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Is Super Mario Galaxy 2 the best platformer ever created?

4:00 PM on 05.27.2010 // Chad Concelmo

The answer is yes.

Sound off in the comments!

Oh, I have to write more? Shoot. Okay, I will elaborate on why this is, but just know that there won’t be some kind of surprise ending at the conclusion of this feature. The “yes” may turn into a “YES!”, but, other than the enlarged typing, my opinion will not be swayed. NOT BE SWAYED, I TELL YOU!

In our perfect 10 review of Super Mario Galaxy 2, fellow editor and object of my man crush Dale North excitedly called the Wii sequel the “Best Mario Game Ever!” Obviously I agree with this. But I think it is even more than that. For me, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the greatest platformer ever made. The best. The #1 platform game of all time. No question.

I know saying things are the “best thing ever” is a daily occurrence for me -- just today I have already eaten the best bowl of cereal ever, heard the best song ever, and even drove down the best street I have ever driven on -- but don’t let my hyperbole-fueled views diminish your trust in my positive opinions. Although I tend to get excited about everything (did I mention this keyboard I am typing on right now is INCREDIBLE?!), when I mean business, I mean business. And with Super Mario Galaxy 2, I mean business. Serious business.

So, why is Galaxy 2 the best platformer ever created? And what makes a platformer a platformer? Hit the jump for the reasons I think Super Mario Galaxy 2 is pretty much the perfect package. (Also check the end of the post for a bonus list of my top ten favorite platformers of all time!)

The definition of a platformer

What exactly is a platformer? Originating in the ‘80s, the term simply describes videogames involving jumping on, well, platforms (e.g. the original Super Mario Bros., Adventure Island, etc.). The definition may sound overly basic -- and, sure, there are more complex sub-genres such as Mega Man and Castlevania -- but that’s pretty much the best way to describe what a platform game is and should be.

In a way, the aforementioned sub-genres are part of the problem, one of the reasons the definition gets a little muddled. A lot of platformers now are becoming more complicated, with a heavy reliance on weapons and back-tracking. Not to say that is a bad thing, but with more and more games combining multiple genres, one can start to miss the pure, unadulterated fun of just grabbing a controller, running towards a set goal, and jumping over multiple obstacles.

That’s why Mario games are so great. Even after all these years they like to stick to the basics. Mario may find a variety of power-ups during his adventures, but the games he stars in don’t veer too far from what a platformer should be all about: mainly jumping from one platform to another.

Mario is the king of the genre!

The original Super Mario Bros. is arguably the most famous platformer ever made. And although Mario has been featured in many, many different games over the years, his best appearances are still in platformers.

While there have been a couple of missteps along the way (despite how much I enjoy it, Super Mario Sunshine is rather sloppy when compared to typical Mario standards), the traditional Mario platformers have all refreshingly stuck to the basic rules of what makes a true platformer so great.

Because of this, Mario will always be the king of the genre. While other games that started as platformers moved on to different things (Jak & Daxter comes to mind), Mario trusts its core gameplay and remains wonderfully retro.

The rules of platforming

For a platformer to be a real platformer, it needs to avoid certain things and, more importantly, follow a set of rules.

1. Jumping has to be the primary gameplay focus
2. Levels needs to be mostly linear (no backtracking and open-worlds allowed!)
3. Level design is of the utmost importance

Knowing these rules, some games considered by some people to be platformers really aren’t: Cave Story, Super Metroid, Castlevania, even Mega Man. As much as I love these games, they fall more into the sub-genre of platformers, as there are many focuses outside of just jumping through levels. Cave Story and Super Metroid are full of backtracking in an open-world structure and Castlevania relies too much on weapon collection and defeating enemies. Heck, the jumping in the original Castlevania is so frustrating and hard to manage, calling it a platformer is almost a knock to the genre! A platformer with bad jumping is like a cupcake with Vegemite frosting. It doesn't work (and makes me throw up a little just thinking about it).

But why do all these specifics matter? Well, they really don’t -- a good game is a good game regardless -- but it helps to understand what a platformer really is to understand why Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the best the genre has ever seen.

Why Super Mario Galaxy 2 = the ultimate platformer

So let’s apply these rules to Super Mario Galaxy 2!

1. Jumping has to be the primary gameplay focus
Outside of the analog stick on the nunchuck, the “A” button on the Wiimote (a.k.a. the jump button) is easily the most used button in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Why is this? BECAUSE THE GAME IS ALL ABOUT JUMPING, as a platformer should be!

Every single level in Galaxy 2 involves some form of precise jumping from one platform to another. Whether it is a literal floating platform like in the old Mario games, a massive flying spaceship, or an orbiting planet, jumping from one thing to another is the game’s primary action.

2. Levels needs to be mostly linear (no backtracking and open-worlds allowed!)
The best platformers (and maybe all true platformers) separate their games into completely individual levels. Even when platformers moved into the 3D realm and simple left to right movement evolved into a free-roaming paradise -- such as the revolutionary Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie -- their main levels still remained separate entities (e.g. Tick Tock Clock in Mario 64; Treasure Trove Cove in Banjo).

With Super Mario Galaxy 2, this rule most definitely applies. There may be a few stars you can collect on the same level or instances when replaying the same stage will yield further rewards, but the entire game is separated into dozens and dozens of completely separate, completely varied levels.

3. Level design is of the utmost importance.
Most importantly, what separates a good platformer from a genius one is the level design. And this is where Super Mario Galaxy 2 shines. I would comfortably go so far as saying Super Mario Galaxy 2 has the best, most creative level design in the history of videogames. It really is that good.

Each level in the game is a true master class in design. Just when a sequence would blow my mind with its creativity (Spin-Dig Galaxy), another level would come along and impress even more (Flip-Swap Galaxy) ... and then impress even more (Beat Box Galaxy) ... and even more (Chompworks Galaxy) ... and then even more (Melty Monster Galaxy).

By the time the game was over I was exhausted by how much fun I had. It truly left me wondering how Nintendo is even going to think about topping this game with future titles.

Let’s imagine all of Nintendo’s brilliantly creative ideas are kept in a jar. In my mind, this jar was not only emptied into Super Mario Galaxy 2, the game’s designers actually took their fingers and soaked up every last ounce of creativity along the edges, like hungry people do when trying to get that last bit of peanut butter.

Nintendo always manages to surprise me, so I am sure their next Mario game will be stunning, but, man, it is hard to wrap my head around how Galaxy 2 could ever be topped.

Random editor's note: I LOVE THIS LEVEL!

The great comparison!

To prove my point even more about Super Mario Galaxy 2 being the best platformer ever created, let’s look at a (semi-random) list of other excellent, timeless platformers ... and how Galaxy 2 manages to school them all.

The original Banjo-Kazooie is an incredible, expansive platformer with some of the best music on the Nintendo 64.
Why SMG2 is better: As charming as the levels are in Banjo, Galaxy 2 takes things up a hundred notches. And I would never, ever criticize the addictive music of Banjo-Kazooie ... but the gorgeous full orchestrations that score Super Mario Galaxy 2 are beyond incredible.

One of the most challenging and skilled-based platformers ever made, N+ flourishes in its remarkable simplicity and daunting design.
Why SMG2 is better: N+ is definitely more challenging than Super Mario Galaxy 2, but Galaxy 2 rewards its player with more organic level design and a much fairer learning curve. Also, variety!

Drill Dozer
Drill Dozer may have not been played by many people (for shame!), but the Game Boy Advance game is an incredibly solid platformer. It is so old-school that it feels like it could have been released on the Super Nintendo -- which is most definitely a good thing.
Why SMG2 is better: Again, Drill Dozer is great, but Super Mario Galaxy 2 does everything better. EVEN STUFF WITH A DRILL!

All the other Mario games
Super Mario Galaxy 2’s biggest competition, funny enough, comes from all the other platform games in the Mario series. They are all fantastic in their own ways, but ...
Why SMG2 is better: ... Super Mario Galaxy 2 seems to combine the best of each of them. I can’t fault Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, or even the original Super Mario Galaxy on any level -- they are all absolutely perfect games -- but everything they do great Galaxy 2 just does a little better. Every wonderfully creative stage from all of the old Mario games is topped during one of the many varied, instant classic stages in Galaxy 2.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 really is the new standard for what all platformers should be.

The gauntlet is thrown down!

Okay, now it’s your chance to tell me what you think. I welcome the inevitable disagreements about my bold declaration, but, before you hit the comments, think about the giant smile on your face I know you had when playing a large majority of Super Mario Galaxy 2. Think about how many times your jaw dropped at some of the game's staggering level design.

It's pretty hard to argue the game isn't the perfect (and best!) platformer.

Let's discuss! If you do disagree, what other platformer do you think is better and why? What do you think of Super Mario Galaxy 2 in general? Do you think it deserves its current place as the highest rated videogame of all time? And where would you rank it on a list of your favorite platformers?




For the curious (and as promised before the jump), here is a list of My Top Ten Favorite Platformers of All Time! (Keep in mind I took out all sub-genre titles, including Mega Man 2, amongst others.)

1. Super Mario Galaxy 2
2. Super Mario Galaxy
3. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
4. Super Mario Bros. 3
5. Super Mario World
6. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
7. Banjo Kazooie
8. Super Mario 64
9. Drill Dozer
10. N+

What do you think?

Chad Concelmo,
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