Three years ago, Mario hit the Wii with a remarkable 3D entry that brought a ton of innovation to the series through its spherical level designs that fit the galaxy moniker well. It also introduced new items like star bits that acted as both currency and a projectile attack. Despite some awkward camera issues and a clunky over world, the game still raised the bar for 3D platformers not just for Wii, but for all of gaming. Now, its successor has taken that crown. Galaxy 2 follows in the footsteps of the original by providing more of the same platforming action found there, but provides a better overall experience because it improves some nagging issues from the original - namely its occasionally-problematic camera controls and streamlining the bloated stage select setup. Galaxy 1’s top-shelf gameplay has been retained and improved with sharper controls, the improved camera that makes plat forming easier, and a marvelous execution of Yoshi that makes great use of the Wii remote to integrate him perfectly into the 3D Marios.
Mario must once again save Princess Peach, who’s been kidnapped by the biggest Bowser yet and taken to the center of the universe, literally. You’ve got to reach her on your fancy new spaceship that the lumas from the first game, along with a new one that looks like the Grimace, have fashioned into a hub world that doubles as a playable version of Mario’s head, only with green hair. Chia Mario looks awesome and is outfitted with a respawning chance die that allows you to either snag a 1-up or a star bit, and an area that Yoshi can explore once you’ve found him, as well as a chance game for 1-ups at the cost of 30 star bits. It’s fun to just run around and explore this area, and it’s more fun to do this here than just explore the bland observatory area from the first game. The clunky world map from that game has been done away with, and while you still use the point to select stages, it’s now done with the more traditional over world map found in SMB 3, World, and the later 2D side-scrolling Marios instead of the cumbersome Galaxy 1 method of requiring you to explore the observatory to find stages. Now, they’re all clearly labeled and you can go from stage to stage at will - a massive improvement that makes your progress much easier to keep track of.
Like the first Galaxy, you’ll take Mario (or Luigi if you‘d prefer) through dozens of platforming levels along with some bonus stages to mix things up. Like Galaxy, there’s a lot of variety here, with levels ranging from the usual side-scrolling fare to the circular planet stages that throw you off with their overhead views. New to Galaxy 2 are the cloud suit, drill suit, and rock suit power-ups. The cloud suit allows you to create up to three cloud platforms, while the drill suits gives you the ability to drill through soft soil to defeat enemies or reach new areas, and the rock suit basically turns Mario into a stone bowling ball to destroy enemies or bowling pins, depending on the situation. The new power-ups also open up some homages to gaming’s past, with the drill suit unlocking an area that pays homage to Dug Dug in a side-scrolling area that requires you to dig further to progress and beat foes in order to do so. Another area doesn’t use the drill hat, but does require Mario to ride atop a ball and take part in Monkey Ball-esque plat forming. There's even a galaxy that recreates the Whomp's Fortress stage from Super Mario 64. These areas don’t make up the bulk of the game, but do provide a little bit of an extra thrill for those that recognize the homages.
The only qualms I have with the power-ups is that unlike the 2D Marios, where they truly did give you an advantage, Galaxy 2 continues Galaxy 1’s trend of only using the power-ups in set levels. They’re there simply to make it possible to beat the area you can use them in instead of actually given Mario an advantage. As a result, the thrill of having the fire flower and looking forward to blasting your foes to kingdom come, or grabbing the raccoon suit and leaping over a level is gone.
Beyond the regular gold power stars earned in stages and used to get the ship from stage-to-stage, Galaxy 2 also has bronze stars, which are awarded for finishing a level with the CPU-controlled guide. Luckily, this can be upgraded to a gold power star if you beat the stage later on your own, easily eliminating the silver stars - five of these can be used to forge one power star. The addition of the guide to the 3D Mario series has been a bit controversial, but as with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, I don’t mind it being there - it’s completely optional, and does provide you with a way to beat a level that you’re struggling with. It’s certainly far better to have the option available than to just quit the game due to frustration.
Like Galaxy 1, Super Mario Galaxy 2 controls like a dream. Everything’s responsive, and the button layout is very intuitive. I was concerned about Yoshi’s addition to the Galaxy series because he controls so perfectly in 2D and his swallowing function could be easy to screw up in a 3D game since your aim has to be dead-on. Yoshi winds up working out far better here than in Sunshine since you aim with the remote to inhale foes or use his tongue to latch onto bars to swing to new areas. Yoshi’s skillset works in the same manner that you do to obtain star bits and as a result, controlling Yoshi becomes second-nature easily.
Visually, this is the best-looking Wii game I’ve laid eyes on. The environments and characters are incredibly-detailed. There’s also no slowdown, despite there being instances of a lot happening at once in boss stages where you can have missiles flying at you in all directions, and a particularly jaw-dropping level with regular-sized Mario in a giant-sized world forcing him to face screen-filling enemies and equally enormous platforms as well. This stage also shows off just how detailed the environments are as everything looks incredibly crisp. The usual Mario series music and sound effects are back, with Galaxy 1’s great soundtrack being used here at times and expanded upon, as well as remakes of classic tunes from Mario’s past.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a tremendous game and definitely the best one on the Wii. It’s one of the best Mario games of all time, and my favorite 3D entry in the series to date. The gameplay, controls, graphics, and music are all incredible and its replay value is also astronomical. Beyond the replayable nature of the stages because they're so fun to play though, you can also replay them to earn all of their stars, which itself will unlock a remixed version of the game. Beating that version completely then unlocks a new galaxy to play though, so yeah, there's a ton to do here and this isn't a game you're going to either breeze through or put away quickly.