Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Nintendo EAD Toyko
I am of course talking about the original Super Mario Galaxy which came out on the Nintendo Wii three years ago.
And here we are now with Super Mario Galaxy 2. What more can we expect from a sequel to a game that has already garnered near perfect scores and almost universal praise? The short answer is plenty.
While the design motif of Mario navigating his way around miniature planets tethered together by stars returns intact, the game still has plenty of new ideas to offer. Once again, Nintendo have thrown the proverbial kitchen sink into this game. Each level plays almost nothing like the one before it. It will spend a level or two introducing a particular style of play and then set it aside for something completely different. Its not uncommon for a single level to shift between three dimensional roaming, two dimensional platforming and then introduce a power-up suit, like the new Cloud Suit and Rock Suit, which then turns the way you play through the level on its head once more.
The difference between the original Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 is not unlike the jump between the Super Mario Bros trilogy on the NES and then Super Mario World after it. Although superficially similar, it is the introduction of new powerups, a fully utilized Yoshi and even more completely off-the-wall experimental level design that brings an extra dimension to SMG2.
One feature from the original Galaxy game which I was happy to see return is the interesting take on a two player mode. While the first player navigates Mario through the levels, a second player can control a Luma (a tiny sentient star creature) and assist Mario by holding down enemies, blocking obstacles and collecting items such as coins and star-bits. By functioning as an aid that can help the first player but without being hampered by the possibility of actually perishing, it serves beautifully as an option for someone to play along without having the expertise to keep up in the more challenging levels. Its very much in the spirit of the Wii itself. The perfect option for the spouse, a younger sibling or a casual gamer etc. If anything, there are definitely moments in SMG2 that feel like they are almost designed to played in this co-op fashion, whereas a single player navigating the same levels by themselves would find it an order of magnitude more difficult.
And lets not mince words here. Having chosen to really push the limits of their creativity and imagination in the level design, the upshot of it all is that Nintendo have made one hell of a tough game here. Tougher than what most of its audience will be able to handle I believe. Some steps have been taken to circumvent this with both a non-linear approach to the level progression as well as an automated playthrough option which appears in-game if you die too many times in a particular area. It’s pretty humbling though to have a level get the best of you only to have the game advise that you’re stinking up the place and would you like Mario to be played for you?
Three years on and one of the best things about playing through SMG2 is its cheerful presentation. SMG1&2 are comfortably some of the best presented games of this current generation of consoles which is no mean feat given the relatively modest decade-old hardware that the Wii runs on. Yet Nintendo clearly are able to get something out of this machine that no one else can. Each world is absolutely enourmous, colourful and full of life. Almost every character has a charming podgy-ness to them and are well animated. The orchestral music also returns and once again compliments the visuals brilliantly. Few games exude this level of charisma. The presentation is an invitation to the player to have fun and lose themselves in this imaginative world full of anthropomorphic fungus and interconnecting pipes.
Aside from the occasional bout of frustration with a challenging level, the only other time this game makes me feel disappointment is when I sit back and consider that it seems to be a game in which Nintendo is mastering a craft that almost no one else even attempts anymore. That the platforming genre seems to have withered to almost nothingness this generation is a great shame.
On a more optimistic note, E3 2010 has provided me with more platforming games to look forward to than I have had in years. Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns and the new Rayman platformer are hopefully the games to kickstart this genre once more. One thing is for sure though. Super Mario Galaxy 2 has set the bar for quality exceptionally high. It is Nintendo at their best and one of the finest platformers ever created. An instant classic.