It's been three years since we took our last trip around the galaxy with our favorite plump plumber, and Mario is back with an even more exciting adventure in Super Mario Galaxy 2. An early look at a few of the beginning levels didn't prepare me for what was in store for the full release — there are 70 main stars to capture and lots more to dig up, but I didn't know that it would be this challenging.
Mario's star celebration is once again thwarted by his nemesis, Bowser, who captures Princess Peach right before she and Mario are about to indulge in some homemade cake. Who knew the Princess was such a wiz in the kitchen? Bowser, being the jealous type he is, snatches the Princess and takes her to the other side of the galaxy. Let the fun begin!
Find out more about the new layout, Yoshi, and why I think this game is the best Mario title yet (despite one small gripe), after the break.
Similar to the first Super Mario Galaxy installment, you'll need to travel to far off galaxies to find the princess. However, the new map layout harkens back to the days of Super Mario Bros. 3, where there are various levels laid out in a path to the big boss fight. You'll be traveling in a starship that moves from place to place, which is much more intuitive than the hub we found last time. Couple that with less cut scenes and lengthy transitions, and you'll find that SMG 2 keeps things moving along at a quicker pace. However, that's not to say that this game is easy — it's much more challenging than the first, while the difficulty of playing in 3D is the icing on the cake. Get used to dying from miscalculated jumps!
Speaking of dying, if you do find a certain level too difficult to pass (and end up biting the dust one too many times), a help feature will pop up, allowing the computer to finish the level for you. It's a friendly helper (which looks a lot like Mario's last sidekick, Princess Rosalina), but be warned — utilizing this assistance leaves you with a lower-grade star reward. Since you'll be using every tool in your gaming toolbox, watching a run-through of what's ahead will be a nice respite, and you can always go back and redo the level yourself to get the full gold star at the end.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is where old meets new. In some levels, you'll be tossed from gravity-defying 3D play to a side-scrolling 2D portion. It's an amazing transition, and brings back memories of the old Mario games from years past. Additionally, the soundtrack not only utilizes music from the first Super Mario Galaxy, but of previous titles you know and love which will have you humming along in no time! Cloud, Drill, and Rock Mario bring new suits to the action, while Bee and Fire Mario will seem familiar from the first installment.
And let's not forget Yoshi! Decidedly one of my favorite Mario characters of all time, Yoshi will be your partner in crime on selected levels, even traveling with you on your starship as you make your way through the universe. Yoshi will grab goodies with his tongue (using your pointer to aim and grab), but instead of eggs, he'll produce star bits for every item eaten. I only wish he could have been with me on more levels — you can never have too much Yoshi. Besides the friendly dino, you'll also be able to play as Luigi at times during your travels.
My only complaint about Super Mario Galaxy 2 (and it's a small complaint at that) is the camera. Although the camera does a fantastic job of keeping you focused and never getting in the way of the action, I wish I could have had better control to look around when I was standing still. There are so many extras just waiting to be plucked (including special coins that bring Prankster Comets to some levels), so being able to further look around Mario would have been an asset. Then again, maybe that would make things too easy, which goes against everything Super Mario Galaxy 2 is about.
If you think that Mario titles are all fluff and no substance, you're in for a big surprise, my friend. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is not only beautiful to look at and fun to play, but it's tricky to master. The good news is that although it's challenging, the game sucks you right in and keeps you coming back for more —replaying until you find every last star that's hidden within its levels.