Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a joy to play. The entire game sparkles with infectious glee, skipping and flipping and spinning with such vivacious energy that it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in it. At one point it actually made me giggle, big and loud and dumb, like an idiot schoolgirl: “HEE HEE HEE!” Thank god nobody else was in the room.
It’s a lot like the first one, and for some people that counts as a criticism. For my part, I can’t see how being like one of the best games ever made is a BAD thing. I mean, it’s not like anyone got to the end of the original SMG and went “Thank god that’s over!” Quite the opposite. As Billy Idol would say, we wanted more, more, more. More insanely imaginative levels. More hilarious power-ups. More awesome music from Koji Kondo. And that is exactly what Nintendo has delivered. SMG2 is more Mario Galaxy.
If you wanted to be uncharitable, you could say it’s closer to an expansion pack than a genuine sequel, especially since it uses the same engine and many of the same assets (models, textures, sound effects, music) as the original. But that’s only if you wanted to be uncharitable. The fact is, for all its similarities to the first game, SMG2 doesn’t feel like a rehash. It is simultaneously comfortable and fresh, like a just-washed pair of corduroy slacks.
Similarly to SMG, the universe of SMG2 is divided into three categories of descending generality: world, galaxy, and planet – the first being comprised of the second, and the second of the third. It’s basically the same setup as every other Mario game, except the nomenclature is more spacey sounding. Galaxies are levels, and planets are the individual challenges within each level. The genius of SMG2 (and SMG before it) is that it cuts out all the filler material. Every planet is a self-contained island of fun, and as soon as you’ve exhausted it – bam! Off you go to another one.
The more you explore the galaxies, the more you appreciate the dozens and dozens of little touches lovingly lavished on them by their attentive designers. For example, within minutes of turning into Rolling Boulder Mario for the first time, you’re treated to an impromptu round of ten-pin bowling – with monsters as pins. The terrified faces they make as you rocket down the alley toward them are adorable and hilarious.
SMG2 is a pretty funny game all round, actually. With his exaggerated gestures, expressive face, and pudgy frame, Mario is a perfect slapstick fall-guy, like the videogame equivalent of Stan Laurel (Luigi would be Hardy, of course). This is true not only of cut-scene Mario, but also, and especially, of in-game Mario. Just running around with this little dude – bumping into walls, getting chased by Goombas, riding Yoshi – is funny in itself.
And Yoshi! Yoshi is the best dinosaur – full of wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm, he is the perfect mascot for SMG2. At first I resented having to use the Wiimote to aim his tongue (which he can use to grab fruit, enemies, and so on), but after a while it began to feel … well, I wouldn’t say “natural” exactly, but it was certainly not as bothersome as I expected. In any case, there aren’t many sections that demand a lot of tongue action, so even if it were annoying it would still be infrequent enough to not matter. Plus, it’s Yoshi! Look at him: he ate a pepper and turned into a little red fire-engine! How can you not love that?
Those of you who only play games where you shoot terrorists or Space Nazis in gritty wartorn ghettos are probably sneering at this, thinking that because SMG2 is childlike, it must also be childish. Nothing could be further from the truth. SMG2 is hard as BALLS. Even if you ignore the hidden stars and secret challenges, just finishing the game – getting through the story, kicking Bowser’s butt, saving the princess – is a more demanding challenge than I’ve encountered in quite a long time. It’s certainly harder than the first game, that’s for sure.
(Oh, and if you do decide to go for all the hidden stars and so on, you may want to make sure you’ve got a pillow handy to muffle your outbursts of incoherent rage. Your neighbours will appreciate it, trust me.)
Another aspect of SMG2 that I’d like to single out for special praise is Koji Kondo’s wonderful soundtrack. An eclectic but thematically consistent mix of orchestral, jazz, electronic, and ethnic tunes, it crackles with the same jubilant vibrancy as the rest of the game, and so acts as a perfect complement to it. This is music to make you smile.
As for criticisms, there are a few, but none are significant in the overall scheme of things. The boss battles, for example, often feel underwhelming compared to the stages leading up to them. They’re still enjoyable, but they don’t inspire the same sense of awe that everything else does. Also, the Wiimote-driven mini-games are predictably imprecise and frustrating. But again: these are quibbles. Mostly irrelevant.
Do I sound like an apologist? I guess I probably do. Okay, well let me put it like this then: SMG2 is a flawed game, but the flaws are so tiny that you only notice them if you really want to. In other words, it isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough.