It's What we've all Seen Before…or is it?
HIGH: Finally getting that stupid Rock Mario star in Melty Monster Galaxy.
LOW: The children's story aesthetic is sadly missing.
WTF: "Awww. The Princess is so thoughtful, even when she's kidnapped." When the hell isn't she kidnapped?
The original Super Mario Galaxy was the most ambitious Mario game since Super Mario 64 way back in 1996. One of the few games to actually use the Wii's unique controller setup to its advantage, Galaxy's wacky M.C. Escher-esque level designs and surprisingly smooth controls were enough to make even the most cynical player utter a grunt of approval. For the first time since the Super NES era, Nintendo has made a direct Mario sequel on the same console in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Cash grab? Sure. This is Nintendo we're talking about here—rehashing preexisting content is what they do. However, it's clear that the design team took this opportunity to polish what they had to a mirror shine.
As good as the levels in Super Mario Galaxy were, they did tend to get a little repetitive later in the game. This isn't a new problem, as Super Mario 64 was even worse in some areas. However, this feeling is not present in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Every level feels like a individual painting sketched out in painstaking detail, colored over with a broad and fruitful array of hues, then cut and snipped to perfection with an X-Acto knife. There are no fillers here, no cookie-cutter design shortcuts. Every single galaxy feels like it was crafted individually, giving every star hunt a little something new to bring to the experience. I played both Galaxy games back-to-back over the course of about a week and a half, and I remember the galaxies from Super Mario Galaxy 2 much more vividly due to this sense of individuality.
Mario Galaxy 2 brings a few new gameplay mechanics to the table, mainly in the addition of Yoshi and some new power-up items. Often, games having lots of "toys" can be cumbersome, leaving the player with the feeling of having too much to do and not enough space and time to do it in. This is not so in Mario Galaxy 2. The various items and additions are spread out evenly enough so that nothing ever feels tedious. There was never any point where I thought: "Aw dammit, I have to do the cloud crap again?" or "Man, they really love their blimp Yoshi stages." Much like the levels themselves, the variety of different things to do feels like it was planned and refined to the point that nothing ever felt tiresome.
There are also a number of slight improvements from the original Super Mario Galaxy. The visually impressive (yet boring to navigate) observatory has been replaced by a simple world map, and the overcomplicated system of finding and moving the prankster comets has been done away with as well. Both of these changes mean that there is less time spent on the ship figuring out where to go, and more time spent star hunting. Also, thank the Maker, there are actual checkpoints that I can run through now, and not the constant "Have I passed it yet?" thoughts from the first game.
With regard to challenge, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is indeed more difficult than the original. I don't consider this a bad thing, though—greater challenge leads to greater satisfaction upon completion. There is a very thin line between being challenging and being tedious, but through the use of checkpoints, Super Mario Galaxy 2 manages to walk that line like a tightrope, making the star hunts more memorable than in the original. I'll never forget the second star from Melty Monster Galaxy, whereas I'm be hard pressed to recall a similar memory from Super Mario Galaxy. It's worth noting that even with the increased difficulty there is absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, in this game that matches the pure malevolence of Super Mario 64's Rainbow Cruise level.
The one thing I thought was missing from Super Mario Galaxy 2 was the story element that was present in the first game. Now I know you're thinking "Huh? Story? In a Mario game? You're joking right? That awesome mustache is screwing with your brain!" but it really was something that helped push the first game to a score of 10 in my eyes. It started out as a simple as any other Mario game, but the story of Rosalina and the lumas added a sense of wonderment to everything, with the surprisingly touching tale of tragedy and recovering after the loss of a loved one. Mario and Bowser were just bit players in something far larger than either of them. This is certainly not something one would expect from a Mario game, and I really appreciated the effort that went into it. Sadly, this quality was not repeated in Super Mario Galaxy 2, as everything has reverted back to the traditional Mario fare. Bowser shows up, Peach is taken, Mario must save her. It's what we've all seen before.
Still, stellar gameplay trumps all, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 has that in spades. Nintendo has taken a game I loved and given it the full Valve treatment. This game has been calibrated, tweaked, re-tweaked, re-calibrated, manicured, pedicured, turtle waxed, and then had all the little smudges wiped off with a silk cloth. While I did miss the sense of narrative from the first game, the improvement in level design, pacing, and gameplay mechanics is almost (not quite, but almost) enough to make up for it. To put it succinctly, one cannot play either Super Mario Galaxy title and tell me that games aren't art.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Wii. Approximately 9 hours of play was devoted to completing the game once.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains mild cartoon violence. Nothing to worry about here folks—perfectly kid safe.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There are no spoken lines and no significant audio cues.
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I’m late to the party and just picked this game up due to its reduced price and also because this site is the only one I believe in these days. Keep in mind I never experienced the first Galaxy, but what a magical piece of software! I feel like I am 16 again when I first played Mario 64. Thanks, Richard.
I think we’d be hard pressed to find many games that are truly “innovative” in any meaningful fashion. Most every game builds on something that was done before it, and the question is whether or not they do it well enough to make things feel fresh. SMG2 I think did a superb job of building on a game I thought was worthy of a score of 10, so it gets nearly as high of praise from me.
Oh, I understand there are more qualities to a game besides “fun.” Atmosphere, story, production etc are a few. However, fun is a major reason we play games. If I had a blast (and this includes all aspects) playing a near flawless game, I’m not going to deduct 2 points because it didn’t do anything “innovative.” Besides, what constitutes as innovation?
[quote=googoo24]I wholeheartedly disagree with the assertion that a game has to be “innovative” in order to receive high marks. Is it fun or not? That’s the question a reviewer should answer. Innovation doesn’t = good gameplay.[/quote] We discussed on our podcast why a game cannot be judged solely on fun here. (It’s the last myth we discuss.)
I wholeheartedly disagree with the assertion that a game has to be “innovative” in order to receive high marks. Is it fun or not? That’s the question a reviewer should answer. Innovation doesn’t = good gameplay.
I believe it would be weird to score a game lower because it doesn’t do anything better than an other but doesn’t do anything worse either. SMG2 does a lot similar than SMG1? Might reduce the fun you have when you are constantly searching for new experiences, but as the score should be sort of “valid” for every reader i think giving a score uninfluenced by previous games is more correct. It should be a “neutral” recommendation. The text should warn about too much similarity. True. But by saying it’s only an 8 because it does nothing new, you say… Read more »
@Zolos I understand what you’re saying, and typically diminishing returns should definitely apply to sequels that remain roughly similar to their predecessor(s). However, with regard to SMG2 there is actually a lot in the game to make it seem just as good as the original to reviewers. Personally I did find the game to not be a massive improvement, and so would rate it 8/10, but due to the solid and incredibly polished design it is fair that the game should gain high credit for what it achieves, despite similarities. Also note that SMG is quite a diverse game, in… Read more »
Good review Richard; this is one of the few games that gets released over a period of 5 years or so that I can accept deserves the credit. I personally wouldn’t rate it 9/10, but can fully accept that it is possible for critics to believe it deserves that score. That said, you state how the game isn’t as repetitive as the original game, and how there are no instances of the game being as difficult as Mario 64; for the main content this is true, but if you wish to gain full 100% completion there are two things which… Read more »
I actually do think SMG2 comes in below SMG1, but just barely. They went back fixed pretty much everything I didn’t like about SMG1 (which granted wasn’t much-like I said I’d rate SMG1 a 10) and I really couldn’t ask for much more than that. Had all of those things still been present I’d have been a lot less fond of it.
I *almost* gave this a 10 as well. Almost.
Just to clarify, when i say biased i mean “more forgiving” and thus more favourable. I mean all opinions are biased to one extent or another.
I have only played SMG and while i thought it really was an excellent platformer i am not a Mario fan. What i can’t understand is how SMG and SMG2 receive such high scores when they are so similar? I don’t understand it. It’s obvious (from reviews) that SMG2 is not that a great of a leap from the original and yet does not suffer the “pts” reduction from the “we have seen most of this before 2.5 years ago”. Offering more of the same is good when it comes to great games. But praising the sequels as much as… Read more »
What galaxy is it in? I didn’t venture into the special world too much.
Keep playing, Richard. If you think that there’s nothing in the game that’s as hard as the Rainbow Ride one in Super Mario 64, wait until you get to the very last star in Super Mario Galaxy 2. I may argue that it’s the most evil, brutal thing ever put in a Mario game.
Richard I didn’t play the first Galaxy, but your review is making me wish I did. I played the first two worlds in Galaxy 2, and each stage was fun, but the complete and total disconnect between each level left me feeling bored. I honestly didn’t care what happened to Peach because there was no narrative that would make me want to rescue her.
[quote=Jonathan]I honestly didn’t care what happened to Peach because there was no narrative that would make me want to rescue her.[/quote]
SMG 1 told a nice fairy tale about the Luma Stars.
The whole rescue thing (getting stars to finally beat bad boy Bowser) is the game, but it’s hardly connected to that Rosalina reads a story thing.
I doubt you would find a better narrative in the original.
But i liked this Luma story very much, it was just lovely and improved my overall impression of the game.
We don’t do decimals other than .5 increments, so a 9.5 is the highest I can give it below a full 10. As I said, it fell just short (barely) because of the missing sense of story from the first game.
How come the ‘it feels like an expansion pack’ seems to only have been applied to this sequel (which came out a full 2.5 years after the original) but not to other sequels? Just seems odd to me.
Good review, but it’s still very hard to shake off the feeling that it’s just an expansion pack. Refined, but derivative.
At this point, we’re niggling over 10ths of a score point, so to speak. Is it a 9.7 or a 9.8? It’s like splitting hairs.
This is so much better than Yahtzee’s review. 😛