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LONG BLOG

Ain't No Sunshine: Super Mario Galaxy 2 EU review

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REVIEW #6

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Barely Playable; 0: Non-Functional.

SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2
Developers: Nintendo
Publishers: Nintendo
Console: Wii
Players: Two

As much as I enjoyed it, I wasn't one who shared in the unconditional adoration that the original Super Mario Galaxy was fêted with on release. It often felt as though Nintendo weren't entirely sure how best to build a game around their gravity-bending central mechanic, leading to problems with the camera and a handful of oversized, under-filled worlds that tried to combine the exploration of Super Mario 64 with the goal-oriented linearity of a 2D game, ending up in a middle-ground that only intermittently found the best of either one.

As the first numbered sequel in the series since Super Mario Bros 3 on the NES, Galaxy 2 is exactly what it says on the tin (and if you live in the UK, I mean that literally – a free money-tin on offer if you bought the game from GameStation). If Galaxy's greatest strength was how new and exciting it felt to be navigating environments in such a radically different way to how previous 3D games had taught you, its sequel feels instantly familiar. The game's lethargic start doesn't do it any favours, with a picture-book introduction that feels half-hearted and pointless, while the first 'galaxy' (you quickly get used to how Nintendo have a slightly eccentric grasp on astrological terminology) is far too reminiscent of its equivalent in the first game. The soundtrack meanwhile, while perfectly enjoyable, never rises to anywhere near the heights of the first game or produces any one truly magnificent track, such as:



But after persevering through those early bumps, a game emerges that not only revives the same excitement felt at long-jumping around a planetoid for the first time but, like any good sequel should, uses the experience of the first game to iron out the faults and build on the strengths.

While it may initially be less mind-blowing than its predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an absolute joy to play in ways the original never had the confidence to try. Environments are smaller and more focused, meaning you'll always know where to go next and never waste time trying to reach some far-off corner of a map that ultimately proves fruitless. Exploration remains an important factor in the game as Nintendo have filled its more compact spaces with a greater number of bonuses to seek out, from hidden stars, Comet Coins (which removes the frustrating randomness of the original game's Challenge Comet appearances), warp pipes and battle arenas. There's a real sense of purpose to checking out every inch of each level, something strongly lacking in the previous game, where the best reward you could hope for in your endeavours was a few extra coins or star bits.



The World Map keeps the game moving apace, although hopefully Nintendo will one day expand on Super Mario 64's use of the hub world as a giant puzzle in its own right. While many of the new galaxies are similar to ones from the first game, their tighter design keeps you moving too fast to be bothered by it (one returning classic from Super Mario 64 is a geek-tastic reminder of how much fun those early worlds were simply to run around in, making for one of the game's many highlights). Those which are genuinely new, like the outstandingly designed Chompworks and Clockwork Ruins galaxies, are a real thrill when they turn up. Of course there are missteps: a boss gauntlet turns up (always tiresome), while the stage inspired by Super Mario Sunshine is, perhaps appropriately, by far the most boring. Thankfully such duds are sufficiently few and far between that momentum from superior galaxies is enough to carry you through.

The increased difficulty is managed by an elegantly defined difficulty curve that, like building a muscle, constantly asks you to undertake challenges slightly harder than you're be comfortable with but never so difficult as to seem insurmountable. By keeping stars just out of your reach, reaching each one feel like a genuine achievement and makes you only more determined with each life lost, where lesser games would slip into frustration. The challenge of making a difficult game lies in giving players a challenge they want to and believe they can overcome, but no matter how many times they slip at the last hurdle, never feel like it is overcoming them. Galaxy 2 at its best is about as perfect an example of this as you could ever hope to find.

While much of the basic gameplay has been refined but kept essentially the same, one big change is the appearance of Yoshi, stretchy-tongued favourite of fangirls everywhere. Where Nintendo didn't seem to know what to do with him in his last two appearances, Galaxy 2 turns him into a green mega-weapon, giving you the sense of invulnerability that comes with all memorable power-ups, forcing you to tackle challenges slightly differently than as Mario alone and keeping the play fresh and surprising. All three of the other new power-ups (drill, cloud and rock) are significant improvements on the frustrating items from the first game (which get cameos here, thankfully only for single levels). Cloud Mario's ability to create platforms out of thin area proves particularly delightful, giving some freedom in how you overcome obstacles while never making your choices too easy.



But as outstanding as so much of the game is, there are a handful of criticisms that can't be overlooked. The bosses rarely challenge and consequently never feel like big events. They're masterfully animated and hilarious to look at – a gaping-mouthed, googly-eyed sand-lizard in the gleefully named 'Squizzler's Sandy Sinkhole' stage appealed to every childish bit of humour in me – but feel completely perfunctory as obstacles. The best amongst them is Bowser Jr's giant robot, but that's more down to the appearance of Yoshi than the boss itself. It's sad that Nintendo still haven't found a way of making a strong Bowser fight since Super Mario 64: if anything, the grab-and-toss mechanics from that game could have been put to superb use here combined with the gravity mechanics. He might even (since he has now inexplicably grown to gargantuan size) have been turned into a Shadow of the Colossus-esque climbing frame. The problem is that beating these Bowser battles involves little more acting out a defined sequence, never giving you the chance to take the initiative and diluting the eventual victory.

One of the biggest recurring issues comes from the extra lives system, a needless frustration in Galaxy and even more so here due to the increased difficulty. There will be times when a star is beating you continuously and you will be perfectly happy to play it over and over again, yet because running out of lives only forces you to watch a 'Game Over' screen and lose your checkpoints, there's no tension to be gained from the system as much as annoyance at having to repeat challenges you already know you can overcome. Knowing that all your hard-won 1-ups will be lost upon quitting the game (you restart each time with four) encourages prolonged periods of play, making a farce of Nintendo including a character who reminds you of the importance of taking a rest.

Once you collect 120 stars, the game makes a neat about-turn which forces you to play in a slightly different way. While it's a brilliant idea (and subtly hints towards making use of the abilities of a character who otherwise seems superfluous), you are sometimes asked to perform tasks which rely too much on pot-luck and guesswork than a platformer should allow. These are annoyances in their own right, but combined with the lives system leads to the game's few moments of genuine justified frustration: one challenge asks you to jump from an upside-down platform and hit a very precise goal you can't even see. When errors occur due to the controls getting confused, a rare occurrence carried over from the first game, or limited camera control, the game can test the enthusiasm of even the most hardcore Mario devotee.

So while Super Mario Galaxy 2 cannot claim to be perfect or as fresh as what has gone before, what it can offer is gameplay finally as thrilling as the 'Galaxy' concept deserves, with tens of hours of boundless gaming perfection surrounding every minor misjudgment. As the trend towards darker and more violent games becomes increasingly powerful, on this sort of form there are few better reminders than a blue-dungareed plumber riding a green dinosaur that the reason most of us started gaming was simply to have fun. When I express my hope that Nintendo take their mascot somewhere new for his next game, it's not because the game ever feels like it has overstayed its welcome, but because after a gaming feast this wonderful, it feels right to leave on a seemingly insurmountable high. Though a small number of faults occasionally wobble the trajectory, at full flight Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a treat of interstellar proportions.

9



PREVIOUS REVIEWS

No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle + Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Wii) review

Sin & Punishment 2

Red Steel 2

Heavy Rain/Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Oboro Muramasa
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About Xander Markhamone of us since 3:08 PM on 02.07.2010

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I'm a 26-year old English writer, formerly known on the CBlogs as Xandaça. I've been an avid gamer since I was a wee lad, gripping a NES controller in my hands and comprehensively failing to get past those infuriating Hammer Bros on Level 8-3 of Super Mario Bros. I've stuck with Nintendo since then (not for any animosity towards the other console makers of course - Nintendo just make games I enjoy and have grown up with), apart from a brief sojourn with a Sony PlayStation, several woeful attempts to play Half-Life 2 using a laptop touchpad and sporadically wrangling a turn on my sister's beloved Sega Saturn.

In addition to burping out the occasional novel, I'm a passionate critic, writing reviews and articles of films, book and games for my school magazine and university newspaper, for which I created and edited its film section. In addition to starting up my own blog, covering television, games and movies, I am also a writer for Destructoid's cine-geek sister Flixist. While primarily a film geek, the evolution of the games industry over the course of its short lifetime has fascinated me and provided vast quantities of content for some incendiary pieces of work - perhaps a few more might spring up on here?

My Favourite Games of All Time (because who doesn't love having a few Of All Time lists?) are GoldenEye 007 (which I still play through at least once a year to remind me of its glories), Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Gunstar Heroes, Super Mario Bros 3 (I don't know who told Shigsy Miyamoto-san that raccoons could fly, but I'll love them forever) and No More Heroes.

I hope you find great enjoyment in my many scribings, and please keep an eye out for upcoming news on my novel(s) and do pay a visit to my blog sometime. And yes, the Dtoid community's 'no copy and paste' rule will be fully respected!

Good gaming, everyone!