It may be easy to take one look at Super Mario Galaxy 2, see the same gravity-altering traps and spherical worlds from its predecessor, and dismiss this as a by-the-numbers sequel to the superb original. But by assuming you know what to expect from Mario's latest adventure, you would be doing yourself and this game a great disservice. This is not only the new standard against which every 3D platformer must now be judged, but it also seamlessly integrates so many elements from Mario's 2D roots that it stands toe-to-toe with even its genre-defining progenitors. Every aspect of this game is absolutely bursting with joy. The vibrant artistic design immediately welcomes you into this colorful world, and the catchy soundtrack deftly mixes classic tunes with new compositions to provide the perfect backdrop for your goomba-stomping, star-snatching fun. But it's the expertly designed levels that will keep you coming back, even after you've seen everything this game has to offer, just to experience it one more time. This is an instant classic that belongs alongside the best games Nintendo has ever created.
Things are once again rotten in the Mushroom Kingdom. Bowser has taken Princess Peach prisoner for the umpteenth time, forcing Mario to momentarily put his plumbing gig on hold to rescue his fair lady. The best thing that can be said about the story is that it mostly stays in the background. A few lighthearted exchanges between Mario and his foes precede major battles, but there is only a brief break in the action before you get back to flinging fireballs and cracking shells. In fact, Galaxy 2 is much more streamlined than its predecessor. The elaborate hub world that has appeared in each of Mario's previous 3D adventures has been scrapped and replaced by an easy-to-navigate map that lets you hop right into the next level. Galaxy 2 has less downtime than the original, ensuring you're always engaged and entertained.
And you'll be happy to jump right into the action because Galaxy 2 is a long and often challenging adventure. There are lots of different activities to take part in, but everything comes with the same prize: a shining star. It takes 70 of these celestial bodies to make it to the end of the game, but there are many more hidden throughout the universe waiting to be discovered. No matter what you're doing in Galaxy 2, everything feels just right, thanks to the ultraprecise controls. It's a breeze leaping between walls, performing deadly butt-stomps, or jumping across lava-filled pits. There is an unabashed joy in movement that makes even running around the colorful worlds and taking in the uplifting atmosphere feel special. The camera does an admirable job of framing the action, giving you a clear view even when you're dancing on the ceiling in a reverse-gravity room or leaping between floating meteors in space. There are a few times where the angle is less than ideal, making it difficult to line up an exact jump, but for the most part, the camera performs its duty with flying colors.
The wealth of different objectives in Galaxy 2 is mind boggling. Just about every star introduces at least one new mechanic, generating a truly stunning degree of variety. Whether you're grabbing onto the talons of a powerful bird, competing in score-based challenges for a monkey that's wearing sunglasses, or slamming into enemies while ice skating, you're constantly presented with a new activity. Even though many of these situations only appear once or twice during the course of the game, they're all fully fleshed out and incredibly fun. It's really interesting how varied objectives can be even within the same level. The first time you enter a level, you may have to zip down a sand slide at breakneck speed, dodging cactuses and nabbing coins all the while. But when you enter the level again to try for a different star, you may have to navigate an underground obstacle course from a side-scrolling perspective. Because your goals are constantly changing and always at a high level, Galaxy 2 never gets stale or predictable.
If the huge variety of goals doesn't sound like a big enough change, there are also power-ups that further mix things up. One of the few weak spots in the original Galaxy was a lack of interesting power-ups to play around with, but that has been rectified here. The most notable addition is Yoshi, the lovable dinosaur with the prehensile tongue. Once on this green fellow's back, you can point at enemies or objects with the remote and swallow them whole. You can snatch up a spiny and then shoot it like a projectile, inhale a pepper to receive a massive speed boost, or chow down a bulb to light up hidden pathways. There's also a power-up that lets Mario roll around like a Goron from the Zelda series, a special suit that gives you the ability to create clouds in midair, and a drill for digging through soft dirt. All of these power-ups build on their most basic functions as you get deeper into the game, forcing you to look beyond your preconceptions to use them in unique ways.