Thursday, June 3, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is here, and with it, more planet-hopping fun. The game takes just about everything from its predecessor, and adds even more stuff to it, including the loveable, green stallion, Yoshi, and a handful of new power-ups. Is this second installment of a true 3D Mario adventure on a single system really necessary, or at least feel different enough to warrant its existence? Read on to find out.

The first thing you’ll notice with Super Mario Galaxy 2, assuming you’ve played the first one, is that it is nearly identical to look and feel as its forerunner. The file system looks the same, graphics are about the same, and the controls are identical. The old power-ups are present as well, although they are relegated to use in a single galaxy or two each, so you won’t see them very often.

One of the main differences you’ll find off the bat is that you no longer have a large hub world to walk around in, going from room to room to get to a different galaxy. Instead, you have a small little space ship, which you can still explore, but you get to each world via a map, similar to New Super Mario Brothers, but very basic. Your space ship is still large enough to walk around on and investigate, with new creatures showing up every now and again to add a bit of character to your ship, but there isn’t anything too interesting to do on it, although you can learn some useful tidbits from some of the inhabitants. The world map is very familiar and easy to navigate. Each world has a handful of galaxies, which are set up on a couple of paths. You must get at least one star in a galaxy to open up the path ahead and continue, however, you don’t have to get all of the stars in a galaxy, nor do you have to even get a single star in all of the galaxies, as some world paths open up a bit and allow you to bypass certain galaxies. However, like previous Mario games, there are still star gates, in which you have to have a certain number of stars to progress, so you can’t just go skipping every level there is, and I don’t know why you would want to anyways.

The game starts you off running, and throws each new feature at you one after the other. One galaxy has you using the new drill, and then the next has the cloud power-up, while the one after that has Yoshi. I was surprised how each level at the beginning had a new item, but it’s in no way overwhelming. I just assumed they would have paced it differently, and spread them out a bit, but it’s not a detriment I don’t feel. Overall, I found all of the new items and features really cool and fun to use, although some have a few quirks. For instance, I couldn’t find a way to drop the drill, other than going into a transport star or getting hit by an enemy. Also, I would have liked to have had a bit more control with the cloud power-up. You only get three clouds to use per item pick-up, and they are activated by shaking the Wii remote, which usually gives you a little extra oompf with jumps. So, you can’t really do that spin to get that extra distance, as it would instead place a cloud. Also, I tended to place clouds on top of other platforms, which means I couldn’t get the item directly below me, but that would just be something I need to practice more on I guess. Also, the former didn’t tend to matter too much, as those cloud items were pretty generously placed.

Which brings me to difficulty. Galaxy 2 is supposed to be a lot more difficult that the first, however, I didn’t find that to be the case. Granted, I’m a pretty hard-core gamer and know my way around some Mario, but still, it didn’t seem dramatically more difficult than the first, and even, might have been easier. There were definitely 4 or 5 stars that gave me major trouble, but I don’t think they were more difficult than that infamous one in Galaxy were you had to get the 100 purple coins on the 8-bit Mario stage. What was also disappointing was the ease of getting the comet coins. I came in with the impression that they would be hidden within the stages, and it would be a bit difficult to go around and try to find them, however, this wasn’t the case at all. Most of the comet coins were literally right in front of your face, and you would have to go out of your way to NOT get them. There were 2, maybe 3 of the coins that actually took a little thought to try to find, but other than that, they were seriously in plain view and on your path to the star, and didn’t require any special moves or thought to obtain. I was thinking in some levels, “Oh, maybe it’s hidden behind this planet/boulder where the camera doesn’t show,” or “maybe it’s around this corner that’s out of the way, just below the cliff,” but it turns out, that instead of being cleverly hidden away, it’s right in your path, when you’re flying through the air via a transport star, so you HAVE to get the coin…..yeah. (Ok, it’s not THAT easy, but pretty much).

However, if you do like scouring levels for hidden items, then you’re in luck, as:
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SPOILER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
once you’ve gotten 120 stars, you unlock the green stars, which double the number of stars on each galaxy. These green stars, unlike regular star challenges, are instead hidden throughout each galaxy and must be found. These are actually pretty hard to find and you’ll be going through every nook and cranny in a level to uncover them. So, these act as those comet coins for me, where you actually have to put forth effort to find them. I was a little bummed out at first to realize that the green stars were merely hidden, instead of like regular stars, where you had to do some action to get, but it still adds more than the original SMG had, and does add a lot of gameplay.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! END SPOILER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I will say that if you are completely new to Mario and 3D games in general, then you’ll probably get pretty frustrated with the “difficulty”. Obviously, there is a lot of platforming going on, with jumping around, avoiding/killing enemies, and all sorts of stuff, so if you are new to this kind of thing, you’ll have some major trouble, but as a veteran, I didn’t find it too bad. One issue I did find however, was with the camera. It’s pretty good overall, but there are times when it won’t keep up and won’t track you when circling around a planet or other such task, and then the directional controls get wonky and you’re moving up when holding down, etc, which can be frustrating. This didn’t happen TOO often, but it was definitely noticeable when it did, and confused me a bit, so n00bs would be totally thrown off for these short periods of inconsistency.

The most difficult stars are most definitely the prankster comet ones, as these usually have time constraints and can be purple coin challenges which can take a few tries to master. Luckily though, this means that beginners can usually bypass these stars and still beat the final boss and “beat” the game.

But enough with that, let’s talk about Yoshi!!! He’s so cool, and my best pal, unless I’m playing SMW and have to sacrifice him to get to a tall ledge. Sorry, Yoshi. His appearance in Super Mario Sunshine felt a bit weird, as he would shoot juice out and instantly dissolve in water, which didn’t make any sense, but he is back in true form in Galaxy 2 I felt, even though there are three interesting powers he can gain. The first is a Dash Pepper, which gives you and Yoshi about 10 seconds of super speed where you can run up vertical walls or make a dash through a closing gate. It takes precise movements to control, so can be tricky at first, but not too terrible overall. Another item Yoshi can consume is the Blimp Fruit, which inflates your comrade and allows you to float upwards for a short time. The last is the Bulb Berry, which gives Yoshi the ability to illuminate hidden platforms, however, you can only stand on these platforms while the Bulb Berry is active, so if you run out, even if you where on a platform, you will fall, so be quick about it.

All of these power-ups can be gained by either walking into them or using Yoshi’s tongue to eat, which is done by pointing at the item, seeing a red circle encapsulate it, and pressing the B button. Yoshi can also eat just about every enemy, and sometimes spit them back out as a projectile, which comes in handy. Yoshi also retains his famous flutter jump, and controls just about the same as Mario, except you can’t do a long jump anymore, nor would I assume you could wall jump. Yoshi is a pretty good partner in crime in Galaxy 2, but like the power-ups, you can’t really get him unless you NEED him, which I feel a little odd about. For instance, in Super Mario World, you can get Yoshi fairly often, and keep him to use in other levels if you wished, but you never really NEEDED him. In recent Mario games, you can’t get him unless you NEED him for something. Same with the power-ups. You can never get a starman or fire flower when you don’t NEED it for something. You can’t get one and just mess around and have fun and play a level a different way. You can’t get a cloud suit and explore a level that wasn’t intended to be explored. I understand you wouldn’t want to take Yoshi into a level he wasn’t supposed to be in and completely break the platforming difficulty and the like, but it just seems that you don’t have as much freedom as you could, and it makes levels a bit more linear in a sense.

Galaxy 2 does throw Luigi your way again, with the same semi-different “abilities”, where he is slightly faster, can just slightly higher, and can’t stop worth crap. He first appears in seemingly random galaxies and asks for you to play as him, so he can help his bro find some stars. Playing as Luigi doesn’t unlock new star opportunities, but instead, unlocks ghosts. For every star you collect as Luigi, you unlock a ghost of him, which you can then follow when replaying that star. It’s a nifty little feature, but I think it could have been implemented a bit better. You see, Luigi only appears every so often on random stars, so at first, you can only get ghosts on those levels, beating the rest with Mario. Then, once you beat the final boss for the first time, you unlock the ability to play as Luigi whenever you like, so if you want to get ghosts on all of the stars, you’ll have to replay a lot of the levels, and then play them AGAIN to race/see the ghosts. It seems a little inconvenient.

The level design and variety in Galaxy 2 is pretty superb. Each galaxy, semi-strangely, only has 2-3 stars to grab, and in past games, it’s more like 5 or 6. However, this isn’t a bad thing, as that means there are more environments to explore and play in, and each one feels like a new experience. One galaxy will focus on one gimmick, and the next will have something completely different. It’s obvious the developers had a ton of little ideas they wanted to throw in, and most of them are probably there. You have cloud levels where you have to clear large gaps and go high into the air, rock levels, where you have to roll around, Yoshi levels, and a star for each kind of power-up. You’re always doing something new and different.

The bosses in the game are also fairly creative, although simple enough to kill. This happens to also be the case with the main bosses, which I found disappointing, especially with Bowser. He’s always been the same, where each subsequent encounter features the same moves, but with slightly more difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, the final such encounter still felt a little too simple. I would have hoped for a little more epicness.

In the end though, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is another fantastic Mario game. There are almost 50 new galaxies to explore, 120 main stars to grab, and another 120 to collect after that. There are new suits, Yoshi, a slightly modified co-op experience, and staff ghosts. There is plenty of help for newcomers, with a few helper TVs to give you hints on what to do, and the Rosalina guide to physically guide you through a level. However, these features can be easily ignored by players more familiar with the series, and there is a fair amount of challenge to all gamers. Most definitely a buy if you like games.

Overall Score: 9.5/10