Sunday 4 July 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Pointless sequel time!

Because I like to go at my own pace rather than playing non-stop, and because of the inevitable yet unnecessary PAL delays, this review comes later than one might expect. Super Mario Galaxy 2, with its 98 score on Metacritic (the highest rated Wii game yet) is sure to spark some interest, and of course even though I am quick to criticise the company, I am a fan of Nintendo, even if they do insist on reinventing the wheel every few months. But I was skeptical that it was rated two points away from perfection, so how does it fare on the Squirrelometer?

Super Mario Galaxy 2, despite claiming to be a sequel, is more of a remake. It's the same basic story and the same basic gameplay, but with several additions to help justify its existence as a whole new product. Shigeru Miyamoto said there was more that could be done in space, so Super Mario Galaxy 2... does more in space. It's aim was not to prove something, but to extend something else, but clearly downloadable content didn't make the grade and so an entirely new disc full of levels was made.

When I first played Super Mario Galaxy back in 2007, it was impressive. It was a notable improvement over the GameCube's Super Mario Sunshine and proof that the Wii could compete against its rivals, who at this point were just flushing out the same gritty first person shooters or third person action games over and over in an attempt to convince people to upgrade. It was the definitive Mario game which no other platformer could match in terms of quality, and gave people a reason to invest in the console. It currently holds a 97 on Metacritic, which is reasonable, if a little high by my standards.

But times have changed. Sony and Microsoft are getting into the casual gaming act these days, and the steadily lowering price of those two consoles is making the Wii look less attractive. Unlike the Nintendo 64 days, nobody bothered to extend Nintendo's formula, and so nearly three years on Super Mario Galaxy has been left unchallenged. In fact... there were very few notable releases in 2008 and 2009, and even fewer titles released by third parties. Even Super Mario Galaxy 2 doesn't help the situation, because it looks and sounds almost identical to Super Mario Galaxy 1, as if even Nintendo couldn't think of ways to improve the game.

And because they're competing with themselves, its fair to say Galaxy 2 doesn't try as hard as the first game. It's not really a full-blown sequel, it's Super Mario Galaxy 1.5 (or 1.75). I come to this conclusion for a couple of key reasons; a) because the game recycles textures, music, gameplay and levels from the first game, and b) what it does add doesn't allow a non-Mario fan to identify the product as being different to its predecessor. The "wow" factor is gone because most of the fancy stuff was done in the first game three years ago (and often done better).

Aside from a few changes in characters and settings, the story is almost identical. Many of SMG's characters (the Toad Brigade, Lumas, Bees etc.) re-appear in SMG2 without any prior knowledge to the previous game's events. I can't tell if it's supposed to be a remake of the story, or it's just a mindless repeat of it, and I must say... I kinda liked the first game's version of events better. This time Mario finds himself on a ship in his own image, flying through the universe with a team of lost Lumas. The overall aim is to rescue the princess and reunite the Lumas with their leader, a.k.a. Rosalina (who also doesn't recognise Mario) from the first game.

"But stories mean nothing", you say. It's the gameplay that counts, and there are millions of improvements here, ranging from new enemies to Yoshi, to new powerups and objects. Yoshi is a nice addition though trickier to work with than you might expect. In fact, in many ways Mario on his own is a bit more flexible, and Yoshi's flutter jump is rendered a bit useless by some of Mario's own moves. You can spit/swallow enemies like in Super Mario World and this all works fine, though it does put more reliance on the Wii remote's pointer and B button, which some people aren't fans of. Various types of fruit make Yoshi do different things, opening the door to all sorts of possibilities.

But Yoshi is by no means the perfect upgrade. Unlike in Super Mario World, he can't swim and you're more likely to fall off cliffs with Yoshi at the helm as the turning circle is a little bigger. He's got more of a use than in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but you can't guide him between levels like in Super Mario World so he's still not all that common. The game also allows you to play as Luigi, but unlike the first game where you'd have to get all the stars again, Luigi's purpose is just to make things a tiny bit more difficult and set ghost times. He's also completely optional.

Mario has most of his powerups from the first game plus a few new ones. Rock Mario allows him to roll about for a short time, ruined only by the fact it's a "short time". Cloud Mario is only annoying because creating a cloud is mapped to the same control as spinning - flicking the Wii remote, otherwise it's by far my favourite powerup in the game. The fire flower makes a bigger appearance in the second game and this too is hindered by the Wii remote's flicking feature, and the Boo and Bee mushrooms also show up, but not as much. The Ice Flower has been left out this time for some reason, and don't go expecting the brilliance of the flying red star powerup to finally be put to good use - that's absent too.

I didn't like the Wii remote's usage much in the fist game and it hasn't been fixed here. In fact, it's actually been worsened, as more levels depend on it. Flick the remote and Mario will spin. Map. This. Move. To. A. Button. Nintendo.

There is a level where the player needs to keep flicking the remote in order to move platforms from one position to another. You often have to flick the remote in mid-air as you jump between the platforms, but as I found (especially when more objects turn up on screen), the game doesn't always respond. What should have been an easy level was made more difficult by the fact the controller didn't work, and before you point this out, yes I did try all number of speeds, distances and angles. This is either a hardware or software problem, and as both are still in very good condition that has to raise some questions.

Nintendo has pulled out all the stops to make sure we're taught everything there is to know about everything. The game comes bundled with a DVD of instructions, and then there's the in-game manual that consists of signposts, videos and on-screen waggle hints. When you start to run out of batteries the game tells you... constantly (SMG did this too much to my annoyance) and there's several unskippable talk sequences you may have to endure more than once. Now I can't really complain because not everyone is great at games, but it's safe to say this is excessive. Super Mario Galaxy works as it's very simple and easy to pick up, hence its popularity. Get people to work things out on their own!

And one of the reasons I point this out is the game is noticeably more challenging than Super Mario Galaxy. There are, of course, too many lives, but I've noticed some sections aren't as straight forward as they were three years ago, and obtaining all the stars in the game is a difficult task. It's still a nice balance between simple, challenging and fun, but some of the later daredevil runs and purple coin sprints aren't really something your grandparents can get into.

Despite clearly having lots of Super Mario Galaxy code as leftovers, Galaxy 2 doesn't make much use of it. The game is a huge fan of the "Octagoomba" enemy, one that appeared in small doses in the first game. Octagoombas are essentially stompable enemies on a pre-defined path which can fire rocks at you, and are heavily influenced by the Legend of Zelda. There are three types of Octagoomba, four if you count the ghost versions... five if you count the boss, and they appear EVERYWHERE.

They're the most common enemy in game, appearing in almost every stage and for that reason are more common than regular Goombas. I counted a grand total of FOUR Koopa Troopas in Galaxy 2 and some recycled Galaxy 1 enemies that only see a couple of outings. Why not replace a few of these Octagoombas with those enemies? Seems like a waste to bring out the hard-hat monty moles for just one level.

The sound also isn't as "epic" as in 2007. It could be because the compositions are slightly more rushed, but they don't seem to be as good as the previous games' selection for whatever reason. Even though they felt the need to give almost every boss a separate tune, some of the playable levels share the same music, and that doesn't seem right for 2010, even if its been a common practise in Mario games since the beginning of time.

But by far the worst part is the fact that many, many tracks from Super Mario Galaxy 1 were recycled. This is just laziness as far as I'm concerned. Galaxy 2 bothers to come up with a new main theme (though it isn't as nice), yet Galaxy 1's theme still manages to creep in thanks to a lack of replacement jingles and comet tracks. Truthfully, it only really becomes apparent when you're aiming for 120 stars, but it's still not good news.

Speaking of comets, the ridiculous comet system of the first game has been replaced with one that works. Racing Cosmic Mario is now a thing of the past, having been replaced by an army of deadly cosmic clones which will copy Mario's movements. The comets don't move about depending on the time and that makes it slightly more pleasant, but it does mean you have to search stages for Comet Medals. Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn't very imaginative about where it hides its initial set of stars though - I do miss the days of big open levels with six goals and stars found by looking at the sun. Most of the hidden stars in the game are just found by going down a pipe or collecting coins for hungry Lumas... it's just a bit predictable.

The package itself is still a brilliant one, but I personally wouldn't consider it to be that much better than the first game (if at all better). The new additions do allow you get to new areas, but at heart it's almost a carbon copy of the previous title. I personally don't think it has the same level of polish as the first game either, probably because as said, it's not trying to prove anything this time around and it spends its time recycling things. There are no such things as bad Nintendo games, but this truly is a pointless sequel, even if it does offer that level of challenge the first game sorely needed.


  1. I think the story is meant to be some sort of "alternate story" kind of thing so none of the characters would be all "didn't we just defeat Bowser and save you just earlier". IIRC the prologue and manual stated that this was "another story".

    Also only the European version got the tutorial DVD bundled with it.

  2. Yeah, this is the first time since "The Lost Levels" that nintendo used the same engine just with alternate levels for a main Mario game, I believe. Its not like super Mario World 2 was just SMW with some new enemies and levels, it was way different. Same thing with Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine.. Pretty lazy for what is supposed to be a 'big title'.

    Nintendo really needs to put out some more quality games. They've been basically relying on Mario and Wii sports [Smash Bros, Galaxy New SMB, etc] not to mention that almost every outside Wii developer thinks they're making a PS2 game, judging by the graphics..

  3. According to some interviews, smgmore (the internal name for SMG2, seriously!) was supposed to be recycling concepts and levels that were cut from the first game due to time constraints. Yet... where is the E3 level? Where is the unused level recently found in SMG1?

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