© 2010 Alex Baldwin
Editor’s Note: As with all our Steal It For 360 reviews (which can be found HERE), this one looks at an exclusive game not available to Xbox owners to find out if it would have been desirable enough a game to wish it had been. In this case, would it have been a game Xbox owners would have enjoyed on Kinect? Yes we know that Mario is a Nintendo license and it would never happen…but that’s the point of wishing.
This is it. The fate of a console all comes down to this.
My little white Wii has been mournfully sitting in a corner for months, unplayed and unloved. I know, I should have put it out of its misery long ago, traded or sold it to a better home, but I just couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t pass up the chance that maybe, just maybe, Nintendo might give me a reason to love it again with the forever-distant promise of Mario Galaxy 2.
So it’s all come down to this. A game that must be able to justify not just the $100 to buy it, but the $300 of the console to play it on.
Can Mario Galaxy 2, the first numbered Mario sequel since the SNES days and the first that isn’t even attempting to shake up the formula possibly give my Wii a reason to live again?
Let’s get the basics out of the way. Out of the true 3D Mario games (64, Sunshine and Galaxy) Galaxy 2 is the first direct sequel, and the first to appear within the same console generation as another.
It does not contain any significant changes, and no new ground is tread. It comes packaged with an instructional DVD while levels contain signposts that provide a demonstration of game controls such as jumping that practically scream “I ‘heart’ casual gamers!”. Levels are now selected via the old-style flowchart map instead of the open hub used by the 3D Mario games.
Way too many reasons
To describe the game as Mario Galaxy 1.5 is no stretch, as it largely plays out like a retail-sized expansion to the first.
The planet and gravity-based play is back in force as you collect gold and grand stars in the effort to rescue the blonde bimbo Mario must surely be sick of by now. However, for anyone who isn’t up to speed on the Wii incarnation of Mario, here’s a basic summary of what it’s all about:
Instead of flat environments, Mario Galaxy provides spherical (well, usually) planetoids to quite literally run around, each holding its own gravity field to stop you falling off at the ‘bottom’ – wherever that may be, as the camera often doesn’t discriminate and will happily follow you upside down.
The staples of green pipes, koopas and coins are ready to be explored, stomped and collected to your hearts’ content, although are rarely necessities in completing the level. Your most useful tool is the tiny white Luma (obese star) that sits under Mario’s hat, allowing you to spin rapidly to attack enemies with a simple jerk of the Wiimote in any direction.
Most enemies will need an additional ‘kick’ from running into them or butt stomp to finish them off after this, and may spew out coloured star chips to easily collect by moving the Wiimote’s pointer over them. Although it may seem unintuitive to be both pointing and waggling the Wiimote, it actually works close to flawlessly in practise.
Mario Galaxy 2 is no different.
And I really do mean NO different at all. You’ll be largely repeating the same actions you’ve done before, with the exception of a few more costumes to wear that grant new abilities and the inclusion of Yoshi.
The high-on-helium little green dinosaur provides a larger floating jump, and is able to swallow enemies to convert them to star chips or spit them out in the direction you point the Wiimote. It all clicks with minimal learning curve and makes you wonder why he was missing from the first game.
The only other change of note is the reintroduction of the flowchart-based level and world menus from the older 2D Mario games and more recently seen in the New Super Mario Bros Wii and DS games. The reinclusion of what was thought to be a discarded system for 3D Mario games is a bit confusing, but allows faster launching into the actual levels while still maintaining a small ‘home’ area to run around in the form of a starship modelled after Mario himself.
But onto the opinionated stuff.
Mario Galaxy 2 is perhaps the most ‘pure’ gaming experience seen this generation.
The industry has slowly been moving into the trend of exclusively focusing on making games more cinematic in nature through the use of heavier narratives, larger and more involving set-pieces and more emotional depth. None of these exist in Galaxy 2, and it is all the better for it.
When I’m playing a modern blockbuster, my motivations for play primarily come from advancing the story or challenging myself. Now Miyamoto’s latest masterpiece has reminded me of something disappearing more and more from the gaming landscape: playing for the joy of playing.
Playing for the joy of playing
Galaxy 2 is conspicuous is its absence of traditional motivating factors of game design such as story hooks, overt or multi-layered objectives and constant challenge. Rarely have I played a game that is able to draw me in through the seemingly simple elements of movement and collecting.
The complexities of modern games have been stripped away, ensuring any and all fun is drawn from just playing for the joy of playing. The fluidity of Mario’s animations and movement physics make bounding around the planetoid an act of play similar to that of what young children do before they grasp an understanding of rules or objectives.
Without any significant overbearing motive other than to just to move further through the environment (at your own pace without time limits), a sense of relaxation is embedded in the experience akin to watching fish in an aquarium where the notion of receiving a reward for your efforts seems unimportant. The star in each level is really just a marker of the environment’s end.
This is exactly what justifies the existence of Galaxy 2.
The Anti-Modern experience
While blockbuster sequels such as Halo: Reach and Uncharted 2 rely on the extension of the narrative and new features as reasons to play, Miyamoto’s achievement of providing motivation from simply playing makes the lack of new content beyond additional levels redundant.
They simply are not needed to provide the gameplay necessary to invoke the experiences provided by the Galaxy games. The ‘2’ indicates his is not about changing the experience but about providing more of it.
One of the other barriers expertly cleared by Miyamoto and his team is the projection of one’s self onto the avatar.
Controls are the most common hindrance to immersion as they provide a barrier between your own actions and those enacted on the screen.
The act of flicking the Wiimote for the spin attack and pointing to collect the star chips is remarkably intuitive to the point where your mind is able to leap the barrier and begin processing your actions as if the muscle commands sent to your hands are directly linked to what is enacted by Mario on the screen. Hence the term ‘projecting’ oneself onto the player character.
It is not in the sense that you will start thinking like an Italian plumber, but rather that the mind’s process of demanding a reaction out of Mario is almost as immediate and thought-free as controlling your own limbs. A remarkable achievement that would be the result of hundreds of hours of testing and fine tuning the acceleration, inertia, friction, effect of gravity and animation of Mario’s model.
The only problem area for controls is when swimming underwater as Mario, where he can easily get turned around and respond strangely to the direction of the thumbstick or swim up or down opposite to what is expected when facing the camera.
Purity of experience
From giant barking cannon balls rolling along tracks for no apparent reason to unnecessary snowmen able to be destroyed, to disappearing blocks, it rarely makes any logical sense other than providing a perfect obstacle or toy along your way. There is no grander justification for their existence beyond providing a factor to increase the player enjoyment through either encouraging a certain action to proceed or allowing an interaction as simple, meaningless play.
For example, rolling a snowball into a snowman may not contribute in any way to your progression through the game. However, it is fun. Not all players may do it, but those who do are granted that tiny extra bit of enjoyment which is its own reward for experimentation, creative thinking or exploration.
This system of rewarding the player for playing by providing more play is evident in the use of coins within the game. There is little reason for their existence, however by placing them strategically the player is more likely to move in a direction they are in rather than one without. Once you have collected 100, you are granted an extra life, which only serves the purpose of enabling more play.
Basic concepts that work flawlessly
Whether due to the simultaneous development of New Super Mario Bros Wii or not, side-scrolling segments are more prominent in Galaxy 2 than 1, usually due to the introduction of a more complex gameplay mechanic to simplify movement as compensation.
The sections with Yoshi, which make up roughly 20% of the game, play out similarly to on-foot sections, but at the faster running speed of Yoshi and usually involving more ranged confrontations to utilise Yoshi’s projectile-spitting abilities.
Co-op play- yay?
Very basic co-op play is possible through the second player using their Wiimote to collect star chips and stun enemies, letting the player in control of Mario have some breathing room for any particularly tricky sections but it still functions more as a way for any spectators to have some simple involvement.
For anyone hoping the inclusion of Luigi was for true co-op play will be disappointed with him being relegated to the simple duties of being selectable as the player character in certain levels. The only differences when playing as Luigi is a higher jump and faster running speed but at the cost of friction which can see him skidding to a stop after running.
Wii challenges the PS3/360?
From a visual perspective, Galaxy 2 is by far the most attractive Wii game yet, challenging even some 360 and PS3 games. Much of this can be attributed to be very consistent, balanced art design that sees no object or character looking out of place due to the use of curved shapes for more interactive objects and harder or more solid lines for static environment elements.
Edge lighting is used very successfully to distinguish characters from similarly coloured scenery and to provide a better sense of depth to the spherical or otherwise planetoids. The design of the scenery still mostly uses the well-trodden designs of past Mario games with the obvious modifications into 3D environments that can be walked around, on top of, underneath and often inside.
Sounds good to me…
It has an orchestral soundtrack that successfully blends remixed classic Mario tunes with large-scale suites that are nothing short of epic. The build and flourish that accompanies the collection of each star is a reward in itself.
Game Of The Year stuff? A Wii game?
In my mind, Galaxy 2 is the best outing Mario has ever seen, and one of the best games this generation. If you want a game that strips away the modern complexity of most 360 and PS3 games and gets back to basics, you’ve found it.
I’m not a real Nintendo fan- I’m unable to understand the fuss about Zelda or the enjoyment of Metroid Prime (both of which I’ve played numerous incarnations of and found none to connect with me), but Galaxy 2 holds a magic unlike any other game I’ve experienced other than its predecessor.
You owe it to yourself to play this, and preferably in a quiet place devoid of outside distractions so you can give yourself and your inhibitions over to the child-like sense of pure joy found nowhere else.