The biggest achievement of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the game's ability to never touch on the same ground more than once
Mario games have been constantly delightful through the past thirty years, regardless of its shallow storylines, which by now are considered to be a characteristic of the series, instead of a recurring flaw. Therefore Nintendo didn't feel compelled to take things to another level on this department; their call was to stick with the basics as Mario is invited once again by Peach to drop by her castle and eat a piece of cake, upon arrival the plumber is faced with a giant Bowser wrecking havoc upon a thorn kingdom. Without any reason or explanation whatsoever, Bowser departs towards outer space – carrying Peach in his arms – and the hero naturally follows him, ending up on a beautiful spaceship that will lead him on his epic adventures while tracking the mighty beast. From the get go, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is willing to show its dynamic nature where the player is constantly playing, instead of just watching, as even the game's storyline is told – very quickly – in a wonderful storybook-like fashion where Mario goes through the pages with the aid of the player. If games are interactive entertainment, Mario certainly knows what to do.
On the prequel Mario had to go through an overworld every time he felt like travelling through space and collecting a star, this time around things have been simplified – making gameplay much more streamlined. The old-school overworld maps born in Super Mario Bros. 3 make a glorious return, as Galaxies are displayed on it and all players need to do is control their spaceship through the map and decide which galaxy they will visit next. The world maps are designed in a way that at some moments in the game players will have a wide array of galaxies and stars to choose from, allowing each gamer to take on the game at their own pace, instead of having to follow one stiff path. It may be true that Spaceship Mario isn't as engaging as some of the franchises' past overworlds, but the gameplay rhythm that is created due to this change matches so perfectly with the nature of the series that it is hard to file any complaints.
The biggest achievement of Super Mario Galaxy 2 – and the biggest reason why it is better than its prequel – is the game's uncanny ability to never touch on the same ground more than once during its thirty-hour adventure. With each one of the game's fifty galaxies developers will throw a new and unexpected challenge at the screen, and the sheer variety of mechanics that were crafted for the title is so impressive that reactions will range from astonishment to laughter, due to their pure originality. At one point you will be being carried by a bird while controlling its movements with the Wiimote's capabilities, five minutes later you may find yourself sliding through an enormous tree avoiding pitfalls, enemies at mind-blowing speeds. In the end Super Mario Galaxy 2 feels like a collection of different titles that are all thematically connected by one central theme, gravity and the wonders of strangely-shaped planetoids.
One of the main reasons that allows for such creative level design to materialize is the power-ups. Wit the aid of those amusing items Mario is able to gain a variety of abilities that unlock new possibilities of challenges and platforming. Aside from the returning items, such as the Bee Suit, Boo Suit and the always useful Fire Flower, Mario can now create cloud platforms at will by using the Spin Jump in conjunction with the Cloud Suit, transform into an unstoppable rolling rock or use a drill to dig his way to the opposite face of sandy planets. As if all of those weren't enough, Yoshi is also back and he is a blast to control. Aiming his tongue properly in a 3D environment could be a frustrating activity, but thanks to the Wiimote's biggest feature – its very precise pointer – all you need to do is guide the red dot on the screen to items, enemy, platforms or ledges and press the B-button. Besides, Yoshi himself can also make use of some power-ups including the thrilling Dash Pepper that will send the dinosaur into a fast and furious rush that will allow him to run up slopes that would be otherwise impossible to navigate.
Power-ups and overworld navigation are not the only areas where Super Mario Galaxy 2 is different from its predecessor. The original game featured a blend of open-world levels, heavily inspired on the standards set by Super Mario 64, and some linear galaxies that were more aligned with Super Mario Galaxy's own characteristics. This time around the game goes completely linear as among the fifty galaxies available, only two of them feature some degree of heavy exploration. Some people may look at this fact in a negative way, but the first game was at its best when Nintendo went totally crazy with the gravity mechanics of smaller planetoids – mostly featured exclusively on linear levels, so in the end this radical change only makes things better as it gives much more room for designers to let their creativity go wild without being stuck to a level structure that is dated back in 1996. In addition, such linearity makes each one of a galaxy's star unique as although they will share the same starting hub the path taken to reach each star will branch out in different ways, therefore making each star feel and play like a galaxy of its own.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 also improves on some of the small issues of its prequel. First of all the difficulty has certainly been taken up a notch, as losing a life now is much more common than it was on the original, even on the game's initial levels. The constant dying never becomes frustrating, though, as Nintendo placed a good number of checkpoints in each level and those points are usually located near critical sections. Besides, the game is very kind in the appearance of 1-up mushrooms, which is a user-friendly way of reducing the chances of having a player lose all of their progress inside a level just because they have made a tiny mistakes. As a consequence, deaths are regular events, but Game Over screens and lost of progress are an extremely rare sight. The second improvement was on the automatic camera, what was a sometimes erratic feature on the original is now nearly perfect as the game will always provide players with the best-possible view of the scenario they could ask for.
Perhaps inspired by the impressive success of New Super Mario Bros, Nintendo packed Super Mario Galaxy 2 with many side-scrolling sections. Not only are they a wonderful blast from the past, but they also add up to the many design possibilities allowed by the features of the game. Even though they are certainly simpler, the 2-D sections are as creative as their tridimensional counterparts since they make great use of the game's many mechanics while being totally original in their execution. They provide a nice change of pace for the extremely long adventure contained within Super Mario Galaxy 2. The game also implements some nice solutions introduced by Mario's 2-D rebirth, such as a new version of the Super Guide that will show inexperience players how to go through the hardest sections of the game, aiding those who have dies way too many times for their own good.
As a prize to players who acquired 120 stars, the original Super Mario Galaxy gave those people the opportunity to play through the same levels again as Luigi; now the prize for apparently completing the game is much more compelling as Super Mario Galaxy 2 features a whopping total of 242 stars, 120 of which are only unlocked after players complete the first half of the game. The final 120 stars are spread through the game's many galaxies and finding them is a matter of careful exploration that may require extreme jumps and absolutely insane skills. If going through the first batch of stars didn't seem like such a hard challenge, then the final half of the game will certainly make even the most skilled players bow before the difficulty.
Technically speaking, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is slightly superior to the original. The game clearly makes use of the same engine, but improvements have been made here and there that makes this game the better-looking of the two. Animations have been clearly improved, some effects are absolutely mesmerizing, and boss battles showcase the hidden potential of the system's hardware. Artistically, the colors and scenarios of the many galaxies within the game are as creative and stunning as their design. The game recycles some of the best songs composed for the original, while adding some orchestrated masterpieces of its own, the quality of the new tunes is certainly on par with the breathtaking scores of Super Mario Galaxy and they turn an already impressive game into an unforgettable adventure.
Overall, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the best game one can possibly find on the Nintendo Wii, and even though the future may hold a few surprises here and there, it is pretty safe to say that it will hold the throne until the system reaches the end of its cycle. It is lengthy, fun, epic, creative and pretty much all positive adjectives you could mine out of a dictionary. It is a major statement on how good Nintendo is in managing their biggest franchises and keeping them refreshing and original despite their age.