It's called Super Mario Galaxy 2, so you know what you're getting.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a unique entry in the Mario franchise due to its notable non-uniqueness. The first true sequel to a Mario title - well, to a Mario platformer (New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Lost Levels notwithstanding) -, Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes everything good from 2007's Super Mario Galaxy and...well, that's it. It is the truest sequel Nintendo has produced in over a decade.
Most of Mario's 3D outings have opted to reinvent how they handle platforming: Galaxy introduced the idea of distinct levelettes chained together to form a stage; Sunshine introduced F.L.U.D.D.; Mario 64 introduced 3D. SMG2's stages all feel like they would have been equally at home in its predecessor, and that's a good thing. Nintendo is offering us another series of smartly-designed stages, and I'm all for it.
Since this is a Mario game, you know that the Princess has been kidnapped by Bowser (spoiler alert!), and Mario has to travel between stages to collect stars while in pursuit of his persistent foe. Keeping the level structure from previous 3D titles intact, each "galaxy" contains a number of challenges, for each of which Mario earns a star upon completion. Earning stars unlocks more galaxies. Each "World" consists of a series of galaxies (I know, that's backwards) ending with a "boss" galaxy. Completing the primary challenge of these boss galaxies (i.e. defeating the boss) unlocks the next world. It's all old hat, but it's still fun.
That's not to say that SMG2 is completely bereft of new ideas. The game adds a few new power-ups like the Rockshroom, which lets you roll around as a boulder (think Goron mask from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask), and the Cloud Suit, which lets you create clouds so you can climb to great heights and span great distances.
The best new power-up isn't new at all; you can finally ride Yoshi, and adding Mario's dinosaur friend to the Galaxy formula works surprisingly well. The pointer locks onto a target and the B-Trigger extends Yoshi's tongue. Yoshi himself gets a series of power-ups, such as a chili pepper that makes him uncontrollably fast, a blue berry that makes him float, and a yellow fruit that turns him into a light to see in the dark.
The game draws inspiration from older Mario titles as well. Beyond catchy throwback musical themes, it also borrows from Mario's 2D offerings. The level selection is done on a single map, similar to Mario 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros., rather than making you navigate a hub area to find each World's portal. It also seems to feature more 2D segments than its predecessor, And there's a level lifted right from the pages of Mario history that will make longtime fans very happy.
A tweaked version Co-Star Mode returns from Galaxy, in which a second player can offer some limited assistance to the person guiding Mario. The "Co-Star" can now do a spin attack. However, this is not a "two-player mode"; SMG2 is a distinctly single-player experience, and Co-Star Mode will likely appeal more to families than experienced players.
Opting not to mess with a good thing, SMG2 features the same solid controls as Super Mario Galaxy. You'll jump with the A-Button, butt-stomp with the Z-Button, spin-attack with a flick of the Wii Remote or Nunchuk, move with the Nunchuk's analog stick, and move the camera with the D-Pad. The only control issues are in a handful of motion-based mini-games that feel somewhat imprecise, but the imprecision certainly doesn't ruin them.
The visuals are still gorgeous. The world of Super Mario Galaxy was colorful, diverse, and detailed. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is no less beautiful; its sharp graphics and smooth animations are amazing. Only once did I see a hint of slowdown, while rolling around a huge group of enemies as I flattened them using the Rockshroom. Considering the number of times the game puts multiple enemies on-screen, that's impressive. The various galaxies are each notably distinct with their own visual flair, and each one is impressively designed and visually appealing. In short, Super Mario Galaxy had some of the Wii's best graphics upon its release, and Galaxy 2 matches it in every regard.
The sound is a great mix of effects and music. There's a suite of classic Mario themes that have been remixed and re-purposed for Galaxy 2, as well as some nice original compositions. The great sound effects from Galaxy make their way into the sequel, and Dolby Pro Logic II support rounds out a nice audio package.
We were promised a more difficult experience with Galaxy 2, and this definitely turned out to be the case. SMG2 gets right into the more difficult content early, and some of the later stars are brutally difficult. Prankster Comet stars (which thankfully no longer move between galaxies, but rather simply become available for selection and stay that way) can be particularly frustrating. To offset this additional challenge, the game features the Super Guide from New Super Mario Bros. Wii (called the "Cosmic Guide" here). However, it is not available for all stars, which means even the seemingly unlimited number of 1-ups the game throws at you can be exhausted.
Galaxy 2 features over 240 stars to collect, spread over a large number of galaxies. With the extra layer of difficulty it's doubtful that most players will ever see everything Galaxy 2 has to offer, but they can certainly try. Those who love challenging platforming should just call in sick to work for the next week, because they've got a big task in front of them.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes Super Mario Galaxy and makes a few tweaks to make it more playable. As such, Galaxy 2 instantly catapults itself into the discussion for the title of Best Game Available on Wii. If you liked Super Mario Galaxy even a bit, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a must-have title for your Wii game collection.