Thursday, 16 September 2010

Review: Mario Galaxy 2

It’s difficult to know where to start with Mario Galaxy 2. It’s just like Mario Galaxy 1, which is just like Mario Sunshine. Which is just like Mario 64. As the games enhance there are few steps backward; the controls sharpen, the visuals are enhanced, and new abilities are added. Sure, Sunshine wasn’t a massive step forward like 64 was, but it looked ten times better and was generally sharper with smoother animations and controls. Combine that with pretty much the exact same gameplay elements, and you have nothing but improvement. And Mario Galaxy doesn’t even have a goofy water-spraying machine to get in the way of this view.

The reason I began like this is because, for anyone who’s reading and thinking either “It can’t be as good as Mario 64!” or “I didn’t like Mario 64, I certainly won’t like this!” Just... No. To the former, stop being slaves to nostalgia and learn to look upon improvements as improvements and not some mutated step backwards in conjunction with the passage of time. And to the latter; this game is better than Mario 64 in just about every conceivable way. If what you didn’t like was Mario’s tendency to jump from one platform to another and, indeed, to be compelled to do so from a level-to-level basis, though, well, then you’re fucked.

This might be a good time to say, for the sake of those who haven’t played a Mario game before, or at least not one that delves into the third D, that these games involve a lot of jumping. In the third person. The basic story, if you care, is that Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser, and you must go through a series of different levels in order to earn stars to progress towards a final encounter with Bowser, and rescue Peach. New and exciting! But who cares; here’s yet another game series where the conventional story line is almost completely irrelevant, and everything adheres far more to a kind of thematic consistency. Like most Nintendo ventures and, indeed, most games that aren’t attempting to tell a stoic narrative.

With regards to the level progression, it was a welcome relief to not have to wander around a central hub (Re: Peach’s Castle, Delfino Plaza) in order to travel to levels. Instead, the stages are distributed across seven worlds, which you progress through in a linear fashion. It’s super straight forward in style, which is why it makes me laugh that the naming system is utterly perplexing. A stage is usually named as a kind of galaxy, galaxies are also the places which contain each stage, but are designated as ‘Worlds’ upon being unlocked. And due to the gravity-manipulation mechanics, most of these stages contain actual worlds! So, to recap, you go to galaxies, which are worlds, in order to go to stages, which are galaxies, at which point it is common-place to travel across multiple tiny planets, or, worlds. I don’t know if it’s bad translation or what, but there is something compelling about its complete lack of sense.

Most level-galaxy-stages have about three stars to get out of them, which is also a welcome change from having to get six to seven stars out of a level. The acquisition of each always seemed to grow more tangential and/or contrived with every star in the older titles, to the point where I found myself almost completely disinterested with the weathered surroundings, as I shook down levels in an attempt to wring a hundred coins out of each one. Luckily that’s not the case here; the structuring behind the acquisition of stars is far more diverse than past titles. It was always a safe bet that there was going to be stars that require you to collect a number of coins (with or without a time limit), but, thankfully, this is implemented sparingly, with only a few stages having the challenge, and it not taking place at all with coins of the golden variety. There are a number of tedious main-stays from the past titles that have been reduced to small throwbacks; at only one point do you need to catch the stupid rabbit, for instance!

What else is there to say? There’s fire levels, ice levels (Mario can ice skate in just his shoes!) and levels where you’re a bee. The Fire Flower is featured a-plenty, and it’s a lot more of a power-house item than it ever was back in the day. It’s sadly also limited to, I think, twenty seconds, rendering it as something that only applies to the small areas where the developers want it to. Which kind of sucks. The Cloud-hat is something that I had a lot more fun with; once you’ve made a leap you simply flick the remote and a cloud appears beneath you. You can do this three times before having to ‘top-up’ your cloud charges, as it were. This was a lot of fun to use, and was implemented lots, though it does make things kind of easy when combined with the long jump.

Something I didn’t much appreciate was the levels in which you are forced to use the Wii remote’s motion sensitivity; they’re not necessarily bad, but they do force the player into an uncomfortable control scheme that isn’t quite ‘Mario’, whilst not offering the choice of analogue in-puts. There are two levels in which you need to tilt the remote to guide a gliding bird, and though this often seems to handle like there’s a two-second difference between your in-puts and the game’s reactions, it is still the minor offender. The levels where you guide a rolling ball with Mario or Luigi atop (you can change to Luigi for some levels early in the game; later on you can choose to be Luigi whenever you want) were unpleasant to clear. These quips should be taken with a pinch of salt, though; the levels where these control-schemes are thrust upon you are few. And they do not over-shadow the fact that this is a fantastically tight game that deserves to be played.

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