Where do you begin when talking about the Super Mario franchise and what it's brought to video gaming over the years? The series has single-handedly defined Nintendo and its consoles over the past 25 years and is showing no signs of slowing down at this point. The original Super Mario Galaxy introduced so many new gameplay facets to the series and found ways to make use of the Wii's unique controls that perfectly exemplified what Nintendo's entire gameplay system was all about.
Now Nintendo has taken that basic formula and attempted to squeeze in as many new gameplay iterations as possible to form a worthy sequel to their original Wii hit. Gamers that thought they'd seen it all in the original Super Mario Galaxy are about to find out just how many stops the developers at Nintendo can pull out when they set out to create the ultimate sequel.
At first glance, the actual construction of Super Mario Galaxy 2 very closely resembles that of the first Wii release. Many of Mario's moves remain intact, but rather than just toss in a few token new moves to mix things up, the developers have inserted an absolutely staggering number of new gameplay twists for our fiery plumber to use, as diverse as the ability to create and climb a series of clouds to the power to turn Mario into a thundering boulder capable of smashing his way through areas not normally accessible. And the moves themselves are only the beginning of the surprises Nintendo has in store for you, as the mechanics strung throughout the levels themselves are every bit as unique and playable, maybe even more so than its stellar predecessor in some cases.
Of course, fans of Mario's green dinosaur sidekick are in for a treat as well, as Nintendo has not only introduced Yoshi into the Super Mario Galaxy universe, its also created quite a few unique gameplay moves and special powers for him as well. Everything from using his trademark tongue to grab items and enemies to using it to swing to previously unreachable areas throughout the various levels created specifically for him. The controls even manage to take on a different feel when you're aboard Yoshi and, when combined with the unique challenges of his levels, you've got a very nice change of pace that will continue to keep on popping up throughout the game.
The basic goal is to collect the Power Stars located somewhere in each of the game's levels, or galaxies. Many galaxies even have multiple stars that you can go back and retrieve after you've nabbed the initial star. You'll need certain numbers of stars in order to progress on to the next galaxy in most cases, so there will be times when you'll be forced to go back to previously played galaxies in order to pick up additional Power Stars. Instead of the large hub world of the first game, Nintendo has chosen to go with a more streamlined world map reminiscent of the Mario games of old; while a lack of this hub might seem like a bit of a sad omission at first, you'll soon come to appreciate the quick and intuitive feel of the world map. It also tends to make going back for other Power Stars a lot faster and easier for those looking to jump into levels with the least amount of hassle.
As you progress through the game, you'll learn new techniques around every corner. At times it feels like there is no end to the sheer number of control finesses the developers have been able to squeeze into the game. If you thought the level designs in Super Mario Galaxy were a bit too predictable and lacking in challenge, you're going to love the far more intricate level layouts and higher degree of difficulty found here. Not only that, but there are more enemies, more bosses and in general a much more intense pace to this sequel that will challenge even the most seasoned platformer fans. And if you thought the boss fights in Galaxy 1 were fun, you haven't seen anything like the ones in this adventure.
Like the first go-round, Nintendo has found a way to include a second player in all of the fun by allowing them to take control of a Luma Star using a second Wii Remote. While the second player won't be able to actively move the Luma around, they will be able to use its cursor powers to gather up Star Bits, not to mention stun and defeat enemies as a means of helping Mario out along the way. New for the sequel is the ability for the second player to grab pickups (coins, for instance) from around the stage and pull them to Mario. It might seem like a rather trivial inclusion, but it's still a nice way to involve another player without taking too much away from the single-player experience at hand.
To say that the actual controls of Super Mario Galaxy are smooth and responsive would be a gross understatement. Not only is executing the basic set of Mario's moves a breeze, but the developers have managed to give Yoshi a feel all his own and somehow find an extremely enjoyable way of using his trademark tongue to take the game's already solid gameplay engine to new heights. It's certainly nice to see that they didn't try to force his gameplay variances into the system without taking the time to get it right. When you combine these spot-on controls with the higher degree of challenge and far more devious level layouts, you get a game that's absolutely overflowing with playabilty and it just seems to get better and better the further in you delve. It's easily one of, if not the most playable first-party Nintendo titles ever created and one that will keep you glued to your television for weeks.
As if it weren't enough to fill Super Mario Galaxy 2 with loads of new gameplay ideas, the developers didn't exactly skimp when it came time to put the visuals together for the game. It still retains much of the look the original featured, but there seems to be a lot more polish to the levels, especially the scenery in the backgrounds. The enemies and characters themselves are also equally impressive, and it's nice to see many familiar faces from Super Mario releases of old strung throughout the game. While there will inevitably be those who still complain about the game not featuring HD visuals, you can't deny the overwhelming graphical charm and detail marinated into the game, and its quite clear that Nintendo know just how to squeeze every single inch of visual processing power out of the Wii console and put it to good use.
The musical score has long been a trademark aspect of the Super Mario series and this release is no exception to that rule. You'll find not only many of the classic tunes of past Super Mario releases, but a staggering number of new ones to enjoy as well. Everything from big band swing to tracks with a slight country twang to them, they all work in harmony to set the mood for each of the various themes throughout the game's many levels. Even many of the sound effects harken back to the 8- and 16-bit era Super Mario Bros. games and have never sounded better being played through the Wii console's Dolby Pro-Logic II surround sound capabilities. As solid as some of Nintendo's first-party offerings have been from an audio standpoint, you won't find a better show-off title than this one. It's even better than many of the audio presentations found on competing consoles.
It's abundantly clear that the team behind Super Mario Galaxy 2 weren't trying to re-invent the wheel when it came time to put this sequel together. Instead they basically took everything that was great about the original Super Mario Galaxy and made it even bigger and better. Truth be told, it's nearly impossible to find even one small thing to gripe about, and believe us, we tried. Every once in a while a video game comes along that's just so spectacular that it ends up defining the very system it's released on and raises the bar by which all other games in the series and genre will be judged. It's safe to say that game has now arrived on the Wii console. Consider the bar officially raised.