What do the stars hold for our favorite plumbing protagonist in the Super Mario Galaxy 2 Frankenreview?
Mario's back, and for the first time in a long time it's not a whole new game. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a follow-up to the original Super Mario Galaxy from 2007, featuring many of the same game play elements that made that title such a success, plus a few new suits and tricks to keep players from getting that 'more of the same' feeling often associated with direct sequels.
Video game reviewers generally adore new proper Mario titles. How do they handle a not-quite-as-new one?
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is largely more of the same, and that helps make it a phenomenal experience. Nintendo didn't reinvent the formula. Instead, it took what fans loved about the prequel and then jazzed everything up with never before seen galaxies, planets and a more streamlined user interface. Gamers wanted Yoshi. It gave them Yoshi. They asked for new suits, and the company delivered Cloud Mario and other surprises. The story's still the same, as Bowser once again kidnaps Princess Peach, but let's face it. No one purchases a Mario game for the plot. They want all new levels, which Super Mario Galaxy 2 offers in spades.
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Galaxy 2 is all about the platforming. And just like the original, the sheer amount of imagination present in every galaxy, mini-game and boss fight in Galazy 2 is staggering. As you progress through Galaxy 2's celestial selection of platforming playgrounds, no two experiences are quite alike and - as is traditional with Mario games - it's full of surprises. One moment you'll be buzzing around a 2.5D honey maze as Bee Mario... then you'll be whisked off to a Pepper Dash Yoshi race course in the sky... followed by a grin-inducingly epic boss fight with a skyscraper-sized flying dragon. When it comes to core games, Nintendo really is the master of keeping a smile on your face.
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That's not to say that SMG2 is completely bereft of new ideas. The game adds a few new power-ups like the Rockshroom, which lets you roll around as a boulder (think Goron mask from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask), and the Cloud Suit, which lets you create clouds so you can climb to great heights and span great distances. The best new power-up isn't new at all; you can finally ride Yoshi, and adding Mario's dinosaur friend to the Galaxy formula works surprisingly well. The pointer locks onto a target and the B-Trigger extends Yoshi's tongue. Yoshi himself gets a series of power-ups, such as a chili pepper that makes him uncontrollably fast, a blue berry that makes him float, and a yellow fruit that turns him into a light to see in the dark.
The difficulty is all over the place. You'll be able to attain many of the stars in a try or two, but some are absolutely devilish—requiring pinpoint precision and exacting play. With so many bottomless pits working in conjunction with far too many variables, you'll find new ways to lose lives with every restart. It's a good thing that finding extras is so easy. You can obtain several with every trip back to the ship, and most of the more difficult stages will have a 1up mushroom placed somewhere within easy reach. The ones that don't will test your mettle, and don't be surprised if you lose 20 lives or more before finally nailing them. The prankster comet stages are like an abusive relationship.You'll endure punishment over and over again, yet you keep coming back for more. Speed runs and timed coin challenges in levels you have problems just completing the first time around are absolutely brutal.
The Mario name represents one of the most potent payloads of nostalgia in video games, something that Galaxy 2 certainly taps into, but it does so with a fairly surprising amount of restraint, and in ways that ultimately benefit the finished product. In full throwback fashion, the game will fluidly switch between full 3D movement and pseudo-side-scrolling action as the levels demand it. There are Boo houses, there is a giant world, and there are full-level homages to Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, the latter of which is (arguably) better than anything that was actually in Super Mario Sunshine.
The world did not need another Super Mario game already. But if that is what freed the designers of Super Mario Galaxy 2 to run wilder with their imagination, then let's have more unnecessary Mario games. This new one is tougher, more fantastic, more devious, and more varied. It may, at times, be too bombastic and too impressed with its own difficulty, but those are slight faults. It is a joyful jungle gym with something different at every leap. It's a happy game designed to make you curse, but also designed well enough to make you try and try again. It showcases Mario in some of his best 3D and 2D missions to date.
I just hope this reaction doesn't hamper innovation!