‘What were they smoking when they thought that one up, eh?’ Don’t you just hate it when people say that? Any time there’s something a little bit original or strange thrown into your medium of choice, someone, somewhere, is bound to respond with this tired bit of ‘wisdom’. Have people always said that? Did peasants in the 1600s raise a knowing eyebrow to one another and say, “Well, that William Shakespeare, eh? What was he smoking?”
If you do hate it, then a disclaimer is needed: if you play Super Mario Galaxy 2 in a shared living room, then expect to hear it a lot. We are, after all, talking about a game in which friendly bombs approach you to ask favours; in which fortresses transform into colossal fireball-firing tanks; in which you ride a dinosaur which eats grumpy mushrooms with its long tongue and craps out stars.
Thing is, those kinds of things have always been in the Mario games. The recent Galaxy games just shine a light on it. It could be because of the shiny graphics, perhaps the contrast with the gray-and-brown state of modern games. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the constant emphasis on ideas. Lots and lots of ideas.
Nothing’s really new here: it’s the same set-up, worlds and game mechanics as every Mario ever. Princess gets captured, jump through hoops to save her, in the form of a series of quick-to-play objective-led one-shot levels. It couldn’t be a more traditional game. And yet it feels fresh.
Which is impressive, given that the first Galaxy game seemed to explore every part of the new gravity-orientated approach to platforming. There are tweaks, here and there, but never contains anything as outright mind-blowing as the first time you leapt from planet to planet, terra firma shifting under your feet.
What it adds, instead, is a polished game of much greater length and complexity. Which is to say, difficulty. The brilliant bit is, all the particularly difficult stuff is essentially optional. You can blitz through and get 60 stars and beat Bowser fairly easily, dodging hard levels. But to get 120 stars, every levels has to be revisited, be mined for hidden Comet medals, played with a new twist.
Of which there are plenty. Every level has an alternative objective: sometimes just a speed-run, or collect-‘em-all, or adding Mario clones which follow his every step, meaning you can’t retrace your own steps. Occasionally, though, it’s something much more inventive, a full skewing of the concept the level is built on. The whole game is a series of twists; it is itself a beautiful extension of the first one. It’s not always something new, but it is something special.