Our run of the Super Mario Bros. franchise shakes and waggles on as we revisit the 2010 Nintendo Wii classic Super Mario Galaxy 2, a game that revolutionized nothing. It’s just the first game but with Yoshi.
In A Galaxy Very, Very Familiar…
I only consider Super Mario Galaxy 2 to be one of the top 10 games of the 2010s. The Wii had a lot of great games (if you can tolerate playing them in a non-slouched manner), and Galaxy 2 is my favorite of the console’s extensive catalog.
Super Mario 64 was the original 3D Mario and set the tone for what was to come. Super Mario Sunshine took the template set by 64 and added new mechanics and precision platforming (that was still frustrating most of the time). Super Mario Galaxy upped the visuals, tightened the gameplay, steadied the camera, and added gravity defying physics (and those pesky motion controls).
All Galaxy 2 did was take the original game and expand on it. That’s usually the formula for disappointing movie sequels: Do what the original did again, only bigger and louder. Yet Galaxy 2 is my favorite 3D Mario (although Super Mario 3D World comes very close).
I replayed Galaxy 2, as I do for all my articles, and was surprised to rediscover how long-winded the intro was. I recalled Galaxy having a lot of plot to get through before the game truly began, but in 2, there is a fair amount of chit-chat and introductions that need to be taken care of before you can start galaxy-hopping freely. Even then, many early levels are interrupted between stars to advance the plot. It’s a minor quibble, as reviewers are wont to say, and the intro itself is actually quite clever. You begin the game from the classic Super Mario Bros. 2D perspective. As you progress, you slowly go from a 2D to 3D world. It’s subtle but very well done.
The story involves Princess Peach baking a cake and getting kidnapped. So that’s still happening. Bowser is so gigantic now he says things like, “I’M HUUUUGE!” He decided he needs to rule over something his own size, so he takes off to the galaxy! He still takes Peach with him because she’s just a hard habit to break.
Meanwhile, Mario befriends a Baby Luma, a happy little star-shaped creature, who proceeds to live in Mario’s hat, granting him special abilities. After this, he meets Lubba, a jolly Luma that looks like Grimace in yoga pants. He is the mechanic on your new spaceship, the Starship Mario! And then—yadda yadda yadda—let’s go collect some stars!
The entire first world of the game is basically a long tutorial that introduces you to how the game works. The introductory level gets you used to moving around in the environment. Several of the galaxies revolve around a certain mechanic, such as the Spin Drill, Bee, and reverse gravity levels.
One of the first places you visit has your old friend Yoshi in it…and he talks! No voice acting, but he does speak via talk bubbles. I remember thinking it was odd that he spoke. I’m used to Yoshi only letting out flutter-grunts and egg-laying “Bum!” sounds, along with the occasional third person reference to himself, “Yoshi!” Of course, Yoshi did talk in Super Mario World as well, but I just found this amusing.
The sequel wisely (in my opinion) jettisons the hub world in exchange for the Starship Mario, the spaceship Lubba reworks to look like Mario’s face. It’s a small area, and that’s clearly by design. Initially, there is very little to do here, but as you progress on your adventure, things and people you encounter on your adventure begin popping up. Soon enough, your ship will be teeming with rabbits, Yoshi eggs, penguins, and other secrets.
Approaching the steering wheel allows Mario to access the world map, which he can use to jump easily from one galaxy to the next. I never cared for the hub-world exploring in the original Galaxy, and found this to be a much quicker way to get into the action.
Captain Toad, Galaxy Tracker
This is the game where Toad gets promoted to Captain. He has his backpack, his headlamp, and his Treasure Tracker theme music. Nobody incrementally moves their franchises forward better, or more methodically, than Nintendo. In Mario’s next 3D adventure, Super Mario 3D World, Toad got his own special levels, which then led to his spin-off series Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
The Captain Toad levels in 3D World were a fun diversion when I played them on the WiiU, and the Captain Toad game was a well done (if lightweight) experience when I played it on Switch. The Toad games are geared more towards kids, but I happen to enjoy light-puzzle action games where a little thought goes a long way.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Deluxe?)
I never minded the controls in the Galaxy games. I found them to be relatively inoffensive and utilized the nunchuk about as well as any game on the console. Most of the time, when I played a Wii game, if it prompted me to attach the nunchuk to the Wiimote, I would usually let out an “ugh” because that meant I’d have to figure out where it was. Sort of like how I react if I need to use the Switch Joy-cons and I have to track down the buttons for the top that come with the wrist strap. What are those even called?
Anyway, the Switch could easily assign Mario’s spin move to a button (or button combo), and collecting Star Bits could be phased out, or reworked somehow. Speaking of Star Bits, one of the clunky parts of Galaxy 2 revolves around feeding Hungry Lumas that crop up in the galaxy.
You encounter them on the map, and they require a certain amount of Star Bits in order to fatten up and “TRANSFOOOORM” into new galaxies. However, the process is beyond tedious. You first find Luma on the map, and he clearly states how many star bits he requires. When you select him on the map, you have the option to “Call” him. This sends you back to Starship Mario where Lubba will then explain that you need to feed him Star Bits in order for him to assist you. When control is given back to the player you can aim your Wiimote at the Hungry Luma and start feeding him Star Bits.
Don’t do that, though.
Those star bits won’t “count” until you walk up and talk to him. At which point he’ll ask you to feed him. Only then can you begin the slow process of feeding him the number of star bits he requires by aiming the Wiimote at the Luma and holding down the B button until he is fed. The very first Luma you encounter requires a mere 300 star bits, and even that process takes a little time (later requests will become comically boring). Once you feed him and he is sated, he transforms, sending you back to the world map, where a new galaxy has been discovered.
In a Switch version, you could easily just go to the Luma on the world map and have a prompt to give him the 300 Star Bits. Done. No going back to the Starship. No wasting Star Bits. No aiming the Wiimote. None of it. Done.
Sequel vs. Pre-Sequel
Plenty of games have sequels. At this point, most games have sequels. They still crank out Bubsy games even though no one on the planet is asking for them. Moreover, game developers often make sequels that use the same engine as the previous game in order to maintain the feel of the series.
When you play Galaxy 2, it’s clear, even to a layperson, that this game has the DNA of its predecessor. It feels like it could’ve been a DLC campaign for the original game, albeit a very lengthy one. That sounds a tad bit like an insult, but it isn’t. If I wanted to talk about a game that follows the same method unsuccessfully, I’d go with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (or TPS).
TPS came out after the high point of the series, Borderlands 2, had been out for several years. It was built on top of 2 in a way that is painfully obvious. At times it felt like they simply reskinned (to use a Borderlands term) the previous game. The game menus, the in-game vending machines, even voice acting is blatantly reused.
The writing is sub-par despite partially being done by BL2 head writer Anthony Burch. It’s hard to say just how much he worked on TPS, as the quality dip following 2 is steep. The jokes, which were always sophomoric, got worse. As with the previous game, jokes often took a back seat to characters just yelling out pop culture references. It’s fun at first, but eventually you turn into that Captain America meme where he’s going, “I recognize that reference.” It’s empty and hollow.
With Super Mario Galaxy 2, you know it’s just a continuation of the previous game, but everything is just a little bit better. TPS was about as phoned-in as I’ve ever seen in a high profile game. I foolishly purchased the deluxe edition, and was let down by the uninspired and lazy add-ons. And Borderlands 3? I have it. I’ve played it. And I honestly think the franchise is dead to me. It began with the “more of the same” TPS, and continued with the “even more of the same” 3. Compare that to Galaxy 2, which didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but remembered to entertain the players, and not lull them into a coma.
Before I wrote articles and reviews, I read them. Reviewers love to talk about things like tropes, whether something “rings true” or not, and whether a character or actor is utilized well, or “criminally underused.” I’m not sure why reviewer who hate tropes so much fall back on review-writing tropes so much themselves, but all the reviewers that do it are successful, so maybe I’m doing it wrong.
Anyway, if anything in this game is underused, albeit within legal limits, it’s Yoshi. You encounter Yoshi at the beginning of the game, and there is a whole galaxy where you can learn all his moves. However, as the game progresses, he vanishes for large periods of time. When you do encounter him, it’s often a Yoshi of a different color, as different Yoshi’s have different, level-specific powers.
I’ve heard a lot of people do not like how Yoshi controls and that there’s too many buttons and moves to learn for him. I’m not one of those people. I always found him to be simple to control once you got past the initial learning curve. To each their own I suppose.
Back In Two Shakes of a Wiimote
I’ve written about this game several times on this site before, so I appreciate you indulging my tangents about Gearbox destroying the Borderlands franchise (countdown to an angry Tweet from a surly Randy Pitchford) and how reviewers can’t go an article without showing people they know what Chekhov’s Gun is about.
One of my own personal “tropes” is that I judge a game ultimately on how much fun it is. It’s why I love games like Dead Cells, but aren’t all that compelled to write about them. They bring joy. They allow the player to get better as the game progresses. They make you feel like you are the hero in the game, not just some schlub on the couch.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is pure gaming joy, and is ripe for remastering. Sure, Nintendo, port over Super Mario 3D World, but don’t forget the Galaxy games.
Miscellaneous Star Bits
- I didn’t even mention the music, the glorious orchestral music, composed by the master himself, Koji Kondo.
- I’m not quite sure how the Star Bits would work in a remake since they were mostly obtained by aiming the Wiimote at the screen to reach them, as they were often inaccessible to Mario. I’m sure Nintendo can figure something out.
- You can play as Luigi as well, and I would’ve made a bigger deal out of it, but Luigi’s whole deal is getting overlooked, so I relegated him to the bulleted list.