These little stars of mine, I'm gonna let them shine.
Sometimes I wonder how Mario keeps his ego in check. He's arguably the world's most famous mascot, has starred in over 200 games over the years, and regularly saves a beautiful princess from hordes of angry turtles, moles, bullets, mushrooms, plants, and other animate objects. It's a wonder he stays so humble that the only words he ever speaks are the occasional “Yes!” and “Yahoo!”. Probably because his day job is still fixing toilets.
Anyhow, the fame might finally be going to his head — quite literally, in fact. For the sequel to 2007's Super Mario Galaxy
, the titular plumber strays away from the hub world structure that's been the standard for his 3D adventures in favor of the more old-school world map to get around. And he travels from level to level on Starship Mario, a somewhat unsettling craft designed to look like a giant disembodied Mario head.
This would normally be the part where I give a rundown of the story, but it's so bare-bones - even for a Mario
game - it's hardly worth it. Suffice it to say that Peach gets kidnapped again, Bowser steals stars, and you have to chase him around getting them back. Bet you didn't see that one coming... Curiously, Bowser likes to shout things about Mario “getting in the way of his master plan”, when at no point in the game does he ever reveal what that plan is. Super Mario Galaxy 2
doesn't even make a direct reference to the events of its predecessor; just don't expect a story and you won't be disappointed.
The loss of the familiar hub world is unfortunate and helpful at the same time. On one hand, there's less charm in simply hopping from level to level instantly than running around a central structure searching for the entrance to that next world. On the other, SMG2
has a more streamlined play experience, efficiently and immediately delivering you into the thick of the gravity-defying action.
The original Super Mario Galaxy
was flat-out amazing. The gameplay built upon the foundations established in Super Mario 64
while adding truly interesting physics and gravity effects to bring 3D Mario to a whole new level. This sequel is one in the truest sense, delivering the exact same gameplay and only adding something new in the form of more galaxies, a few powerups, and everyone's favorite human-sized dinosaur with a meter-long tongue, Yoshi
For instance, the lovable Lumas are still around - they still have an insatiable appetite for star bits and still turn into new planets and galaxies when you feed them. At times I turn philosophical when I think about them: Does a Luma still have consciousness after turning into a planet? Is it more of a birth, or a death? Alas, Nintendo ignored these existential dilemmas
two and a half years ago, and they continue to today.
It's a testament to how wonderful the formula is, really, that Super Mario Galaxy 2
can forgo even an attempt at innovation and still be one of the most addictive games of the year. The bright and colorful graphics are just about the same as they were nearly three years ago, and they're still some of the best on the Wii. The soundtrack is exceptional, borrowing some tunes straight out of its predecessor but adding some really catchy orchestral compositions on top of them.
Fans will appreciate having Yoshi around for a good number of levels, and he's the closest thing this game has to new gameplay. That being said, the Yoshi levels jump out at you more for the “Look! I'm riding Yoshi!” novelty than for blowing your mind with something you've never seen before.
If there's one area where SMG2
falters, it's the bosses. The original had a variety of boss fights that were fun, if not overly challenging. Here the bosses are fewer, less memorable, and even easier to stomp on than before. Even the final Bowser fight
is almost a carbon copy of the previous encounters with him. It seems like even Nintendo realized this, as one of the later galaxies is simply a gauntlet of the old bosses from SMG
But thankfully bosses aren't a highlight of Mario games — we play them for platforming nirvana, and SMG2
stands triumphantly alone. Not only is the 3D platforming everything you'd want it to be, but there are excellent 2D segments that pop up just frequently enough to be refreshing and nostalgic without ruining the overall feel of the game. Nintendo has made platforming into an art form, and they're at the top of their game.
Even better, SMG2
is significantly longer than the original so you'll be spinning and long-jumping around for weeks. Whereas SMG
added cheap replay value by having you play the same game over as Luigi, SMG2
gives you the option of playing as Luigi relatively early and doubling the usual amount of stars to collect instead.
Collecting 120 stars is no simple task, but once you've achieved that goal, the game throws the green star challenge at you, adding another 120 emerald-hued stars to all the levels in hard-to-reach places. Rather than the regular stars which usually require you to just finish a level, the green star challenge plays out more like a scavenger hunt. And after you've collected those, one final ultra-hard galaxy opens up with two more stars, bringing the total to a whopping 242.
There are some negatives in this package, but don't misunderstand me — it's my job to point them out. Despite the lack of innovation and weak boss fights, Super Mario Galaxy 2
is easily a must-have for the Wii. I kind of hope that the next game will bring Mario back down to Earth, because if he gets any bigger and better, we may need a whole galaxy instead of a floating head-ship to house his ego.