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Point-Counterpoint: SMG2 Rocks/Sucks

With Super Mario Galaxy 2 out just recently, you as a Mario fan will probably be wondering exactly how much it brings back from the era you loved as a kid, how many nostalgic elements make a long needed return and just how much this game resembles the past games. Well, it is probably the best 3D 'action' styled platformer you can imagine. It's a very different game to Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, and in all it's very much like the Bowser levels in the original in it's style, but you can keep one thing to heart, this game is absolutely built upon the foundations of the past Mario series and it's games.

SMG2 is a game that does reuse elements of the past series entries, which while true, is not necessarily a good thing. We're not talking merely revival of concepts, we're rolling the Star Ball right down into Majora's Mask model rip territory. For a game that required no new engine to test and program and borrows almost one seventh of its content from its prequel, it sure doesn't exceed in providing us with  fresh adventures, instead going with the tried and true pseudo-gameplay of taking the same level and making it harder in some way while presenting it to you as a whole different experience.

First thing of all, it's the definitive end to Bowser's villain decay. Really, 100 ft tall Bowser circling a planet, hitting it hard enough to send meteors into the sky, sending down meteors and levitating via fire breath of doom is about as far removed from the sad joke you fought in the Mario and Luigi and Paper Mario series as you could get. As are his minions, gone are the weak little things like Boom Boom and Big Boo and all, in are the monsters many times bigger than the planet they're fought on. Gobblegut, Megahammer and the Boomsday Machine make epic bosses, although nothing still compares to just how over the top huge Megaleg was in the first game. It really makes me wonder why Bowser and his troops don't just steam roll the next wannabe RPG villain/sealed evil in a can before it can blink. I've alway wanted to see the Shroobs return in that mothership and then Megaleg just crush it flat in one hit. Like how some villains expect a nice medieval society which just rolls over and dies and then the humans fight back with modern day technology, have it so Bowser and co just crush the threat nigh instantly due to THEIR advanced technology and troops. It'd be somewhat satisfying to see something like Megahammer just smash flat Exor from Super Mario RPG in one Smithy Gang destroying hit. I always will now wonder why Bowser doesn't just become giant in one of his myriad ways next time the Shadow Queen poses a threat, or why he didn't just send out Gobblegut, Megaleg and the Boomsday Machine to take out Fawful, Midbus and their sad little castle mech. You think they freak when they see Giant Bowser lifting up and throwing his own castle or the Peach Castle mech thing? They'd freak more when they see a couple of hundred foot dragon and a six story high steel tank charging towards their HQ. Or the mecha that towers over them as much as Bowser in giant form did over the Fawful Express. All while Bowser just goes off go karting again.

Bowser is gigantic in this game... and that's it. He has exactly 3 attacks, which is a mind-bendingly ONE more than he had in Super Mario Bros. 1. You know, for the NES. 25 years ago. Good job, Bowser! His personality might have been a joke in the RPGs (a funny one, actually), but his offense and difficulty sure weren't, which they are here. You'd think the three fights against the evil demonic Koopa king would at least be mutually different - nope! Just some shockwaves added. Also, he fluctuates between being serious and making cake jokes, which fits none of his established personas completely and just makes it seem like he was put in for fanservice. The creatures mentioned in the above paragraph are the world bosses - good fights, but the normal galaxy bosses make up for this with their unadulterated awkwardness. A fat Lakitu, a fat armadillo, a fat lizard, an octopus in a wheelchair, and a Piranha Plant with a glowing ***?! Is this Mario The Playground Bully Galaxy 2?

But back to the topic, the Bowser levels really are the closest you'll get to Bowser's Castle in 3D. They're sadly too short (although it seems 3D levels are never as big as the 2D ones unfortunately, I always despair at how the final level never has the twenty odd rooms the SMW castle did), but they really are nostalgic. Seriously, it's all there, the good and the bad. Thwomps, Bullet Bills, Banzai Bills, Hammer Bros, Boomerang Bros, Magikoopas, Whomps, Firebars and even Podoboos make their return. The 2D bits look just what New Super Mario Bros Wii should ideally have looked like (good game, but it would have done better still with this game's presentation). Heck, one such level is even called 'Breaking into Bowser's Castle'.

The closest I'll get? Really? Is it really so hard to, I don't know, copy the design of Donkey Kong 64's Creepy Castle and fill it with lava? The Bowser levels are 1. big blocks of lava with linear platforms on them, 2. one level that's kind of like a castle, but sadly in 2D, and 3. a miscellaneous collection of one-planet challenges just like the final Bowser level of SMG. Even the three-dimensional levels of the game simply reek of 2D - imagine being a pencil dot moving along a sheet of paper, but the paper's been folded and crumpled. Just because the paper is 3D now doesn't mean you can move in three dimensions! Where's the freedom? Where's changing the system? It's gone. SMG had vestiges of it that this game mercilessly eradicated.


And Bowser's Galaxy Generator is a real sight to behold.


If only for the background, a hallway in an ACTUAL castle, that's sadly just the skybox and is infinitely distant, just like freedom.


But nostalgia wise, the enemies are even better. Hammer Bros AND Boomerang Bros in full 3D for the first time in Mario history? You bet. Not counting party or spinoffs where they're playable here, but these are full bloody versions of the 2D enemies in a 3D environment. You can eat the hammers and boomerangs and fire them back, blow them up with Bullet Bills, kick them into lava, jump on them, etc. Yoshi can't eat them sadly, but this is the best enemy comeback after the Koopalings in my opinion.


This is hard to argue with, as Hammer Bros. are very good enemies and have been excellently transposed into 3D while maintaining their infamous deadliness. Though, why didn't the Koopalings return? Ah, yeah, I forgot, they already had a Galaxy model of Bowser Jr. lying around, why not reuse that?

Hammer Bros IN 3D! All we need now are Chargin’ Chucks.
There’s also the Grinders from Super Mario World, which I doubt anyone expected to see return ever again, let alone in a 3D platformer. They work exactly as you’d expect, with the added cool element of cutting away the floor as they pass and forcing Mario and Luigi to hurry the *** up and reach that Launch Star already. Two new varieties of Blarggs also appear in 3D, including ones big enough to eat small planetoids.


Oh, the Grinders are cool, certainly. What's not cool, though, is the galaxy they appear in. "Puzzle" Plank Galaxy, devoid of actual puzzles, is a level that taunts you with 6 stars. "Six!", you think, "that must be roughly the content of a Mario 64 level!" In your dreams, buddy. What no one tells you is: only one of those is an actual adventure as you might know them from SMG, with new planets and launching into unknown space and excitement and Mario going "Yoo-hoo!". The second one is giving a Hungry Luma 20 coins to fight against Bugaboom from SMG, the fight being almost identical to the one you know except that you use the Cloud Suit instead of the Bee Suit... making it slightly easier. The third is a complete rip-off: a tiny bonus room filled with 100 purple coins that you must get without crossing your own path. The rest is so-called "green stars" scattered randomly through the level. SMG 2: it prints money! High return on low investment! What's frightening: most of the galaxies are like this. Less than half of them have two separate adventures.


Not content with enemies, whole planets and areas return from the past. The Rolling Coaster Galaxy is awesome here, it’s basically Rainbow Road from Mario Kart in a mainstream platformer. Remember how people despair how Nintendo ignores the Mario sub series? Not this time around apparently, it’s even called the Rainbow Road Roll (and later, Purple Coins on the Rainbow Road). That really has to make it into a future Mario Kart, maybe the 3DS one. It’d be hilarious to see the Star Ball everyone hates roll straight through the Mario Kart racers in the same way as the Chomps in Mario Kart 64 did, maybe with a Luma riding it or something. I just hope the game won’t ask you to collect purple coins as one of the missions in the style of the coin missions in Mario Kart DS...

And how they return! En masse, really! Rolling Coaster is one of the most annoying things you will experience in the game, and that's saying something. Besides being made from a rainbow, the design is uninspired and the Purple Coin mission requires you to be almost perfect while continuously moving forward. Remember those skiing portions in Yoshi's Island? Wasn't it fun to collect the red coins there? This is even MORE fun!


More like "stay under conTROLL", especially when you see it after you died 30 times.


There’s also the Twisty Trials Galaxy, a perfect replica of the secret stage in Ricco Harbour. You know, that Mario Sunshine mission where you lose FLUDD after entering the light house top and all that? It’s got the rotating planks of wood and everything, albeit with a few dozen more star bits and a comet medal placed in the middle somewhere.


Haha, yes, except that this game screws up the physics of it so much that you literally can't guess when a side will suddenly decide to be slippery and throw you off. Also: it's possible to do a Star Spin, wall jump, and do another Star Spin, but disallowed to do one when jumping off a slippery surface? Cool story, SMG2.


And the best part of this nostalgia trip in the game? Throwback Galaxy. You should recognise it instantly:

Yep, it’s Whomp’s Fortress remade exactly in the amazing Wii graphics of Super Mario Galaxy 2! Okay, not perfectly, it has lots of new enemies and less Whomps, but it’s a certain trip down memory lane with the main theme from Super Mario 64 being remixed and used for the level music, as well as a full blown rebattle against the Whomp King from Super Mario 64. Except he generates cute little tiny Whomps when he jumps and pounds the ground, and causes shockwaves on landing. Sadly, he also kills you instantly like every other Thwomp, Whomp and Tox Box the game has to offer, but is at least nice enough to show a red shadow on the ground indicating where he’ll land as he falls. He also makes an extremely flashy entrance, doing the kind of jump previously only Bowser and Big Bob-omb seemed to revel in doing. Interestingly, you seem to fight him on the underside of Whomp’s Fortress, which is certainly rather unique, and by far a more well suited arena than the fortress roof. However, a minor issue because of this is that they surrounded the entire arena with black holes, so there’s literally no way to flee the battle any more, sucks for you if you enter without finding an extra health life mushroom or whatever, because you ain’t going back.

It's this part of the game that made me the most furious when playing it, and shifted my opinion from "okay sequel" to "are they kidding?" Now, I'm all for nostalgia, I love it, my favourite level of any game ever is Chapter 3-1 of Super Paper Mario, but what they did to Whomp's Fortress here is extremely indicative of the trend mainstream Mario games have been going lately. It's the old SM64 level we all love dearly, stripped of everything that didn't fit the SMG2 "linear or death" formula: the cannon, the Piranha Plant lullaby, Hoot the owl, the tower on the top, the red coins, the floating islands and the wall-kick bridge, the caged star... as to underline this dark development, the textures and sky look bleak behind the pulsating black holes, a level sucked dry of its essence, repopulated with tons of enemies that don't fit, and the Bob-Omb Buddies don't recognize you. Gone is the exploration, it's simply a trek up the hill to meet the Whomp King, who himself is extremely tired of all this. While the second "quest" does make you look for five silver stars and bitterly remember the time you spent playing this level as a little child, the third star cruelly subverts it and makes you redo it with a time limit. It's as if SMG2 is rubbing its "dynamicness" into your face, "SM64 isn't with the times! Now crippling linearity is the hot stuff! Here, have some more franticness. Oops, you died."


Finally, there are some Mario Galaxy references. One is good, one less so. The bright side? The Boss Blitz Galaxy. You refight Dino Piranha, King Kaliente, Major Burrows, Bouldergeist and Fiery Dino Piranha without taking a break. Bringing back one old boss like the Battan/Whomp King is cool, bringing back seven is the meaning of awesome retro nod (sadly no Koopalings, the last referred to is Bugaboom). There’s also the Stone Cyclone Galaxy, which has taken another ten levels of hatred in design (everything’s got the fast foe comet effects permanently), and the Mario Squared Galaxy, which is basically ‘Luigi’s Purple Coins as a level’. Oh, didn’t I mention it has Cosmic Clones? *** that sucks.

There's no bright side to doing the exact same thing you did 3 years ago, with the same music, the same graphics, for the same reward, in a different game. Just sayin'. Stone Cyclone and Mario Squared go even one step beyond that, it's unspeakable audacity on part of the game designers to sell tiny parts of SMG galaxies as full-blown SMG2 galaxies. Beach Bowl had one giant planetoid and the waterfall quest besides the Cyclone Stone, Toy Time had literally dozens of other places... SMG had 42 galaxies, SMG2 has 49. The calculation is left as an exercise for the reader.


Yeah, you’re being chased by about twenty evil clones who copy your movements. Miss a coin and you will pay with your life. Meh, could be worse. Could be the ‘Daredevil Speed Run Ultra Fast Super Mario Sunshine Lilypad Storm Drain Level with Cosmic Clones Chaos’. Or maybe the 9-7 Cosmic Clone mission based on the infamous New Super Mario Bros Wii level. Or a Donkey Kong Country level with ‘em. Imagine Lightning Lookout or Rocket Rush with Cosmic Clones and Daredevil Comet effects. That would be true ***. But sadly, the bad came back with the good stuff. Remember those annoying Piantas that threw you in Mario Sunshine? They come back in Starshine Beach. On the bright side, the level is as flat as anything, so there are no annoying platforms to be thrown off to a quick demise, and you don’t ever have to actually use them for anything. Thank God.

Those Piantas were annoying, but the Starshine Beach's music in this game is much worse. Add to that the fact that it's the biggest area of the game, and you're looking at a couple hours of searching for Green Stars and listening to this over and over. You might think I'm nitpicking, but the sad truth is that I have something bad to say about any single galaxy. Everything comparable to SMG has been done worse, everything is small, some mechanic ideas are good, but because the game forces you to replay them over and over while acting like it's giving you more, they become annoying very fast.


Similarly, you know what else didn’t need to return? Snake Blocks. Those freaking annoying things from that second tower in world 8 of New Super Mario Bros and Roy’s Castle from Super Mario World. A fast one appears too, in the Boo Moon Galaxy, and as per Nintendo and their stubborn game design, you have to long jump off the thing to get a Green Star. Hope you’re laughing there, that annoying thing cost me about twenty lives, and having to dodge ghosts while running with the platform is about as much of a punch in the face as you can imagine level design wise. On the bright side, the others in the game are less annoying. But do they even need to exist in the first place?

Does anyone actually like these platforms? Do they serve any purpose other than avoid having to design ground and platforms? They’re space filling junk.

Nothing to add here! This man speaks the truth.


But all in all, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an excellent example of nostalgia and listening to what the Mario fans want. There could indeed be improvements, I still wait for a Chargin’ Chuck in a 3D Mario game, and the game has a few boring levels here and there, but all the retro throwbacks and nods are great for fans of the series.

All in all, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a great example of laziness and reusing your work without any reason hoping that someone would like it. There could be improvements, like 30 more galaxies so it has roughly the content of SMG, and the game does have a few absolutely horrible levels here and there, but all the retro flashbacks and nods are just enough to make this game not a giant disappointment. SMG2 is worth buying, but it certainly doesn't deserve any praise compared to SMG.


~Waluigious: It's like, political, or something.

About the author
Luke Hackett
Author: Luke HackettEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Luke is the webmaster of SLB. He has been eating Mushrooms and smashing blocks since he was 7. When not saving the Mushroom Kingdom he can be found in Azeroth "pwning".