Super Mario Galaxy 2

Introduction

Though Nintendo paved the way for 3D gaming with Super Mario 64 in 1996, the fifth console generation saw them gradually lose their dominance as a result of driving away a significant portion of their third-party support. This downward spiral continued into the sixth console generation when Sony’s PlayStation 2 proceeded to dominate its competition. Even the most critically acclaimed GameCube titles such as Metroid Prime and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker did nothing to turn the tides in Nintendo’s favor. To make matters even worse, Nintendo began gaining a reputation as a kiddie company as a result of mainstream releases on the PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox gearing toward a more mature audience. In order to remain in the business, Nintendo realized they had to do something drastic. Their lifeline came in the form of the Nintendo Wii in 2006. With its novel motion controls, the Wii soon found itself outselling its more technically capable competition when it enticed gamers and non-gamers alike.

Though an instant bestseller, those who had been following Nintendo since the NES days were asking the same question. Where is Mario? Nintendo’s mascot had, without fail, featured in some way in every one of the venerable company’s home console releases. Even the GameCube had Luigi’s Mansion, which cast his brother in the lead role, yet when the Wii launched, he was nowhere to be seen. Fans received their answer shortly after the Wii’s launch: Mario was to star in a game that would see him travel the cosmos. The name of the game was Super Mario Galaxy. When it debuted in 2007, the reception was unlike anything the franchise had seen before. It was commonly said that while Super Mario 64 invented 3D platforming, Super Mario Galaxy perfected it. Yoshiaki Koizumi again found himself in the lead director’s chair, and after adding a personal, auteur touch, created one of the most beloved games of its generation.

As soon as Nintendo’s Tokyo branch finished work on Super Mario Galaxy, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto approached the team and suggested they should produce a follow-up. Originally, the team was going to create a version of Super Mario Galaxy that featured slight variations its planets in a manner reminiscent of the Master Quest edition of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Because it wasn’t intended to be a true sequel, their tentative titles for this game were Super Mario Galaxy More and Super Mario Galaxy 1.5, and they expected it to be finished in a year’s time. At first, they implemented elements that were scrapped from Super Mario Galaxy. Before they knew it, they were adding so many new ideas to the game that they decided the end product should be a fully-fledged sequel. Joined by one of the series’ central figures, Takashi Tezuka, Yoshiaki Koizumi set forth with the Nintendo EAD Tokyo team once more to make it into reality. To reflect this change, the game was redubbed Super Mario Galaxy 2.

By the seventh console generation, gamers accepted that every one of Nintendo’s consoles would boast but a single mainline Mario release. This was especially obvious when observing the series’ 3D installments. The Nintendo 64 had Super Mario 64 while the GameCube saw the debut of Super Mario Sunshine – neither installment would receive a direct sequel. However, this could be seen as early as the fourth console generation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being more of a standalone spinoff than a true sequel to Super Mario World. The fans read the writing on the wall, and with Super Mario Galaxy being such a monumental game, they assumed they had seen the last of Nintendo’s mascot for the rest of the Wii’s lifespan. They could never have expected Nintendo to unveil the existence of a sequel to Super Mario Galaxy during the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2009 in Mr. Miyamoto’s private conference. He even stated that the game would have 95%-99% new features – the rest being holdovers from Super Mario Galaxy.

Although Mr. Miyamoto stated the game was nearing completion, Super Mario Galaxy 2 would eventually be delayed to 2010 because New Super Mario Bros. Wii had been released in late 2009. The game became playable for the first time during the Nintendo Media Summit in February of 2010 shortly after a second trailer had been released. Here, its North American release date was revealed: May 23, 2010. Seeing a release in other regions later in the year, and in the case of South Korea, early 2011, Super Mario Galaxy 2 enjoyed the same level of universal acclaim as its predecessor. It is now considered one of the greatest games of all time, and many have declared it the single greatest entry in the Wii’s library. Could Super Mario Galaxy 2 have possibly surpassed such an acclaimed title?

Analyzing the Experience

Every one-hundred years, the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom celebrate the Star Festival. On that day, objects known as Star Bits rain down from the skies. Princess Peach has invited Mario to share some cake while they watch the shooting stars together. Along the way, he finds a baby star shaped creature known as a Luma. Despite being lost, the Luma takes an instant liking to Mario and jumps into his hat.

When he reaches the castle, Mario discovers, to his horror, that Bowser has somehow grown to a gargantuan size and is attacking Peach’s castle. He kidnaps Peach and takes her to the center of the universe. Mario vows to rescue Peach, but finds himself at loss. How can he possibly defeat his nemesis now? Fortunately, Mario is not alone in his quest. Other Lumas who have crashed near the castle offer to help Mario chase after Bowser. Their first course of action is to launch him into space. This unorthodox tactic allows Mario to recover a valuable object guarded by Bowser: a Power Star.

Shortly thereafter, he arrives on a large object resembling a planet. Here, he meets a larger Luma named Lubba. He tells Mario that the planet on which they stand is actually a spaceship. He and his crew were attacked by Bowser, who stole the Power Stars that fuel his spacecraft. Realizing that they need each other’s help, Lubba allows Mario use of his ship.

In a measure of good faith, Lubba’s crew even crafts the ship into Mario’s likeness. In possession of a worthy vessel, Mario begins an interstellar journey. Along the way, he just might find help from an old friend.

Being a direct sequel to Super Mario Galaxy, the gameplay of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is nearly identical. The basic controls are highly similar to what the 3D installments have entailed by this point. Mario is capable of many impressive acrobatic feats. He can jump three times in a row, gaining significantly more altitude on the third, leap off of walls, and vault forward after crouching. He is also able to perform many midair somersaults and backflips that prove instrumental in navigating certain stages. When the Baby Luma joins Mario at the very beginning of the game, just like his predecessor, he grants Mario the ability to spin. This is accomplished by shaking the remote. Anyone returning from Super Mario Galaxy will be able to grasp the basic controls within seconds.

Although Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Tezuka clearly used its predecessor as a mold when making Super Mario Galaxy 2, one significant change presents itself right away. When you’re guiding Mario to Peach’s castle, the first leg of his journey is presented from a side-scrolling perspective. Though Super Mario Galaxy featured areas in which the title character’s movements were restricted in such a manner, there was typically some kind of contextualization to justify them. For example, if Mario was made to navigate a narrow cylindrical tube, it wouldn’t make any sense to give him full, three-dimensional movement. However, as the opening sections of Super Mario Galaxy 2 demonstrate, you can expect many more side-scrolling challenges from this point onward.

Super Mario 64 was one of the most important benchmarks in the medium’s history for having singlehandedly spearheaded the 3D video game leap. This prompted many other franchises to follow suit. It is particularly interesting seeing exactly how they fared making the leap. Some franchises such as Bubsy and Contra hit a brick wall when developers tried to take them to the third dimension. Meanwhile, Metal Gear was an example of a quality series that only became better after embracing the medium’s new direction. A majority of Nintendo’s own franchises, including The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, were greatly enhanced by having followed in the footsteps of Super Mario 64. In short, these series either drastically improved as a result of having successfully made the leap or proceeded to crash and burn trying. The Mario series is one of the very few exceptions to this rule. This is because, while the series proceeded to tackle new ground after Super Mario 64 wrote the style guide on 3D gaming, many of its 2D installments remain all-time classics to this day. It’s a rare example of a series that managed to be just as good after making the leap as it was before.

Why do I choose to mention this? It’s because integrating these side-scrolling segments into the typically three-dimensional Super Mario Galaxy 2 was probably the single smartest thing the team behind this game could have done. This development denoted a lot of self-awareness on the staff’s part, for it gives players the best of both worlds. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is still a 3D platforming game at its core, yet by strategically implementing these segments, it blends two genres together seamlessly. I could tell the team used what they learned crafting the New Super Mario Bros. subseries, because these stages are a lot of fun to play through. At the same time, it’s clear the team didn’t just place New Super Mario Bros. stages in Super Mario Galaxy 2. The appropriate motion controls, ability to procure and launch Star Bits, and the cursor are all still in play regardless of which mode the game is in.

Though it may seem like a minimal benefit, I find Starship Mario makes it much easier to select stages. The Comet Observatory, though a great piece of environmental storytelling, made doing so unnecessarily complicated. You always had remember which dome connected to the stage you were attempting to enter. The domes were scattered all over the observatory not unlike how Nintendo placed the paintings in Super Mario 64. However, while it was a simple enough process with enough repetition, the sheer number of stages made it difficult to keep in track of where these access points were. This isn’t even getting into dealing with the rogue Prankster Comets.

You will have no such problem navigating Starship Mario. Taking cues from the classic world maps of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, selecting a stage in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is as easy as navigating the spaceship to the galaxy’s location and pressing the “A” button. As a result, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is more obviously structured like those games. Your goal is to collect enough Power Stars to reach the boss stage at the end of a given world. There are seven worlds in total – six of which much be traversed in order to complete the game and the last is unlocked upon defeating Bowser for the final time.

Just like its predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy 2 features an extensive power-up system. Yet again, the power-up system is different from that of the series’ pioneering installments because they radically change how the game is played rather than merely help the player reach the end of a stage. Indeed, if you see a power-up in a stage, you can safely bet you will need to utilize it in order to obtain the Power Star you seek. Every single power-up introduced in Super Mario Galaxy makes a return for this game. While this does mean the unwieldy Spring Mushroom is back, the good news is that it only appears in one stage. Even better, you don’t even need it to complete the stage in which it appears.

Another reason it is so underutilized is because Super Mario Galaxy 2 sees fit to introduce an entire new swath of power-ups, including the Cloud Flower, Spin Drill, and Rock Mushroom.

With Super Mario Galaxy 2 being a 3D platformer, the Cloud Flower affords Mario an ability that takes the genre’s idiom to its logical extreme. By shaking the remote in midair, Mario can create a cloud platform underneath his feet. Each flower gives Mario the ability to spawn three clouds. He can also walk on natural clouds while in this form.

The Spin Drill allows anyone who dreamt of digging through the center of the Earth to the other side live out their fantasy in this game. By shaking the remote when standing on it, Mario will tunnel through the planet he is currently on and emerge on the other side. Given how much of Super Mario Galaxy 2 involves Mario traveling the cosmos, jumping across small planets with an unusually strong gravitational pull all the while, the Spin Drill is a novel way to continue exploring Mr. Koizumi’s original idea. It tests a player’s observational abilities, for they can choose where to begin drilling.

Lastly, the Rock Mushroom allows Mario to encase himself in a giant, round boulder. Like the previous two power-ups, it is activated by shaking the Wii Remote. Most enemies that get in Mario’s way will be crushed instantly. One has to be careful using this power-up, for the boulder travels remarkably fast. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to control with enough practice, and it can be cancelled by pressing the “Z” button.

Though these power-ups are doubtlessly fun to use, I would say the greatest addition to this game comes in the form of a certain spotted egg.

As you may have ascertained by looking at the box art, Super Mario Galaxy 2 has Yoshi make a triumphant return. The species’ first appearance in a 3D installment was in Super Mario Sunshine. In that game, the Yoshies Mario could ride were equal parts underutilized and misbegotten. They played such a minor role in the experience, they came across as last-minute additions, which was only exacerbated by the fact that they were somewhat difficult to control and dissolved when submerged in water.

This isn’t the case with Super Mario Galaxy 2. Although it does take a page out of the Super Mario Sunshine book in that Yoshi can only be used when the game permits it, he has far more utility in Super Mario Galaxy 2 than he did in his previous 3D outing. Yoshi was trapped in an egg thanks to one of Bowser’s Magikoopas. You do not need to bring the egg a fruit in order to break it, merely taking the direct, percussive approach is enough.

Once you do break Yoshi out, you’ll discover, in addition to being markedly quicker than Mario, he retains his signature ability to perform flutter jumps. He also possesses an abnormally long tongue, which he can use to snatch enemies or objects and enemies. This is accomplished by positioning the cursor on your intended target and pressing the “B” button. He can use his tongue to grasp points in midair from which he can hoist himself upwards. Similar to Super Mario World, Yoshi runs off if Mario takes damage while riding him. If Mario doesn’t jump on his back in a timely fashion, he will retreat into the egg, necessitating the plumber to hatch him again. Yoshi, not having originated on Isle Delfino, will not dissolve in water, though he is unable to dive beneath the surface.

Yoshi’s ability to survive in water is, by itself, enough to declare him superior to his Super Mario Sunshine counterparts, but the developers didn’t stop there; they ended up giving him three power-ups of his own: the Dash Pepper, Blimp Fruit, and the Bulb Berry. The Dash Pepper causes Yoshi to run at excessively high speeds. Mario can use this to his advantage, for Yoshi can run up walls at an incline and even speed across bodies of water in this state. The Blimp Fruit causes Yoshi to inflate like a balloon, allowing him and Mario to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Though the Bulb Berry appears to have an obvious use in how it causes Yoshi to glow brightly, it’s a bit more accurate to say that the light’s radius causes scenery to manifest rather than just making it visible.

As is par for the course for Nintendo, the gimmicks and power-ups that feature in Super Mario Galaxy 2 are so good, one could easily make an entire game out of them. By 2010, games, especially ones developed in the West, tended to provide more one-note experiences. The note they struck could have been a majestic one, but you always knew what to expect at a given moment. Because Mario isn’t allowed to carry the power-ups outside of the areas in which they are used, his is a game that will always keep you guessing. It gets especially interesting whenever a stage asks you to combine gimmicks to reach the Power Star.

The easiest trap for the developers to fall into would be making these stages entirely self-contained. Though this approach can work, it leads to an unfocused experience when improperly implemented. What makes Super Mario Galaxy 2 work is that it gets just enough mileage out of its great ideas, so you will rarely miss them when they’re inevitably retired. Similarly, the game never feels the need to force players to use the gimmicks and power-ups that aren’t executed so well any longer than necessary. Are you having trouble navigating a bird using the motion sensors in the remote? Tough it out and you will never have to see him again. One of the few exceptions is the Boo Mushroom, which is only used in one stage. However, because it was used fairly extensively in Super Mario Galaxy, it functions more as a nice throwback to that game while allowing the new ideas to take center stage.

Speaking of which, it was around 2010 that Nintendo began to receive an underlying backlash from prominent independent critics at the time. Even as their big-name releases continued to receive acclaim, there was an underlying sentiment that Nintendo became more reliant on nostalgia than on imagination to sell their games. Though this assessment does have something of a ring of truth to it, the reality was more complex. Nintendo was far more likely to build off of their canon rather than revel in their past successes. There were a few exceptions such as New Super Mario Bros. and its sequel, but both games still provided solid experiences – especially for fans.

The reason I mention this is because on the surface, Super Mario Galaxy 2 appears to have a gratuitous amount of callbacks to previous installments. The Supermassive Galaxy is a clear nod to Big Island from Super Mario Bros. 3, the Twisty Trials Galaxy reproduces a platforming stage from Super Mario Sunshine, and the Rolling Coaster Galaxy brings to mind the reoccurring Rainbow Road stage from Mario Kart. Super Mario Galaxy 2 even recreates an entire course from Super Mario 64, Whomp’s Fortress, in the aptly named Throwback Galaxy. In addition, there is a stage wherein Mario is made to fight the bosses of Super Mario Galaxy back to back.

If that wasn’t enough, Super Mario Galaxy 2 goes as far as taking cues from persistent rumors surrounding Super Mario 64. It was speculated that by collecting all 120 Power Stars in Super Mario 64, one could play as Mario’s brother, Luigi. There were various permutations on this rumor, which included visiting a certain statue, but Nintendo eventually discredited all of them. As an appropriate reference, Super Mario Galaxy featured Luigi as an unlockable character for those with the tenacity to find all of the Power Stars. Super Mario Galaxy 2 goes one step further in that Mario will often find Luigi traveling the cosmos as well. Unlike in Super Mario Galaxy wherein Mario had to save his brother every time the latter attempted to find a star, the player is allowed to assume control of Luigi and have him retrieve it. Even better, all that is required to permanently unlock him is to complete the game. Just like in The Lost Levels, he jumps significantly higher than Mario, but has far less traction on the ground. He could be considered more difficult to use, but in the hands of the skilled, he is remarkably efficient.

What allows these numerous references to function on their own terms is that not a single one of them feels out of place in this game. Nintendo took their best ideas and made them mean something within the context of Super Mario Galaxy 2. Granted, a large reason why Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Tezuka’s team was so successful in this regard is because Mario is quite the flexible franchise. This is a game in which Mario can roll on a ball containing a Power Star, get carried off by a giant bird, and ride a superfast Yoshi up a wall after consuming a magic chili pepper. Placing him in a galaxy with giant enemies and a fortress owned by a talking slab of concrete is thus downright mundane by comparison.

Furthermore, as the noted absence of the Spring Mushroom indicates, Nintendo clearly took the criticisms lodged toward Super Mario Galaxy to heart. The Prankster Comets make a return, and though it may sound disappointing that, once again, a fair number of the Power Stars are obtained by revisiting harder versions of objectives already cleared, they are far more manageable this time around. To begin with, they don’t appear randomly. Certain stages have an item known as a Comet Medal. Naturally, these are what cause comets to appear, and there is a total of forty-nine to be found. Consequently, once a comet appears, it’s there to stay. This means you don’t have to pay a Luma twenty Star Bits to relocate them. Even better, you aren’t forced to complete the objectives as you were in Super Mario Galaxy; you can play them or any one of the normal missions as you so choose.

There are also a lot of minor touches that make Super Mario Galaxy 2 a more sophisticated product than its predecessor. In Super Mario Galaxy, one could obtain Green Power Stars by extensively searching certain stages. This was a decidedly irritating process because checkpoints were activated by event flags. This meant if your search for a Green Star placed Mario after a checkpoint, it would be impossible to backtrack and obtain it without exiting the stage entirely. Here, checkpoints are triggered by actual, physical flags. This means when hunting for a Green Star, you can avoid triggering a checkpoint if it makes the task more difficult. Then, of course, there is the improvement regarding player’s newfound ability to observe Mario’s world from a first-person perspective. In Super Mario Galaxy, the camera would stop at 180 degrees. Super Mario Galaxy 2, on the other hand, allows a full range of motion, which is very helpful because you don’t have to keep repositioning Mario to examine an important object.

Although Super Mario Galaxy 2 had no problem receiving critical acclaim, whether or not it could claim to be an effort superior to Super Mario Galaxy was a point of contention among fans. One of the most controversial aspects about this game regards its story. Super Mario Galaxy took the series in a heartfelt direction when it introduced Rosalina. This mysterious woman was the effective queen of the galaxy, and her backstory made her all the more endearing. She afforded the Mario franchise a degree of depth that allowed it to evolve with the times while still remaining true to itself.

With Super Mario Galaxy 2, players were given a plot that wouldn’t have felt out of place in the third console generation – Bowser has kidnapped Peach; Mario must save her. It’s true that setting the game in space afforded it a wondrous quality not possessed by the series’ pioneering installments, but given how popular of a theme interstellar travel was in the 1980s, it would have been a logical direction to take the series after Super Mario Bros. Not helping matters is that Rosalina was replaced by Lubba. While Lubba is far from the Mario franchise’s worst character, there is no getting around that he is a gigantic step down from Rosalina. This is primarily because while Rosalina was a surprisingly deep character, there isn’t much to Lubba. He is doubtlessly kind and helpful to Mario’s quest, but otherwise, what you see is what you get.

Fans were especially incensed to hear that the person responsible for this shift was none other than Shigeru Miyamoto. It was in an interview with the publication Wired that he revealed the game would have less focus on plot. This was due to his steadfast belief that the medium of gaming shouldn’t be used to convey a story. Although it doesn’t sound like a particularly progressive viewpoint, it’s easy to grasp why he felt the way he did when one closely examines the gaming climate at the time. By 2010, the medium’s storytelling potential had not been meaningfully tapped due to developers attempting to transplant non-interactive tropes and sensibilities into their work. Many games suffered because of this disconnect, but the year 2008 in particular produced two works that best exemplified how badly it could go wrong when left unchecked: Metal Gear Solid 4 and Braid. Hideo Kojima’s first attempt at wrapping up his series, which had a cerebral, labyrinthine plot, resulted in a game with over eight hours of cutscenes – including one that clocked in at seventy-one minutes. Meanwhile, Jonathan Blow’s attempts to lend the medium a degree of artistic credence itself had quite a few execution issues. Because he attempted to weave a narrative with bizarre, out-of-place symbolism, his work lacked cohesion. Consequently, he didn’t extensively explore the unique game mechanics he crafted, rendering the experience hollow.

The common problem both games shared is that their creators, consciously or not, had a defeated, wizened outlook on the medium. Metal Gear Solid 4 was made under the belief that films were inherently superior to video games, and the latter needed to conform in order to have any worth. Conversely, Mr. Blow sought to rebel against the AAA industry’s methods, but his was a solution that, if implemented, would have replaced one critical weakness with another. Braid was a game made with, and subsequently aided by, the stereotypical critical dogma that a work cannot be considered art unless driven by a single visionary voice. Those who subscribe to the dogma are seldom able to grasp that a team effort or a producer-driven project can result in a masterpiece, thereby giving them a narrow scope of what they consider good.

The takeaway from this is that as more developers attempted to retread ground covered in other artistic mediums, video games began to suffer an identity crisis. Much of this was spurred by film critic Roger Ebert’s infamous proclamation in April of 2010 that video games can never be art. Because Braid, a work popularly considered concrete proof that video games could be art, got dismissed by the influential critic, enthusiasts and developers alike lost their self-confidence. It didn’t matter that the argument was fundamentally incorrect; the damage it inflicted could not be denied. Therefore, with developers spending a significant portion of the seventh console generation attempting to recreate the success of their predecessors, the desire to cater to the medium’s strengths was actually the single best decision Mr. Miyamoto could have made. It’s easy to dismiss his stance as backwards-looking now that the medium has covered a lot of stylistic ground with its narratives since 2010, but given how the most visible story-driven games were turning out, my interpretation is that he was one of the very few whose faith in medium had never wavered.

Indeed, while Super Mario Galaxy had many touching story beats courtesy of Rosalina, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a feast for the gamer. Those who played Super Mario Galaxy can attest its sequel is markedly more challenging. It is no coincidence; many of the ideas and stage designs in this installment were intended for the endgame in Super Mario Galaxy. Spreading these advanced concepts throughout the entire experience, Nintendo created a game that never pulls any punches. Should you attempt to seek out all of the Power Stars, the skills you developed playing Super Mario Galaxy will be thoroughly tested before you even leave the first world.

What I particularly admire about the game’s challenging nature is that it never feels unfair. With the odd exception here and there, the controls are polished to the extent that you feel you could conceivably complete a given challenge on your first try. Rarely does that ever turn out to be the case, but if you lose a life, you will be far more likely to be disappointed you didn’t make it rather than getting angry at the game itself. Despite this, one could point out the life system, which was already long obsolete by 2010, causes the player to waste time restarting a given stage. Fortunately, the developers anticipated this and decided to hark back to a famous trick in Super Mario Bros. By bouncing on the shell of a giant Koopa Troopa in the Supermassive Galaxy, the player can easily gain an infinite number of extra lives. As long as you have a surplus of them, you will save a lot of time conquering these objectives.

For those who didn’t have a problem with the minimalistic plot of Super Mario Galaxy, they would be far more likely to formulate a complaint about what happens when you obtain 120 Power Stars. It’s easy to get the impression that 120 would be the magic number in Super Mario Galaxy 2, citing Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and, to a lesser degree, Super Mario Galaxy as precedents. That person would be instantly proven wrong the exact second they obtained their 120th star. When they do, the entire universe gets bombarded with Green Stars. The Green Stars require players to scour previous galaxies to find them. Selecting the Green Star will set up the stage so they can find it, but otherwise, it’s up to the player to seek them out, though they chime when Mario or Luigi draw near.

On some level, I can understand why the Green Star Challenge is unpopular in certain circles. While the main objectives and even some of the Prankster Comets constantly add new challenges for the players to complete, the Green Star Challenge can come across as blatant filler. After all, you’re not exploring any new territory or using different power-ups. It’s especially ridiculous when the Green Star you’re searching for is adjacent to the objective’s standard Power Star. What’s particularly daunting is whenever a Green Star is placed above a bottomless pit. Despite how counterintuitive it sounds, colliding with the star will prevent you from losing a life. This would be fine, but in some cases, it is amazingly difficult to line up Mario or Luigi correctly when jumping. This is a game in which your character can easily end up on the ceiling, and falling up with any degree of precision is far more vexing than falling down with any degree of precision.

Case in point.

However, while I do realize people wouldn’t care for the Green Star challenge, I found myself enjoying it. By Super Mario Sunshine, almost every Power Star, or Shine Sprite as the case may be, was collected upon completing a fairly long sequence of events. This was a far cry from how in Super Mario 64, players could find Power Stars simply exploring the stage. What the Green Star Challenge does, then, is provide players with the kind of objectives that wouldn’t have felt out of place in Super Mario 64, thus giving them the best in both worlds. To be completely fair, the detractors have a point; the linear stage design isn’t conducive for the exploratory gameplay that drove Super Mario 64. That being said, with Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel focusing on compact stages rather than sprawling ones, searching for them isn’t too much of an ordeal. Meanwhile, the Green Stars hovering over black holes or bottomless pits are deceptively easy to obtain. By having Mario or Luigi spin and execute a ground pound at the same time, they will home in on any enemy unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. The best part is that they work on stars as well. The range is limited, so you still can’t use it blindly and expect to win, but once you master it, the challenge becomes much easier.

After obtaining all of the Green Stars, the brothers will have a grand total of 240. Even then, at least one Power Star that yet eludes them. Upon procuring the final Green Star, the player is allowed access to one final stage: the Grandmaster Galaxy.

Every single challenge the player faced before this one is downright trivial compared to the one offered by the Grandmaster Galaxy. The ideal postgame challenge should serve as a final exam for the player, and this level delivers on all fronts. First, you must precariously swing Yoshi through a minefield while dodging Bullet Bills. Next, you must activate a series of switches while avoiding lasers being shot by four robots. After that is done, Mario or Luigi must don the Cloud Suit and navigate a maze of electric fences. Once you do, you are then made to go through a segment consisting entirely of green tiles that disappear when stepped on and platforms which flip if Mario or Luigi perform a spin – all while enemies fire upon your character. Following that is a section in which you must use Pull Stars to avoid flying enemies and electric fences. The final leg of your journey involves performing Long Jumps to spinning platforms while dodging the attacks of Hammer Brothers. You then have to fight three Boomerang Brothers at once. Only after braving these dangers will Power Star 241 appear.

It is nearly impossible to overstate how difficult completing this stage manages to be. In order to guide Yoshi past the minefield, you have to be lightning fast and precise with the cursor. Any missed input or swing in the wrong direction will cause you to collide with a mine or fall off the stage. The switch segment is a minor reprieve for what awaits you next. The cloud platforms you create often need to be guided by giant fans and you will find yourself jumping between them. The segment with the green tiles and flipping platforms deconstructs the skills you developed playing the rest of the game. Most players will know to use the spin in order to buffer Mario’s jumps, yet because the flipping platforms move whenever he does just that, you need to counterintuitively have him land in what is initially an empty space. In fact, with the myriad enemies shooting at Mario, delaying his jumps in any way could actually give enemies that split second they need to strike him down. After the comparatively easy Pull Star section, Mario is thrown into the thick of things, having to fight his way out of a Hammer Brothers battalion. Hammer Brothers and their variants are widely thought of as the most consistently difficult non-boss enemy in the series. As Super Mario Galaxy 2 demonstrates, granting players a three-dimensional plane doesn’t make them any easier to deal with – especially when you realize it gives them an advantage as well. Dodging a barrage of hammers in a side-scrolling game is tough, but manageable. Dodging a barrage of hammers in a three-dimensional platformer requires the player to be incredibly perceptive.

Amazingly, even after completing that difficult challenge, there is one more Power Star awaiting anyone who fancies themselves a master of platforming games. The requirements for obtaining it are a bit obtuse, for even obtaining the Comet Medal in the Grandmaster Galaxy doesn’t appear to do anything. You also need to explore the stages extensively and store 9,999 Star Bits in the bank. Only then will the path to the 242nd star be unlocked in the form of one last Prankster Comet. However, the path is one that must be carefully treaded, for the object orbiting the galaxy is a Daredevil Comet.

That’s right – in the aptly named “The Perfect Run”, you must complete every single segment of the Grandmaster Galaxy without taking a single hit. True to form, isn’t a single checkpoint to mitigate the enormity of the task. Whether Mario or Luigi hit a mine while riding Yoshi or was defeated by a stray boomerang in the final arena, any fatal mistake requires you to start over from the very beginning. Super Mario 64 may have had an appropriately challenging final boss to cap off the experience, but Super Mario Galaxy 2 goes the extra mile. You want all 242 Power Stars? You have to well and truly earn them. Should you prevail, Rosalina will congratulate you for collecting all of them and even appear on Starship Mario. Sure, it doesn’t serve a practical purpose other than bragging rights, but completing “The Perfect Run” is the best way to send off such an incredible, gameplay-heavy experience.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Exploring space is a lot of fun
  • Exemplary level design
  • Beautiful presentation
  • Excellent, orchestrated soundtrack
  • Polished controls
  • Motion controls seamlessly integrated into gameplay
  • Fun boss fights
  • Challenging gameplay
  • Yoshi makes a triumphant return
  • Luigi is easier to unlock
  • Better array of power-ups
  • |Makes players earn every single star|
Cons:

  • Certain gimmicks are ill-conceived or underutilized

One of the most fascinating things about any game is reading up about what got left on the cutting room floor. Although many ideas are dropped after playtesters rightly deem them unnecessary or counterintuitive, there are plenty of novel ones that get cut for various reasons. Maybe there wasn’t enough time to implement them. Perhaps the team wasn’t able to find a way to fit them into the finalized level design. It could even simply be that the developers themselves lost faith in the idea for reasons known only to them. Because of this, playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a dream come true for anyone who felt that disappointment of learning how many great ideas were left to fall by the wayside in a game they enjoyed.

As the seventh console generation was in full swing, many more developers had entered the business. While debates raged on as to which one could claim to be the best, I feel that Super Mario Galaxy 2 showcases one of the biggest advantages Nintendo had over their competition. Specifically, it demonstrated that they can take constructive criticism and use it to improve their products. Given what an overwhelmingly positive reception the original Super Mario Galaxy received, they could just as easily have dismissed those criticisms as fulminations of a negative, vocal minority. Instead, they listened to what their audience had to say, made the appropriate adjustments, and ended up with something that eclipsed Super Mario Galaxy in term of scope and gameplay. When you consider that many other developers were complacent to point out their problems without fixing them, this is especially laudable.

Despite the receiving a lot of critical acclaim itself, Super Mario Galaxy 2, like Nintendo as a whole, was met with an underground derision. One independent critic prominent at the time was quick to dismiss Super Mario Galaxy 2 as a cynical product made for no other purpose than to capitalize on its successful predecessor. This conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth. For starters, it doesn’t hold up when you consider that New Super Mario Bros. Wii sold over thirty-million copies – more than twice as many as the roughly twelve-million units Super Mario Galaxy moved. Had Nintendo really wanted to create a cheap, lazy cash grab, it would have been far more sensible to devise a sequel to the former. It’s not as though it would have been difficult to make either; the subseries had a clear formula by then.

No, Super Mario Galaxy 2 may retain the core gameplay of its predecessor, but it is a critical error in judgement to dismiss it as a soulless token sequel. Actually playing the game and really seeing what it has to offer reveals a lot of care and attention went into its creation. It is a little disappointing that there is less emphasis on story, but I find myself giving credit to Mr. Koizumi, Mr. Tezuka, and their team for realizing in what fields the series excels. Having firmly established that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is not a quick cash grab, I feel the correct comparison to draw is provided by none other than Shigeru Miyamoto himself. When the game was finished, he compared it to Majora’s Mask. Both titles successfully build upon the gameplay of their respective predecessors. Everything you may have liked from the original Super Mario Galaxy is back, yet the old ideas ultimately don’t overshadow the new ones. It leaves the audience with something recognizable, yet boasting far more polish and focus.

Regardless of where one stands on the subject of whether or not Super Mario Galaxy 2 is superior to its predecessor, what can’t be denied is that it is one of the greatest works of the 2010s. In an age when developers were unhealthily taking cues from films, Super Mario Galaxy 2, an unabashed game barged onto the scene, and managed to leave a lasting impression on the medium. By virtue of being fully accepting of its own identity, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a far more profound and forward-looking artistic statement than titles such as Limbo and Braid whose creators deliberately tried to pursue a dogmatic ideal. The remarkable amount of evolution the series underwent in the nearly three decades since Mario’s creation can be witnessed in the span of this installment, and it is therefore something that every gamer should play. While certain critics insist Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a carbon copy of its predecessor, I firmly believe a single game could not have possibly contained such a grand adventure.

Final Score: 10/10

16 thoughts on “Super Mario Galaxy 2

  1. Excellent review!

    Happy to see Mario finally snag that 10. I admit when I saw you gave SMG1 an 8 I thought you’d go for a 9 here. Happy to see you made the right choice. 😉 And with that, you, me and Matt of NintendoBound now have a unanimous 10/10 game. Well deserved.

    “This is because, while the series proceeded to tackle new ground after Super Mario 64 wrote the style guide on 3D gaming, many of its 2D installments remain all-time classics to this day. It’s a rare example of a series that managed to be just as good after making the leap as it was before.”
    This pretty much sums up why Mario is my favorite series.

    Also, the people who claim Galaxy 2 is a cash-grab either A) Never played it, or B) Were ignorantly dismissive going in, and would refuse to see things otherwise. Galaxy 2 is a cascade of idea after idea. It’s an utter joy. Yeah, it was a little bit of a downer that Lubba replaced Rosalina (who is possibly my favorite character in the series…except maybe Bowser), and the storytelling that came with her. But at the same time, had they just made another character like Rosalina, that would have undermined Rosalina’s character and whoever else they tried to introduce. Though I do hope Rosalina gets her own game someday.

    Case in point, masterful game, and a terrific review to do it justice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was mostly a question of whether or not I considered Super Mario Galaxy 2 a better game than Breath of the Wild. Only by the slimmest of margins did it succeed and my sticking point was that while Breath of the Wild can be rendered trivial (albeit with a lot of work), Super Mario Galaxy 2 is challenging from beginning to end.

      As I said, while the Mario series was just as good before the leap as it was after, I have to say Zelda has consistently achieved a level of greatness higher than that of Mario after the 3D leap, which is why I tend to favor Zelda over Mario. Mario may have a larger number of good games, but Zelda’s best games are, on average, better. There’s also the fact that Mario needed several spinoffs just to keep pace with Zelda’s mainline games.

      And you’re right. I think the problem with a lot of criticism – especially independent criticism – is that the reviews are solely an extension of the author’s ego. I will say there is nothing wrong with a healthy amount of ego, but the problem is that many of them take a “my way or the highway” approach to the craft. A critic should, at the end of the day, be a good persuasive writer, and the problem with many critics is that they have trouble convincing their audiences of their opinions. A critic who can’t sell others on what they have to say may as well have no opinion at all.

      In the case of Super Mario Galaxy 2, it was clear from the onset that anyone who dismissed it as a token sequel let their preconceived notions cloud their judgement. I think many pioneering video game critics were trying to take cues from film critics, which meant many of the latter’s weaknesses carried over into the independent scene as well (sequels can’t be good, there needs to be an auteur voice to the work, etc.). Sure, Super Mario Galaxy 2 doesn’t have as good of a story as its predecessor, but in an age when video games were just as lost as the critics, it was inspiring to have somebody put their foot down and say “No, this is what video games should be about”. Thankfully, that was the mentality that ended up prevailing in the long term. If Super Mario Galaxy 2 suffered in the independent critical circle, it’s because it wasn’t playing by their rules; it’s a masterpiece purely on its own terms, which alone makes it one of the medium’s best efforts.

      Liked by 2 people

      • As much as I love Breath of the Wild (I stand by my 10/10), it does have more annoyances than Galaxy 2. I don’t care what people say about the Green Stars, to me, the fact that had that random, chaotic element to them was inspired. The main power stars were rewards based on constructive creations, while the Green Stars were playfully breaking the rules. It made sense as a post-game challenge.

        The funny thing is, I see things as the opposite. I think Zelda has an overall better consistency in quality in that it hasn’t had as many missteps as Mario (save for Tri Force Heroes), but I think Mario has a few more “best games ever” to its name. Again, it’s a close race though. I think a good example of my stance is how, even if you see a list of “Best Games Ever” that lists Ocarina of Time in the top position, you’ll still see multiple Mario games in the top 5/top 10.

        And you’re absolutely right about critics (specifically independent critics). It’s always been a damn shame that film critics think sequels and franchises somehow negate a movie’s artistic merit (“how dare you make money!”), and that many independent gaming critics have tried to follow suit, not realizing that, instead of making them look smart and sophisticated, it makes them look close-minded.

        Super Mario Galaxy 2 defiantly defied what gaming critics wanted at the time, and that’s part of the beauty of it. It is unabashedly its own beast, not trying to appeal to trends or pander to any audience other than those who want to have fun. Fun in video games? What a concept!

        I’m curious to see your take on 3D World (I assume you’ll be doing 3D Land next). As someone who felt 3D Land was competently entertaining but lacking in imagination, 3D World felt like a return to form. It’s not as good as Galaxy 2 or Odyssey of course, but it follows a similar mentality of “invention and fun at all costs!” Which is what I love about the series.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, it’s a little ironic that after expressing that opinion, you gave Breath of the Wild a higher score than me. For what it’s worth, it is at the top of the 9/10 tier and it would take a herculean effort to dethrone it. And I think that’s precisely why I liked the Green Stars as well; they skillfully broke the rules, making them a great postgame challenge.

          That is true, though I will say that, not counting those educational spinoffs, Tri Force Heroes is worse than any Mario game I’ve played. It doesn’t really matter which one wins because we’re talking about series whose sixth-best installments eclipse certain other developer’s entire body of work in terms of quality.

          I think the problem is that critics tend to examine trends rather than what is directly in front of them. Many sequels are retreads of their predecessors, so therefore Super Mario Galaxy 2 must be as well. If you applied that kind of thinking to real life, you would be hosed. My mother always said that the only people who accuse others of being sellouts are those who never worked a day in their lives. It is admirable having people do things for the art – which is exactly what Nintendo did when they made Super Mario Galaxy 2. Having said that, art is a product; it’s (usually) designed to make money – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Making money doesn’t negate the artistic statement – if anything it helps promote that artist so they will make more art.

          And I think that’s exactly what happened; Nintendo wasn’t playing by the critics’ rules in 2010, so Super Mario Galaxy 2 ended up getting dismissed in many circles as a result. It seems like the industry as a whole, including the independent scene, ended up following their example, and the medium was better off for it. Whenever a work like this gets dismissed, I think you can mentally replace “not good” with “not good on my terms” and it would make far more sense.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I am glad to see my favorite game of all time get its due. And I completely agree that it succeeds because it explores the aspects in which the prequel thrived.

    I have read comments that go as far as saying Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an expansion pack of the original, but – as you mentioned – that is a very shallow way to look at it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • An expansion pack wouldn’t have been this long – or this intricate. While debates rage on as to which one is better, I say it defeats its predecessor handily and proves that Nintendo is the best developer in the business. They’ve been on the ropes quite a number of times over the years, but every time their detractors claim their finished, they bounce back and release stuff like this; it’s quite amazing. It’s certainly a good pick for the best game ever made.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Expectations are weird things. Yes it was a little odd that after having largely reinvented the game with each installment in the series, Nintendo would have a sequel that builds so directly off of the original. Nintendo took a lot of heat for that back in the day. By a bunch of people who were ignoring the fact that 90% of the game series out there do exactly that, and Nintendo was the outlier. And it was obvious more work and creativity went into Galaxy 2 than most of the sequels you’ll run across out there to anyone with more than a passing familiarity to the game. Freakin’ Yahtzee.

    In any case, Nintendo’s been doing an interesting thing with their Mario games, where you get the core game scaled to where anyone can beat it with enough time and effort, but lots of challenge levels and post game content that really stretch even the experience player’s skills to their limits. By reputation, I don’t think any of them go as far as Grandmaster Galaxy, but I’ve never bothered to pursue all the green stars to find out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You know, it’s interesting because Yahtzee is responsible for me developing a lot of my beliefs about what constitutes a good game, but after nearly five years of critiquing games, I have reached one inescapable conclusion: he’s not a good critic. He’s a vaguely passable entertainer, but he’s so blinded by his own biases that his critiques are less insightful and more an extension of his ego. It’s telling that of the many episodes of Zero Punctuation I’ve watched, I can only think of two good games he introduced me to: Dark Souls and Papers, Please (he can’t claim credit for getting me into Undertale because I was already interested in checking it out without his help). Even then, he was aided by the strange circumstances surrounding those videos. He praised Dark Souls after having previously bashed Demon’s Souls, making me think there was something to it. Therefore, my mentality was less “I should totally play this game” and more “If a total amateur like Yahtzee can beat this game, what’s stopping me?” Meanwhile, I wasn’t convinced to play Papers, Please until he uploaded a video of himself playing it, meaning the review itself didn’t sell me on the game. Critics need to be good persuasive writers, and that’s Yahtzee’s fatal weakness; he doesn’t do a good job convincing people that they should/shouldn’t play a game – he takes a “take it or leave it” approach that leaves those who don’t agree with him (and even some who do) with nothing. To wit, his other glowing recommendations such as Limbo and Spec Ops: The Line were clearly the result of confirmation bias, giving me nothing when I sought them out myself.

      Anyway, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was indeed unfairly maligned when it came out. I think the problem is that critics, despite being a dogmatic sort, don’t apply their philosophies evenly across the board. If you took them at face value, you’d get the impression Super Mario Galaxy 2 was no more ambitious than Modern Warfare 2 when it is manifestly not the case. One skill I they lack that I’ve found important to develop is to explain why something is an exception to the rule. Why does/doesn’t this trend work here and not when 99% of creators conform to it? When you don’t do this, it’s easy to come across as a hypocrite. It’s like how Yahtzee condemns token sequels despite having made several himself and wanting Valve to come up with a Half-Life 2 rehash. Then he goes and bashes Nintendo for relying on their IPs, yet when they do come up with a new IP, he assumes it’s to expand their Smash Bros. roster. I myself had to do this when I was critical of Uncharted 3 (and to a lesser extent, Uncharted 4) for not changing things up, yet was willing to give this game a 10/10.

      And you’re right, if it’s one thing I like about the Mario series starting in Super Mario Galaxy, it’s how they make their games easy to pick up and difficult to master. That super-challenging level is there for those seeking it, but it’s optional if you’re merely seeking to complete the game normally. If you return to Super Mario Galaxy 2, I hope you end up giving the Grandmaster Galaxy a shot; I still consider getting that 242nd star one of my all-time greatest gaming achievements.

      Liked by 1 person

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    • これまで、五つのゲームに10点を授けました。でも、スーパーマリオギャラクシー 2は全く完璧なゲームです。自分の他の10点ゲームは「プレインスケープトーメント」、「アンダーテイル」、「ゼルダの伝説:ムジュラの仮面」、そして「メタルギアソリッド3:スネークイーター」です!

      Liked by 1 person

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