Super Mario Bros. games have always been a bit odd when it comes to sequels. While most franchises are willing to stick with a basic formula, the Mario franchise tends to add some variety to its sequels. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is odd in that it forgoes this formula. It is a direct and obvious sequel to the first game. At first blush, it has the odd implication of being a cheap cash-in, reusing a lot of assets from Super Mario Galaxy, but in this case, first impressions can be deceiving. Super Mario Galaxy 2 may be a straight sequel, but that doesn't stop it from having some of the best platforming action on the market and being a worthy addition to the franchise.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 almost completely ignores the idea of a plot. You're told at the outset that the game takes place in an alternate universe from Super Mario Galaxy, and that is about the closest that it comes to having an actual story line. Shockingly, Bowser kidnaps the princess, and Mario sets off to rescue her before Bowser enacts his dastardly plan. This time, Mario is aided by the Luma, who gift him with a spaceship shaped like his face, dubbed a "Faceship." He has to travel among the stars, searching out the lost Power Stars so he can make his way to Bowser's galactic fortress. There are no twists and turns to be found, and there are probably fewer than 30 lines of text in the entire game. You've just got a plumber, an evil turtle, and a princess to rescue. Sometimes, simplicity can be nice.
The gameplay in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is identical to that of its predecessor. If you've played the original Galaxy, you know exactly what to expect from the controls. Fortunately, the Super Mario Galaxy controls were top-notch, and there is little problem with sticking with what works. Mario controls silky-smooth, and all of the basic gameplay works wonderfully. Mario even retains the special spin move he learned in Super Mario Galaxy, allowing players to shake the Wiimote in mid-air to get a bit of extra height, or on the ground to damage enemies. Likewise, you can still use the Wiimote's pointer to aim at enemies and toss Star Bits to stun or weaken them. Those who were fond of Super Mario Galaxy's co-op ability will be glad to hear that it makes a much-needed return. A second player can use the Wiimote to assist the player who's controlling Mario. The features have been expanded a touch, allowing the co-op player to be more useful in defeating enemies. Super Mario Galaxy 2 remains a great co-op experience.
As in every 3-D Mario title to date, your goal is to collect 120 (and later 240) stars by going to various levels and completing objectives. One thing that changes in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is how you reach stages. The potentially confusing hub world from Super Mario Galaxy has been replaced by a traditional overworld map, like the kind seen in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Getting to a stage is as simple as clicking on a level. Those who are hoping for a free hub to explore will get Mario's Faceship, which slowly gathers new characters and power-ups as the game advances. It's nowhere near as large as the spaceship hub from the first game, but it makes for a nice area to toy around in, and it has a few secrets of its own. The change to the level selection is quite beneficial because it's a lot easier to find stars that you may have overlooked. This becomes important later on, as there are a ton of different stages in the game, many of which contain multiple stars or hidden Comet Coins that unlock bonus stages.
The biggest change to Super Mario Galaxy 2 is in the pure number of power-ups that Mario can obtain. Returning from Super Mario Galaxy are tools like the Bee Suit, Boo Suit, Fire Flower, Life Mushroom and Spring Suit, and they're joined by a bevy of new abilities. Drill Mario wields a giant drill that allows him to dig through soft ground and defeat robotic enemies. Rock Mario lets Mario turn into a giant boulder that can roll over enemies and sometimes function as a makeshift bowling ball. Cloud Mario is almost identical to regular Mario, except that he has the ability to create a cloud platform out of thin air at any time. This platform only lasts a short time but allows Mario to reach previously inaccessible locations. Mario can only make three clouds each time you get the power-up, so clouds should be created with caution. If used properly, you can skip huge chunks of a stage or find neat hidden areas. If Mario gets damaged or wet, his cloud power vanishes, which can be fatal if he's still in mid-air.
The real star of the power-up show is Mario's trusty dinosaur pal, Yoshi, who can be found in eggs that are scattered around the stages. Jumping on the egg releases Yoshi and lets Mario ride him around. Yoshi keeps most of his traditional moves; you lose the ability to spin-jump but gain Yoshi's trademark "flutter jump" to get to higher elevations. Yoshi's ability to eat anything is now guided by the Wiimote's pointer, replacing your Star Bit shooter. Point at something and click, and Yoshi will munch it down. You can even paint multiple objects at once to eat them in rapid succession. For fans of old-school Mario, you'll be glad to hear that you can even ditch Yoshi in mid-air to gain some extra height and jump over a pit. Yoshi also gets a series of power-ups that are completely separate from Mario's. Eating a red pepper turns Yoshi into an uncontrollable, but very fast, red version of himself, allowing you to run up walls and over water. A blimp fruit causes Yoshi to turn blue, swell up and float into the air. The lamp fruit makes Yoshi glow a bright yellow and reveals hidden platforms that are only solid as long as Yoshi's light is shining on them. Yoshi adds a really interesting touch to the game. If you look carefully from stage to stage, you'll find hidden Yoshi eggs to give Mario a boost in difficult areas.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 does a good job of improving on the already excellent level design from the original Super Mario Galaxy, due in no small part to the much greater number of power-ups. Since Mario and Yoshi have so many available powers, the game rarely repeats ideas. You may be collecting Silver Stars or trying to reach the end of the stage, but what you have to do in order to pull that off tends to feel unique and fresh. Some of the best stages are those that have nothing to do with power-ups at all. My favorite level focuses on controlled wall jumping. If you spin the Wiimote in this stage, Mario does his trademark spin and you cause the level to shift. In order to successfully travel around, you have to jump off walls and alter the stage mid-jump to continue. It's a relatively simple concept, but what made it stand out was that it showed up pretty later in the game. I had already collected over 100 stars, but I was still seeing new content and new stage ideas. Even in the original title, by the time I'd obtained 100 stars, I had started to see more repetitive gameplay.
The levels also feature a number of secrets. It's mandatory that you uncover some of these, as they lead to collectible stars, but others are simply bonuses. There are countless hidden 1-ups or treasure troves to reward players who explore carefully. Most of these are relatively minor treats, but they become important later in the game. Also quite interesting is the game's second playable character. As in Super Mario Galaxy, you unlock the ability to play as Mario's brother, Luigi, partway through the game. He'll show up in random stages and ask Mario if he can take over. If you agree, you'll play as Luigi, who is faster than Mario but lacks his precision control. Finishing a stage as Luigi unlocks a hidden time trial ghost, which gives players a rival to chase or a helpful tutorial if you want to see tips on how to get through the stage. Finishing the game allows you to play as Luigi permanently, so the player can switch between him and Mario at will. Collecting all 120 stars also unlocks a second half to the game, where players are encouraged to find another set of 120 Green Stars, which are scattered throughout the previously completed levels. These stars are more like a game of hide-and-seek than the level-oriented stars that you were originally tracking down, but they add a surprising amount of replay value.
While the level design is mostly top-notch, there are a few dud levels. Perhaps it's to be expected, but they're mostly holdovers from Super Mario Galaxy's own lackluster levels. The ones that stand out most are the few stages where Mario's traditional controls switch over to motion-controlled guided minigames. One of these, returning from Super Mario Galaxy, is a Super Monkey Ball-style minigame where you hold the Wiimote like a joystick and roll Mario around the stages. The other is a somewhat-awkward pair of stages where you have to fly a buzzard through obstacles by tilting the Wiimote up and down. As in the original Super Mario Galaxy, these stages feel a bit awkward and out of place. The control switch takes a moment to get used to, and it never feels quite as natural as the analog stick does. The controls are not terrible, but they're so much more finicky and stiff when compared to the rest of the game, so it really stands out. Fortunately, these stages are few and far between, and they're not bad at all — just less fun. One other minor frustration is that it's possible to end up needing to grind for Star Bits to reach some of the game's later stages. When I was at my last set of stars, I needed to earn over 2,000 Star Bits to progress. I managed to do this in under 15 minutes, but it felt like a rather pointless barrier to advancement.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a somewhat harder game than its predecessor, but there's no need for concern. The basic gameplay and mechanics are still simple and easy to learn, and the difficulty level is still reasonable. Things have been stepped up a notch from the previous title. Enemies are a little more aggressive, levels require a little more thought, and some of the stars can be more challenging to obtain. It certainly isn't a dramatic leap, and the game still remains accessible to players of all skill levels and ages. There are a few stages that will likely cause a fair share of lost lives, but there isn't a strict punishment for failing, so players should feel encouraged to try until they get it right. Perhaps most positively of all, there are very few sequences where death will feel like a result of bad design instead of player error, which helps keep the frustration down. Parents may want to pick up the second Wiimote to help their younger children, but that is far from necessary. Even a young children can pick up and enjoy Super Mario Galaxy 2, and the game maintains enough challenge so that adults will also find a lot to like.
Visually, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is basically indistinguishable from Super Mario Galaxy. A few minor things have been cleaned up here and there, but that's about it. In any other game, it would feel lazy to see so much reused. Fortunately, Super Mario Galaxy 2 reuses things in an interesting enough way that you're not inherently remembering the counterparts from Super Mario Galaxy. There are a few stages that tread the line a little too closely, such as a remake of a stage from Super Mario Galaxy where you're racing on a stage shaped like an 8-bit Mario, but they're fairly rare and have their own twists to keep it from being too bad. On the plus side, all of the new content looks great and is easily up to the high visual standard set by the original game. In one stage, it was really incredible to see a flaming dragon in motion as it eats and burrows through the planetoid on which you're fighting. Likewise, the soundtrack is top-notch, even though it contains its fair share of reused melodies from the original Mario Galaxy, which sounded amazing. The new tunes are also quite good, and each one fits the stages quite well.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a straightforward sequel, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. When it comes to Super Mario Galaxy's quality gameplay, more of the same is something to be praised. While Super Mario Galaxy 2 could easily have been a cheap cash-in with a few lackluster additional levels, it manages to be something more. It expands on the gameplay of Super Mario Galaxy and adds enough new twists and turns to feel like a full-fledged sequel. The new power-ups and levels work wonderfully together, and aside from a few early tutorial levels, I rarely felt like I was retreading ground that Super Mario Galaxy had already covered. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a solid sequel and one of the better Super Mario Bros. games on the market. If you own a Wii and you like Mario, you owe it to yourself to pick up this title.
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