Game trailer: Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Mario Galaxy, the Wii's best-reviewed game, has sold 8.6 million copies to date since 2007. New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a modern riff on 2D Mario games of old that came out just six months ago, has sold more than 14 million. Super Mario Galaxy 2 represents the second 3D mind-bending platforming he's gotten himself into since Super Mario 64, a game that is already looking at its 15th birthday.
The Wii has been slow to release many games, but incredibly busy at churning out Mario titles. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is Nintendo's fourth on the system, not counting Karts, Parties, and other spin-offs (we count Super Paper Mario). Is it overkill? Well, not when the gameplay and platforming are this satisfying and addictive. In fact, it would be great if Nintendo turned around franchise sequels this quickly a little more often.
No matter how few triple-A titles come to the Wii, its games like Super Mario Galaxy 2 that make those droughts of quality software tolerable. Not only is Super Mario Galaxy 2 an absolute must-have for Wii owners, it's quite possibly Mario's best adventure yet.
Though there's a lot of what we loved in the original here, the game improves upon its predecessor most notably by introducing brand-new galaxies to explore and ramping up the difficulty. This time Mario also has his dino-companion Yoshi at his disposal, and with that comes new moves and controls. Also new is the World Map navigation that past Mario games have popularized.
Level design has to be the title's most impressive trait; it's something aspiring gamemakers should be forced to play early on in their careers. Galaxy 2 provides subtle moments of brilliance and overwhelming environments and boss battles. The clever use of gravity-based antics shine right from the get-go and come into play more than ever before.
There have been more Mario games on the Wii than any other franchise, and though that might seem overkill for any other franchise on any other platform, we'd be happy to see Nintendo continue to pop them out this regularly. Not only are these games high on production value and sheer entertainment, they are timeless and completely accessible, appealing to gamers of any age.
What's different from the universe-spanning, gravity-bending 3D puzzle-gaming in the first Galaxy? Not a whole lot, just more great levels and clever ideas. There is a subtle but clear shift, however, toward ideas that seem more like Mario games of old: the world map now looks like the classic Mario overhead maps, complete with boss castles. The opening moments of gameplay are actually 2D, perhaps to guide in retro-minded gamers looking to not be intimidated by the 3D style of Galaxy. The storyline, already a bit of a joke (princess gets kidnapped, Mario beats bosses, princess gets saved), is glossed over this time to get right to the action.
What's wonderful about Super Mario Galaxy 2 is its sense of hidden areas, discovery, and its extremely confident sense of itself. We're sick and tired of Mario's creepy high-pitched voice, but darned if Nintendo doesn't commit to its somewhat weird vision of the Mario universe like a Disney attraction at full steam.
Level designs are all over the place: jungle hang-gliding using the Wii remote's accelerometer, undersea racing, overhead puzzle solving, and subterranean drilling are just a few of the surprises. Having Yoshi, the bubbly and ridiculous tongue-lashing dino-buddy of Mario, back for an encore is unnecessary, but levels using Yoshi have a target-shooting style all their own. No, none of this really makes any sense (after all, what is a "world" composed of a series of planets, anyway?), but it's a grab bag of quick and satisfying levels that's perfectly abstract and actually more challenging than expected.
The experience is primal, full of primary colors, and also decidedly unrealistic. If only more gamemakers would do the same. We wouldn't complain about a shortage of great Wii games if they all were this good.
Despite changes in technology and the underlying business of video games over the past two-plus decades, the basic tenants of Mario-ness have remained true to form. There are colorful landscapes, a familiar cast of characters, an emphasis on running, jumping, collecting--and, of course, rescuing the princess from Bowser (seriously, who's running the D.A.'s office in the Mushroom Kingdom? Haven't these people ever heard of "three strikes"?)
Perhaps the biggest change we've experienced over the years, 2D-to-3D aside, is that unlike the very first classic games for the NES, Mario now speaks. In fact, for a generation of gamers who grew up in the '80s, the effect (and this is far from the first game to have it) is a bit unsettling. We always imagined the burly plumber to have a thick Brooklyn accent; instead he speaks (admittedly rarely) in a high-pitched whine.
But that actually fits right into the broad thematic paintbrush of the game, typified, like most modern Mario games, by an kind of cultural infantilism. Characters speak in nonsensical gurgles and grunts that sound like baby talk, the onscreen dialog embraces juvenilia, and the design palette is made up of bold, primary colors that would not look out of place in a nursery. Even the first boss fight is against a just-hatched baby monster that seems to wear the remnants of its egg shell as a swaddling cloth.
This doesn't take away from the excellent design and gameplay of Super Mario Galaxy 2; if anything, it's a step forward from the already well-regarded original. The environments are varied and inventive, and clever touches such as a Mario-head spaceship or a level draped in darkness keep the things feeling fresh, even for a series that dates back more than a quarter century.
In fact, this embrace of youth may be the key to why Mario remains relevant while anthropomorphic rivals from Crash Bandicoot to Sonic have faltered. Rather than trying to hip up the franchise, it remains true to that original '80s NES experience; we all get older, but Mario and pals stay the same.
For a live demo of Super Mario Galaxy 2, check out this week's episode of preGAME!