Can a direct sequel to one of the best platformers of all time have the same impact as the original? Super Mario Galaxy was so different, so unique, so exquisitely made that it's without a doubt the best game on the Wii. So good, in fact, that the 9/10 I gave it back in November 2007 seems more than a little harsh. What can I say? I must have been suffering from game fatigue. The point is, with the first game Nintendo managed to make Mario feel new, while at the same time retained what makes Mario, Mario. Even though this is a direct sequel, Nintendo has once again made Mario's planetoid adventures feel remarkably fresh and, somehow, even more entertaining than those in the original.
The plot is the same as it always is. This time Princess Peach is kidnapped by Bowser and taken into space. Mario sets off on board a space ship designed to look like his own face, on a mission to defeat Bowser and save the princess once again. It's essentially just a way to justify Mario being in space, having to move from level to level, finding stars that unlock new levels, and defeating bosses that unlock new worlds.
As in the original Mario Galaxy, Mario must find stars on each of the game's galaxies - levels with their own theme and unique gravitational field. Each galaxy contains a number of planetoids, generally round mini planets, some barely big enough for Mario to stand on, others so big that one side is completely different to the other. Stars can be collected by simply making it to their location, for beating boss characters, finishing timed runs, solving puzzles and a whole lot more.
If these levels were just about inch perfect precision platforming we'd have a great game. Indeed, some of the levels are exactly that, even throwing in some old-school 2D fun, but a lot of what makes Galaxy 2 so great is the use of power suits - pick-ups that give Mario temporary new abilities. Previous favourites return - such as the hovering bee suit, the fire suit, the devilishly difficult to control spring suit - and are joined by brilliant newcomers, including a wonderful drill suit. This allows Mario to tunnel through soft planets, emerging on the other side.
As with all the suits, the drill is used with stunning creativity, in both puzzles and combat, and you're never using the same power-up for long before flying off somewhere else where you'll be doing something equally inventive. This is all aside from the fact that Yoshi, Mario's dinosaur friend with a long tongue, can be ridden in numerous levels and comes complete with his own set of abilities and power-ups.
As well as being able to eat enemies with his tongue, he can hover to cover more distance in the air, fire off eaten projectiles such as missiles, and transform into numerous clever alternative forms. I won't spoil them for you, but these levels are some of the most ingenious ever to grace a Mario title and suggest Yoshi is due his own fully 3D title at some point in the future.
Despite Mario's friendly appearance, there'll be moments where you'll want to rip his head off, or more likely that of his slippery brother Luigi, who can be controlled during certain levels and then followed to find hidden stars. Galaxy 2 is a hard game, made for the hardcore, but crucially, those frustrating moments are always down to you and not the game. This is Nintendo game design at its very best.
Get a bit cocky and you'll die. Try to run across too many disappearing platforms and you'll die. Take your eye off the screen for a moment during a high speed race inside a tube... and you'll die. You never feel out of control unless you do something stupid. There's never a sense that the game has cheated you or that you couldn't have prevented something. Every star, no matter how tricky it might seem to get, is achievable, and often ends up being simpler than you thought - if you just keep your cool.
Only on one occasion over the course of a mammoth 120 star adventure did the camera genuinely cause a problem, and this was merely a "where the hell am I meant to be going" moment, rather than a "OMFG, that's not fair" catastrophe. Galaxy 2 is, for want of a better word, the ultimate design template for a 3D platformer. It's been so tightly designed that it's hard to see anything bettering it, save for the presentation, which given the platform is far from shabby.
Even years after its release Mario Galaxy makes most Wii games look like rush jobs and the sequel builds on this. It's not a huge leap over the original, but it didn't need to be. In many cases the spherical planetoids are fairly sparse in detail, but what's there has been crafted superbly, with nothing seemingly placed in the environment just for the sake of it. Colours burst out of the screen, enemies are as lovable as Mario's friends and the feeling of creativity is unrivalled. As much as I'd love Nintendo to have the power of one of the Wii's rival consoles to work with, there's no way anyone could be disappointed with the joyous mini worlds Miyamoto and co. have created.
If positives are hard to rein in when talking about Galaxy 2's visuals, new words need inventing to discuss the audio. No other game features as many toe-tapping, insanely memorable tunes as this. From the moment Nintendo drops a happy beat into title music, you know you'll be humming random little ditties in the shower or as you idly ride the bus to work in the morning. There's still no proper voice acting, but Mario is a series where it really isn't needed. Cute little enemy sounds, the classic 1-up jingle, the ding when you collect a coin, ticking sounds from your Wii Remote, all reinforce the already strong belief that no detail was spared in Galaxy 2's development.
It's easy to get carried away when talking about such a wonderful game, but it thoroughly deserves all the praise. Game length, a common issue with modern titles, isn't even a problem. Collecting all of the 120 stars will take a very long time, and for the best gamers there's even more on top of that; 120 hidden green stars are placed in the galaxies once all the standard gold stars have been found. These green collectables will test your platforming skills more than any other game in the plumber's history and extend the experience without feeling like filler. There's even two-player support, should a friend want to help you out by collecting star bits and firing projectiles at enemies with a second Wii Remote.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 doesn't have the impact of the original, but it does take the formula and refine it to something approaching perfection. With so many new ideas, a control scheme that never lets you down, a huge amount to see and do, charming presentation and that certain Nintendo magic, the Wii finally has a game that's better than Mario Galaxy.