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.
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.
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.
Yoshi 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.
The 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.
Galaxy 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.
In 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.
The 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.