Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

By Andrew Pfister - Posted May 21, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the culmination of over 20 years of Mario gaming into one fantastically-designed and creative platformer. It's also one of 2010's absolutely best games.

The Pros
  • Level designer creativity in full bloom
  • Yoshi works great in 3D
  • Most New Power-Ups Are Winners
The Cons
  • Controls get tricky messing with multiple dimensions
  • Boo Suit Not Fun

In grade school, my friends and I would sometimes take out our rulers and blank sheets of paper, and draw elaborate corridor paths that would snake around the sheet until it reached an end point on the other side. Filling the white space with giant triangles, wavy lines, black holes, and other devious (to a 4th-grader) traps, the goal of the game was for another person to draw a continuous line from the beginning of the path to the end, without hitting any of the corridor walls or the hazards we concocted. If we did, we'd lose a "life." It should go without saying that all of us were die hard Super Mario Bros. fans, and to us, it wasn't so much about platforming (a term we had no conception of) as it was the sense of running through an obstacle course. So if I were to travel back through time and show my 10-year old self and friends Super Mario Galaxy 2, heads would probably explode.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Building on a Strong Foundation

Having already done the hard work of building the engine in Super Mario Galaxy, and establishing the concepts of spherical navigation and gravitational pull, Galaxy 2 sees the Mario team's creativity in full, unrestrained bloom. The obstacle courses they've assembled within the game's six (plus) worlds are, for the most part, thoroughly honed, wildly varied, and lacking in filler. The variance stems from a large toolbox that's been collected from the Mario games over the years, and because the walls between the traditional "ice/fire/water/space levels" have been completely razed -- there's a galaxy where you turn lava to ice with a flip of a switch -- the designers are constantly throwing change-ups and new combinations of enemies, power-ups, and environments. But it's also done with logic and restraint: never do they throw in nonsensical combinations or repeat level themes just for the sake of padding out an idea.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

And, even more so than the first Galaxy, the manipulation of perspective leads to the game's finest moments. In one galaxy, there are pre-determined gravity zones that Mario needs to get through. This involves running upside down, jumping "up" onto shifting platforms (each with their own gravity zones), and then through a gauntlet of Thwomps who are crushing you from the bottom of the screen in a very un-Thwomp-like manner. It's all very complex and intimidating...until you realize that because of your perspective at the start of the level, you can do a backflip on top of the blocks that border the gravity maze and simply run over the top of everything, dropping back in when you get to the Power Star. There are numerous such instances of camera angles, gravity, and planes mixing and matching within the same level that generates this weirdly wonderful mix of 2D and 3D Mario play. It doesn't always lead to perfect platforming, as there'll be times when Mario gets confused about which way is down; particularly frustrating when tasked with staying alive on rotating objects with 90 degree angles (“Clockwork Galaxy” is a rare low point in this regard). There are other legacy control issues as well, including Mario wall jumping to his death when you want him to grab the easily within-reach ledge and making sharp turns while swimming; these are unpleasant -- though thankfully infrequent -- reminders that the more dimensions you add, the more problems you'll have.


Well-Suited Gameplay

Like the mix of 2D and 3D, there's a perfect blending of old franchise mainstays and brand new elements. We're given access to Yoshi right away so that we can get a feel for how he works in 3D. The flutter jump and tongue-lashings via the Wii pointer translate extremely well, and somehow manage to capture the Super Mario World vibe. Before too long, we're turning him into a floating blimp, a pepper-fueled speed demon impervious to gravity, and a flashlight that keeps essential footholds in existence. What's great is that all of these things feel like they've always belonged in the Mario series. The same holds true for the majority of Mario's new power-ups. The Cloud Suit and its three temporary platforms provide 8 seconds of safety, but it also encourages you to attempt long jumps of faith...because it might prove beneficial to hold on to that last cloud. The Rock Suit provides invulnerability at the expense of control; the risk of careening off a ledge is surpassed by the reward of bowling through enemies and harvesting the star bits left behind. The only disappointing new toy is the Boo Suit, which is designed more around player punishment; movement is slow and any surface contact kills momentum. Thankfully (and probably for a reason), it's only prominent in one galaxy. The new powers are scattered smartly throughout the levels, which further creates a sense of variety and that you're always doing something fresh.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Something for Everyone

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a Mario game for lifelong Mario fans, and as such, it will be challenging. Some Power Stars will naturally be easier to retrieve than others, but on average, the game assumes that you know the differences among Mario's array of jumps and spins, that you can instinctively judge distances across gaps, and that you know how the majority of the game's enemies and environmental hazards behave. It's difficult in the way that a school test is difficult, but we've had the advantage of studying the franchise for about 20 years. There are hand-holding options for those who wish to use them, one that shows you how to do something, and one that actually does it for you, but they are nearly invisible if you already know what you're doing. As expected, some of the Prankster Comet challenges get a little too close to "unfair" territory, especially when they involve both Purple Coins and a timer (or a Chimp), but perseverance eventually pays off.

In conclusion, Super Mario Galaxy 2 culminates over 20 years of Mario gaming -- whether you were around for it all as it happened or you picked it up later -- and distills it into a wonderful experience. The essence of Super Mario games has always been getting from Point A to Point B, being proud that you made it to the end, but then being disappointed because the middle part was so entertaining. This is a magnificent feeling that occurs so often in Super Mario Galaxy 2, I really do want to visit my 10-year old self and give him a sneak peek at what the future holds. (And pray that his/my head doesn't explode).