Super Mario Galaxy 2 combines the success of the original with new, unique content to reach new heights in platforming.

User Rating: 10 | Super Mario Galaxy 2 WII
+ unrivaled level design
+ variety of mission types further spurred by new items and power-ups
+ difficulty that is never frustrating but is challenging even for long-time platformer fans + detailed, inviting visuals brimming with color and charm
+ a mind-blowing orchestrated soundtrack with both new and old melodies

While innovation and originality are important in the video game industry, sometimes improvements to old formulas along with new bigger and better content can craft magnificent games. Nintendo's latest installment in the Mario platformer series, Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Wii, is a prime example of this. The game is a combination of the accomplishments of its predecessor, a few minor tweaks in gameplay, and tons of inventive new material. The end result isn't just a sequel that topped the fantastic original, but the ultimate platforming experience on any console of this generation. If you had any issue with the original, odds are you won't find it here. If you loved it, you'll thank Nintendo for going above and beyond it, wowing you all over again with gameplay polished to perfection and an equally outstanding presentation.

You know the deal; Bowser has once again concocted an evil plot to take over the universe, which also involves kidnapping Princess Peach and it's up to Mario to free her and save the universe. As usual, not much of a story develops from this aside from some charming dialogue here and there between characters. The Mario platformers have been a beloved series for nearly thirty years and have not needed a gripping story to maintain their high-quality profile. This doesn't change with Super Mario Galaxy 2, and in fact, the lack of a deep plot is more of a benefit than it may initially seem. It actually opens up opportunities for more novel gameplay mechanics and ingenuity in level design, which there is no shortage of in this game. Implemented story elements could have even diluted the game's main focus on platforming bliss. For example, cinematics were a bit more prevalent in the original Mario Galaxy creating some extra time between sweet platforming action. Aside from the story, a few other things were also simplified to make it easier to focus on the game's levels. The complex hub world is replaced by a spaceship representing Mario's head that is dubbed "faceship." It is used to travel on simple world maps similar to what can be found in Super Mario Bros. 3 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, in which you can effortlessly progress from one galaxy to the next.

It's in these galaxies where the pure platforming magic comes into play. Each galaxy has levels, all of which contain a shimmering, gold Power Star to collect after completing one of the many tasks in one of the many settings. You'll swim through underwater caverns, navigate through a blinding blizzard, glide on a colorful bird through a lush jungle, and so much more. There are so many goals that continuously offer new game mechanics and surprises to keep the game fresh and interesting throughout the entire experience. The levels are accompanied by deep and creative level design that not many games hold a candle to, sharp controls that never stutter, and an improved camera from the predecessor. All the objectives add up to a gargantuan total of 242 stars while only 70 are needed to complete the main game.

Galaxy 2 isn't entirely in 3D, as you'll also spend a considerable amount of time with only two dimensions to worry about. These side-scrolling levels and sections change the pace of the game quite nicely, and they are as expertly crafted and enjoyable as the 3D levels. Examples of the entertaining activities you'll perform in 2D include meddling with the laws of gravity, running and jumping on floors, walls, and ceilings all in one level and flying to high platforms, swinging on vines, and crawling on honeycombs as a bee. Along with the unconfined 3D levels, the 2D levels help to make Galaxy 2 a total platforming package.

Much of the variety of objectives comes from utilizing different and crazy power-ups that the series is known for. The power-ups from the original return including the Bee Suit, Boo Suit, Spring Suit, Fire Flower, and Rainbow Star. New additions also appear and are some of the most inventive items seen in a Mario game. Yoshi, Mario's adorable dinosaur pal, has multiple uses and is easily the most significant power-up in the game. While riding on his back, Yoshi can gulp down enemies, spit certain enemies out as projectiles, and swing from flower-like objects all using his long, grabby tongue. Eating fruits aptly named Dash Pepper, Blimp Fruit, and Bulb Berry gives Yoshi extra abilities: to run quickly enough to scale up vertical walls, take to the sky like a balloon for a short time, and emit a glow that reveals hidden platforms and paths, respectively. The Cloud Suit increases Mario's buoyancy and allows him to create cloud platforms in midair, the Rock Suit allows Mario to barrel through enemies and rupture large obstacles as a rolling boulder, and the Spin Drill is an item allowing Mario to dig through soft dirt spots to opposite sides of planets. As the game progresses, you'll find more complex and unique ways in taking advantage of all the power-ups in the levels.

Many of these ways can be found in the game's frequent and engaging boss fights. You'll face off against many adversaries including a ravenous dragon, numerous robots, and of course, the fire-breathing turtle himself, Bowser, all of which tower over Mario. Each boss put a different ability or power-up of Mario's to great use. It's a blast using these techniques on your foes' weak spots, and while the battles aren't particularly challenging, it's still very satisfying to watch the boss writhe in pain and explode in a cloud of smoke after you've delivered the final blow.

The biggest complaint gamers had about the original Mario Galaxy was its forgiving difficulty. Thankfully, Nintendo has really upped the ante this time around with intense platforming sections. Losing lives is much more prevalent in this 30-40 hour adventure because levels frequently test the limits of your basic platforming skills of precise timing, patience, and judgment, much more so in the later levels compared to the generally easy ones in the beginning of the game. The hardest challenges of Galaxy 2 come after you collect comet coins hidden in each galaxy. A prankster comet will then come into a galaxy's orbit creating a new challenge. Most of these challenges have you completing a level again only with a modification. You may need to race against the clock, finish a level unscathed, or collect 100 purple coins. Most of these levels can be very difficult to complete, even for platforming experts, but are never frustrating. If you thought the original was too easy, you'll most likely find the difficulty in Galaxy 2 to be spot-on.

What makes the game even more memorable is its beautiful sights and sounds. Mario has never been visually or aurally better. The colorful worlds rich in detail will have you gawking at the screen. The frame rate remains steady during every action and never stammers, and character models are just as inspired and creative as the level design, making the game both artistically and technically superb. The only blemish in the graphical presentation is slightly fuzzy textures that are only noticeable when you zoom in. Super Mario Galaxy 2's audio is one of the best of any video game to date. All of the catchy and memorable tunes both new and old are fully orchestrated and work with the visuals to create an excellent atmosphere for each galaxy from swimming in a peaceful lake under the full moon to hectically traversing through a hazardous lava world. Even mounting on Yoshi adds a percussion part to each theme as a nod to how he mixes up the gameplay. Classic themes from Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, and the original Super Mario Galaxy have been remastered, and you'll often succumb to nostalgia and whistle along the moment you hear one of these remixes.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is every platformer fan's dream come true. From its precise controls, to the variety of goals in both 2D and 3D, challenging difficulty, and the spectacular presentation, it is a package that is streamlined, complete, and completely amazing. It is neither a mere expansion of its predecessor nor a game with major faults that detract from the overall experience this game has to offer. It is the best game available on the Nintendo Wii to date, and no person should miss out on this grand Mario adventure that raises the bar beyond expectations.

Score: 10/10