Galaxy 2's power-ups make for a different game in the same way that new toys make an old play area instantly more appealing. But Nintendo knows power-ups alone won't satiate the Nintendo hardcore's sense of abandonment. That's why Super Mario Galaxy 2 may well be the hardest 3D Mario game ever made.
Really, some of it is brutally hard. At the end of Bowser Jr.'s Fiery Flotilla level, Mario faces off against a huge snake-like dragon that stalks the Italian plumber as he runs around a small planet. The idea is to run for your life, praying that when the huge dragon decides to bury its head into the planet and tear through the core and out the other side, it doesn't hit you. If you manage to stay on your feet, you then need to stand next to its body and spin attack just as the pink parts of its body speed past. It's pretty hard. Nintendo wasn't joking, after all.
That level, though, is like one of those horribly simple mini-games the Wii's flooded with in comparison to the Flip-Swap Galaxy level. Here, the platforms on which Mario stands are panels. The idea is to flick the Wii Remote mid-jump to switch the position of the panel he just jumped from, to a position that, hopefully, will give him something to land on. Not only do you have to contend with jumping, flicking the Wii Remote (which doesn't always result in a panel switch - wouldn't it have been better assigned to a button?), and working out when and where to land, but you have to collect all of the purple coins in the level to complete it. And you have only four minutes in which to do it. It's devilishly difficult, challenging hand-eye coordination in ways we thought gaming had forgotten. It's great, but expect to die. A lot.
Setting what's new about Galaxy 2 down like this, it doesn't sound like much is different, does it? So why are we so enthusiastic about the game's release? Because it's going to be brilliant. How do we know this? Well, we just know. This seems like a woefully unscientific analysis of the game, but in many ways, it's the only way to make sense of Nintendo's Mario magic. Often, when we critique video games, we discuss their constituent parts in isolation. We judge the visuals, audio, mechanics, level design, and features, and then determine an overall score. But really, video games are more than the sum of their parts. They're an experience. They're entertainment. They're fun.
Mario Galaxy 2, like all Mario games before it, is the epitome of this design philosophy. Its levels are memorable; its art style is vibrant and colourful; and its mechanics are as easy to pick up and play as they are fun to use. But the game's appeal is about more than mere snippets of praise. Mario Galaxy 2, like its predecessor, has that special something, that je ne sais quoi, that Nintendo magic - that's so hard to define - in spades. There were more than a few moments when we actually said out load, "wow", and it wasn't because we were witnessing groundbreaking graphics, brutal combat, or vistas that extend farther than the eye can see. It was because Nintendo knows how to do pure gaming fun better than anyone else.
Basic mechanics challenge you in ways you can only describe as genius. The Drill Bit's the best example: it's a simple, almost obvious, power-up, but you use it in ways you'll never forget. How do you improve upon one of the greatest games of all time? You focus on doing what you do best. Sometimes, that's all you need.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is due out in Europe on June 11.