Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an ode to gaming pleasure which will forever remain one of the highlights of video game history.
+An immense array of imaginative worlds
+Smooth, precise controls that never falter
+Brilliant design and variety in objectives
+A whopping 240 stars to collect
+Beautiful presentation filled with color and splendor
+A wonderful orchestrated soundtrack
Throughout time, there have been games that are now known as pioneers of their generation. Games that, in some way, offered an experience to rival anything that came before it, changing the perspective of gamers around the globe. Games that are so close to unreachable perfection that it's tempting to label it as such simply as a testament to its greatness. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of those games. Something that despite preconceived hype and expectation manages to be a complete surprise. Mario has now been a gaming icon for about 25 years now, managing to offer sublime experiences that have become building blocks for modern game design; and though Mario's quality doesn't need clarification, SMG2 stands as one of his absolute best adventures to date, and also as one of the best games of all time.
There has never really been a solid story in a Mario game, and SMG2 is no exception to this tradition. It's literally as basic as it can be: the insanely vulnerable Princess Peach has been kidnapped again by the nefarious Bowser, and it is Mario's job to save her from this perilous situation. That is all that can be said about the narrative, and in many ways, it's what makes the game such a success. The willingly thin and straightforward story doesn't act as any sort of impediment to the imagination prevalent throughout SMG2. Needless to say, there's no logic to be found in any of Mario's games, which gives the development team ample room to create worlds focused on utilizing every tool you have at your disposal. Contrary to what it might seem at first, the lack of tangible story acts as a channel for endless creativity which, in turn, amplifies the experience. One could, of course, go with the common reasoning that no-one really plays Mario games for the story. However, that would be ignoring what the inclusion of a story would actually lead to. If there was some sort of narrative line that had to be followed, the effects would in fact mostly be detrimental.
Since the story doesn't take much part in the game itself, it's therefore vital that the gameplay offers variety and enjoyment as counterbalance; and saying that it does just that is a massive understatement. At its core, SMG2 is in every way similar to its proverbial predecessor Super Mario Galaxy. It's a traditional 3D platformer with the added twist of it occurring in space. There's also slight motion control put into the mix, most notably the pointer you can use to shoot out collectable projectiles at enemies and how you must shake the Wii remote to elicit a wide variety of different responses. You'll traverse planets ranging in size from a golf ball to a large-scale meteor, often having to walk around upside down thanks to a planet's gravitational pull. You can then jump between planets with a press of the button, and the camera whips itself along with you. It will at times induce feelings of vertigo, but that only reinforces the setting you're situated in. The controls are, in a word, flawless. Jumping, spinning in the air, reacting to the world around you, it all works seamlessly and there's no chance that a death could be caused by anything but the gamer him- or herself.
Death isn't the most uncommon aspect of SMG2, and for the most part, this is where the sequel differs from the original. Going through SMG and finishing it 100% wasn't really a demanding task. It took some time, but there was little true effort that was needed outside of a precious few exceptions. SMG2 takes a far more bold approach, balancing the difficulty perfectly to create an experience that is challenging but at the same time approachable. You'll need to focus and be precise if you want to conquer everything the game has to offer.
The differences between entries in the series don't quite end there. There are a few welcome additions to be found, the most prominent of which is the trusty companion of our mustachioed plumber, Yoshi. After his unfortunate disappearance in SMG, Yoshi is back to help his friend finish some of the tasks at hand. When compared to other appearances the dinosaur's made in the past, SMG2 has the best version of him yet. You can use him to gobble up enemies, fly to distant areas, run up vertical inclines and even create platforms to the next area. Needless to say, Yoshi adds a lot of variety to the gameplay itself. The same can be said about the new power-ups. The first game had a few, but the sequel has almost all of those (no ice flower) and even cooler ones, such as the sky mushroom, which will allow you to create cloud platforms out of thin air.
Both Yoshi and the power-ups are used to complete an enormous amount of different tasks. Pretty much every single mission in the game has its unique flavor and styIe. The ultimate goal is, as ever, to collect the coveted "stars", and there's no end to the different ways you can achieve them. No details will be mentioned here in fear of spoilers, but you can rest assured that there's never a draught in terms of pure mission variety. There are even entirely new 2D-style segments which focus on platforming finesse akin to the cIassic Mario titles. This offers a refreshing experience on top of the adventures Mario is most accustomed to throughout his adventures in the third dimension.
No matter the dimension, though, the levels are a constant source of wonder. The design is clever beyond belief, blending together fresh new concepts along with nostalgic references to other games in the series. You'll encounter snow-laden wonderlands, sandy beaches, underwater caves and even levels made entirely out of pastries. That's not even a tenth of what you will find in SMG2, and as always, the discovery of these wonderful worlds for yourself is the preferred method of approach.
The game's graphics work much to the benefit of the design itself. SMG2 is one of the most beautiful games on the Wii both in technical and artistic terms. Everything explodes with exuberant color, granting the game a whimsical and memorable feel. Nothing seems like it was crammed in just for the sake of having something there, it's all elaborate and relevant to the intended motif of any given level.
The soundtrack works towards the same goal, and more than succeeds. SMG2's music is fully orchestrated by the Super Mario Galaxy Orchestra and the music itself is better than in any previous Mario title. In spite of its overuse, there's really only one word to describe the soundtrack of the game: epic. You feel like you're in space, a fathomless expanse of matter, color and wonder. It's recommended to keep the sound on at all times, since there aren't many games that offer such an atmospheric soundtrack in recent memory.
All in all, there are 240 stars to collect. 120 of those are your traditional stars, while the other 120 are special green stars (hidden stars littered around finished worlds), which add an interesting twist to the levels you've formerly completed. The green ones are optional, but are a stellar (no pun intended) addition seeing as the levels themselves are so utterly fantastic. Just the main quest alone will last you around 15-20 hours, but this can be doubled if you choose to look for the green stars. There's also a multiplayer component to toy around with, though it's incredibly basic and is more just for mindless fun. Whichever way you choose to play the game, though, there is a lot of content present, and the fact that not one second is boring makes it truly a wonderful thing.
At this point, it might seem like this review is glorifying what is essentially a simple add-on to a successful original. This would be a huge mistake. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is everything a sequel should be. It sticks to the things the first game did right, while coming forth with bold ideas to make the experience even better. SMG2 is, for all intents and purposes, a simple game, and it's in that simplicity where the magic lies. It doesn't pretend to be something it isn't. It offers pure gaming euphoria throughout, and checks all the boxes that really count. Nintendo has with this title created something beyond anything expectations could have conjured up. The love put into it is evident from the get-go, and translates into something truly special. It does what every game tries to achieve: reaching the highest point of quality possible within its genre. And for that, there's nothing left to do but applaud the achievement that is Super Mario Galaxy 2.
Final score: 10.0/10.0