Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

   23/06/2010 at 22:06       Richard Horne       4 COMMENTS. - Score 5/5
 - Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review, Mario, Nintendo, Platformer, Wii

Straight off the bat and without further ado, Super Mario Galaxy 2 (SMG2) is everything you’ve heard it is and more. 5/5. Essential purchase. Redefines the 3d-platformer. A paradigm sh – no I’m not gonna go there, but it is, quite simply, brilliant.

And if anything, its release serves only to show that just when you thought the Wii’s star (no pun intended) was fading, that there are going to be no more traditional gaming experiences on it and that Nintendo is running out of ideas and steam, in actual fact, it can quite easily go up another gear and blow its competitors out of the water with a knowing wink and a wry smile. “How dare you doubt us!” is the message I get from the game and with Super Mario Galaxy 2, Nintendo really is showing off.

AllAboutTheGames screenshotsIt’s easy to go into the game thinking it’s just a dry cookie-cutter sequel to the well received, but relatively low-selling original. And you’d be forgiven for that. I know that’s what I thought going into it. But then almost immediately Nintendo hits you over the head and demonstrates its genius, its un-matched creativity, its supreme level-design and its exemplary polish in ways that only it could do. In fact I’d even go so far as to say it makes you feel embarrassed for thinking such negative thoughts in the first place. It’s almost as if Miyamoto himself is stood in the room with you, hands on hips, expressing, not his anger, but his disappointment at you, like a scornful parent.

Take the game’s intro for example. Mario games are not generally renowned for their convoluted plots or nuanced narrative arcs. Princess Peach is always captured by Bowser, and Mario without fail, does his duty and traipses off on his merry way to rescue her, collecting stars and meeting an assortment of characters along the way. And true-to-form SMG2 follows this blueprint to the letter.

AllAboutTheGames screenshotsBut as the story unfolds, quite literally across a 3D model of a story book, you find yourself interacting with the opening theatricals, taking control of Mario and proceeding through, what is in effect, a guided tutorial. It’s all presented in a lovely seemingly 2D style that’s instantly familiar to those who’ve played and enjoyed New Super Mario Bros. And it’s no doubt deliberately done this way in order to engage with that audience. Those who’ve never played a 3D platformer before, or those people making the transition from casual to hardcore gamer. And then, as you progress through said seemingly 2D sequence, Bowser heads off into the distance, moving from the X onto the Y and Z axis and you immediately find yourself moving through 3 dimensions in order to follow him instead of just travelling from left to right. Only, the game doesn’t explicitly tell you to move in this extra dimension, it’s just immediately intuitive and apparent. And nothing demonstrates this better than seeing a non-gamer instinctively make that 2D to 3D transition without you (the experienced gamer) having to patronise them with your impatience. “Press up on the joypad dummy!”

This subtle tutorial is one of many blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments throughout the game. And while Nintendo does hit you over the head with its sheer quality and brilliance, for once, and unlike the un-necessarily tedious, long-winded and mandatory Wii Motion Plus videos, it doesn’t hold your hand through every single new move and power-up. Sure there are signs you can read to explain how everything works, if you want to read them. But the skills you learned from the first game, instantly come flooding back and you’re triple-jumping, back somersaulting, spin-jumping and pinging turtle-shells left right and centre with military precision almost immediately.

New Recruits

New additions include a new cloud power-up that lets you place up to a maximum of 3 cloud platforms anywhere within jumping distance. This is typically used to get to hard to reach areas, but as you’d expect, Nintendo has a few tricks up its sleeve and puts it to use quite deviously and creatively throughout.

AllAboutTheGames screenshotsAlso, whenever there’s a new power-up or skill to learn or utilise, sign-posts can be viewed and a context-sensitive tutorial video played back giving newer players a helping hand. For a seasoned gamer like myself, it was pleasing to find that these are completely optional and not at all intrusive. They’re there if you want to watch them, but are never forced upon you. The same goes for Nintendo’s oft-discussed demo play. Fail a certain section a certain number of times and the game will ask if you want it to help you. Take it up on its offer and it’ll take over for you and complete the tricky section on your behalf. The only kicker being that the star you collect at the end of the level will be bronze instead of gold.

Oh and how could I forget the return of everyone’s favourite green dinosaur/lizard creature, Yoshi? Not seen since Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube, Mario’s old friend returns and his appearance is more than just for show. Certain levels are specifically designed around Yoshi’s abilities and require the skilful application of his extended tongue and his hover-jump. It’s a delightful return to the series for this much-loved character and a far greater implementation than his last appearance which was over-shadowed by a difficult to manage camera and some-would-say, relatively poor level design.

Starry Starry Sky

Throughout the development of SMG2, Miyamoto has often spoken about how Nintendo had all these ideas left over from the first game and how there were so many of them, that against his better nature, and uncommonly for Nintendo, it just had to release a sequel during the same console-generation. And if you’re anything like me, your natural reaction was to be cynically dismissive and picture Miyamoto and Iwata watching on, laughing, lighting their expensive cigars with $100 bills. But you know what? I honestly believe him.

AllAboutTheGames screenshotsSMG2 is ram-packed with ingenuity, cunning, and an inventiveness unlike any game before it. It’s far too easy to wheel out the old clichés but never before has a game played so many tricks on you. With its constant perspective switches and level-design that hurts your brain when you try and get your head around it, there’s a consistently high-quality throughout that has to be applauded. Its bosses too will constantly bewilder and surprise you. Their weaknesses are intuitive and always makes sense in the context in which their presented, but yet they’re still fresh, new and completely original. Nintendo has always been a master at subtlety, giving you those little visual and audio cues that instantly portray what’s required of you without the use of blatant highlighted weak-spots. Lost Planet take note.

3D platformers usually live or die based on the quality of their cameras, with an un-necessary amount of manual micro-management usually signing the death-knell for a game. But it was hours into SMG2 before I even realised, or indeed even needed to manually adjust the camera. It just works so well and allows you concentrate on playing and enjoying the game instead of fine-tuning it every two seconds in order to give you a decent angle as you approach a pixel-perfect jump.

And as you would expect from Nintendo, the controls are an absolute delight. Just controlling Mario gives you endless amounts of child-like fun, always reminding you of those hours spent mastering them in the castle grounds of Mario 64. And while less-experienced players will manage just fine with the basic fundamentals of run, jump and spin, it’s the extra depth added by the triple jump and back-somersault that hardened players will have to utilise in order to collect every single Star and see every single hand-crafted level.

AllAboutTheGames screenshotsIf I had to make one complaint it would be that the spin-jump/attack, which requires a shake of the Wii Remote, isn’t quite as instantaneous as I’d perhaps like and in an ideal world would be better suited to a button press. But as it is, it never spoiled my enjoyment of the game and is the only example of Nintendo pandering to the so-called ‘waggle’ crowd.

As ever, a second player can join in on the fun and fire stars at enemies or collect additional stars, and while it’s a nice little touch, it doesn’t really add anything to the game. Though if you’re a parent and have kids that haven’t quite yet mastered 3 dimensions, then this is the perfect way of getting them involved and making them feel part of the action without hindering your own progress.

What’s also marvellous about SMG2 is that even though Nintendo has made countless minor concessions in order to try and attract new gamers to the genre, it’s still a devilishly difficult game with levels that will really test your skills and patience. And much like Galaxy and Super Mario Sunshine in particular, there are plenty of really difficult stars that will bring nostalgic pangs flooding back as you lose life after life trying to strive for perfection. With 120 stars in total – you can complete the game by collecting about 60 of them – there’s an absolute ton of levels to play. And true to form, there are plenty of hidden extras and bonus challenges that must be completed in order to complete the game fully.

There's a starman, waiting in the sky

Overall there’s very little to criticise Super Mario Galaxy 2 for. Its sound effects and music are exemplary as ever and its standard definition visuals never feel like a step-backwards thanks to the excellent aesthetic design throughout. There’re plenty of gloriously realised effects and flourishes that serve only to remind you that great design does not always require a greater resolution. Sure, there’s no denying that a high definition Mario game would be phenomenal, but Super Mario Galaxy 2 is never let-down or shown up by the Wii’s relative lack of grunt or processing power. And when played through the component cable in 480p there are times when it puts certain so-called HD games to shame.

When Nintendo is so on-song like this it’s easy to forgive Miyamoto for producing casual titles like Wii Fit, Nintendogs, and even Wii Music. If the success of those titles means every now and then we get a game as magical as Super Mario Galaxy 2 then I’m all for it. Bravo Nintendo, bravo.

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