Nintendo rarely makes direct sequels to games. Usually they wait a generation, take things in a completely different direction and end up with a final product that could hardly be called a sequel. With Super Mario Galaxy 2, though, they’ve done a very traditional followup to the 2007 blockbuster. If you are a fan of the first Super Mario Galaxy, everything will feel pleasantly familiar. Sure, Galaxy 2 is more of the same, but when you are talking about the best platforming gameplay of the generation, that doesn’t qualify as much of a complaint.
That is not to say there is nothing new in Galaxy 2, though—some elements are in fact improved upon over the original, including a more streamlined overworld map system. This overworld feels a lot like the New Super Mario Bros. games, with sequential worlds but branching paths. There’s still a hub world of sorts; you fly around a spaceship shaped like Mario’s head, and the vessel contains training areas and a growing collection of people and things collected along the way.
The levels themselves are an evolution of the original’s. There are very few pure platforming stages in Galaxy 2. Most of the levels are based around power-ups. There are new collections of challenges built around the original’s Bee Suit, Boo Suit and Spring Suit, and some creative worlds based on new suits. The Cloud Suit allows Mario to create temporary platforms in mid-air, and when these get pushed by wind, things get complicated. The Rock Suit turns him into a careening boulder that bowls over enemies and obstacles. And the drill isn’t a suit, but pushing through planets to the other side makes for different kinds of puzzles.
One of the big selling points of the game is Yoshi, and his levels don’t disappoint. The venerable dino has three power-ups of his own, allowing Mario to race up walls, light up hidden pathways and jet up to high platforms F.L.U.D.D.-style.
Nintendo has suggested that Galaxy 2 would be a more challenging title than the first game. Levels get increasingly difficult, but the main stages aren’t where things get crazy. The comet challenges are often very difficult, and collecting all 240 stars is no easy feat, but earning just enough stars to advance and beat the game is easier than some may expect, and for two reasons.
The first is the infamous “super guide” that Nintendo has committed to as of late. Dying on a level enough times unlocks a help feature that takes you through the world and to the star. This seems cheap, but purists shouldn’t worry; the result is a bronze star instead of a gold one, so achieving it normally is still rewarded.
The second player aid is a revamped two-player cooperative mode. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is, like its predecessor, a game that was designed as a single-player experience. However, the two player “co-star” mode in Galaxy 2 is vastly superior to the tacked-on offering found in the first game, and it is actually loads of fun. If a second player chooses to join in, they will be represented by a little orange Luma that follows behind Mario. He can help Mario in many different ways; from vanquishing enemies and collecting items (including mushrooms) to freezing moving hazards in place, the co-star luma almost always comes in handy, no matter what the level is. In fact, sometimes it is almost as fun to play as the co-star instead of Mario himself. It’s a great way to let a friend try on the blue overalls when you feel you need a break from the action.
Of course, all this leads to what we call the “Tails effect.” In Sonic the Hedgehog 2, a second player could control Tails, and were capable of doing most of what Sonic could do without fear of death. The dynamic in Galaxy 2 is similar, if not more pronounced. Adding a second player drops the difficulty a few notches, as the successful creation of a fun second player lets you divide tasks and conquer tricky areas. It’s lots of fun nonetheless, and you’ll just need to use your judgment and decide when you want to walk the hard road.
During development, the team thought about calling this game “More Super Mario Galaxy.” Well, it is, but it’s not just more of the same. Working off the original’s framework, Nintendo could focus on letting their gameplay imagination run wild. It shows, and the result is a game that won’t wow you, but probably won’t leave your disc slot anytime soon either.
Staff writer Eric Schabel contributed to this review.