players into the game, trust us, you’ll need them. Finish the game 100% and it tells you how many lives you lost along the way, and don’t feel as if there’s a loss of pride if it’s around the 500 mark- Chances are, you’ll be around average.
But, of course, what you want to hear about is the galaxies! The levels themselves! While we don’t want to spoil too much (You’ll thank us) we can confirm that Cloud Mario is one of the greatest power-ups you will come across for a long time, good enough, in fact, to have its own game. The concept is that you can shake the remote and a cloud appears. You have three clouds for every cloud mushroom you collect and each one stays about for one minute after you create it. Many developers would make this idea seem ordinary but Nintendo craft some of the most beautiful levels you’ll ever see in a 3D Platformer, forcing you to judge every jump and think about them so as not to waste a cloud, all of which against the clock.
Another rush-inducing idea is that of the Cosmic Clones, one of the finest Miyamoto has had since the Jump button. The Cosmic Clone in the original raced you through the levels, Spooky Speedster-style, a gameplay element that is now missing, but not missed, as the following more than makes up for them. Instead, here a varying number of clone version of Mario make the exact same moves as he does, but a few seconds later meaning that you never get a chance to stop and plan how you kill an enemy or measure a jump- It’s the 3D equivalent of a scrolling screen and adds a mad panic element never before seen in games that also boasts three dimensions. It’s used sparingly, yet still manages to be a stand-out feature amongst the several hundred new ideas introduced.
And we haven’t even spoken about Yoshi. For many he’s the games’ big selling point- The loveable green dinosaur makes his Galaxy debut at long last, yet he struggles to make the headlines you’d think he would. As a power-up, Yoshi feels slightly ordinary. He only offers what we saw in 3D in Sunshine, and in 2D as far back as Super Mario World. As a mascot, Yoshi adds so much character to the game, making some star-collection scenes unbearably cute. Yet this is probably the only game you’d ever see us moan about Yoshi in: It’s just that in a game so packed with new ideas, while we’re very glad to be able to control him, and he works pretty well, without the extras it feels a little ‘Been there, done that’, yet if most other games had these levels, they would be stand-outs.
Moving onto those ‘Extras’, Yoshi can eat a variety of different types of fruit, all of which give him different powers. For example, the Blimp Fruit lets Yoshi float to higher places. While you’d think this is exactly the same as a number of other wind-blowing platforming fatsos, it handles very differently, leading to a unique challenge. Bulb Yoshi is another example of the same thing- The old idea of X Power-Up makes Y Platform appears, only done against the clock, with the key often being latching onto mid-air flowers at strategic points. The pepper makes Yoshi run really fast, making him harder to control, although he can run over water and up walls, leading to one particularly satisfying purple coins mission. During all of his transformations, (Bar the Blimp Fruit one) Yoshi can still use his flutter jump, long sticky tongue and other feature- He’s a power-up with power-ups, not the first time it’s been done, but it feels like something fresh just because it’s done so rarely.
Another thing that over developers struggle with is changes between 3D and 2D. Since the release of the first Galaxy, most platformers we’ve played have attempted a side-scrolling section at some point in the game, yet all of them feel forced or simply unnatural. Galaxy 2, however, switches seamlessly. Hell, there’s even a bit in which it goes to a top-down viewpoint and we didn’t notice until half way through the section we were playing a totally different style of game. The 2D segments tend to be gravity-based puzzles rather than reaction tests or well-designed obstacle courses and are treats. There are far more of them than in the previous game, and was the idea that got the closest to getting stale, only for Nintendo to introduce twist after twist on the idea after two levels of straight-up shifting.
The game is also packed with collectables- Comet Medal collecting will add an extra few hours on, as will the previously mentioned post-game surprise. There’s a new Bank Toad who holds up to 9999 Star Bits for you, in addition to the 9999 Mario himself can hold. Oh, and this time we’ve got a genuine incentive to hoover up the space gems, not that we’ll spoil it for you...
An amazing soundtrack also comes as part of the package. It sums up the dedication and love the development team put in, the speed and pace they created, the epic scale and imagination of the boss battles, (Some of which are, by the way, absolute magic) the frantic and slightly chaotic nature of some of the race-based or Cosmic Clone levels as well as the frustration and the strange glee that can’t help but radiate from the sequel level to Luigi’s Purple Coins. The music is, quite simply, awesome and not something anyone should be ashamed to have on their iPod- It whisks you away to another world, or more to the point, worlds.
Yet even when we look beyond Spring Mario, there are two negatives in the game, although they’re the kind of problems every game wants to have. The main gripe is that this is a sequel. That itself isn’t a criticism, although simply by coming a few years after the original much of the impact diving between worlds and the bits where you swim in a vat of water that itself is a planetoid is lost, as we have grown familiar with the game. We’ve also grown familiar with new ideas. Every platformer we’ve played since has seemed ordinary. You could say the Galaxy games have raised the bar, but what they’ve really done is killed all other competition to the point that we’ll struggle to enjoy any platform title quite as much as we did before, leaving us gawping even more for a slice of 3D Mario pie.
Reviewing a game like Super Mario Galaxy 2 is hard, because you have to stay focused on writing a decent, informative article, when what tends to pour out is a sudden gush of love for every single second we spent on that game. The passion we’ve grown to feel for the two Galaxy games outdoes any other. Quite simply, this is one of the greatest games of all-time. You owe it on yourself, you owe it on Nintendo, you owe it on everyone who’ll watch you play, you owe it on everyone you’ll end up recommending the game to and most of all you owe it on your face, the poor collection of muscles that has grown tired of pulling the same expressions day after day, to play this game and to experience the sheer joy of bounding free amongst the cosmos again.