10 for ’10: Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo

Publisher: Nintendo

U.S. Release Date: May 23, 2010

Genre: It is a 3-D Mario game.

Don’t take this the wrong way. But I hope Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the last Mario Galaxy game.

Don’t get me wrong! I don’t hope that Galaxy 2 is the last Mario game, or the last 3-D Mario game. Just the last Galaxy game. And it’s not because it’s bad, either. Instead… let’s just say I can see badness, or at least boringness, on the horizon.

Let me try this again. Let’s look at Mega Man 3. Mega Man 3 is a very good game. There are those who would tell you that it’s the best game in the whole series. At the same time, though, if you examine Mega Man 3’s design very closely, you can see the problems that hampered future entries in the series beginning to make themselves apparent — useless weapons, (unintentionally) goofy Robot Masters, additional levels leading to filler and bloat, the “It’s not Wily! Oh, wait, it is” plotline. Even though Mega Man 3 itself is excellent, it is also an indicator of crappiness, or at least tedium, to come.

I feel Galaxy 2 has the potential to be the same sort of deal. Taken on its own merits, it is an entirely fantastic, nearly flawless gaming experience that is absolutely worth your time. It may even be better than Galaxy 1, although we could argue that back and forth all day. But… I think the subseries has peaked. Any more games in the Galaxy line would just be diminishing returns.

Super Mario Galaxy 1 was the first game in a long time to really wow me, to impress me with its sheer creativity and variety. I mentioned in the last entry of this series my preference for modest but well-polished gaming experiences rather than supposed tour-de-forces that never quite measure up — but Galaxy 1 was an exception. It was both boundlessly innovative and comfortably familiar, simple in its structure and controls but with infinitely mature game design. Almost every second of Mario Galaxy 1 had me grinning like a little kid, amazed at the sheer wonder on display. It was the kind of experience I hadn’t had in years, and I knew as soon as I finished that I wouldn’t soon have it again.

And, well, I didn’t. Make no mistake, Galaxy 2 is a great game… but it is very much more of the same, and it’s hard to be impressed by more of the same, no matter how well put-together it is. I had a lot of fun with Galaxy 2, but the “little kid” feeling was no longer there. The levels didn’t seem as amazing — they were a little more predictable and a little less aesthetically appealing (in my opinion; I know there’s many who would disagree). I noticed that quite a few of the stars were simply “Do this star you’ve already done, but harder“. The story was pared down — and while I will argue vehemently that Mario games don’t need complicated stories and are in fact damaged by them (see also: Sonic), Mario Galaxy 1’s story hit the exact sweet spot the series should be aiming for in terms of content and tone as far as I’m concerned. Even the postgame was less of a “wow” moment (but more on this in a second).

I’m not going to lie: Despite this rant, if Nintendo kept releasing Mario Galaxy games I’d keep buying them. What can I say; I’m an addict. But I don’t think a Galaxy 3 or 4 would ever reach the heights of the first game — I think they’d start to get progressively samey and less fun after a while. I’d much rather Nintendo try something entirely new and blow my mind again — but either way we’ll probably have to wait for the Wii’s successor to find out for sure.

Postgame Discussion!

Obviously this next part refers to the post-final-battle portions of Super Mario Galaxy 2. If you haven’t played it yet and don’t want to be spoiled, hit your back button now. You’ve been warned.

After collecting all 120 normal stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2, 120 green stars are scattered throughout the courses, one for each regular star in each level. Unlike the regular stars, which remix the courses specifically to aid their collection, are the focus of the level pan that opens each stage, and have their own names, the green stars are truly hidden: they appear off to the side in the “regular” star stages, they are not the focus of the pan, and each and every one is named either Green Star 1, Green Star 2, or Green Star 3. To compensate for this, the green stars make a very loud twinkling noise and shine much brighter than normal stars, allowing you to pin down their locations.

This has received some backlash, with people complaining that the green stars are nothing more than a tedious pixel-hunt that force you to move through the stage agonizingly slowly, hoping to sense the twinkle or the shine of a stray green star. It seems to me that such people are — and I hate to say this, but it’s the best phrase I can come up with — doing it wrong.

The proper way to collect the green stars is not to slowly move through the stages checking every pixel. The way to do it is to play through the stage, then consider where in that stage something may be hidden. Nine times out of ten, if there’s an area in a stage that looks out-of-the-way or difficult to reach, there’s a green star there. And it gets far easier as you go along, as you get a handle on the designers’ tendencies and begin to anticipate where a green star might be squirreled away. They remind me quite a bit of the Star Coins in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which were likewise well-hidden, usually unmarked, and completely optional. Through the first two worlds, I missed Star Coins left and right, but by the end, I was finding them all on my first pass — and on the rare occasion I didn’t, I had a good idea of where to look when I went back in again. You can pixel hunt your way to 242 stars, but it’s slow, difficult, and boring. It’s much more interesting to think along with the designer and consider the levels holistically. If I were looking to hide a green star, having been through this level at least twice already, where would I put it? Go there. You might be surprised at what you find.

I dunno, but after 400-odd stars in previous Mario games, I didn’t have any trouble finding the green stars. Some of them were difficult to get to, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Just figuring out where they are, though? That’s a fun game in and of itself, challenging you to go places and approach levels in ways that you would have no use for in normal play. It’s just a different kind of game than the rest of Super Mario Galaxy 2, which is where the complaints lie, I think.

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