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With sequels, it’s easy to get a feel of what to expect – more of what its predecessor offered, while improving on aspects that didn’t pan out the way as the developers intended. This is usually, if not always, the case. With Super Mario Galaxy 2, you won’t know what hit you. It’s a freight train of surprise, a paroxysm of ingenuity, an endless stream of balls-out craziness. There probably won’t be a better game this year. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is really frickin’ amazing.
It starts ever so predictably. Peach is kidnapped, Bowser’s going to break the universe and Mario’s going to stop all this nonsense with starship that reflects the exact size and dimensions of his ego. The lack of effort gone into the narrative is laughable and it seems like Nintendo was aware of how they tried even less with weaving any kind of yarn, because a lot of the dialogue in the text reflects a kind of humor that just screams “We don’t care. Shut your face and play our damn game instead.”
And it plays great. Mario controls just like he did in the first game, which is to say, he controls perfectly. His speed, jump height, acrobatic moves and so on all feel spot-on and precise. It’s what the game uses to build its levels from and level design is what defines Super Mario Galaxy 2.
To specify with examples would spoil some of the genius parts of the game, but in vague generalities? Amazing. Phenomenal. Unbelievable. Awesome. What the #$@!? Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a smorgasbord of ideas, a relentless assault on the mind, where it plays with perspective on a frequent basis and throws something new your way throughout the entire game. Every single star requires you to have fun. There’s no other possible way to get them.
It’s a fickle game, rarely sticking with one concept for too long before it moves onto something else, because it just wants to have fun. There’s no real rhyme, reason or coherence to the flow of a level. You’ll be skating around a frozen moon, launching off to a sun with lava hippos, play a game of bowling and then drill your way to the other side of a planet within a matter of minutes and sometimes all within the same level. It’s absolutely nuts and Super Mario Galaxy 2 loves to revel in its madness. This is a game that’s designed to make you feel empty when not playing it and it’s so eager to send your state of mind into pure ecstasy that it practically does it by the sheer blunt force trauma of its craziness.
It’ll toss in a new gameplay concept without a single text blurb explaining what you need to do, because the game manages to present scenarios and subtly build on some of the few foundations it decides to keep. This is no easy feat and it’s impressive just how easily Nintendo seems to do it like it’s no problem. It’s as if they’ve been doing this for decades. Oh. Wait.
Really, the only elements of the game that aren’t a complete surprise are the new suits and Yoshi. The Cloud Flower lets you summon three cloud platforms at a time, the Rock Mushroom turns you into a boulder and the drill lets you drill your way from one end of a planet to another. Its applications are straightforward and basic when first introduced, but soon after, they wind up showing up in the strangest places and scenarios. Cloud it up in a plane of lava? Doesn’t make sense? Who cares? The power-ups are used sparingly, with most of the game revolving around basic Mario, making these power-ups and your dinosaur companion jolts of entertainment to a game that’s always peaking on the fun meter.
Yoshi too is mostly around the periphery, but when used, he’s given the same care and slavish devotion to being totally crazy and fun that the rest of the game is given. Yoshi’s power-ups are used just as sparingly, with entire levels built around the usage of a new power, only to see them appear a handful of times throughout the rest of the game. The power-ups and Yoshi mostly serve to instill the game with another bucketful of variety and with a game that’s already so unpredictable about what it’s about to do next, trying to get a read on what Super Mario Galaxy 2 will do next is like trying to figure out how many licks it’s going to take to get to the center of a tootsie pop. You’ll rarely ever be right.
The new assist tool, the Cosmic Guide, which was introduced in New Super Mario Bros. Wii is fully present in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Die enough times and the game will be played for you, but you’ll wind up receiving a bronze star for giving in. As much as this reeks of Nintendo reaching out for even more accessibility, the Cosmic Guide seems like it was the excuse to make the game harder than its predecessor, because the bump in challenge is very noticeable after you leave the first world. The sequel’s busier; there’s a lot more obstacles to consider and absorb, a lot more platforms that are melting, falling apart or disappearing and jumps that are much more precarious than the ones seen in Super Mario Galaxy. That palm-sweating-hold-your-breath tension is a constant in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and it’s a real oddity to play a challenging game from Nintendo after its newfound success with the Wii, but hey, we’re not complaining.
For a game that looks relatively the same as its predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is still a gorgeous game. It’s a game that looks great by any standard; its colors are bold and vibrant, the animation work into everything is nothing short of perfect, and levels are built with technical and artistic precision. Even though the game ever rarely makes visual sense or retains any visual consistency from level to level, all of it is filled with a sense of vibrancy, life and most of importantly of all, identity that games on more technically capable hardware seem like often lack.
Super Mario Galaxy 2’s soundscape is just as outstanding. It’s been given the same orchestral treatments that its predecessor received and the results are bombastic, epic and still very strangely Mario. All of the orchestral compositions just seem to fit and this is something that just sounds straight-up weird in theory, but absolutely makes sense in practice. It’s a wonderful game to listen to and the game’s presentation as a whole reeks of the high-quality polish that permeates Nintendo’s best games.
After completing the 71 star quota to reach the credits, there’s still another world and another 49 stars to go. Most of these you’ll find as you retread previous galaxies, but prankster comets change up scenarios, make objectives harder or introduce entirely brand new ones. It’s a game that’s just as good as it was when it “ended” and it’s even harder. There’s just too much too love.
The big question now is: Where the hell does Nintendo go from here? They’ve done a fine job of making Super Mario Galaxy look like a basic template compared to the epic canvas of energy and creativity of Super Mario Galaxy 2, but now what? If there’s one company that can do it, it’s Nintendo. After all these years, after all the same kidnappings, the same antagonist, the same little plumber, Nintendo’s managed to establish Mario as one of the best time and time again and Super Mario Galaxy 2 represents one of his finest installments. A paragraph of neither niggling nor major criticisms exist in this review, because there’s nothing to really complain about. Well, there’s that one part when the camera was kinda annoying for, like, a second… and… yeah. That’s about it.