It’s-A Him (Again!): Hands-On with Super Mario Galaxy 2

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I kinda have a love/hate thing going on with my Wii. You see the worst kind of shovelware and craptastic mini-game collections proliferating on Nintendo’s uber-successful console. Worse yet, the company’s success with the Wii can be seen as reinforcing a cautious conservatism with their approach to hardware and first-party development. You can see hints of that in my recent interview with Nintendo honcho Reggie Fils-Aime.

Yet, as I sat down with Super Mario Galaxy 2, all of that fell away. The sequel to the best-selling Wii launch game reminded me of what the console is capable of. SMG2 also serves a testament to the specific uniqueness of the slices of creativity that come from Nintendo’s internal development studios.

I can’t say I experienced a ton of surprise watching and playing SMG2. But it’s example of why most Mario games are master classes of approachable game design. The characters are bright and friendly (even the enemies), the environments feel whimsical and, this bit struck me the most, the music in SMG2 was awesomely bouncy and cinematic. While the game’s all-new, a lot of the core play experience will be familiar to players of SMG1. The jumping, bopping and spin attack haven’t changed at all. There will be some new additions to Mario’s repertoire, though.
Mario’s had a long history of donning different get-up that grant him new powers and in SMG2, he’ll get the Cloud Suit. These stylish white togs let him create fluffy platforms to reach higher planes or save himself from a fall. He’s got a supply of three clouds per suit but the suits repeatedly spawn through out a level. Another temporary power-up will be the Spin-Dig Drill. Once you get it, you’ll be able to burrow all the way through the planets and moons you’ll be adventuring on. Some planets will be hollow and have goodies to grab so there’s an exploration element to the drilling, too. The game’s various galaxies will be themed around certain abilities or suits, so there might even be more than the Cloud Suit or Spin-Dig Drill that were shown.

Yoshi, the friendly dinosaur who protected a baby Mario back in the day, will be making his first appearance in a Galaxy game this time out. The lovable lizard will help get Mario across different galaxies and you’ll be riding Yoshi’s back when he’s available. He’s got a flutter-jump that goes a bit farther than Mario’s leaps and players can have him lash out his tongue to snare and swallow enemies. The cute dinosaur will transform, too; one shapeshift saw him change into a blimp/float type thing and he was able to lift Mario upwards through the level.

Yoshi’s not the only help you’ll get. The multiplayer Co-Star co-op evolves a bit from SMG1, too. Another player wielding a separate Wii-mote will be able to do more than just collects star bits. Controlling one of the sentient stars called Lumas, they’ll be able to zap enemies onscreen instead of just stunning them. Among those enemies will be the new Cosmic Clones, evil Mario avatars that follow you around mimicking moves you just did.

There’s a lot going in Super Mario Galaxy 2. The game’s about the same size of the first Galaxy and its levels were incredibly busy with action. Players moving from the more casual titles on Wii may find themselves daunted but Nintendo’s got that covered. Last year, the Super Guide debuted in New Super Mario Brothers Wii. This unique feature let players cede control when you were having a rough go of it. In NSMB Wii, if you died a bunch in single-player mode, a floating green box would appear. Once you activated it, a computer-controlled Luigi avatar tackled the tough stuff until you took back control. These guides were actually embedded recordings of human developers playing the game. The upcoming sequel presents the same concept as the Cosmic Guide. It’s pretty much the same deal–an automated run-through– but it was noted that the Cosmic Guide doesn’t necessarily pick the best path through a section; it just progresses through the level. One big change in SMG2 is that you won’t get gold stars on any level where you use the Cosmic Guide. Using the help will automatically limit you to a bronze star.

SMG 2 looks a lot harder than its predecessor, overall. It’s a safe bet that, with the Cosmic Guide in place, the designers felt that they could push the difficulty a little higher this time around. The game’s out later this month so expect a review in the coming weeks.