As a huge Mario fan from way back, I jumped at the chance to review the original Super Mario Galaxy. Somehow, Mario always seems to reinvent himself while keeping true to the gameplay that made the franchise so popular. Galaxy took platforming and turned it on its head.
Galaxy 2 is one of the most direct sequels Mario has had, so will it still manage to be a breath of fresh air like Super Mario Bros 3? Or is it more of a remix like the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2? To tell this, you have to get past the cringe-inducing intro. Okay, Mario has always been a bit twee, but Bowser wanting Peach to make him a cake really is taking the Mario. Fear not, though: besides the opening and closing scenes, the story is completely forgotten, letting you get down to business.
Super Mario Galaxy was all about the game's insane sense of gravity and physics, and the sequel gets straight to the point of bending your sense of perception as the game changes from a 2D side-on playing field, to a top down perspective, to 3D and back again without skipping a beat. Like the last game there are moments where the sheer insanity of the level design completely stops you in your tracks. Levels range from super fun and flowing levels (usually the Castle levels) that are great to speed through, to levels such as Chompworks Galaxy where you have to figure out the best way to clear paths for rolling chomps (I thought they could smash through anything once off their chain). The levels are bite-sized with only a couple of stars each, so generally you don't mess around on the same level for too long. This is both good and bad as you won't feel intimate with any of the levels like the good old days in Super Mario 64, but it does feel very true to the older Mario 2D games.
Because of this, the gameplay suits those with short attention spans fine, and the game is very easy to fire up for a few minutes at a time. I would have liked to see each world hold an overall theme with levels expanding and evolving the overall concept; as it is, the levels feel like a bit of a mishmash. Super Mario Bros 3 was very clever at this: you had very memorable scenarios such as Sky World or Pipe World where each stage kept the overall theme but added different elements each time. When remembering where levels are in Galaxy 2, you can't really say 'Oh, that's a World 1 level'.
Of course, collecting stars is the aim of the game again. As previously mentioned, there are only a couple a worlds, but a huge amount of levels. These start off very easy, and even beating the game isn't much of a challenge with Bowser never putting up too much of a fight. However, collecting all the stars and hidden comet coins requires superhuman patience as you fluff a jump and get hit by a rock projectile hurled from an Octorok wannabe for the fiftieth time. A lot of the hardest stars occur when a comet passes a level, altering the level, often requiring epic speed-runs or legions of foes vanquished in an impossible time. There is a lot here for the hardcore if you are prepared to put in the hours. Unfortunately there isn't what I would call a proper hub in the game. In Super Mario 64, just messing around in Peache's castle could provide a welcome break between challenging stars, becoming somewhat homely.
The biggest problem with this game, for me at least, is that sometimes it feels too much like the first game. The odd level feels like a reject from the original game. While the game is indeed a lot of fun, it has lost a bit of its freshness, or 'wow' factor. Newbies will have endless fun leaping around an entire planet, or chuckling as a fireball you threw whizzes past for the third time. I already spent hours playing with the physics in the first game. Galaxy 2 does occasionally 1-up its predecessor, and flows from perceptive to perspective a little easier, but not enough to feel like a completely new experience to me.
Controlling Mario is very intuitive; the little guy usually runs just where you want him to and the controls are very responsive. Occasionally it can be hard to judge depth when butt-stomping a Goomba and the, perspective shifts occasionally mean you get your controls backwards, but the Wii-mote does an excellent job of keeping up with the constantly shifting angles and precision the level design demands. My only gripes are that the camera is never adjustable when I want it to be and Mario's spin maneuver can be a little bit annoying to pull off at times.
Graphically the game is charming. Sure, some of the technical limitations are even more obvious in 2010, but largely the quality artwork and level design trumps the hardware limitations. You always want to see what the next world looks like, and this is indeed the main motivation to power through the game. Music is where the game really comes into its own, though: the sound in this game is outstanding. Many favourite Mario ditties are spruced up and placed next to some fitting orchestral scores. If Mario's whooping doesn't put you off, this is a game you should play loud.
At the end of the day Galaxy 2 is exactly what most Nintendo fans wanted: another quality Mario title. There is enough here to keep you busy for ages, and the game is remarkably imaginative and fun. It was just never going to be as earth shattering as Mario 64 or the first Super Mario Galaxy. Galaxy 2 doesn't really do much new, or offer that much of a fresh angle over the last game - but it is a solid Mario outing with all the bells and whistles. I'm not sure if it's Game of the Year material this time around, but it's definitely an essential play through.