Friday, May 28, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) Review

Let's cap off the month right with a review of a big name game. It's arguably the biggest game released this month unless you really dig cowboys which I know some of my peeps do. A game like this doesn't come out every year, so it's important to cherish it as much as possible. Now I'm sounding like a Hallmark card, so let's just wrap this up and say here's my review of Super Mario Galaxy 2.

How is a game like this possible?

Every now and then a game comes along that not only revolutionizes the way we play video games, but it also constantly referred to by the industry in speeches and in forums for being a great innovator for years to come. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is not one of these games. However, it takes the concepts of its predecessor, mashes them up into bite-sized chunks, and creates a near-perfect gaming experience. This is Mario's galaxy, and we just happen to play in it.

Our modest tale begins with Mario receiving an invitation to Peach's castle for some scrumptious cake. Not even Mario can resist such a confectionery delight! On the way to the castle, he comes across a lone Luma, lost and alone. Mario joins up with the cute creature, and they make their way to a torn and tattered courtyard. Bowser is back and bigger and badder than ever before! He's got the princess locked in his palm, claiming that he will rebuild his galactic empire with Peach at his side. Knowing Mario needs help, a portly Luma named Lubba gives Mario a spaceship in the shape of Mario's noggin to chase after Bowser. Thus, the rest is history.

Storybook cut-scenes add some charm to our familiar tale.

Gone is the hub from the original Galaxy. Instead it's been replaced with a much more streamlined world map system. There's seven worlds in all with the majority of each concluding with marching through one of Bowser or Bowser Jr.'s intergalactic fortresses. As you earn power stars within the game's galaxies (there's usually 1-3 in each galaxy), you unlock new galaxies to explore. The cycle continues until you earn a Grand Star from beating down Bowser or his rascally offspring which opens up the next world full of even more galaxies to conquer. Starship Mario is your vessel of transport between galaxies. As you complete levels, new visitors pop up on the spaceship which is very cool as by the end of the game Starship Mario is packed with cheery friends.

Meet the easier to navigate map screen.

The galaxies themselves range from massive, fully explorable levels to disjointed planetoids, both big and small in size. The game does a fantastic job of introducing new obstacles and concepts at a consistent pace. Some games would drag on a gimmick throughout the game, but not Super Mario Galaxy 2. Instead, it makes use of a theme or gimmick in one galaxy and moves on during the next to something completely and totally different yet still awesome. One galaxy when Mario performs his spin attack, the entire floor flips-- reds turn clear to fall through, blues turn stable to walk on while another has you reminiscing the days of Super Mario Bros. 3's Giant Land with its absolutely gigantic platforms, pipes, and creatures.

If you've played a 3D Mario game before you know how it works. You enter a level with an objective in mind. This can be something like taking down a boss to grabbing a power star within a complex maze of platforms. Just like the flagpole signals the end of a level in Super Mario Bros., the power star represents the goal of a particular mission. The goals are quite varied, and you'll seldom find a star in the bunch that's merely there to be filler. No, sirree. Instead what you have is a series of well put together levels with goals that are rewarding and challenging to complete.

What's been beefed up is in the boss department. There's far greater, more epic battles to be had. One pits you against a long, menacing dragon with boils along its belly. When the opportunity arises, the goal is to smash these boils until the boss submits. Another boss uses a flip mechanic where you traverse on the underside of the planetoid, ground pound a tile when the boss crosses over it, and cause damage. While you may see some familiar ferocious faces in Galaxy 2, the majority of boss battles are fresh and unique and once again, rewarding and challenging to beat.

Megahammer is the awesome boss of World 3.

Then there's the prankster comets that come along once you've reached a certain point in the game. These are earned by collecting comet coins hidden or placed in an otherwise devious location in each galaxy, one per galaxy. The comets cause havoc on the galaxy they orbit causing new, fiendishly difficult challenges. What was once a series of slow turning platforms are now lightning fast. It's not just cosmetic changes either. New goals have you collecting purple coins or completing a level under a strict time limit while others have you retreading old goals only this time with an arsenal of Cosmic Marios in pursuit of you, trailing closely behind. It's these comets where the true challenge of Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes place, and boy, do you feel like a champ when you complete them. It's important to note that while these challenges are, well, challenging, they never come across as cheap or unfair.

Those Cosmic Marios are running circles around our tired hero.

For those worried that they won't be able to see the ending of the game due to these comets, don't worry about it as these challenges are merely optional bonuses. Though those wanting to collect all 120 stars will have to be put through the ringer. If a challenge becomes too daunting and several dozen lives are lost in the process of attempting to complete a given mission, the Cosmic Guide will appear. This optional guide will play through the tricky section of a level for you, but in return you only gain a bronze star as opposed to a golden one. The Cosmic Guide is an ingenious feature as it allowed the designers to make the game as difficult as they deemed fit. Hardcore players could opt to play through the levels without any help whereas beginning players could use the Cosmic Guide for assistance.

A Mario game wouldn't be a Mario game without awesome power-ups. Well, there's always Super Mario Sunshine, but some might not call that the perfect Mario game. Regardless, there's a smorgasbord of super specialties for Mario to grab. Returning favorites such as Bee Mario allows Mario to hover and fly up in the air for a limited amount of time, Ghost Mario which is severely underused along with Spring Mario which can propel Mario high into the air even if it's a bit unwieldy to use for beginners. Finally to round off the old power-ups, the Fire Flower makes its return allowing Mario to toss fireballs like candy to trick-or-treaters for a limited time.

The Haunty Halls Galaxy is full of spooks and frights!

New power-ups include the fantastic Cloud Flower which when grabbed turns our portly plumber in Cloud Mario. When he spins, he summons a cloud platform. Up to three of these can be dropped with one power-up. If Mario wants to make more, he'll have to reload by collecting a new flower. These cloud platforms may be temporary, but they have more than enough uses such as reaching taller heights. The clouds can also be blown to and fro to cross greater distances, too. Other new power-ups include the Rock Shroom which, you guessed it, turns Mario into Rock Mario. With a waggle of the Wii remote, Mario will transform into a boulder to bowl over anyone and anything that gets in his way. There's also a spin drill which opens up the gameplay possibilities considerably. Mario can drill his way through soft soil and come out the other end of a giant planetoid. On a circular planetoid against a specific boss, Mario needs to dig his way through the center of the planet to reach the otherwise impenetrable underside of the boss.

Drill through the planet to hit Diggaleg's underside.

That's not all that's new with Galaxy 2 either. A familiar friend at long last returns, and this time he's not afraid of the water-- Yoshi! Yoshi plays beautifully with the player pointing at enemies and objects for Yoshi to consume. Some objects like boomerangs and Bullet Bills can be spit back out at enemies or obstacles. A taste of their own medicine-- just the way I like it! Yoshi's tongue can also latch onto certain pegs to swing the lovable duo across gaps and otherwise dangerous chasms. Yoshi can also transform using one of three types of fruits. The red pepper item gives Yoshi supersonic speed to roar through sections of levels, the blue fruit fills Yoshi up with air, making him rise up for a limited amount of time, and the bulb berry illuminates previously darkened platforms for Mario and Yoshi to safely cross before the light goes out. Yoshi is a welcomed addition to the Galaxy formula, and it's great to see him used more often unlike New Super Mario Bros. Wii where he only showed up for a handful of levels.

Those who played the original Mario Galaxy will feel right at home with tight, responsive controls of its sequel. Mario can perform nearly all of his moves from his 64 days from the long jump, the wall jump, somersault, and even the Galaxy-exclusive spin jump to give Mario extra hang time with a flick of the Wii remote. The pointer is used to pick up loose star bits, and even a second player can join in, grabbing onto and defeating enemies, grabbing coins and 1-ups that are just of reach for player one. It makes it so anyone can enjoy the game which I'm all for. The motion control exclusive activities are more limited this time around featuring the return of the ball-rolling mini-game as well as the all-new Fluzzard gliding race which admittedly takes some getting used to.

Whomp, along with many other old enemies, returns.

There's 120 individual stars to gather throughout the cosmos, and it'll take most players at least twenty hours to collect them all. Even then, your work is not done as new challenges open up. Exactly what is a surprise I shall not spoil though it's tempting. Each star you collect you'll be going "ooh, one more. Ooh, just one more after that one that I said would be my last one! I promise!" Relish in the moment. Relish this game and all the time you spend playing it. Though one beef I do have with the game is that every time you quit, your lives counter reverts back to five. Sure, you sometimes can share lives with a player on the same console, but still it's pretty weak that you can't hold onto your collected lives when in New Super Mario Bros. Wii you could.

Super Mario Galaxy was and still is one of the Wii's best looking games. Super Mario Galaxy 2 updates the engine somewhat but the difference really isn't noticeable. Those looking for a graphical update out of their sequels will be out of luck with this title. Still, the game looks phenomenal and none of this "for Wii" disclaimer either. It looks gorgeous from the impressive fur shading to the advanced lighting-- everything is a joy to gawk at. Galaxy 2's soundtrack perfectly complements the gameplay and setting to a "T". The orchestrated music may not be as high in quality as the original Galaxy simply for the fact that the original has been in our heads longer, but it surely beats out most soundtracks on any console this generation. Hearing orchestrated renditions of Koopa Road and Super Mario World's Ghost House sent shivers down my spine. They were that remarkably composed. The other side of the coin, the synth tracks, are pretty much hit and miss, but mostly hits.

Ultimately, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the better game when pitted against its already excellent original brethren. We wondered how Nintendo could possibly outdo themselves with Super Mario Galaxy, yet somehow they managed to do it. No hyperbole, no exaggerations, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a masterpiece in game design and most importantly fun. The challenge that was absent in the original Galaxy is here, the level design constantly throws new things at the player, and the presentation is just astounding. If you own a Wii and have any interest in seeing gaming perfection, pick up Super Mario Galaxy 2. Even if you don't, the original and its superior sequel should be more than enough of a reason to pick one up. This is why we play video games.

[SuperPhillip Says: 10/10]

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