There is no game like a Nintendo first party game. You can try to deny this, but you're not fooling anybody. No matter your genre of choice, there remains something almost indefinably pure and gratifying about sitting down to an experience that has been meticulously, lovingly designed simply to be fun. You remember fun, don't you? That Super Mario Galaxy 2 provides just such an experience should come as no surprise.
I don't wish to go too deep into spoiler territory with my first impressions of Super Mario Galaxy 2. So skip the rest of this sentence if you don't want to know that the whole story is set in motion when... Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach! Shocking, I know. I apologize if I've given away too much.
Bowser, who is really, really big this time around, nabs our fair Princess and high-tails it to the center of the galaxy. Needless to say, only one man can save her.
The story-book sequence that begins the game also functions as a bit of a tutorial, with players controlling Mario as the scene plays out. You won't have mastered all of Mario's moves by the end of it, but you'll be running and jumping and spin attacking proficiently.
Right away, you've got to notice how good this game looks. Everything looks sharp and smooth and animates fluidly. Textures boast a lot of detail, lighting is dynamic, and everything looks nice and glossy. Galaxy 2 is a great looking game, and not just for the Wii.
The score, too, is consistently charming as it ebbs and flows through the game. Pleasantly orchestral, it dynamically frames the action when Mario faces off against his enemies.
Though it doesn't greatly surpass the bar set by Galaxy 1, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is both technically sound and aesthetically attractive. It should flat out embarrass developers who've never spent the time to make their Wii titles look half this good. But, as everyone knows, Mario titles aren't really about looks. Mario is all about gameplay.
Controlling Mario in Galaxy 2 is exactly like controlling Mario in Galaxy 1. Which is to say, the control is perfect. Mario is agile and responsive. Though the game is designed to be playable with just the simple run and jump controls, the Triple Jump, Long Jump, and (especially) Backward Somersault really allow players a measure of creativity in how they tackle the game's many challenges. Motion control is kept to a minimum - shaking the Wii Remote while on the ground will execute Mario's Spin Attack. In the air, it gives a little extra boost to Mario's jumps.
So, Mario's controls really haven't changed from the first game. The same can not be said for the Co-Star Luma, controlled with just the Wii Remote by a second player. In addition to the Star Bit collecting/firing abilities carried over from Galaxy 1, player 2 can now grab Coins as well as certain power ups, and even defeat some enemies. Playing as Co-Star Luma is much more fun, and much more useful, this time around.
There is a third character to control here, as well. Mario's sage companion, friendliest of the friendly dinosaurs, Yoshi finally makes the scene in Galaxy 2. Yoshi makes effective use of the Wii's control scheme. He will try to eat whatever you identify with the Remote's pointer. Whatever he can't eat, he'll smack with his tongue. If his mouth is full, he'll spit the contents wherever you point.
In an early level, Yoshi eats a pile of hot peppers, which cause him to take off like the proverbial bat-out-of-the-bad-place. While pepper powered, Yoshi can run straight up the sides of some platforms. In this state he's harder to steer, he'll fall if he hits an obstacle, and you can't make him stop.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 largely takes place on a series of small planetoids and abstract, hovering platform constructs. The genius in this approach is that there is no need for anything that doesn't directly play into the design of a level. Everything serves a gameplay purpose. Exploration, platforming, collecting, conflict -- every aspect of Mario's gameplay is thoroughly exploited by the level design.
Mario's designers are an inventive bunch, and right from the very beginning of the game, anywhere you think there might be something hiding, be it a Coin, an extra life, or a pipe to a bonus stage, there almost certainly is.
This is good, because you're going to want to find all the Coins and Star Bits that you can. In the economy of the game, one hundred of either will earn you a free Mario. But Star Bits can also be traded for power ups or even bonus levels.
Gotta Find 'Em All
Each world houses one or more Power Stars that Mario must find in order to continue his quest. These can be waiting at the end of the level, or awarded for beating a boss. Some of them are flat-out hidden and require no small amount of work to acquire.
Finding Power Stars in the main crux of the game, and I know many people (myself included) won't be happy until they've found them all. That said, you don't actually need to find every star in every stage to progress through the game.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 forgoes the hub world of the first game in favor of a simple map. Between levels, Mario returns to his planetoid spaceship. That the ship looks like a giant, landscaped version of Mario's own head seems not to be a problem for our heroic plumber.
The ship serves many of the same functions as the overworld in Galaxy 1. Toads deliver mail from the captured Princess. Suits and characters you've encountered in your journeys come along for the ride. Playing around on the ship can be fun, and no doubt will prove rewarding later in the game.
Though I'm only a few galaxies into the experience, I have had a chance to play with a few of Mario's new suits. The Cloud Suit allows Mario to create a limited number of cloud platforms (available clouds appear as little puffs that trail Mario) that dissipate after a short time. The cloud platforms can lead through the level, or be used to find secret areas. But beware -- dip one of Mario's toes in any kind of water, and it's bye bye Cloud Suit.
Rock Mario, on the other hand, is all about destruction. Once Mario has partaken of the Rock Mushroom, a quick shake of the Wii Remote transforms him into a kinetic wrecking-ball, smashing everything in his path. This is useful for destroying bad guys and obstacles of all kinds, not to mention opening paths and battling mini bosses. Like Hot Pepper Yoshi, Rock Mario is a little tough to steer when he's on a rampage.
There is no point in trying to compile a complete list of all the different kinds of gameplay I've encountered so far in Super Mario Galaxy 2. There are simply too many to adequately describe. Certainly I've seen my share of standard Mario platforming, in both two and three dimensions. I've also solved puzzle boxes, taken part in a crate destroying challenge, used a bird as a glider, drilled through planets, piloted a pepper-fueled Yoshi, and ice skated.
The furious pace at which the game reveals fresh ideas and novel mechanics is a marvel to behold. The transition from one style of gameplay to another is almost free-associative, but every idea is refined, complete, and polished. This is Nintendo at their very best.
It's been a long, long time since we've gotten two full-on, triple-a Mario games in a single console generation. Playing Super Mario Galaxy 2, one gets the clear feeling that the developers simply couldn't contain themselves. That, once started, they just couldn't quit. Lucky for us.
Though I'm still in the early stages of the game, I have no reservations in recommending it. Super Mario Galaxy 2 looks great, plays great, and comes packed with ingenious variety. It's a guaranteed good time that just may remind you why you started playing videogames in the first place: sheer, simple fun.
But I know I'm not the only one playing Super Mario Galaxy 2. What do you think of it? Is there anything you would change? And how can Nintendo possibly top this?
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is available now, exclusively for the Nintendo Wii.