As soon as I’d heard the word from several prominent websites that Super Mario Galaxy 2 wasn’t just Nintendo’s quick cash-in on the vestiges of Super Mario Galaxy, I rushed out and bought the game for myself to see. By now, anyone who was going to form opinions about this game has already done so – and for that reason alone, I feel that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is worth looking at, and not just a glance. No, I think this sequel deserves a bit more of our attention.
As Zelda fans, and more importantly as Nintendo fans, the Mario series remains incredibly relevant to us. Super Mario Wiki is Zelda Wiki.org’s closest affiliate next to Bulbapedia. The Mario series also remains Nintendo’s largest franchise, earning them millions in revenue faster than you can say “Yoshi.” And, ultimately, the Mario games are an early indicator of what may trickle down into Nintendo’s other franchises.
So, does Mario Galaxy 2 really stack up to what people have been saying? And how is that relevant to the development of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword? Let’s find out, shall we?
First things first, and let’s not mince words here: Super Mario Galaxy 2 is absolutely incredible. It is a masterful platformer that takes everything Nintendo put into the first Galaxy game and, somehow, manages to sprinkle in an extra helping of pure fun on top of it. It takes one of the most polished experiences in modern gaming and turns it into something that’s simply unmatched.
The shortest way I can put it: there’s a reason why Galaxy 2 has contested Ocarina of Time‘s number one spot.
It’s almost hard to believe that a game like Galaxy 2 is possible – it really sets a new bar for quality in games, and it was entirely out of the blue. The entire game was developed in just two years. It’s that level of quality that makes me excited about Skyward Sword, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s first cover what makes Galaxy 2 so great.
Nintendo polished up everything in Galaxy 2, from the two-player system to the camera – especially the camera. The gameplay is nothing you haven’t seen – in fact, everything remains virtually the same from the first Galaxy, which is just fine. The original Galaxy had incredibly smooth and accurate controls, and the few quirks that did exist have since been polished up and fixed by Nintendo. The goal is still to reach the end of each level and snag the star – the same as it’s been since Mario 64. And it’s still just as fun.
However, several new suits and power-ups are now at Mario’s disposal. Interestingly enough, each new suit is only used a few times – I’ll get to why that is shortly. The new suits represent one of Mario’s most diverse selections ever, bringing back favorites from the original Galaxy and introducing several new and welcome additions to the power-up arsenal. This includes Yoshi’s return to the franchise as well, and thus many of the new additions to the Galaxy series pertain to Yoshi’s abilities as well.
To highlight just a few of these new suits and power-ups:
The Cloud Suit – this suit enables Mario to create up to three clouds to jump on out of thin air, jumping and spinning to create each successive cloud. Because grabbing a Cloud Flower while wearing the Cloud Suit refreshes Mario’s supply of available clouds, Cloud Flowers can be found frequently throughout any given level.
- The Boulder Suit – this suit turns Mario into a rampaging boulder when the player shakes the Wii Remote. Useful for demolishing huge obstacles or just knocking over some bowling pin-shaped enemies. Mario can also leap through the air as he rolls!
- The Drill – not a suit, but a power-up item, the Drill allows Mario to – you guessed it – drill through soft earth and come out the other side. The Drill is used to create an entirely new class of level in Galaxy 2, where Mario can drill between the top and bottom of a planet to access new areas.
- Baloon Fruit that can make Yoshi blow up into a literal balloon, exhaling air to jettison he and Mario upward until he’s out of breath. Easily one of the most creative additions to the series.
In addition, the co-op mode has received a hefty update – and a very welcome one at that. In addition to helping Player 1 collect star bits, your best friend can now defeat enemies for you and snag you precious coins. It helps make that extra guy feel so much more useful during actual play time that, on occasion, you might actually want to play as Player 2.
Galaxy 2 is a joy to play because it embodies Nintendo’s “gameplay is king” philosophy. That is to say, a game is fun and enjoyable so long as the game plays well, regardless of how it looks or sounds (more on that in a bit). Case in point: Mario Galaxy 2‘s gameplay mechanics are absolutely masterful by any standard.
I’ve made this a separate section of the review because, at its core, Mario has always been a game about level design. Perhaps not just about level design in and of itself, but about becoming a showcase for successful level design – and Galaxy 2 makes that little tidbit easily known.
The game is packed with creative level design; although several staples of the Mario franchise make returns (your standard grassy areas, desert levels and boo mansions), many of the levels presented in Galaxy 2 are entirely new. Why that is takes us to the reason why this game is just so darn fun – and it’s because each successive galaxy in the game introduces either an entirely new game mechanic or a creative twist on an existing one.
This keeps gameplay feeling fresh throughout the entire game. It’s this level design that makes Galaxy 1 look bad; while I can think of several galaxies that weren’t so fun to play in the original game, I’ve yet to come across a galaxy that I don’t enjoy in Galaxy 2. To wit, I’ve yet to come across a star at I didn’t enjoy the challenge of getting. It’s almost unbelievable the creative potential that the Galaxy team found and subsequently implemented into Galaxy 2, and mind-blowing to think that the team retained the creativity and high quality of level design for 120 independent missions straight.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a level that doesn’t have some sort of creative twist to it – Miyamoto has explained it by stating that the game’s very purpose is an exploration of the untapped potential that the original Galaxy had to offer. Galaxy 2 simply bursts from the seams with creativity and thoughtful design.
It succeeds where other major franchises, such as the Sonic series, utterly fail. Back on the Genesis, Sonic defined what it meant to build a game with thoughtful level design, and it showed in all the crazy paths Sonic could take to finish a zone. Look at the Sonic series today, however, and you’ll quickly realize how off-track it’s gotten – the original philosophy of good keel design is utterly lost on the Sonic Team of 2010.
Luckily for us, the Galaxy team knows what they’re doing, and they know Mario’s true mission: create fun and engaging levels that push the boundaries of platforming as we know it today. This ambitious thought process paid off in the end, and in no small way.
Of course, the harsh reality is that we do care what Super Mario Galaxy 2 looks like, which is why it’s fortunate that it’s one of the best-looking Wii games out there. The original Mario Galaxy looked amazing for 2007, and pushed the limits of the Wii console – or what we thought the Wii was capable of at the time. The Galaxy graphical engine creates wonderfully rounded spheres and organic objects, fluffy fur, and spectacular dynamic lighting – and it’s all back for Galaxy 2.
Does that mean that the graphics aren’t substantially changed from the original game? Yes and no – there’s obviously quite a lot of new content with new graphics, but the graphical engine has remained relatively the same.
That said, everything is a joy to look at and the visuals in Galaxy 2 still put most other Wii games to shame. No, scratch that – Mario Galaxy 2 and its predecessor set the gold standard for Wii graphics, and I’m rather surprised that no other developer has figured out how to match what the Galaxy team has done, even three years after the original game’s release.
If there’s something else that no studio has been able to match since Mario Galaxy, it’s the quality of the orchestrated music that came along with the game. It was a surprise to many to find such sophisticated and beautiful tracks accompanying a Mario title – normally a cartoony and informal game – and nobody was sure whether or not Nintendo would pull it off again for Galaxy 2. To add fuel to speculation that Galaxy 2 wouldn’t adhere to the quality standards of its predecessor, Nintendo’s first trailer for the new game featured MIDI-style bips and bloops instead of the Tokyo Philharmonic we’d become accustomed to.
However, not only was this not the case for Galaxy 2, but Nintendo actually managed to create a wealth of new tracks. In fact, the majority of the soundtrack for Galaxy 2 is brand-new material (in the same style as the original Galaxy), and I’d go so far as to say the orchestrations are even better this time around.
One only needs to listen to the music for Fluffy Bluff Galaxy to understand just how good the music in Mario Galaxy 2 is. It sounds just utterly epic – a word not to be used lightly, but in this case it’s true. When packaged with the game, the music really does make Mario’s trek through space feel like a grand, epic adventure. It’s really something else, and you never see it in games – never.
Nintendo has also been generous with the music for Galaxy 2 – for a while, and just before the game’s release, the entire soundtrack was posted on YouTube, to be found on one of the composer’s channels. Users freely downloaded the soundtrack until Nintendo took it down a few days later for reasons unknown. Perhaps the soundtrack became too popular, or it was a limited time deal. Or they realized that they didn’t want it up.
It’s clear that Nintendo has set the standard for game music with Galaxy 2. It features, bar none, the most masterful score of any game on any Nintendo platform – or any platform, for that matter.
Other game developers should take the hint from Nintendo and begin making games with quality orchestrated scores like this. The world would be a much happier place if they did.
What does this mean for Skyward Sword?
Mario and Zelda are inextricably interlinked as Nintendo’s two biggest franchises. Although the teams work independently of one another, is it safe to say that the level of quality and design intelligence will carry over to the Zelda series from this point forward?
After two spectacular Mario Galaxy titles, Nintendo can’t afford to let Skyward Sword reflect any lower quality standard, which is a good reason for any Zelda fan (including myself) to get excited. They have built up a grand expectation with Mario Galaxy and Mario Galaxy 2, one where orchestrated music is standard and graphics look polished and refined. The bar is incredibly high, and it’s not hard to believe that it prophesizes what Skyward Sword might be like in its final form.
Although creating engaging trailers has never been Nintendo’s strong point (it still isn’t), those trailers have always offered us an early glimpse at a game’s development status. Thinking back, when we witnessed the first trailer for Galaxy 2, it wasn’t anything impressive; the trailer for Skyward Sword isn’t very impressive either, showing a few shots of a demo area. And, despite TheMaverickk’s excellent comparison sheets that have been making their rounds on the internet, I’m not convinced just yet that Skyward Sword is graphically up to spec with Galaxy 2, or even the original Galaxy. Forms simply look too polygonal. Although their textures are higher, everything has led me to believe that they’re still fine-tuning the visuals.
However, the new art style in and of itself signals a shift toward a higher quality game – the new style is incredibly sophisticated. Already, we’ve seen analyses of the impressionistic merits of the new art style. Clearly Nintendo has it in mind to up the ante with Skyward Sword, the the intent to approach Mario Galaxy 2 levels of quality. Yet, again, the visuals still need that extra polish to get there – and I want to stress that; you’ll see why in a moment.
Shigeru Miyamoto himself has also stated that the game will feature orchestrated music, so as not to look like a lesser project in the wake of Galaxy 2. However, most surprising is that Iwata and Miyamoto have touted Skyward Sword‘s early 2011 release date.
Although Galaxy 2 sends signals that Skyward Sword will make attempts to match its level of quality – which is excellent for the Zelda franchise and Nintendo as a whole – I’m worried that shipping by early 2011 is not enough time. The Skyward Sword demo didn’t look polished enough and, on the whole, felt stuck within the realm of Twilight Princess-level quality.
While that’s great, the Zelda team has a ways to go. I wouldn’t be surprised if the early 2011 ship date was pushed forward to mid 2011, or even holiday season, in order to put the title on par with the sheer level of polish in Mario Galaxy 2. Nintendo has perfected platforming with its latest Mario title; can it perfect adventure gaming with Skyward Sword? It certainly has the resources and the motivation; only time will tell if it actually happens.
Mario Galaxy 2 outshines practically every game on Wii to date and, on a larger scale, is a showing of Nintendo’s true motivation and passion toward gaming. No other studio could possibly have produced a game like this – and I suppose that’s why nobody has. Nintendo has an outrageous amount of talent in their studios, and they make use of every drop of it. This is, truly, Nintendo’s way of showing us all that it means business – that they’re in the business of crafting the most polished games in the industry.
And if that translates to their other major franchises, nobody else stands a chance. If you haven’t bought Super Mario Galaxy 2 so long after it’s release, consider this your final urging to go out and buy the game. It’s worth more than the asking price and then some – if you’ve been hesitating all this time, now’s the time to stop doing so and buy this game already.