Super Mario Galaxy is undoubtedly one of Nintendo’s finest games in years, never mind on the Wii. It was a bit of a breeze if you’ve spent sickening portion of your life rescuing the princess from Bowser’s clutches, but no matter what criticism you level at Galaxy, very little sticks, because it’s so damned enjoyable. So, you have to wonder how Nintendo could expect to top it with a sequel.
The bizarre mechanics of running around and leaping and soaring between planetoids remains a marvellous idea almost three years down the road, yet much of the initial excitement comes from a mix of new and old power-ups. You don’t have to play far into the game to get your mitts on new Power Suits. Rock Mario behaves rather like curled up Gorons from the Zelda series, but it’s incredibly enjoyable steamrollering through a bunch of enemies and into large, breakable objects.
Cloud Mario is able to create a limited number of temporary platforms out of thin air. Early on, there’s little challenge to using this ability. Often you can fall back on long jumps to correct mistakes and leap to safety. Later on, though, you’ll have flashbacks to those perilous moments suspended above the abyss on Mario 3‘s donut platforms.
As well as suits, let’s not forget Yoshi. Yes, one of Nintendo’s most endearing characters makes a more than welcome return with a portrayal that almost, but not quite, exceeds the über-camp stint in Yoshi’s Story on the N64. While Mario is atop Yoshi, pointing the Wii remote targets his tongue, which doesn’t just lash out in a straight line. No, it twists and bends to guzzle down fruit and enemies.
Yoshi gains new abilities depending on what he eats, recalling the brilliant Super Mario World. It might sound like Galaxy 2 recalls a lot of moments from the past, which it does, but the nostalgia of more than two decades of Mario history is balanced out with just enough that’s new, making Galaxy 2 feel fresher and more vibrant than either of the New Super Mario Bros games.
You’ll get a real kick when you hear some of the reused themes from earlier games. Mario‘s music and sound effects are a familiar palette – gaming’s Star Wars, if you will – and it’s amazing how much of a rush you get from hearing reworked melodies that were long ago absorbed into your subconscious.
The first Mario Galaxy didn’t put up much of a challenge for experienced players, allowing you to acquire sufficient 1UPs early on to see you through the occasional tricky stage later on. Galaxy 2‘s first few areas are bustling with enemies and clever platform arrangements that, if you overconfidently barge into it, you’ll find yourself making pretty stupid mistakes. You really have to think about what you’re doing from the outset, rather than just coasting through the first few worlds whilst marvelling at the bold beauty of it all.
Like its predecessor, the sheer imagination expressed in each level is just astounding, and there are plenty of hidden areas to discover by pulling off special moves and playing around with the camera controls. One early level puts you on a frozen lake, and its easy to find yourself getting lost in that level without really trying to achieve anything, just staring at the fat plumber as he skates on the surface.
Mario has always been about fantastic platforming action, but his earliest adventures suffered from some exceptionally dull bosses. Later adventures have rectified that, perhaps none more so than the marvellous Yoshi’s Island. Even so, Galaxy 2 will take you by surprise with some of the delightful bosses (and mini-bosses) that await you.
It’s also amazing that Miyamoto’s team continues to add more amusing creatures to the cast. One of the early highlights is the Smeech, a bizarre creature that blows kisses and chases after Yoshi, firmly attaching itself to his face to stop you using his tongue.
Galaxy 2 could well be the finest 3D Mario game since Super Mario 64. Even the biggest letdowns are minor. The map screen stands out as the main gripe, presenting stages in a largely straight path from left to right through each world. Why not an explorable spiral galaxy arrangement to fit with the overall theme? It pales in comparison to the map in Super Mario World, which was intriguingly detailed for its time.
The lack of a hub as large as Super Mario 64‘s castle is also disappointing, so it’s just as well the actual gameplay is so much fun to help you overlook these. There’s a definite old school vibe to Galaxy 2 that will keep you playing for many hours on the false promise that you’ll play one more level to see what it’s like. The hours will fly past.
In the same way that many of us old-time gamers were hankering after Super Mario 64 on the Virtual Console, I expect that whatever takes the place of that service in 10 to 15 years from now, Mario Galaxy 2 will be one of its most popular titles.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.