Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Galaxy 2, more so than any game I’ve played, loves video games. It loves video games in their purest form, putting gameplay and invention above all else, and polishing it all to the greatest of extents. Galaxy 2 takes many of the bells and whistles of modern game design, and tosses them out the window. That’s not to say that Galaxy 2 is a backwards game – that couldn’t be any further from the truth – but where most of today’s games are trying to prove they are more than just video games, Super Mario Galaxy 2 proudly lets players know that it is a pure, unadulterated video game, and that in itself is a beautiful thing.

The original Super Mario Galaxy was a triumph of design that showcased Nintendo’s abilities at their most imaginative. Galaxy 2 is nothing short of Nintendo trying to outdo themselves at their best. They succeeded.

The game’s sense of control is identical to its predecessor, and it remains one of the most fluid control schemes in gaming: Mario’s movement is performed with the Wii remote’s nunchuck attachment, with the remote itself being used to perform Mario’s signature jumping maneuvers. A quick shake of the remote has Mario performing an ever-important spin attack, which not only stuns enemies, but gives a vital boost to Mario’s jumps. Additionally, the Wii Remote’s motion controls are used to collect Star Bits, which can be used against enemies with an onscreen cursor as well as collected to unlock additional stages.

While Galaxy 2 controls similarly to the original, it’s in its design and progression that Galaxy 2 becomes its own creation.

The hub world of the previous 3D Mario games is abandoned. In its place is the simpler Starship Mario, a mini-planetoid that humorously resembles Mario himself. Starship Mario works closer to a miniature playground for players to test out their abilities than a traditional hub like Mario 64’s castle or Galaxy’s Comet Observatory. Through Starship Mario players traverse a world map akin to the 2D Marios, giving Galaxy 2 a more instantaneous sense of progression.Super Mario Galaxy 2

Mario must still collect Power Stars, which he gains from completing missions within the game’s many levels (referred to here as “Galaxies”). These Galaxies mostly consist of linear series of planetoids that tinker with various levels of gravity, but some larger, more grounded open worlds as well as 2D stages also show up from time to time. Acquiring Stars never becomes tedious or repetitive, as Galaxy 2 is constantly throwing new ideas into the mix to keep the game fresh throughout its entirety, never slowing down with its restless creativity.

Throughout his adventure, Mario will race down giant tree trunks, traverse a haunted pop-up book, and compete in a series of mini-games against a blue chimp, to name but a few of the odd ventures Mario partakes in.Super Mario Galaxy 2

Even the stages that house multiple Power Stars feel wonderfully varied within their return visits. One such galaxy initially has Mario braving an obstacle course of moons while avoiding the maws of giant lava hippos, but the second time around the famed plumber must use one of the game’s power-ups to become a bowling ball and make his way through a bowling alley suspended in the sky. Galaxy 2 even finds the time to recreate events from some of Mario’s past adventures, and add its own spin on them to make them feel new all over again. Super Mario Galaxy 2 upstages even its predecessor with its wondrous sense of invention.

It isn’t just the level design that separates Galaxy 2 from the original, however, as new elements are added to the core gameplay to ensure the experience is its own.

The most obvious addition to Galaxy 2 is the return of Yoshi, who was better utilized here than he had been in any Mario game since his debut in Super Mario World. Yoshi not only has a more floaty jump to help Mario across more dangerous chasms, but he also provides the game’s best use of motion controls, as Yoshi’s whiplike tongue is controlled by pointing the Wii remote to gobble up enemies or interact with objects.

Super Mario Galaxy 2Yoshi even gets three power-ups of his own this time around: The Dash Pepper allows Yoshi to run so fast he can sprint up walls and glide on water. The Blimp Fruit causes Yoshi to turn into a balloon to float to out of reach heights. Finally, the Bulb Berry is one of Galaxy 2’s greatest gameplay innovations, as it causes Yoshi to illuminate dark places and reveal ethereal platforms, which slowly disappear as the effects of the berry wear off.

Although Yoshi is not present in every stage, his addition to the game is used to its fullest, and he adds an even greater depth and variety to an already deep and varied game.

Besides Yoshi, a plethora of power-ups add to the gameplay, with most of the first Galaxy’s power-ups making a return: The ever-present Fire Flower allows Mario to throw fireballs, the Bee Mushroom gives Mario small bursts of flight and the ability to climb honeycombs, the Boo Mushroom grants Mario the ability to float and disappear through walls, the Spring Mushroom wraps Mario in a coil that – although humorously muddling his controls – allows him to jump to greater heights, and the Rainbow Star gives Mario temporary invincibility.

Three new power-ups were introduced here, however, giving Galaxy 2 Mario’s best array of abilities yet in the long-standing series.

Super Mario Galaxy 2The Cloud Flower, Galaxy 2’s most prominent power-up, allows Mario to create three cloud platforms, which becomes an invaluable contribution in more challenging stages. The Rock Mushroom turns Mario into a boulder that crushes everything in its path. Finally, the Spin Drill is used to dig through and into the ground, adding a whole new layer to Galaxy’s wonderfully dizzying level design.

Some power-ups are found far more frequently than others, but much like the other aspects of the game, Galaxy 2 brings out the best of its toybox of power-ups with their every use. You’ll rarely be using them the same way twice.

Super Mario Galaxy 2Galaxy 2 outdoes its predecessor in two other key areas: One is the difficulty, which has been upped from Mario’s first intergalactic adventure. It’s never painfully difficult, but it has a more notable difficulty curve than the first game. Then there’s the boss encounters, which are far more frequent, creative and challenging than the first Galaxy, with a new and inventive boss fight seemingly around every corner.

Some may lament that Galaxy 2 undoes much of what the first Super Mario Galaxy did in terms of narrative. Although the original didn’t have an Earth-shatteringly new story, it displayed it with a much stronger cinematic presentation, and the character addition of Rosalina provided not only the series’ most fleshed-out character, but also brought a genuinely touching side-story to the table. Galaxy 2 abandons these concepts, with the story now being minimized to the point of self-parody. Rosalina’s role is also largely reduced, being more or less replaced by the cute but basic Lubba, who provides little to the game outside of some light humor.

Galaxy 2 may not match the first game in terms of it cinematic approach or heartfelt side-stories – with Bowser seemingly invading the Mushroom Kingdom and taking the Princess to outer space on a mere whim this time around – but the change is ultimately for the best. Simply replicating those aspects from Galaxy may have felt recycled, and introducing a new character with a similar story to Rosalina would not only feel rehashed, but it would cheapen what the first game accomplished with Rosalina. Galaxy 2’s insistence of pure gameplay over all else differentiates it from its predecessor, thus not cheapening either title.

Super Mario Galaxy 2In terms of presentation, it’s hard to imagine Galaxy 2 could look or sound better. The visuals were the absolute best to come out of the Wii, pushing its hardware to its limit and even improving on the sheen of the first game’s graphics with more colorful visuals, fun character designs, detailed environments and ridiculously fluid animations. Its soundtrack stands as one of the very best in gaming, using most of the orchestrated tracks from the first game with a host of new ones by Nintendo’s orchestra man, Mahito Yokota. Galaxy 2’s soundtrack perfectly combines a sense of awe and beauty while still sounding distinctly Mario.

To say Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a hefty package of gaming is an understatement. The main adventure alone will take close to twenty hours to complete. Long after Bowser is defeated there are secret levels to unlock and more Power Stars to find. And once you’ve gained that 120th Power Star (traditionally the series’ maximum since Mario 64), a whole new, more challenging goal is unlocked within the game’s stages.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a triumph of game design and imagination: It’s constantly inventing, reinventing and perfecting not only what the original Galaxy started, but the very foundations of the Mario series itself. It never stops introducing new ideas and gameplay concepts, keeping them long enough to showcase their brilliance but never letting one of them overstay their welcome. Galaxy 2 takes the blueprints of its brilliant predecessor, turns them upside down, and scribbles all over them, coloring outside the lines.

Super Mario Galaxy 2The Super Mario series has remained a consistent force in gaming since its inception, producing some of the most memorable and beloved games of all time. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is so full of invention and exudes such quality in its execution that it puts up a strong argument to being the best game in the illustrious series. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a celebration of video games, and the end result is not only the best 3D platformer yet made, it’s also one of the finest video games of all time.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a video game through and through, and because of that, it’s so much more.

 

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New Super Mario Bros. Review

New Super Mario Bros.

When New Super Mario Bros. was first released on the Nintendo DS in 2006, it was something special. It was the first Mario sidescroller in nearly a decade and a half. NSMB resurrected the core Mario gameplay in its purest form, introducing a whole new generation to the fun of Mario sidescrollers. It’s no wonder that New Super Mario Bros. would become one of the best selling video games of all time.

Nine years and three sequels later, and New Super Mario Bros. has reemerged through the Wii U’s Virtual Console. Although it remains a fun game, time has proven that New Super Mario Bros. doesn’t quite measure up to Mario’s greater adventures.

New Super Mario Bros. takes the Mario series back to basics. Sidescrolling stages are complimented by a world map, with a fortress and a castle waiting in the middle and end of each world, respectively. Toad Houses return, where Mario can gain additional lives or power-ups. True to the series’ lineage, the game has a grand total of eight worlds to traverse, though NSMB added an original touch by making two of those worlds optional.

New Super Mario Bros.The core gameplay remains largely similar to the 2D Mario’s of old, though Mario has retained some of the moves he learned in Mario 64 such as the triple jump and wall jump. Power-ups include the returning Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Starman, but New Super Mario Bros. also introduced three power-ups of its own.

The Mega Mushroom works like a more extravagant Starman, with Mario becoming an invincible giant who crushes anything in his path for an allotted time. The Mini Mushroom adds a fun twist to Mario’s power-ups by downsizing the plumber. Whereas the other power-ups make Mario more durable, the Mini Mushroom makes Mario even more vulnerable to enemy attacks. But Mini Mario also jumps farther, can run on water, fits in small spaces, and is required to unlock the aforementioned optional worlds, so it has its perks. The Blue Koopa Shell is New Super Mario Bros’ best addition to Mario’s arsenal, and it’s shocking it still has yet to make a return appearance in the series. Mario can withdraw into the Blue Shell to become an unstoppable force, bouncing off walls and plowing through enemies with ease.

The level design is fun and varied, with some later stages introducing fun gimmicks to keep things fresh. But it is with these levels that New Super Mario Bros. falls short of its predecessors. As fun as the game is, the stages lack the intricate challenge of Super Mario Bros. 3 or the boundless imagination of Super Mario World. The stages of New Super Mario Bros. boast the series’ trademark sense of polish, but lack the genius and creativity of Mario’s best.

New Super Mario Bros. also ranks as one of Mario’s easiest 2D platformers. You can get through the game in a few short hours with very little effort, with only the final world and some of the optional stages providing any notable difficulty.

The game’s real challenge comes from tracking down three Star Coins on every stage. The Star Coins become progressively more difficult to find, and in some later instances require some clever maneuvering in order to nab them. The Star Coins are used to open up branching pathways on the world map and gain access to the Toad Houses, so they’re necessary if you’re seeking one-hundred percent completion. Finding every last Star Coin adds some replay value to the package, but it’s a shame the stages themselves don’t have the depth to hold their own.

The game features some nice aesthetic touches, with the then-new 3D character models allowing for more dynamic animations than its 2D predecessors. The music, while one of the lesser Mario soundtracks, remains catchy nonetheless.New Super Mario Bros.

For those who want to take a break from the platforming adventure, New Super Mario Bros. also features an assortment of mini-games that provide some quick bursts of fun. A multiplayer Vs. mode is present in the game’s original DS incarnation, but absent from the Virtual Console release. It was a simple multiplayer addition, so its absence isn’t a game-breaking loss, but it is a downer nevertheless.

New Super Mario Bros. is still a very fun title for its tight gameplay and smooth progression, and it serves as a great introduction to Mario games for beginners. But for those who know what else Mario has to offer, there is a notable shallowness in its imagination. At the time of its original release we may not have noticed, we were just happy to see Mario return to his roots. But with a much meatier Wii U sequel available, and some of Mario’s best games at the ready on the Virtual Console, the nostalgia factor of New Super Mario Bros. can only benefit it so much. It remains an entertaining piece of game design, but it is humbled by Mario’s own past and future.

 

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Top 10 Video Game Duos

Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee, the Kickstarter darling from Playtonic Games, has already gained an impressive following for its ambitions to revive the 3D platforming genre of the N64 days. It’s also aiming to resurrect the old video game tradition of having two heroes share the spotlight. This got me thinking of some of the other great video game duos over the years, so I decided to compile a list of the top 10 twosomes in gaming.

The only real qualification for this list was that the two characters have to share in their adventures together. They can be two equal heroes or a hero/sidekick combo, but they have to both brave their adventures on a somewhat even level. Solid Snake and Otacon won’t be here, for example, because while Otacon may help Snake in some valuable ways, it’s usually from the sidelines.

Also, as much as I already love them, Yooka and Laylee won’t be here for the obvious reason that their game isn’t anywhere near release. Only established games for now.

Let’s get to it then. Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Duos”

Super Mario Kart Review

Super Mario Kart

When it comes to influential video games, there aren’t many that can match Super Mario Kart. This 1992 SNES classic not only created the kart-racing subgenre, it also helped shape multiplayer and party games from that point forward. Mario had appeared in games other than platformers before Super Mario Kart, but it is the game that made Mario spinoffs a ‘thing.’ Suffice to say it had an impact.

Despite its influence, the sheer fun and replay value that Super Mario Kart brought to the table is what has helped it endure. Its sequels may have added to the formula, but the original Super Mario Kart remains an impressive game even today on the Wii U.

Being the first entry in the long-standing series, Super Mario Kart represents Mario Kart in its purest form. It lacks the bells and whistles of subsequent entries, but in many ways it’s just as fun.

Players can take control of one of eight classic Mario characters: Mario and Luigi are well-balanced, the Princess and Yoshi have high acceleration, Toad and Koopa Troopa have better maneuverability, and Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. have the highest max speed.

Super Mario KartThe tracks in Super Mario Kart are considerably shorter than later entries (they are downright bite-size by today’s standards), but they are smartly designed. Items like banana peels and Koopa shells made their debut here, but they are much more limited than in subsequent games. It’s the tracks themselves that provide the real challenge, as they host a variety of obstacles that will test players’ racing skills.

Super Mario Kart is still fun to play, though the gameplay isn’t quite so smooth as its modern descendants. Sharp turns will often lead to spinouts, and steering in general feels less fluid than today’s Mario Kart. But when considering this was the pioneer of the genre, it’s a pleasant surprise that it still works as well as it does.

The game made use of the SNES’ “Mode 7” graphics, meaning that scaling and rotation were used on the game’s environments to give a more immersive, three-dimensional effect. It still works for the most part, and it’s pretty impressive how Nintendo used such simple effects to create such a precise racer. Though some of the rotation may prove a little dizzying for the uninitiated.

Super Mario Kart features four different modes: Grand Prix sees one or two players take on a host of computer-controlled characters in a series of races. Time Trial is one-player only, where racers try to beat their best times without the use of items. Vs. Mode is a one-on-one race between two players. Finally, Battle Mode remains one of the game’s highlight, where two players face each other in an arena and must use items to pop each others balloons. The player who pops all of his opponents balloons wins.

Super Mario KartAlthough these game modes are simple, they provide a strong sense of fun and remain addictive, making Super Mario Kart an easy game to return to. One downside is that, even when playing in single player mode, you are still playing within a split screen. Due to the game’s emphasis on multiplayer and technical limitations of the time, Nintendo had to leave the split screen present throughout. It may have had its reasons, but the limited screen space can become a bit of a distraction.

Super Mario Kart, although no longer the best entry in the series, remains a very fun and engaging title that is worthy of a revisit on the Wii U. It was a brilliantly realized concept that revolutionized multiplayer games and turned the Super Mario series into a more versatile franchise. Some of the technical issues are showing their age, but the experience is still a blast.

 

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