Sequels to games that are considered some of the best of a franchise or in general of all time do not fare well with gamers. Final Fantasy VIII was the next major Final Fantasy release after VII and gamers didn't find appreciation till years later. The same could be said for Halo 2, Majora's Mask, or Metal Gear Solid 2. While the quality of these games isn’t terrible they look awful in comparison.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the exact opposite of this; it outshines the first game in every way. It uses the same engine of the first game and yet it looks and feels better. What Galaxy 2 does is streamline the first game and pile on new abilities. The sheer amount of different game play aspects for Mario and Yoshi make it like Mario Brothers 3. From power ups to things Yoshi can shove in his mouth, no two stars really feel the same and the game never becomes repetitive.
Graphically the game is easily the best the Wii has to offer. The galaxies are dark when they need to be and bright the rest of the time. Mario Galaxy 2 like the first always feels like a world you'd love to be in, a paradise in the stars. Realistic graphics work for serious franchises but Mario is a warm feeling franchise that benefits and wears its cartoon styled graphics proudly.
The controls are fine in this title and when motion controls come into play its always a worry that they won't respond well. When you shake the Wiimote to have Mario spin attack, he does without hesitation. The issue of controls can only be seen when trying to grasp the flying levels where movement is decided through tilting or the roll on the ball star that returns from the first game. In the first galaxy these two tilting control quests had some issues with response. The Surfing equivalent in the first title tending never to listen to the player. It's fixed here and getting the hang of the sudden twist in the control scheme is a lot easier to accomplish.
If you remember the story from the first game, forget it. Galaxy 2 simple drops the first game from memory and retells a new story. How it's told is the first brilliant moment of the game. There is no long slow text scroll or picture montage to pass the story onto you. Instead the game begins as a 2D platformer with the text unfolding as you progress (think Braid). As Mario moves farther in this 2D world the player flips the pages of this storybook and the world begins to slowly open into a 3D world.
Bowser is gigantic (but not Giga) due to eating the power stars, and kidnaps Princess Peach. A luma, which is essentially a small gelatinous star creature, appears and doesn't speak in any understandable language. He decides to join Mario hiding in his hat and granting him the ability to fly short distances from planet to planet.
This is where Starship Mario comes in, a spaceship powered by stars and shaped like Mario's iconic mug. This serves as the game's sandbox environment that was fun but overly large from the first Galaxy. Starship Mario is where you can find Lubba; this games Rosalina essentially. A mailman that delivers letters with money and lives, a gambler that lets you hit blocks for prizes and a banker to deposit bits are a few examples of what's to be found.
Speaking earlier about a streamlined system the map is the true replacement for the big sandbox of the first galaxy. The map unfolds much like Super Mario World or Brothers 3 with new paths being unlocked as you finish levels, or secret paths opening up. It's a simple time effective move that doesn't make the map system to be a chore. The first galaxy suffered badly by forcing players to reach each map room and then choose galaxies that wouldn't always be the one a player clicked on. This is a perfect fit for this title and eliminates any confusion.
At the end of Mario Galaxy you unlocked a New Game + like mode where you played as Luigi to gather all the stars. In this game he unlocks at 20 stars and is available to help on certain stars, or beat the game and he'll be unlocked for every star and galaxy. Luigi is still slippery and floaty but thats a skillset that helps for this title's post game.
The second player in this game gets to do a bit more than just fire star bits at enemies or collect them by hovering the cursor over them. Now the player can grab coins and other items as the Luma under Mario's hat. While not a big groundbreaking two players at once accomplishment, it gives the second player more to do in game.
The soundtrack in the first game has been regarded as one of the better game soundtracks of all time. This is the same way with a soundtrack that covers older songs like The Road to Bowser from Mario 64 or Throwback Galaxy's rendition of Bob-Omb Battlefield also from Mario 64. New songs are no slouch either ranging from the most peaceful of over world themes with the Starship Mario anthem. In the other direction of moods, the Yoshi Star Galaxy theme is the perfect blend of upbeat and adventurous.
Yoshi is a welcome bring back as Mario's ride, gamers that played Mario Sunshine will remember he would vanish upon touching water in a game filled with it. While Yoshi was worthless there, he is extremely useful here. Levels that make use of fire fruit turn into high speed racing levels, while the use of the balloon power up brings back level strategies seen in Super Mario World with that game's P Balloon. A power of Yoshi's I really didn't enjoy was the use of him swallowing light bulbs (get the plant pun?) to light levels that are completely dark. It's a design Yoshi's tongue is used in the method a player collects star bits, pressing the button to fire bits at the world will now let Yoshi eat enemies or swing on flowers.
For Mario he gets back his ability to become a Bee, a Boo, and a Springy Mario all return from the first adventure. Mario also will utilize sling stars to grapple between planets that lack launch pad stars, but thankfully unlike the first game there isn't a dependency on sling stars. New to this game are the Cloud Suit, Rock Suit and a drill.
The Cloud suit isn't much of a combat suit but serves to let Mario make up to three platforms to clear gaps that lack stationary platforms. The Rock suit is essentially an always fast and damaging version of the Goron transformation from Majora's Mask. You roll around and smash things, on snow levels you can become a snowball by rolling around. Finally the drill is a hold item that allows Mario to burrow through dirt, but not rock.
One of the cooler parts for Mario fans is spotting the tips of the hat to past titles. Some are obvious like remakes of Mario 64 levels. Others tend to be a little harder to catch like an enemy named the Chargin Chuck, now a bouncing electric enemy instead of a football player. There even is a level that resembles Butter Bridge from Super Mario World in 3D.
In every galaxy is a comet medal which activates Prankster Comets that change the look or objective in a level. These tend to be harder than a normal objective and are on the same difficulty plain as stars your invited to for rematches against various characters.
This game has challenge which is a feature that Mario games forgot in later 2D games but embraced in the 3D era. The reason you have those 20 plus lives is because you'll soon run into a star that will cause you to lose about 18 of those in the blink of an eye. The game can be extremely cheap at times but when you jump straight onto a spiked enemy that launches you off a planet, you really can't blame the game that much.
It's what happens when you beat the game and collect all the stars that makes this a game to remember. This time players will have a challenge of proportions that match the length of the original game, not an easy feat without being a character swap rehash.
Run, don't wait to buy this game. At this point in the year it's hands down the game of the year for what it offers in multiple areas. A game that has so little flaws and so many positives comes around once every few years and no one should ever claim a Mario game is too kiddy or cartoony to play when it stacks up with ease against the best of them.