[28 July 2010]
Nintendo arguably created platform games with Donkey Kong in 1981. Ever since, they have been pushing the boundaries of what platforming means. In many ways, throughout its history, Nintendo has succeeded in not just releasing successful titles but rather in releasing titles that have become gaming archetypes. Nintendo takes a lot of heat for an overall conservative approach to gaming, but games like Metroid: Prime, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy (not to mention the DS, Wii, and forthcoming 3DS) demonstrate that they are absolutely willing to take chances when they feel confident in the fun factor of the final product.
Super Mario Galaxy was thoroughly enjoyable, and the opportunity to revisit its mechanics in the same console generation is a treat. Miyamoto has claimed that Galaxy 2 was born of the development team having more ideas than could fit in the original.
Though Galaxy 2 was originally intended to be something of a remix, it apparently became clear at some point that there were enough fresh ideas for an all new game. Personally, I’m glad they made this choice. Rather than just revisiting old levels with new goals, players are treated to an entirely new adventure. In addition to new levels, players are treated to the reappearance of Yoshi, as well as new ability granting suits.
Yoshi has his own powerups that allow him to run up otherwise impossible inclines or float like a helium balloon. The Rock Suit allows you to chaotically bowl over enemies. As you can use it to create temporary platforms in midair, Mario’s Cloud suit brings its own possibilities for platform recklessness, particularly in vertically oriented levels. There’s something undeniably fun about saving yourself from plummeting into a black hole by throwing out a cloud to save yourself with it at the last second. My favorite, however, has to be the Spin Drill, which allows Mario to go so deep into the ground that he surfaces on the other side of whatever planetoid he’s on, like old cartoons where Bugs Bunny arrives in China by drilling through the center of the Earth.
As a whole, Galaxy 2 is more difficult than its predecessor, and for long-time Mario veterans, this change is welcome. There’s certainly enough fun to be had by all, but the coin limits required to progress in the game aren’t forgiving, and collecting all 120 of the Power Stars (242 if you take on the Green Star challenge, and the unlockable final galaxy) is certainly not an easy achievement. The journey to do so takes place through wildly inventive levels. Certainly there are the obligatory ice, fire, and desert worlds. But while the themes of levels tend to follow traditional Mario tropes, the mechanics within them are consistently fresh. Further there are also winks and nods to the previous 3D Mario games. For example, the Rainbow Road makes an appearance. Even the 2D classics are referenced in the game’s world map, which features as your avatar, the Mario head-shaped spacecraft on which you are traveling.
While the multiplayer offering on display in Galaxy 2 is a little meatier than in the original, it’s still clearly something of an afterthought. Frankly, those looking for a Mario experience that’s entertaining for multiple people already have New Super Mario Bros., not to mention a number of Mario-themed games that have been developed from the ground up with a focus on multiplayer, such as the Mario Kart and Smash Bros. titles. Core Mario platform titles, with the possible exception of perhaps the original Mario Bros. and the aforementioned NSMB, have always been best enjoyed with one player playing at a time, friends on the couch waiting for their turn notwithstanding.
If there is a minor complaint to be had, it’s with respect to the Green Star hunt that becomes available after collecting the main 120 Power Stars. The first Galaxy enticed completionists to play through the game again as Luigi, and with his loose, slidey controls, doing so was akin to a “hard mode”. Galaxy 2 places three Green Stars in every level that you’ve seen throughout the game. No doubt it takes some platforming skill to collect these items, but unfortunately it also requires far too much hunting, a mechanic that is woefully outdated in modern gaming. Again, as it’s an entirely optional section of the game, it’s a minor quibble. But it is worth noting, as it potentially affects the overall longevity of the title.
Fans of Super Mario Galaxy are sure to enjoy the sequel. In fact, as is par for the course with Mario games, it’s tough to imagine any gamer who wouldn’t enjoy something about Super Mario Galaxy 2. Once again, Nintendo demonstrates that mechanical polish, art direction, and level design can easily compete with bleeding edge graphics and other technologies when it comes to sheer fun.