SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 – The Double Dip Awful Edition Review
SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 is a videogame developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Wii. It was directed by KOICHI HAYASHIDA.
I’ve played Super Mario Galaxy 2 from start to finish. That was probably the mistake, as the more you play this game, the less you like it – and I believe the optimal stopping point would be somewhere before World 5. By the time the game opens up its Second Quest, where you must collect 114 Green Stars, my enjoyment of the game had already become a downwards slide towards an endless abyss.
This is not, like Tom has suggested, a good game whose main flaw is being too “artificially perfect”. Super Mario Galaxy 2 gives the impression it was “surgically assembled in a laboratory”, yes, but this doesn’t imply that the result was the Fifth Element (i.e. Milla Jovovich) instead of the Bride of Frankenstein (i.e. shrieking woman who will never love you back). So here is the bottom line: Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the Bride. It is schlock.
Let’s start with its greatest mystery: Starship Mario.
The goal of the game is to collect Power Stars in order to energize your ship, then you can go farther in space and collect even more Power Stars. So, where you read “Power Star” interpret that as fuel or any other oil equivalent of your liking. It’s interesting that the two previous Mario games were about scouring the universe for energy resources under the flimsy premise of saving some damsel in distress. The franchise is keeping up with the times, it seems. Back then, Mario could have been interpreted as an allegory for communism. Now it’s about the energy crisis. In Mario Galaxy 3, the Mushroom Central Bank will be in trouble and Mario will have to visit 8 worlds to stop Bowser Jr’s from causing fiscal deficits.
In any case, what truly surprised me was the stage layout – instead of a hub world, you chose stages by navigating a grid a la the 2D games of yore. It seems Nintendo is still under the impression nostalgia is its greatest and only asset. But… why bother having you walk around the spaceship then? What is the point? The only reason for Rosalina’s spaceship to exist in the original Super Mario Galaxy was for it to serve as a hub world. Now there is no need for one and yet the thing is still there.
Of course, this is no mystery really. By now we all know how awfully hard it is for anyone not called Shigeru Miyamoto to make any decisions at Nintendo. Koichi Hayashida, this game’s director and the lead programmer of the previous Galaxy game, never knew exactly which sacred cow to sacrifice and which to keep… so he kept them all! The result was a product so schizophrenic its mildest effect is having Luigi pop up for reasons beyond comprehension.
The deepest effect is Mario Galaxy 2‘s Kuribotization. You see, in Super Mario Bros. 3 there was a magical item called Kuribo or Goomba Shoes. It only appeared once, at World 5-3, and never again. The reason behind its magic was exactly that: the unexpected and unique nature of this event made it special. Super Mario Galaxy 2 also hastons of ideas. Good ideas. Great even! Underwater stages are now based on speed, there are flippable platforms, sand sliders, activated-by-light platforms, book-like stages, space bowling, etc. But each of these ideas appears once or twice and that’s it. Whereas Valve could develop entire Portal games built on one of those ideas alone, Nintendo introduces them by the bucket load and develops none. Now everything is Kuribo Shoes.
The sad part is that in the games where Nintendo did focus on one or two ideas and thoroughly developed them, the results were stellar. Take Super Mario Sunshine, for instance: an entire game built around the idea of a water gun. And boy!, when they took that Water Gun away from you, you missed it! You missed it because it mattered, not because the stages were any tougher than what they would be otherwise – which was the misconception that bore the original Super Mario Galaxy.
I still play Super Mario Sunshine as a summer ritual – particularly when I’m at the beach. It was a game that struck gold for me. Sunshine had worlds that were worth exploring. It was the closest a non-RPG Mario game ever came to a believable world. Playing it gave me a glimpse of how the Nintendo designer perhaps saw our world – and it was awesome.
Galaxy 2‘s worlds, on the other hand, are even more fragmented than their Galaxy 1 counterparts, as Nintendo chose to make them smaller in order to add a larger variety of them. These worlds are functional, sterile. They are there because Power Stars need to be allocated to platforms and platforms need to hang from somewhere. Only the platforming matters. The rest was removed – and not because somebody chose to remove it, mind you, but because the misconception, the Super Mario Sunshine stages where you weren’t allowed to carry the water gun, didn’t have a “rest” to begin with. Thus, now we platform on the vacuum, the space, the galaxy. Technically, Super Mario Galaxy 2 could be a great platformer (it isn’t; it’s too littered with undeveloped ideas) but that doesn’t make it a great game. Nobody must live in those worlds; they lack life. During the very first stage of the game, you see Yoshi’s house and you are immediately struck by the sad realization that either Yoshi starved from living in a chunk of rock with almost no resources or that the developer wasted time modeling just another idiosyncrasy in the Mario canon, just like galaxies contained by worlds (and not the other way around) and planets illuminated by invisible suns.
I suppose that is why the Galaxy games lack that “Mario-ness”, the tactile feeling of how just controlling Mario around was fun by itself. We spent hours in Peach’s garden and Delfino Plaza because the friction was just right and the place was worth exploring. When I think on the fragmented planets of Galaxy 2, I can’t help but remember the pleasant memories of the pastel rooftops from Super Mario Sunshine‘s Delfino Plaza and that completely non-functional-and-not-necessary lake in Peach’s garden from Super Mario 64. These were places I explored so much I owned them. Now, in Mario Galaxy 2, I reach World 6 (they have no names) and come to the shocking realization that I can’t remember anything beyond the past two levels I’ve visited.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 offers many places to visit, but no cohesiveness between them and, because of that, it lacks a sense of place. The little the original Galaxy game had is now gone. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an extremely fragmented experience.
And it gets worse. Super Mario Galaxy 2‘s schizophrenic and fragmented nature eventually takes its tool and the game starts running off of ideas. By then, it is making us fight old bosses and play through recycled levels. Whomp’s Fortress, the second painting/level in Super Mario 64, makes a return in a particularly depressing moment. It feels like Nintendo wanted to draw praises by evoking nostalgia one more time, but it only succeeded in diminishing the value of the original stage. Was it really that trite of an experience?
(By the way, no it wasn’t. I started up my old Nintendo 64 just to make sure. The difference is that Super Mario Galaxy 2 grossly streamlined the Whomp’s Fortress level while also giving the impression it is smaller due to the constant use of smaller zooms by its automatic camera. Also, how didn’t anyone complain about Mario Galaxy 2‘s camera before? It is particularly annoying for assuming planets have an upper and lower part – which never made any sense to begin with – and showing Mario upside down!)
After you collect all the initial 128 stars, the game delivers its final slap: to hunt for 144 Green Stars, for no reason whatsoever, that were hidden in the previous stages. It never really works. I mean, how could it? Those stages were designed to be functional. They are linear! This is not like collecting golden coins in New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. Wii because the game removes you from the stage after each Green Star collected: which means seeing a bunch on status screens, walking around that useless Starship Mario, re-selecting the level and starting it all over again. It’s a huge time sink and for what? The only reward for collecting 242 stars is an extra line delivered by Rosalina: “I want to give you my thanks.” Not even an exclamation mark!
In the end, what frustrated me the most about this game was how meaningless everything was. I never care about saving the Princess What’s-Her-Name or doing whatever. The way the game is presented, as a fairytale being told by Rosalina to her Lumas, only reinforces that feeling. Ultimately, nothing matters; it’s all just something that happened in an alternate universe, easily dismissible. Super Mario Galaxy Gaiden.
And for all its cool ideas (particularly the ones making use of Yoshi), Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a game lacking in personality. In fact, it’s not much of a game, but rather assembled fragments of one. Each stage could have been sold separately via DLC and it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest as there is no coherence between them. It never becomes anything beyond the sum of its parts.
It’s a game that doesn’t matter. And that’s the worst thing I can think of for any game.