Although you may find this quite difficult to believe – I myself had a great deal of trouble wrapping my head around this development – at the opening of Super Mario Galaxy 2, our hero Mario is on his way to the castle to meet the Princess. Rather than getting to sit with her for a delicious afternoon of tea and cake (or whatever), Peach is kidnapped by Bowser.
Oh yes, you heard correctly – Super Mario Galaxy 2 starts off with Peach being kidnapped by Bowser. Mario is quickly off to space to save her, because that's where giant Bowser (did I not mention that he's giant because he's found special bonus powers in space?) took her.
In all seriousness though, Super Mario Galaxy 2 progresses in a very similar fashion to 2007's Galaxy, a game which added a fantastic, spherical, twist to Mario's universe. The goal, as indicated above, is tried and true Mario – beat Bowser and rescue Peach. Mario achieves this by taking a small ship (that looks like Mario's head) around space, visiting different galaxies and worlds, and capturing stars. No, there's not a great deal of depth to the story, but there doesn't need to be either (it's like Link needing to get the Triforce to beat Gannon). Mario saves Peach. That's what he does, and that's probably all anyone needs him to do – the question is what does Mario have to do in order to save Peach? What worlds does he go to? How do levels play out? Mario games are more about mechanics and level design than story, and in Super Mario Galaxy 2 those elements are truly fantastic.
Perhaps the biggest difference between this new Galaxy and the original is that a classic Mario map has been placed upon the basic structure. The hub area is gone, Mario's small ship can now only fly to open worlds proceeding along the map. For this reviewer's money that concept is not well delivered. Yes, it does streamline some things to have the map, but plotting Mario's journey along a map removes the 3-D-ness of the levels. To some extent this is dealt with by Mario having the ability to not just look at a single "world map," but a "super world map" as well. That addition only highlights one of the basic flaws in the concept of the map.
Each level Mario visits to collect stars is referred to as a "galaxy." Mario's ship flies to different galaxies via the "world map" on which many galaxies are visible. Then, the various worlds are visible from the "super world map." That basic concept defies everything this reviewer ever learned in any class that even tangentially dealt with astronomy. Galaxies are larger than worlds, consequently the notion that multiple galaxies are visible on a single world causes a disconnect in my brain that is difficult to overcome. Every time I had to visit the world map I actually cringed.
The only thing that helped me overcome my issue with the game's nomenclature were the levels themselves – they are fantastic. As with Galaxy, there is no level here that feels like it was simply thrown together with leftover bits and pieces that didn't work elsewhere. Each level is different, requires different tactics, and feels like a complete world (errr… galaxy) in and of itself.
There is a complexity to it all that is mindboggling. In one level you’re a bee, in another you create clouds, in a third your competing against a sunglass wearing chimp. The game flows so perfectly from one of these moments to the next, from one world to the next, that even though you just had a ton of fun trying to figure out exactly how to control Yoshi after he's eaten a hot pepper and gained temporary super speed you don't mind moving on to something completely and totally different.
As with other recent Mario titles, you do have the opportunity to revisit levels to collect more stars. There are alternate paths within worlds, stars which can be fed coins to take you to different areas, comet coins that open up challenges, and plain old separate areas of the galaxy that you'll be transported to if you select a different challenge from the map.
All of the plumber's 3-D forays have featured the mustachioed man in brilliant color and with some of the best graphics we've seen on the various systems to that point, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 is no different. Not only are the levels incredibly diverse and well conceived, they're all beautiful to look at. You will actually want to spend time just wandering around them not trying to grab star bits (which is still done simply by pointing at them), but just seeing all that there is to see. You may even, unwisely, opt to spend time watching exactly how a boss moves (because it's just so cool) before trying to defeat him.
Of course, if you lose your focus you may also lose your life. While the game is not as challenging as New Super Mario Bros. Wii, it is not a walk in the park either. It is fast, the enemies are numerous, and while the plumber has a whole bunch of different outfits to help him (like rock suit that lets him smash stuff), his life bar is small.
If you've ever enjoyed a Mario game before you're going to love this one. If you just like platformers you're going to like this one. If you like your games to have an incredible sense of fun to them, you're going to like this one. If you like games to change on a dime and ask something different of you from one level to the next, you're going to like Super Mario Galaxy 2. If, on the other hand, you're a fan of properly classifying things (galaxies, worlds, universes, etc.), Super Mario Galaxy 2 may give you an incurable case of the heebie-jeebies. If that stops you from picking the title up however, you're going to miss out on a galaxy full of fun.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.