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Super Mario Galaxy 2

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The first Super Mario Galaxy is one of the few games which we would still gladly pay full-price for again; it really was that good, and worth every single penny. With that in mind, we really did wonder how anybody could possibly claim that this sequel was better, and we found ourselves practically daring it to entertain us. By the end of it, however, we were once again completely enthralled and ready to believe that it was indeed possible to improve on near-perfection.

In spite of the “2” in the title, however, this game actually isn’t a direct sequel story-wise. It’s more or less a re-telling of the events of the first game; Bowser is setting out to create a galaxy-spanning empire, he kidnaps Peach yet again and Mario sets off into space to save her as usual (seriously, you’d think she’d step up her security by now). The main Mario series has never strayed too far from this story formula, and it’s kind of funny that Nintendo are basically admitting that the series has no real continuity, but this only means that this lack of focus on storytelling has all gone into the gameplay. Mario fans are used to this, and once again they’re not likely to be disappointed.

The first thing that will be noticed is that this game is more streamlined than its predecessor. The hub (a spaceship shaped like Mario’s head) is considerably smaller than before, while all the levels can be accessed via a map system that looks more like one from the New Super Mario Bros. series. Getting to each level is very quick and hassle-free, though it would not be unreasonable to say that it lacks the initial sense of wonder and exploration that the Comet Observatory offered, and some may find that disappointing.

Actually, a lot of the game does feel like it’s influenced by the New Super Mario Bros. series, from the map screens to the increased presence of sections played along a 2D plane. However, we would be inclined to argue that this game actually manages to construct these retro throwbacks more successfully than New Super Mario Bros., as it manages to both pay homage to the series legacy while still throwing in inventive twists.

Each level is like a self-contained playground, and while none of them take too long to complete what astounds us is just how endlessly inventive the game is with its scenarios. It’s rare to come across two levels which are functionally the same; one moment you’re working your way through a stage while gigantic buzz-saws chop off parts of the platforms you’re navigating, the next you’re hopping along platforms which change places in time with the beat of the music. To say any more would spoil one of the game’s key pleasures, but it’s actually rather funny that each level brings a new idea to the table, and then apparently discards said idea for the remainder of the game. Every level has something to surprise the player, and all have hidden recesses and things to discover. The gravity mechanics and the changing of perspective (especially on the small planetoids) expand on the themes from the first game, making for truly sublime platforming. We have to admit though that the camera is still not perfect, and we noticed a few occasions where the shifting perspectives would confuse the movement control, but this actually happens on fewer occasions than it did last time.

Controlling Mario is simplicity itself; moving, jumping and shaking the Wiimote for a spin attack is incredibly intuitive, with more advanced jumps made possible through different combinations of the control stick and the jump button. The simplicity of the control, however, is not just for the sake of accessibility; it allows the focus of the game to remain on the simple joy of movement throughout. The new suits and power-ups all bring something new to the gameplay dynamic, allow you to test your spatial awareness of each area and are fun to experiment with, while controlling Yoshi and utilising his own range of power-ups and moves is an absolute joy. Again, to say any more would spoil a lot, but one minor complaint though is that both Yoshi and the old powers are criminally under-used.

Those who felt that the first game was on the easy side will be thrilled to know that the challenge has been raised for this venture, especially when the bonus galaxies are unlocked post-credits. It’s that rare balance of accessibility and challenge that few developers can manage in a way that seems so effortless, and this game definitely has its moments that will prove frustrating at first. The balance between risk and reward is superb though, with even the most hair-tearing moments feeling very satisfying to overcome.

Graphically the game is absolutely superb, looking far in advance of any other game on the Wii with the wildly imaginative art direction and superb atmosphere putting many modern games to shame. If it wasn’t for the noticeably lower resolution of the Wii we would swear that this was a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 game, proving once and for all that processing power can only take graphics so far; developers putting that power to good use is what makes a game look truly great. The orchestral soundtrack is also glorious and thoroughly enjoyable to listen to.

Gamers today are quick to jump to the conclusion of “more of the same” when it comes to Nintendo games, yet when the formula is already successful not much more is needed other than incremental improvements and refinements. That said, there wasn’t much to complain about with Super Mario Galaxy, yet this game, while not completely perfect (no game ever is), is so earnest in its desire to improve on not only its predecessor, but itself level after level. We are astounded that the Wii can host a ton of worthless shovelware (some of it from Nintendo itself; Wii Music was a really low blow) and then suddenly turn around and play host to one of the best games of this console generation, if not of the last couple of generations; a game that is completely confident in its ability to entertain and amaze the player at every turn. This is a rare occasion when the hype can actually be justified; Super Mario Galaxy 2 is, quite simply, a masterpiece.