When Nintendo first announced the sequel to the hugely successful Super Mario Galaxy, cleverly-titled Super Mario Galaxy 2, at E3 2009, many gamers were surprised as up until now, each new console Mario title had been on the system that followed the previous title. With news that the game would play very similarly to the original, most wondered if this was a sign that the company's successful console was beginning to fall on hard times and needed to be propped up by its biggest titles. From what has currently been revealed about the game, this couldn't be farther from the truth.
The original Super Mario Galaxy was set in outer space, where Mario traveled from galaxy to galaxy in order to collect Power Stars, which could be obtained by solving puzzles or defeating enemies, and sometimes even huge bosses. The highlight of the game came in the new physics system, which revolved around a unique feature of giving every celestial object its own gravitational force, allowing the player to completely circumnavigate the planets, walking either sideways like normal or even upside down. This also applied to jumping from planet to planet, which was one of the prime factors used in a number of the game's most tricky and difficult puzzles.
While the sequel features numerous changes and tweaks to the original's formula, it also improves on what already existed, namely Mario's transformations and the pull stars. The original game featured a bevy of suits and items which could transform Mario, such as the bee suit, fire flowers and ice flowers. While they were somewhat under-utilized in the original, there were a select few levels which used the transformations in unique ways, such as in the Honeycomb Galaxy where Mario needed to fly around the hive to reach the star, occasionally switching to moving across the honeycombs like a bee. Super Mario Galaxy 2 includes the transformations from the original game, but also includes some news ones such as Rock Mario and Cloud Mario. Rock Mario was used quite impressively in one of the latest trailers, which had Mario amusingly rolling into a set of enemies that were acting as bowling pins. Cloud Mario was used to create platforms in the air which could be used to get to his next destination.
However, one of the most impressive power-ups comes in the form of the drill, which allows players to zip from one end of the planet to the other in a flash. This has been shown in numerous trailers, but its most notable use was in a boss battle which required Mario to time his drilling with the movements of the boss in 3D, requiring players to keep track of the enemy while simultaneously avoiding its attacks. Nintendo's focus on these transformations is a clear indicator that the sequel won't merely use them as gimmicks to pad out the gameplay, instead being used to complement the puzzles.
Unlike previous titles where Yoshi was relegated as either a cameo or as a gimmick, most notably in Super Mario Sunshine, Yoshi has a starring role helping out Mario in Super Mario Galaxy 2's various levels. As in previous titles, Yoshi can eat a wide array of different-coloured fruit, which gives him power-ups such as speed boosts, as seen in recent trailers where Mario and Yoshi are speeding across a ramp, along with the ability to inflate like a balloon and reveal secret paths that would otherwise be unnoticed by the player. Yoshi can also swing across gaps by wrapping it with his tongue, which is controlled by the Wii Remote in a similar fashion to the ability to collect Star Bits in the original game with the pointer (which is being carried over into the sequel). This can also be used for moves outside of swinging across gaps, such as pulling levers or swallowing enemies whole and spitting them out to inflict damage to other enemies or hit far-away objects.
Another change in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the removal of the hub world from the original game, which was widely criticized by critics and gamers for being confusing and too complex, since each hub was placed far away from each other and the warps to travel from one to another were secretly hidden until the player discovered them, instead of being unlocked as each new hub world was discovered. The sequel will feature a map system similar to that in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which was released late last year around the world. A Mario head-shaped planet called Starship Mario acts as the home base for the player, which can be visited at any time and is expanded upon as Mario learns new abilities throughout the game.
With all of the new abilities, a more streamlined gameplay process and the inclusion of the Super Guide feature from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which was used to have the AI run through the stage and show advanced gameplay techniques to the player, one might think that Nintendo is aiming the game at the casual crowd and dumbing down the sequel. Fans of the original can rejoice, as Nintendo as publicly stated both in an IGN interview with Nintendo of America President and CEO Reggie Fils-AimÃˆ and in a Wired interview with Shigeru Miyamoto that Super Mario Galaxy 2 would be more challenging and would expect that players played the original game and were used to gameplay mechanics like the planetary physics.
With about over a month to go till Super Mario Galaxy 2's release, it appears that Nintendo hasn't rested on their laurels with Galaxy's sequel, but instead have created a game which feels familiar, but still has its own unique charm. In this day and age where video game sequels try to keep reinventing the wheel, it's nice to see a company stick with what works and evolve the formula further and farther than one would have thought possible.