Super Mario Galaxy wasn't just the best game on the Nintendo Wii - it turned the entire world of computer games on its head. How does Super Mario Galaxy 2 follow that up?
During early development, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was supposedly known variously as 'Mario Galaxy 1.5' and 'More Mario Galaxy', and it's reminiscent of its older brother in structure and play style. Unsurprisingly, then, it struggles to match Galaxy for initial 'shock and awe' factor. But the irony is that Galaxy 2 is actually an even better game.
History may record Super Mario Galaxy 1 as the revolutionary game-changer, but Galaxy 2 builds on the brilliantly innovative work of its predecessor, honing Galaxy's thought-provoking platforming style and taking it still further.
Mario Galaxy 2's plot and general gameplay
We won't trouble you too much with the plot; it's the usual dinosaur/plumber face-off, this time set in space. This setting is important to the way the Super Mario Galaxy games play, however, as it means you spend your time navigating between and clambering around various comically tiny planetoids, satellites and bits of space debris.
Nintendo's masterstroke in Galaxy 1 was to rig up each planet with its own gravity, which makes for fantastically innovative gameplay - you can entirely circumnavigate a planet, and if you leap from one at the correct angle, you'll drift away, flip over and stick to another nearby.
Starting from this clever, mind-teasing basis, Nintendo adds, twists and complicates the rules and techniques you have to contend with as you go along. There's remarkably little repetition - either within the game or from Galaxy 1 - and every level (or 'galaxy') has to be considered carefully as a multi-dimensional, complex physical puzzle.
Nintendo has been making 3D Mario games since 1996's Super Mario 64, and the company has mastered the genre. But fans of old-school 2D Mario - or the recent 2D title New Super Mario Brothers – should be warned that 3D platform gaming isn't easy. Tasks that would be simple in 2D - jumping on a Goomba's head, for example - can be a tiny bit frustrating until you get the hang of it. It's worth the effort, though.
Galaxy 1 vs Galaxy 2: What's new?
It was with good reason that Nintendo ditched the idea of calling this 'More Mario Galaxy': there are numerous upgrades from the first game, and this is a substantial game in its own right.
The biggest single improvement from Galaxy 1 is the long-due return of tame dinosaur friend Yoshi. You can now ride around on Yoshi's back, giving you the ability to jump higher (the 'flutter jump') and grab items and enemies with his tongue. Yoshi has been considerably upgraded from previous Mario games, with power-ups of his own - such as the ability to light your way on to hidden platforms, or blow up and float like a balloon - and Wiimote cursor-controlled tongue grabbing. Yoshi can help you solve puzzles by pulling switches and levers with his tongue, or by grabbing and swinging from aerial objects.
There are plenty of fun new power-ups for Mario, too. The rock mushroom enables you to turn into a destructive, super-tough boulder and charge at enemies (for Mario 3 fans, it's like a Tanooki Suit that's actually useful), while a cloud suit allows you to create small cloud platforms in mid-air in order to access new areas.
Level design in general is bolder and more cunning than in Galaxy 1, and the game is more difficult overall. This may put off newcomers to the series once they get past the simple first few levels. But Nintendo has integrated smooth and relatively shame-free assistance to help you along.
In-game instructions and advice are available - but not compulsory, thank goodness - at various points along the way, and a ghostly figure (or 'Cosmic Guide') will offer to show you the way through a level if you mess up several times in a row, imitating a similar feature in New Super Mario Brothers.
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