Review: Super Mario Galaxy 2

Star-crossed: not quite super
By MITCH KRPATA  |  June 14, 2010
2.5 2.5 Stars

 

Super Mario Galaxy 2 | for Wii | Rated E for Everyone | Developed and Published by Nintendo
Say this for Super Mario: he still seems to be having a good time. So many video-game characters sink into despair and anger in their sequels, but not this guy. Mario refuses to be edgy. He remains cheerful and infinitely patient, embarking without complaint on yet another rescue mission when a saner man would have told Princess Peach that she could save her own hapless ass years ago. Mario is too busy running, jumping, and shouting "Wahoo!" to notice he's been trapped in an infinite loop now for years.

This game holds the distinction of being the first direct sequel in the Mario series to appear on the same platform as its predecessor since Super Mario 3 dropped for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1990. As a result, Galaxy 2 isn't the conceptual or technological leap that its predecessor was, or Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube, or Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64, or Super Mario World on the Super NES. It's more like an iteration.

Which is not to suggest that this one lacks ideas — quite the contrary. Rarely a level passes that it isn't throwing a curveball at you, introducing a brand-new play mechanic or subverting one you thought you'd mastered. The game is ruthless in the way it introduces new concepts, layers them onto existing ones, and then demands precise application of everything.

In classic series style, early levels are dedicated to demonstrating one aspect of Mario's move set. First it teaches you that his spin move will stun enemies, then it teaches you that spinning will add height to his jumps, and then it teaches you that spinning can trigger certain platforms for him to flip over. It's not until you're spinning for extra height while stunning enemies while flipping the platforms you need to land on safely that you realize the test has started.

This is also where the Super Mario series continues to confound. These games have acquired a reputation of being light and casual-friendly, something anybody can pick up and play. Yet, to advance in Galaxy 2, you must be willing to throw yourself at the wall over and over, until you break through. The approach is resolutely old-school, but it also recalls an age when games had little to offer in terms of length or story, so they settled for brute difficulty. A non-linear level layout and easy 1-ups help, but not as much as practice, practice, practice.

Being a Wii game, Galaxy 2 does offer a sop to the uninitiated, in the form of a unique cooperative mode. While one player controls Mario through all the hazards the universe has to offer, the other controls a little star that lives in Mario's hat. With just a star-shaped cursor, player two can pick up star bits (the game's currency), hamstring enemies, and retrieve coins for Mario. It's a much better approach than that of New Super Mario Bros. Wii (whose merciless two-player mode I thought might threaten my marriage), but it's not without its own drawbacks. Have you ever tried to navigate a spinning walkway over a black hole while someone was waving a light in your face?

Make no mistake, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a game-design clinic. In spirit, it's no different from the first Super Mario Bros., which is now 25 years old. Rescuing the princess is incidental. The point is pure play — it's all about moving through virtual space to reach a destination. The graphics have improved, and Mario wears more funny hats these days, but at heart he hasn't changed at all. That's the attraction. It's also the problem.

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